Spoiler Alert! The Best Horror Movie Twist Endings

Everybody's a sucker for a good twist ending, and no genre tries harder to throw viewers for a loop than horror and suspense movies. Below are the best that I can think of, ones that go beyond a mere Scooby Doo-like unmasking of the killer. It goes without saying that if you don't want to find out what the movie's twist is, don't read beyond the "Spoiler Alert!". Now that I'm legally free of liability, on with the show.

25
April Fool's Day (1986)

© Paramount

This seemingly typical '80s slasher has a twist ending that has made it more memorable than it should be -- unfortunately leading to the woeful 2008 remake.

Spoiler Alert! It's all been a big April Fool's Day joke. No one is actually dead. (Apparently, the pranksters are very good at special effects and makeup.) It's a nice idea for a twist in general, but a slasher with no one dying is pretty lame.

24
When a Stranger Calls (1979)

© Sony

This movie is best known for its "prank calls coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE" concept, but in the original film, this moment accounts for only the first 20 minutes. The rest is a dull case study of the killer, seven years later, trying to live life on the outside of the loony bin...until the ending.

Spoiler Alert! After following the killer around for an hour or so, we suddenly switch back to the babysitter from the opening scene, now grown up with kids. She receives a call from the killer reminiscent of the calls from seven years ago, and although her kids are OK, can you guess where the killer is? That's right, in the house. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, I'm dead. Not only is he inside the house, though, but he's IN THE BED!

23
Identity (2003)

© Sony

Ten strangers stranded at a remote hotel in the middle of a torrential rainstorm begin dying at the hands of an unknown killer. Sounds simple enough, but the twist turns this been-there-done-that premise on its ear. It's perhaps the most divisive ending on this list, but love it or hate it, it's unique.

Spoiler Alert! The people in the motel are all personalities in the head of a killer sentenced to die. He's been given a special treatment designed to "kill" his alternate personalities, leaving a kinder, gentler killer.

22
The Descent (original ending) (2005)

© Lions Gate

A group of female spelunkers get trapped deep underground by a cave-in and discover a race of humanoid beasts looking for a spelunker meal.

Spoiler Alert! The original European ending was a much more depressing -- though probably better -- affair than the American ending. In the original version, the last surviving spelunker finally escapes the cave and drives away, only realize that her escape is a hallucination, and she's still trapped in the darkness. The end.

21
Fallen (1998)

© Warner Bros.

The soul of an executed serial killer jumps from body to body, and only Denzel Washington realizes what's going on.

Spoiler Alert! We're set up in the opening scene by Denzel's voiceover, saying that he almost died during the ordeal. What we don't realize is that Denzel is possessed by the killer while he's speaking, so in fact, it's the killer who almost dies, while Denzel, sadly, bites the bullet.

20
Carnival of Souls (1962)

© Criterion

A woman is the lone survivor of a car crash but soon thereafter begins to see strange ghouls chasing her.

Spoiler Alert! This is one of the first films to use the plot twist of the protagonist being dead all along, which now has been beaten to death. Enough, people!

19
The Others (2001)

© Buena Vista

During World War II, a woman and her two children move into a mansion and begin to suspect that it might be haunted. Is it or isn't it?

Spoiler Alert! The house is indeed haunted...by them! The woman and her kids have been dead all along and have been bothering honest living people trying to make a living. The ending might've had more of an impact had it not come on the heels of The Sixth Sense.

18
Scream (1996)

© Dimension

A serial killer in a mask and robe stalks a bunch of teens. This is one of the few slashers in which the revelation of the killer is a true twist -- one almost impossible to guess precisely.

Spoiler Alert! The killer is...two killers! Neve Campbell's boyfriend and his friend team up to play "Stab the Student Body."

17
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

© Image

A man relates his tale of madman Dr. Caligari, who along with his zombie-like henchman, committed a string of murders.

Spoiler Alert! It turns out that the narrator is the real madman, and he's telling his tale in an insane asylum. Caligari is in fact his doctor in the asylum.

16
The Mist (2007)

© The Weinstein Co.

A fogbank containing bloodthirsty monsters comes rolling into a small town, trapping a few dozen people in a grocery store. The movie changes Stephen King's original ending to provide a major jolt.

Spoiler Alert! Five characters drive a truck out of town, only to see that the creature-filled mist goes on forever. They run out of gas and are so despondent that they decide to commit suicide rather than be killed by the monsters. Since they have only four bullets, David (Thomas Jane) shoots the other four people -- including his son -- and steps out of the truck to let the creatures kill him...except the Army shows up, saving the day. Whoops! While the ending doesn't fully work -- partly due to Jane's acting -- it takes guts to even attempt.

15
High Tension (2005)

© Lions Gate

A psychotic truck driver invades a home one night, killing the family and kidnapping the daughter. He doesn't realize, though, that the daughter's friend, Marie, was spending the night at the house, and she hitches a ride in the back of the killer's truck in order to help free her friend. Then things get weird...

Spoiler Alert! The male killer we see throughout the film is actually a figment of Marie's imagination. She's the one doing all of the slicing and dicing. It's one of those improbable endings that explains away the inconsistencies by stating that everything was seen through the eyes of a crazy person. The same thing happened with Glitter.

14
The Wicker Man (1973)

© Anchor Bay

An uptight British policeman investigates a missing child on a British isle that celebrates pagan customs. Although considered to be a horror classic, the only real moment of horror comes in the movie's final moments.

Spoiler Alert! The story of the missing girl was made up to lure the cop to the island so that he could be sacrificed to the inhabitants' pagan gods in a burning "wicker man." Weenie roast at 8:00 by the goat's skull!

13
The Orphanage (2007)

© Picturehouse

Soon after a couple moves into an abandoned orphanage, their young son goes missing, and the mother suspects that the ghost of a boy she saw with a bag over his head might be responsible.

Spoiler Alert! The ending is open to interpretation, but from what I gather, the house is haunted, but the "ghost" that the mother sees is her son dressed as the bag-headed ghost boy. After she punishes him for misbehaving, the son puts a bag on his head, attacks his mother, then gets scared and runs to hide in a secret room accessible through a closet, where he falls down and dies. In the mother's haste to find him, she inadvertently knocks over a post in the closet that blocks the secret passage, preventing the son's body from being found.

12
Diabolique (1964)

© Criterion

A wife plots to kill her husband with her husband's mistress, but after the deed is done, the body disappears. This French film actually includes a message at the end warning viewers not to reveal the twist ending to people who haven't seen it. Oh well...

Spoiler Alert! The husband isn't really dead. He and the mistress plot to make the wife think he's dead, then scare her into having a heart attack.

11
Black Christmas (1974)

© Eclectic

A sorority house must deal with a series of threatening phone calls and the disappearances of some of their sisters.

Spoiler Alert! Five years before When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas originated the "crank calls coming from inside the house" routine and put it where it should be: at the film's climax. Granted, this revelation isn't terribly surprising, since we see the killer systematically picking off sorority figures inside the house, but it was influential, and the film's final twist is that the man who dies and is assumed to be the killer turns out not to be the one. He's still INSIDE THE HOUSE.

10
Angel Heart (1987)

© Live / Artisan

A private investigator in the '50s named Harry Angel is hired to find a former singer named Johnny Favorite, who disappeared after fighting in World War II. During his investigation, Angel stumbles upon a series of murders on the way to a shocking revelation.

Spoiler Alert! Harry is Johnny. Johnny killed the real Harry and assumed his identity, then was drafted into the war and got injured, requiring extensive facial surgery and causing amnesia -- so he doesn't realize who he is, and no one recognizes him. Furthermore, Harry/Johnny is the person killing all of the people, under the influence of the man who hired him...Satan himself! (who looks surprisingly like Robert De Niro)

9
The Skeleton Key (2005)

© Universal

Caroline gets a job as a live-in nurse for an incapacitated man living in a Louisiana plantation with his wife, Violet. The house is rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of two servants -- a husband and wife -- who were hanged in the 1920s for trying to teach the owner's children hoodoo.

Spoiler Alert! The spirits of the two servants are in the bodies of the old couple. Well, originally, the old man held the male servant's soul, but it was transferred into a young lawyer, while the spirit of the female servant is transferred at the end from Violet into Caroline's body. The film ends with Caroline's soul and that of the young lawyer occupying the old couple's bodies, both incapacitated and mute, and the servants having new young bodies.

8
Seven (1995)

© New Line

Two police detectives, Mills and Somerset, try to catch a serial killer who chooses victims who break one of the seven deadly sins. As we reach the climax, the killer has accounted for five of the seven sins, until...the box.

Spoiler Alert! The killer offers to take Mills and Somerset to the location of the sixth and seventh victims. When they arrive at the barren outdoor location, a delivery van drives up and drops off a box containing Mills' wife's head -- thankfully, not C.O.D. The killer confesses that he killed her because he was envious (the sixth sin) of the Mills' family life. Mills, using his wrath (the seventh sin), then shoots him dead, all according to the killer's plans.

7
Friday the 13th (1980)

© Paramount

A boy named Jason drowns at Camp Crystal Lake in 1957, and a year later, when two counselors are murdered, the camp is closed down. Jason's body is never found, and he's rumored to still be lurking. Twenty-two years later, it reopens, only to have a killer begin stalking the camp counselors once again.

Spoiler Alert! Is Jason responsible for the deaths? No, it's his mother, Mrs. Vorhees, wearing a fashionable sweater. But wait, there's more! The last remaining counselor, Alice, kills Mrs. Vorhees and goes for a gentle float in a canoe -- at which point Jason's decaying little boy body jumps out of the water and drags her under. The police eventually pull her out, and Jason is never heard from again...except 11 or so more times.

6
The Ring (2002)

© Dreamworks

Rachel, a reporter investigating a video tape rumored to bring death to anyone who watches it, finds out that it is somehow tied to a mysterious young girl named Samara.

Spoiler Alert! Rachel does all of the grunt work to find out that Samara's body is lying at the bottom of a well and then even goes down there to retrieve it -- thus, by all normal movie logic, freeing the restless spirit from haunting people through video tapes and prank phone calls. However, as Rachel's psychic son so effectively points out, Samara is evil, and Rachel has succeeded in freeing her spirit to kill at will. Nice one, Mom.

5
Sleepaway Camp (1983)

© Anchor Bay

Mousy teenager Angela is sent to summer camp, only to be caught in the midst of a rash of murders. This cheap slasher is by all accounts worthless and would've faded into obscurity if not for the final jaw-dropping, tape-rewinding, pause-and-stare-and-call-your-friends-over-to-stare moment.

Spoiler Alert! Angela turns out to be not only the killer, but a boy as well. Angela is actually Peter, Angela's brother. The real Angela died years earlier, and Peter assumed her identity after being dressed up in girl's clothing by their aunt. We realize that she is really a he during the film's climax, when he reveals himself in all his glory, naked beside the lake, holding the head of his final victim. Eat your heart out, Crying Game.

4
Psycho (1960)

© Universal

Mild-mannered motel owner Norman seeks to cover up a series of murders committed by his overbearing mother.

Spoiler Alert! Norman, apparently a great mimic and voice-thrower, dressed as his mother to commit the murders. Years earlier, he killed his mother -- whose skeleton sits in his cellar in a rocking chair -- and developed a split personality: that of him and his mother. The movie's little-known alternate title was Freud's Field Day.

3
Saw (2004)

© Lions Gate

Two men, Adam and Lawrence, find themselves chained in a large bathroom with a dead body. A recording informs Lawrence that he must kill Adam within eight hours, or his wife and daughter will die. As the deadline approaches, we see the man who's been monitoring the men's actions break into Lawrence's house and attack his family.

Spoiler Alert! The man who appears to be the mastermind behind the "game" is a player himself. He's being forced to act by the true mastermind, the man posing as the dead body in the bathroom. Lawrence eventually cuts off his foot in order to escape (presumably bleeding to death), at which point the "dead body" rises and proclaims to Adam, "Game over," locking him in the room to die.

2
Night of the Living Dead (1968)

© Anchor Bay

Several people trapped in an isolated farmhouse struggle to defend themselves against a horde of flesh-eating zombies surrounding the building.

Spoiler Alert! Ben, the last person left alive in the house, manages to survive by locking himself in the basement after the zombies break in. The cavalry arrives the next morning in the form of a bunch of good ol' boys shootin' zombies real good. Unfortunately for Ben, as he runs upstairs to greet the rescuers, they mistake him for a zombie and put a bullet in his head. The hopelessness of the ending embodied the war-ravaged era and, combined with the (unintentional or intentional) racial implications of Ben's death, made for one powerful bummer.

1
The Sixth Sense (1999)

© Buena Vista

Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe is working with a boy named Cole who claims to be able to "see dead people." At first, Malcolm is skeptical but eventually comes to believe in the child's ability.

Spoiler Alert! Malcolm helps Cole learn to use his power for good. The end. Oh, and Malcolm is really a ghost who doesn't realize he's dead. When anyone mentions "twist ending," The Sixth Sense comes to mind, and for better or worse (probably worse), it's spawned a generation of films that feel they must "trick" the viewer into liking them. Pretty sneaky, sis.