17 Historical Horror Movies That Prove History Can Be Terrifying

List Rules
Vote up the movies that turn ancient history into vivid nightmares.

History can be a difficult subject to bring to life. Ironically, many of the films on this list accomplish this task through the use of the undead. Horror movies are always more frightening when given cultural context audiences can relate to, and these releases set their terror during specific times and places in history.

Historical horror movies combine the period-accurate details of the past with the myths and monsters of folklore. By setting the fictional narratives alongside the realistic depiction of actual events from the past, these films are layered with referential meaning. In the same way the action elements are played up within the historical content of epics, these titles contain classic horror monsters integrated into events found in history books.

Which of these horror films best use the historical context of their plot? Vote up your favorites.


  • 1
    921 VOTES

    The Historical Setting: Bone Tomahawk begins as a typical Western, taking place in the 1890s in the harsh elements of the frontier near what is now the border of Texas and New Mexico. Among the dangers found in the elements are threats brought by the Native Americans living near newly formed towns. When a tribe takes a prisoner from one of these towns, the sheriff (Kurt Russell) puts together a posse to bring him back.

    The Horror: While acknowledging the connections to classic Westerns like The Searchers, Peter Bradshaw argues that Bone Tomahawk is “more scary movie than horse opera.” As they track down the Native Americans responsible, the posse discovers they belong to a tribe of inbred cannibals named "Troglodytes." Not only are their cultural practices horrific, but the tribe also appears to have gained superhuman strength from their consumption of human flesh. What begins as a typical Western quickly evolves into horror once the "Troglodytes" gain the upper hand over the posse, leading to a notoriously brutal scene of violence popularly known as the "wishbone" sequence.

    • Actors: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons
    • Released: 2015
    • Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
  • 2
    762 VOTES

    The Historical Setting: The 19th century is the setting for Ravenous, which begins with a depiction of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Additionally, the plot revolves around cannibalism in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, recalling the infamous Donner Party. Screenwriter Ted Griffin has also cited 1870s prospector Alferd Packer as partial inspiration for the film; Packer was a Civil War veteran belonging to a group allegedly forced into cannibalism after becoming lost prospecting for gold in the Rocky Mountains.

    The Horror: After his cowardice is exposed during a battle in the Mexican-American War, Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is sent to a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevada mountains as punishment. When a stranger calling himself F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) arrives at the mountain outpost manned by outcasts and addicts, he tells a tale of his wagon train becoming lost in the mountains, forcing some to resort to cannibalism. The outpost’s Native American scout (Joseph Runningfox) warns the solders about the myth of the Wendigo, which gives those who consume human flesh superhuman strength while turning them into demons with insatiable hunger. He is predictably ignored with disastrous results.

    • Actors: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, John Spencer
    • Released: 1999
    • Directed by: Antonia Bird

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  • 3
    452 VOTES

    The Historical Setting: Set in 1348, the plot of Black Death is centered around the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in medieval England. When an envoy (Sean Bean) for the regional bishop arrives at a monastery in search of a guide to help reach a remote marshland village rumored to be untouched by the plague, a novice monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) accepts the task.

    The Horror: Although Osmund initially believes the expedition is intended to discover what has kept the village safe from the plague's destruction, he eventually learns that a necromancer is thought to control the village, using dark arts to keep the sickness at bay. The group of soldiers have a plan to capture the practitioner of witchcraft for transport back to the bishop, followed by trial and execution. These plans are thwarted by obstacles along the way, including the continual threat of contagion and the inevitable horrors that await them in the remote village.

    • Actors: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice van Houten, Kimberley Nixon, John Lynch
    • Released: 2010
    • Directed by: Christopher Smith

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  • 4
    1,008 VOTES

    The Historical Setting: Pan’s Labyrinth takes place during the summer of 1944 in Spain, five years after the Spanish Civil War and during the early Francoist period. The film depicts the severe actions carried out by a Falangist captain in his efforts to hunt down the Spanish Maquis rebelling against the Francoist regime.

    The Horror: As with his earlier film, The Devil’s Backbone, Guillermo del Toro balances the real-world horrors of historical events with a horror-fantasy narrative, complete with unique creature designs. As a 10-year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) witnesses the cruel acts carried out by her new military commander stepfather (Sergi López) against republican rebels, she discovers parallels in the fantasy world of an ancient stone labyrinth containing a faun-like creature. Also like The Devil’s Backbone, the child protagonist of Pan’s Labyrinth becomes caught in the fight between rebels and the current regime, and the horror-fantasy elements provide her relief from this conflict.

    In 1944 Spain young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her ailing mother (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother's new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to quell a guerrilla uprising. While exploring an ancient maze, Ofelia encounters the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks in order to claim immortality.
    • Actors: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones
    • Released: 2006
    • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

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