Often, horror movies don't offer simple endings. Many of the most intriguing horror films of the last few decades have offered up confusing endings that leave room for the viewer to decide what really happened. This leads to an upswing in online searches that read something like "confusing horror movie endings explained." If you couldn't decipher a film's ambiguity the first time around, it wasn't that you were watching the movie wrong or anything like that, there's just a lot going on in these films.
In the best horror movies with confusing endings, there are clues and breadcrumbs that tell the audience what's going to happen at the end. Take The Sixth Sense, for example. It's not confusing - M. Night Shyamalan tells the audience "Hey, Bruce Willis is a ghost" at the end, and ties everything up, but he also provides subtle hints throughout the movie. If you follow the clues, you can have a pretty solid understanding of the final moments.
- Photo: Universal PIctures
The Thing has one of the most debated horror film endings of all time. If it's been a while since you've watched this movie, here's a very brief synopsis: When a shape-shifting alien creature invades an American research base in remote Antarctica, it kills the scientists one by one and adopts their identities until those that are left don't know who's who anymore - if the men surrounding them are still human or victims of assimilation by the creature.
The film ends with the base in flames while MacReady (Kurt Russell) sits down for a drink with Childs (Keith David). It's unclear which one of them is the alien. Fans have debated whether or not Childs is the shape-shifter for decades, but there's a fairly simple answer to this seemingly confusing ending.
MacReady is a heavy drinker. He's boozing throughout the movie, but in the third act, all of his bottles of scotch are emptied so they can be filled with kerosene to burn down the base and destroy the creature. Watch closely and you'll see that aside from the fact that we can see his breath and not Childs's, MacReady isn't drinking but hands over the bottle to Childs. He's waiting for the shape-shifter to ingest the kerosene so he can put an end to terror once and for all. This indicates that MacReady still has his human faculties about him.
This final scene mirrors an earlier scene in the movie where MacReady loses a game of chess to a computer before pouring booze into the mechanical "thing" and destroying it. On top of the clues present in the film, director of photography Dean Cundey explained that there's a gleam of light present in the eyes of the humans, but it's missing from the shape-shifter. In the final scene, MacReady's eyes gleam, but Childs's do not.Got it?
- Photo: Dimension Films
This is one ghost story with a bonkers reveal that's not as easy to follow as The Sixth Sense, even if the twist is more or less the same. Throughout the film, Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her children live in the presence of something spooky in their Victorian mansion. They hear voices, see beings, and suffer from photosensitivity.
After discovering that their servants are all dead, Grace's children meet a creepy older adult woman who's in the middle of a seance. Grace confronts her only to discover that she, her children, and the servants are all dead. Not only that, but she had smothered her children with a pillow before killing herself.
If you know what you're looking for, the ending of this film is pretty easy to spot, but the real key to unlocking the big twist in this movie is the way the servants act. They all know that they're ghosts, but they're trying to keep that fact away from Grace. By the time the children discover their gravestones, it's obvious that they can see the ghosts of the servants because they're also ghosts.Got it?
- Photo: TriStar Pictures
This spooky and somewhat oblique narrative follows Tim Robbins as Jacob, a Vietnam War vet who ends up on the business end of a bayonet at the start of the film. Years after the war, he's struggling with both flashbacks of his life before 'Nam when he had a wife and three sons, as well as visions of demons and faceless monsters in his present day.
There are a ton of theories about this movie, but there's one major clue that unlocks the ending and the entire film. Well, it's less of a clue and more of a speech that Danny Aiello's character, Louis, drops in the middle of the movie. He explains:
The only thing that burns in hell is the part of you that won't let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they're not punishing you... They're freeing your soul. So... if you're frightened of dying and... and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth. It's just a matter of how you look at it.
By the end of the film, Jacob lets go of his trauma and comes to terms with his demise, which is seen at the beginning of the movie (with every scene that followed being manifestations of his dying brain). He reunites with his son, Gabe (short for Gabriel), and they walk up a staircase into a white light, presumably heaven. The final scene shows Army doctors zipping Jacob up in a body bag, noting that his corpse looks peaceful.Got it?
- Photo: Artisan Entertainment
After spending days lost in the Berkshires, three filmmakers find themselves at the mercy of a supernatural force that won't let them leave. Their map is useless, their food is gone, and they're all losing their minds.
The film ends with our protagonist, Heather Donahue, running into a creepy house where she sees her crewman, Mike, standing in the corner like a child. The camera falls to the floor and that's the end. It's a gut punch of a final scene, but if you're unsure of what happened, it's okay.
Not only does this ending come at us super fast, but the directors thought of it as a way to end the film with a bang and without having to show the witch. Even though there are theories about outside forces or other characters delivering the final blow, the most obvious answer is the most simple - it was the Blair Witch. She lured the filmmakers to the house and ended their short journey.
The key bit of evidence supporting this ending links to earlier tales in the film of Rustin Parr, a serial killer of young boys who would make his victims stand in the corner as he tortured and killed their friends. Parr admitted during his trial that the Witch told him to do it and that he was her servant. Paired with the small hand prints that decorate the abandoned shack, the ending makes it clear that supernatural forces are at play.Got it?