While most horror movies end with an ostensibly-happy return to the status quo - the villain defeated, the demon exorcised, the ghost banished - they also like to serve audiences a sting in the final few moments, one last scare before sending them on their way.
Over the years, some films have achieved this with last-minute twist endings and other horror movie tricks that are now legendary - and that have been reproduced (usually to lesser effect) in other horror movie rip offs, either to pay homage or make a quick buck.
Some classic endings were around before the dawn of film, so they were already horror movie cliches prior to the films that made them famous. Others were more novel when they hit the screen, but later became dulled with overuse. Regardless of whether they contain the best or worst twist endings ever, some films set the standard for what came next, and even if you haven't seen such movies, you probably already know how they end.
It’s a tactic so ubiquitous in slasher movies it got lampooned in Scream, but when Michael’s seemingly-lifeless body disappeared from the lawn at the end of John Carpenter’s Halloween, it was enough to help propel the villain to mythical stature and usher in the age of slasher films.
In a franchise-ready genre, the trope got overused so many times it became dulled with repetition. By the time Scream was spinning into sequels, the reversal had become the new normal, with savvy screen characters anticipating their tormentor's return from seeming oblivion.
When you’re a writer, there are certain tropes you’re told to avoid, and one of those is ending a story with, “it was all a dream.” Of course, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, something existing in a dream doesn’t necessarily make it any less real, and the “dream-within-a-dream” ending of the first Nightmare startled audiences to the extent that it was repurposed somewhat for the ending of the 2010 remake.
While plenty of other slashers attempted to cash in on this particular twist in the wake of Nightmare’s box office success, including Brainscan and Prom Night II, it could be argued that Nightmare itself was influenced by the ending of the bizarre 1979 film Tourist Trap.
Long before that, a similar twist was the big reveal in the 1962 classic Carnival of Souls, which has since received the Criterion treatment, a high-definition restoration on Blu-ray designed to “deepen the viewer’s appreciation of the art of film.”
Since the ‘60s, plenty of other horror movies have tried to copy the twist with varying degrees of success, including Jacob’s Ladder and The Others. Carnival of Souls has even been remade a few times in all but name via films like 2001’s Soul Survivors and the 1990 Joe Estevez vehicle Soultaker, which is featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre leaves us with one of horror’s most indelible images: Marilyn Burns as Sally riding away in the back of a pickup truck, covered in blood, and laughing hysterically while Leatherface pirouettes in the middle of the road with his chainsaw. It’s a moment as chilling as it is surreal, and it highlights the cost that comes with surviving this sort of incident.
Most of the Texas Chainsaw sequels use variations on this formula, and given that Rob Zombie’s filmography is basically a bunch of loose Texas Chainsaw remakes, it should come as no surprise to learn he’s been to this well more than once.