Twist endings have been a staple of horror movies since the genre began, blowing audiences' minds after a tense rollercoaster of suspense, terror, and bloodshed. From the classic "it was all a dream" twist to the great "the slayer faked their demise" twist, none of them have the gut-punching power of the best twist of all - when one of the heroes or victims turns out to be the real villain after all.
There's something powerfully jarring and disorienting about following a character, desperately hoping they survive, rooting for them to defeat the lurking evil in the shadows, and then having the world flipped upside down when they turn out to actually be that lurking evil.
Sometimes, the surprising development comes way out of left field and makes no real sense when you think about it, while other times, the twist can truly elevate an otherwise ordinary horror flick into the realm of iconic classics. Here's a look at some entertaining horror thrillers - which run the gamut from campy fun to legitimate nightmare fuel -- in which the victims turn out to be the villains.
What's The Deal? After Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) visits serial slayer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas) shortly before his execution, he soon finds himself investigating a string of heinous acts remarkably similar to those committed by Reese. Instead of the slayer being a copycat, it turns out the fallen angel Azazel has been possessing people and using them to commit terrible deeds. Azazel soon begins to target Hobbes, hopping from host to host and eventually framing him as the copycat the police are tracking. After Hobbes discovers that Azazel can only survive outside a host body for the span of one breath, he lures the demon out to a remote cabin and allows himself to become possessed after having poisoned himself, thus dooming the demon inside.
Who's The Slayer? The film begins with a voice-over from Hobbes, who says that this is the story of "how I almost died." After Hobbes perishes, the voice-over returns to remind people of that all-important "almost." As it turns out, the voice we thought was Hobbes's was actually that of Azazel using his voice. Despite Hobbes's best efforts, the demon manages to possess a cat who was hiding under the cabin, and begins walking back toward the closest town.
Actors: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, James Gandolfini, Byron Scott, + more
Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
What's The Deal? In 1945, Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives in a large, drafty home with her two children, Anne and Nicholas, following the passing of family patriarch Charles (Christopher Eccleston) in WWII. After hiring three servants to help her tend to the house and care for her children, Grace begins to notice strange things going on in her home, and believes that the house is haunted by a family who claims it belongs to them. Soon after, her husband mysteriously returns home, but leaves nearly as suddenly. As the hauntings get worse, Grace discovers that the three servants she hired actually perished decades ago.
Who's The Slayer? While Grace believes that the house is haunted by a family and an old woman, it turns out that the woman is actually a medium. Grace and her children are ghosts, and the family she thinks are spirits are actually the new owners of the home. At one point in the past, in a fit of rage, Grace smothered her children and took her own life. However, as a ghost, she has no memory of the trauma. Eventually, the new family decides to abandon the home, allowing Grace, her kids, and the ghostly servants to stay there instead.
Actors: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Michelle Fairley, Fionnula Flanagan, Keith Allen, + more
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
What's The Deal? A sudden and torrential rainstorm hits a small town, stranding 10 strangers together in a rundown motel. They soon discover that something dangerous is lurking in the shadows as they are slowly being knocked off, one by one. As they hunt for the slayer, their own secrets and hidden agendas come to the forefront.
Who's The Slayer? As it turns out, the 10 characters the film follows are all the separate, split personalities of a serial slayer, and the hotel in which they all meet is inside the villain's mind. It's a pretty mind-bending twist that divided audiences harshly, but for those who appreciated the surprising left turn, it makes this moody horror thriller stand out above other similar whodunits.
Actors: Amanda Peet, John Cusack, Alfred Molina, Ray Liotta, Rebecca De Mornay, + more
Directed by: James Mangold
What's The Deal? As a child, a shy and introverted young woman named Angela (Felissa Rose) witnesses her father and brother perish in a boating accident at Camp Arawak. She goes to live with her eccentric aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and Martha's son Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Years later, Angela and Ricky are sent to spend the summer at Camp Arawak, and their arrival is followed by a string of grisly attacks on camp counselors and other teens. Ricky and Angela are targeted by bullies, and Ricky soon becomes the prime suspect behind the string of attacks.
Who's The Slayer? In one of the most jaw-dropping twists, accomplished with a John Waters level of weirdness, it turns out that Angela is actually Peter, her supposedly long-gone brother. It's revealed that Angela was actually the one who perished in the accident as a child, and Aunt Martha raised Peter as a girl because she already had a son, Ricky. The surprise ending is accomplished in a bizarrely similar manner as the twist in The Crying Game, and has cemented this otherwise ordinary teen slasher as a bizarro classic.
Actors: Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Robert Earl Jones, Felissa Rose, Christopher Collet, + more
Directed by: Robert Hiltzik