Popular classic cheap tricks used in horror films include the Lewton Bus, when tension builds just before a completely harmless noise occurs, the attack of the vengeful spirit, or the perspective switch. The best of classic horror can employ these tropes, twists, and tricks in unique or paradoxical ways. Some of the best plot twists in horror history occur in films like The Mist or April Fools Day, when the ending is so obvious that no one saw it coming.
If these "cheap" tricks and twists are executed well enough, the reversal of expectations can turn a mediocre horror film into a classic horror must-watch. From Friday the 13th to Cabin in the Woods, these dramatic horror film twists might be the only reason some of these films have their own franchises.
As a bank of dense mist that is much more than just harmless vapor rolls into an idyllic rural town following a storm, a group of shoppers at a grocery store are imprisoned. The monsters hidden within the mist kill off the store-goers, but not before isolation and fear do their part in tearing the ad hoc community apart.
The Twist: Though a small band of survivors does eventually make it onto the road in an attempt to drive to safety, they run out of gas and resign to their fate. David, the leader of the group, selflessly agrees to use his final bullets to shoot each of the survivors, including his son, thus sparing them from the considerably uglier fate promised in the mist. Unfortunately, he’s one bullet short for himself. The military arrives to save the day, only after David goes through with his grim plan.
The bleakness of David's mistiming delighted Stephen King, who wrote the novel that inspired the film.
Initial Release: 2007
Directed by: Frank Darabont
The young Angela loses her brother Peter in a boating accident, traumatizing her indefinitely. Years later, she’s sent to Camp Arawak, where her introversion lands her the attention of a number of bullies and creeps, most of whom come to violent ends.
The Twist: Angela ultimately comes under suspicion for the murders and a nude, blood-splattered Angela reveals that she’s actually Peter. The vivid reveal cemented the film’s legacy as a wild piece of work, garnering it a cult fandom.
Initial Release: 1983
Directed by: Robert Hiltzik
#65 on The Best Movies of 1983
When Lawrence and Adam wake up chained to opposite sides of a decrepit bathroom with no company other than a bloody corpse, they face a race against time to figure out how to use their limited resources to make it out alive. Their predicament, it turns out, is manufactured by Jigsaw, a moralizer with a penchant for kidnapping and imprisoning victims, compelling them to take part in his gruesome games with the hope of teaching them a lesson.
The Twist: Things go predictably poorly for Adam and Lawrence, and the corpse they shared the room with reveals himself to be Jigsaw, alive and well, and ready to manipulate.
Initial Release: 2004
Directed by: James Wan
The Others adheres pretty closely to the genre’s most overused tropes: it takes place in a creaky old Victorian mansion, where a single mother and her two cute children live - alongside some creepy spirits.
The Twist: The film is full of supernatural entities, but it is more subversive than its stock storytelling initially appears. As it turns out, Grace and her children were the ones doing the haunting, they just didn't know they were dead.
The twist recasts all of the family’s behavior leading up to it as disturbing for the mansion’s new occupants, effectively rendering them unwitting terrors to the living.
Initial Release: 2001
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar