The Best Slow Burn Horror Movies

Slow burn horror movies don't necessarily rely on jump scares or excessive gore, instead they slowly build the dread and terror that reaches a crescendo near the end of the film. Being able to hold an audience's attention with sheer tension is a testament to both the director and actors in the film. 1968's Rosemary's Baby will keep you glued to the screen all the way to the end. Folk horror movies tend to employ this technique as seen with the original Wicker Man from 1973. More recent examples of slow burning horror films would be Hereditary where Ari Aster uses each scene to compound the tension as we hope for a mother to find a way to stay connected with her departed daughter. Find your next slow horror burn on this list and help determine which one should be at the top.

Vote up your favorite scary movies and vote down any that you think horror fans should skip. Be sure to check back as new and upcoming slow burn horror movies are added to the list once they're released.

  • Hereditary
    Photo: A24

    Ultimately a phenomenal tale of sorrow, grief, depression, and pain, Hereditary is widely regarded as the best horror film of the modern era, and for a darn good reason. The film uses the ideology and expectations audiences have set for horror films of the past, and completely flips them on their head. Twists and turns come at the most jarring times, and tension and fear are often elevated to insurmountable levels. Without any true payoff. Audiences are left holding their breath as they wait for the big third act explosion, and what an explosion it is. 

    • Actors: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro
    • Released: 2018
    • Directed by: Ari Aster
  • Jacob's Ladder
    Photo: Tri-Star Pictures

    Nightmarish, mesmerizing, and transcendental in its anguish, Jacobs Ladder is a film that audiences have seen, but still can't even believe. Indescribable agony permeates this film as a mystery audiences so desperately want solved but refuses to come undone. Melancholic in its theme and messages, Jacob's Ladder is as starkly haunting in its first two-thirds as it is explosively appalling by its finale.

    • Actors: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Matt Craven, Pruitt Taylor Vince
    • Released: 1990
    • Directed by: Adrian Lyne
  • The Shining
    Photo: Warner Bros.

    Audiences around the globe bore witness to the ultimate downward spiral and eventual break of a human being's psyche in Stanley Kubrick's deliberately sedated masterpiece, The Shining. Arguably one of the greatest horror film of all time, The Shining takes its time, setting up characters, and environments, planting seeds of doubt that blossom into full-blown paranoia and, eventually, lead to one of the greatest finales of the horror genre. 

    • Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson
    • Released: 1980
    • Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
  • The Exorcist
    Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

    Inarguably one of the most important and horrifying films ever made, many audience members may not understand what makes The Exorcist quite so terrifying, just by fear of even having to watch it. While others in the demonic possession films may be overtly bombastic in their scares, The Exorcist takes a radically different approach. Audiences are given a melancholic and depressive character drama that slowly spirals down a seemingly never-ending pit of depravity and despair until a shocking and mind-melting finale lay at their feet.

    • Actors: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn
    • Released: 1973
    • Directed by: William Friedkin