Picking the right horror movie has as much to do with a person’s current mood as it does general preferences. If you’re in a good mood with a bunch of friends, you can’t go wrong with a classic horror comedy like Return of the Living Dead or Tucker and Dale vs Evil. If you’re in a particularly nihilistic mood, you might select something from the dystopian or zombie apocalypse subgenres. Feeling transgressive? Dabble in something “dangerous” like A Serbian Film, Nekromantik, or Be My Cat: A Film for Anne.
If you’re craving an emotional catharsis, however, the films on your list are right up your alley. The horror movies below will scare you silly while clawing at your heartstrings. I’ll admit it: A few of these titles left me weeping like a 12-year-old girl who’s just seen Titanic for the first time! Hey, sometimes a good cry can feel damn good—even if you’re a hardcore gorehound!
Have a read and let us know what you think in the comments section. Do you agree that the films on this list will devastate you emotionally while chilling your blood simultaneously? What are some other horror movies guaranteed to give you a serious case of The Feels? Let’s discuss!
Warning: Below There Be Spoilers!
The Descent (Director’s Cut/UK Version) (2006, Directed by Neil Marshall)
Official Synopsis: A year after a severe emotional trauma, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) goes to North Carolina to spend some time exploring caves with her friends; after descending underground, the women find strange cave paintings and evidence of an earlier expedition, then learn they are not alone: Underground predators inhabit the crevasses, and they have a taste for human flesh.
If you’ve only seen the American version of The Descent, you’ve only experienced a percentage of the emotional devastation contained within. After losing her (cheating) husband and daughter in a car accident, Sarah finds the courage to fight off the Crawlers, reasoning she has nothing left to lose. Her emergence from the depths, however, a scene that symbolizes rebirth, was all in her head. You can check out how the film was supposed to end in the clip above.
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Excision (2012, Directed by Richard Bates Jr.)
Official Synopsis: A disturbed and delusional high school student with aspirations of a career in medicine goes to extremes to earn the approval of her controlling mother.
Yes, seeing an off-her-rocker Pauline simultaneously weeping and screaming at the conclusion of Excision (not to mention the fact that she just murdered her sister in a state of excited delirium) will wreck you, but the most heart-wrenching moment has to be when the disturbed teen overhears her mother calling her “impossible to love”. Imagine hearing those words from your own mother: She didn’t just say, “I hate you,” which would be devastating by itself. “Impossible to love.” Ouch, Mom!
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Chained (2013, Directed by Jennifer Lynch)
Official Synopsis: Held captive by a serial killer since the age of 8, a teen (Eamon Farren) must choose between escape or following in his captor’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) bloody footprints.
The ending of Jennifer Lynch’s extremely disturbing rape & kidnap horror Chained is opened to interpretation, so exactly how much the film affects you depends on your perspective. Still, even under the best of theoretical circumstances, damaged protagonist Rabbit is doomed to a life of emotional hell and relentless inner turmoil. You just can’t undo that level of abuse. And even though Rabbit’s ultimate culpability in the crimes of his captor remains debatable, the character has clearly lost his innocents—and his soul.
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The Divide (2012, Directed by Xavier Gens)
Official Synopsis: A devastating nuclear attack thrusts nine strangers together in the bunker-like basement of their New York apartment building. The survivors are trapped underground with no hope of rescue, and only horror on the other side of the door. As supplies dwindle and tempers flare, they become increasingly unhinged by the close quarters and hopelessness of their situation and turn on one another. Still, one survivor holds onto a thin chance for escape, even though salvation is unlikely.
Xavier Gens became a household name among horror fans following the release of his transgressive horror Frontier(s), considered a gem of the New French Extremity subgenre. And while that film is truly nihilistic, his English-language follow-up, The Divide, may completely destroy your faith in humanity. As a group of strangers struggles to survive in a cramped bunker following a devastating nuclear assault, radiation poisoning mixes with insanity, creating a potent and devastating tincture. Scenes of one woman’s sexual degradation and humiliation are almost impossible to watch. PS: No happy ending, obviously!
It Comes at Night (2017, Directed by Trey Edward Shults)
Official Synopsis: Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous order a man (Joel Edgerton) has established with his wife and son is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate family seeking refuge. Despite the best intentions of both families, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within the man as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.
Released earlier this month, It Comes at Night is likely more soul-crushing than anything you’ll see in 2017. By comparison, the apocalyptic horror The Road looks like a Disney movie. Not only do we break down when characters go to unimaginable extremes in the name of self-preservation, there is no karmic reward or punishment for anyone, making It Comes at Night exceptionally pessimistic. The final scene left me stunned and speechless for hours.
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Martyrs (2008, Directed by Pascal Laugier)
Official Synopsis: A young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.
While just about any celebrated film in the (now defunct) New French Extremity subgenre could probably claim a spot on this list (Inside, High Tension, and Sheitan, for example), none reaches the level of extreme emotional devastation achieved by Pascal Laugier’s uncompromisingly brutal masterpiece Martyrs. While the futility of revenge is well-trod thematic territory, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what awaits viewers brave enough to give it a spin. The ending is ridiculously nihilistic still, there’s dark beauty lurking in the story of one woman’s relentless torment. This hidden beauty, however, won’t ease the broken heart sure to result from experiencing this no-holds-barred, unprecedented study of pain and transcendence.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017, Directed by Oz Perkins)
Official Synopsis: During the dead of winter, a troubled young woman (Emma Roberts) embarks on a mysterious journey to an isolated prep school where two stranded students (Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton) face a sinister threat from an unseen evil force.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter features a revealing twist, but not one that pulls the rug out from under you in the 3rd Act M. Night Shyamalan style; rather, it’s a slow recognition that creeps over viewers like a case of unshakable melancholia. This makes the film’s conclusion as devastating as it is harrowing. Also, there’s a complete lack of heroes or heroines in The Blackcoat’s Daughter, no one to love and only supporting characters to pity, making Oz Perkin’s first feature film exceptionally bleak.
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The Mist (2007, Directed by Frank Darabont)
Official Synopsis: After a powerful storm damages their Maine home, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head into town to gather food and supplies. Soon afterward, a thick fog rolls in and engulfs the town, trapping the Draytons and others in the grocery store. Terror mounts as deadly creatures reveal themselves outside, but that may be nothing compared to the threat within, where a zealot (Marcia Gay Harden) calls for a sacrifice.
Two words: That ending! A bunch more words: The shocking conclusion of The Mist is perhaps the most devastating conclusion to a big-budget studio release aimed at mainstream audiences. Sure, we’ve seen this kind of nihilism in foreign film and Indies, but most Americans are especially sensitive about sad endings. Of course, what makes the finale of The Mist so upsetting is that it was unnecessary from a practical standpoint. Of course, as a morality tale speaking to the dangers of acting out of self-preservation and the consequences of making decisions out of fear, the ending is perfect.
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A Tale of Two Sisters (2004, Directed by Kim Jee-woon)
Official Synopsis: After being institutionalized in a mental hospital, Korean teen Su-mi (Yeom Jeong-ah) reunites with her beloved sister, Su-yeon (Su-jeong Lim), and they return to live at their country home. The girls’ widower father (Mun Geun-yeong) has remarried, and the siblings are immediately resentful of his new wife, Eun-joo (Kap-su Kim). As Su-mi and Su-yeon try to resume their regular lives, strange events plague the house, leading to surprising revelations and a shocking conclusion.
If you’ve only seen the watered-down, neutered American remake of A Tale of Two Sister, The Uninvited, then you don’t know the half of what awaits you in this hallucinatory, psychological horror from Korea. There’s more than just displaced guilt at play, and the ultimate reveal during its devastating conclusion may cripple you emotionally. As opposed to It Comes at Night and other nihilistic films on this list, there is a sense of karmic justice in A Tale of Two Sisters, but in this case, it makes the story even more devastating. Things you say out of anger today can have catastrophic ripple effects.
The Evil Within (2017, Directed by Andrew Getty)
Official Synopsis: The sadistic tale of a lonely, mentally handicapped boy who befriends his reflection in an antique mirror. This demonic creature orders him to go on a murderous rampage to kill the people he loves most.
The story of a young man’s struggle against a manifestation of ultimate evil is harrowing, but The Evil Within is an anti-fairy tale that flips expectations, creating extreme emotional impact, one that can’t easily be shaken. Sadly, the behind-the-scenes story of what it took to bring this film to fruition is just as tragic.
The Orphanage (2007, Directed by J. A. Bayona)
Official Synopsis: Laura (Belén Rueda) has happy memories of her childhood in an orphanage. She convinces her husband to buy the place and help her convert it into a home for sick children. One day, her own adopted son, Simón (Roger Príncep), disappears. Simon is critically ill, and when he is still missing several months later, he is presumed dead. Grief-stricken Laura believes she hears spirits, who may or may not be trying to help her find the boy.
What else can I say about this 21st Century horror classic that hasn’t already be said? If you’ve seen The Orphanage, then you will no doubt agree it achieves rare levels of both suspense and sorrow. A mother’s search for her missing child is the kind of trope that sticks right in your gut, whether you have kids or not. If you haven’t experienced The Orphanage for yourself, you’re missing out on an absolute treasure—just keep those tissues handy for Act 3.
Dark Touch (2013, Directed by Marina de Van)
Official Synopsis: In a remote town in Ireland, eleven-year-old Niamh finds herself the sole survivor of a bloody massacre that killed her parents and younger brother. Suspecting a gang of homicidal vandals, the police ignore Niamh’s explanation that the house is the culprit. To help ease her trauma, dutiful neighbors Nat and Lucas take her in with the supervision of a social worker. Niamh has trouble finding peace with the wholesome and nurturing couple, and horrific danger continues to manifest.
Dark Touch completely flips the script on existing “creepy kid” tropes with devastating results. Something is definitely wrong with Niamh, and we suspect she’s a bad seed, telekinetic, or possibly even possessed. It takes a while, but it eventually dawns on us that “Dark Touch” is a metaphor for sexual molestation, and Niamh is acting out years of repressed trauma (supernatural elements are present but open to interpretation). As devastating as this reveal is, it’s the identity of the perpetrator that will absolutely destroy you.
Sleep Tight (2011, Directed by Jaume Balagueró)
Official Synopsis: César is the superintendent of an apartment building and keeps very close tabs on the tenants. He secretly enjoys inflicting pain on others, and the occupant of apartment 5B will be his new target.
Let me paint a picture for you: A woman loses her husband before giving birth to their beautiful child. Just as she’s finding a renewed joy for life, she gets a letter: “Hi, remember me? I was the superintendent in the apartment building you used to live it. I’m the one who killed your husband. PS: I raped you in your sleep, so your baby is actually mine. Have a nice day!”
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Alien 3 (1992, Directed by David Fincher)
Official Synopsis: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only survivor when she crash lands on Fiorina 161, a bleak wasteland inhabited by former inmates of the planet’s maximum security prison. Once again, Ripley must face skepticism and the alien as it hunts down the prisoners and guards. Without weapons or modern technology of any kind, Ripley leads the men into battle against the terrifying creature.
I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I never considered Alien 3 a terrible film. On the contrary, I thought it was a fantastic, if devastating, conclusion to Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) story arch, one that left me weepy, yet soothed in the knowledge that the franchise’s heroine can at least rest in peace. I mean, what were people actually hoping for? A space romance where Ripley marries Hicks, adopts Newt, and movies back to Earth with Bishop in tow as cyber-nanny? I’m aware of the backstories detailing the behind-the-scenes fiascos that plagued this production, but I never looked at Alien 3 and thought about what could have been—only the lasting effect it had on me.
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Se7en (1995, Directed by David Fincher)
Official Synopsis: When retiring police Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) tackles a final case with the aid of newly transferred David Mills (Brad Pitt), they discover a number of elaborate and grisly murders. They soon realize they are dealing with a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who is targeting people he thinks represent one of the seven deadly sins. Somerset also befriends Mills’ wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is pregnant and afraid to raise her child in the crime-riddled city.
4 words: “What’s in the box?”