For some, going home and reconnecting with family means a big bucketful of the warm fuzzies. For others, spending any time whatsoever with blood relations is considered a nightmare. This list explores family reunions that spiral into horror, whether everyone gets along or not.
This list is about family, sure, and it’s about the worst of what can go wrong when family comes together.
10. Scanners (1981)
Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) and Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) are both unusually powerful psychics, known as “scanners”. Scanners are man-made, meant to be private military weapons, but Revok goes renegade, intent on taking down ConSec, the organization that is overseeing the scanner project. Vale is recruited by ConSec to take Revok down. The twist is that Revok and Vale are actually siblings, born into their powers thanks to a high dose of drugs given to their mother during pregnancy.
Revok and Vale are the most extreme version of dealing with a sibling whose politics are the polar opposite of yours (and you know that there no chance of swaying their opinion). At least your sibling can’t explode your brain or incinerate your body using their mind just because you can’t agree.
9. Stoker (2013)
Tensions already run high between India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), and their relationship becomes even more unstable after India‘s father dies horribly. Enter estranged uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who’s charming at first but soon proves to have violent tendencies that in turn stir nascent violence in India. Mother and daughter may have reached an emotional boiling point eventually without Charlie‘s introduction, but he definitely takes their tensions to a new level (and spurs Evelyn to a great monologue in the final act).
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8. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)
For another film where a mysterious, charming relative named Charles shows up at a family home with ulterior motives, check out Stacie Passon’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018). Sisters Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) and Constance Blackwood (Alexandra Daddario), along with their uncle Julian (Crispin Glover) like to keep to themselves (which is reasonably easy to do after an incident involving arsenic in a sugar bowl left most of their family dead and the rest of the village all-too happy to avoid the Blackwood sisters). When estranged cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) comes sniffing around, Constance is easily charmed, but Merricat is less willing to let her world get shaken up by a newcomer.
7. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Newly-married Mortimer Brewster (Old-Hollywood heartthrob Cary Grant) decides to reunite with the aunts who raised him. He explores his childhood home, looking for something to inspire his next book; what he finds instead is a corpse. Aunts Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha (Jean Adair) are quick to explain that they’ve been luring lodgers to their home, only to poison them. What’s worse, murder seems to run in the family. Poor Mortimer not only has to grapple with the fact that his family are all criminals, but with the possibility that murder might live in his blood.
6. Sisters (1973)
Imagine you’re Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson): you get punked on a candid camera TV show, but the upside is that you score a dinner prize and a date with a beautiful woman Danielle (Margot Kidder). Her ex-husband (William Finley) keeps lurking around, which is weird, but hey, Danielle has invited you to stay the night. You have a great night, but in the morning, she’s unsettled and you hear her arguing with someone in her room. Danielle tells you that her twin Dominique has come for a visit and that it’s their birthday. You’re a nice guy, so you give them space to talk alone and go out and buy them a birthday cake. You make sure both of the names are on the cake. For your troubles, you get stabbed and stuffed into the couch. Your part of the story is over, the rest of the story belongs to Danielle as she navigates her reunion with her sister, and with the reporter (Jennifer Salt) who witnessed your murder.
5. The Visit (2015)
The only thing worse than being a teenager trying to relate to estranged grandparents with weird rules about going to bed at 9:30 and never going into the basement, and to do it for a full week, like Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have been made to do, is finding out that Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) may actually be terrifying strangers.
4. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
Almost every movie from the franchise from Halloween II (1981) to Halloween II (2009) could have a place on this list, but we’re going to go with Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. There’s something about the anniversary year in the title that makes this feel especially reunion-y. In this timeline, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is established as the youngest Myers sibling. She knows that they share blood, and, since we’re ignoring a few films in the canon, H20 marks Laurie‘s first encounter with her brother(Chris Durand) since high school. And she takes that encounter on with a fire axe.
3. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) returns home from her stay at a mental institution, where she was being treated for shock and psychosis. Her return reunites her with her father (Kim Kap-soo) and her sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), but also means that she has to face her stepmother and her family’s dark history. The sinister part of this family reunion lives in how unreliably the narrative untwists and understanding exactly what happened in this family home and who (if anyone) is at fault.
2. Ready or Not (2019)
Wedding celebrations are a great excuse to gather family together in one place. When the Le Domas family gathers for a wedding, they have a ritual of playing a board game with the newest addition to the family — a way to honour the board game empire on which the family fortune is built. Whether they love their traditions or would rather be somewhere else, the Le Domas family all play along when Hide and Seek is drawn, willingly grabbing weapons with the intent to slaughter and sacrifice new bride Grace (Samara Weaving).
1. You’re Next (2011)
It’s hard to say what’s more stressful: watching armed and masked intruders invade a fancy home and proceed to pick off family members one by one, or watching that same family sit through dinner together when they are all unlikeable people who barely seem to like each other. If you hate small talk, especially small talk layered with family bickering and taking snipes at each other, then Erin (Sharni Vinson)’s situation as the newcomer (brought there by her ex-professor boyfriend (AJ Bowen) to meet his family) would be unbearable. It’s a relief when the dinner is interrupted with deadly crossbow bolts (and some family members prove just how horrible they are).
Honourable Mention: The Addams Family (1991)
The Addams Family could and should be at the top of this list, if it were simply a list of best family reunion movies. Even though Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) originally reconnected with the Addams as a pawn in a ploy to swindle the family out of their fortune, this reunion was ultimately a joyful one for Fester and the rest of the Addams clan. The title of this piece is “Better Left Estranged”, and I think that we can all agree that the best place for Fester is with his family.
Are there other families that you think would be better left estranged? Let us know on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter pages. And as always, for all your horror movie news, reviews, and interviews, keep on creepin’ on at Nightmare on Film Street.