Everyone knows the burden of secrets and the dance we perform to keep them. But imagine if that secret wasn’t personal; it actually affected more than just you. Remaining hidden for years and years, those are the kind of secrets that can be devastating as well as horrifying.
While secrets can be the impetus for entire storylines in any film, there is one genre that routinely thrives on them. A number of horror movies have motives or phenomena driven by clandestine lies. And quite often, these long-held bouts of secrecy are found in family-oriented horror.
Horror has always had the pleasure of hitting close to home. By that, family life frequently heightens palpable fear without someone ever being the wiser. The terror one feels at home is possibly the result of truths they are completely in the dark about. So, bearing this in mind, we’re going to take a look at the domestic dread and festering secrets that these ten horror movies have to offer.
10. Estranged (2015)
Adams Levins’s first feature-length film Estranged reminds us there is no place like home when it comes to horror. Coming home proves uneasy for January, who is reunited with her family after an accident abroad. Her memory was so affected that she has trouble sorting everything. That is, until she finally realizes something is off about her parents and siblings. They’re not who she thinks they are, and there now appears to be no escape from their sadistic lunacy.
Estranged walks a well-worn path, that’s for sure. However, the cathartic avenue this household horror takes towards the denouement makes Levins’s debut a rewarding watch.
9. Grandmother’s House (1989)
Before M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, there was the little-known Grandmother’s House. A pair of siblings finds themselves living with their grandparents after they become orphans. As his sister Lynn acclimates to their new surroundings, young David immediately suspects his grandfather is up to no good. What nefarious activity he’s actually guilty of is unknown, though. So, David gets caught up in a mystery that proves curiosity killed the cat.
Grandmother’s House may initially lull you with its juvenile sleuthing rife with shenanigans and red herrings. Where it absolutely startles is its denouement, which comes off as both conspicuously grim and savagely appalling.
8. Loner (2008)
The thin line between withholding information and simply lying is intrinsic to the threat in Loner, a 2008 South Korean mystery. It all starts with Soo-na, a teenager who lives with her grandmother and uncle. When her best friend passes away, Soo-na develops a case of hikikomori, which involves severe isolation and withdrawal from society. Her guardians are understandably concerned by Soo-na‘s refusal to leave her bedroom. Yet when they opine someone — or something — else is living inside the room with Soo-na, they seek professional help.
Modern East Asian horror has the reputation of being all about long-haired and vengeful female ghosts. Loner ultimately bucks the trend, but not without first exploiting some of the movement’s clichés. Rest assured, this film stands out among its contemporaries with atmospheric worry and a truly unforeseeable ending.
7. Unhinged (1982)
For every mildly successful Friday the 13th cash-in there was in the early 1980s, there were other slasher films that went virtually unnoticed. Unhinged is one of those movies. The premise — three women recover at a remote mansion owned by a strange family after they have a car accident — goes against the grain well enough. Meaning, there are no summer camps or signs of killer parties in sight.
Unhinged is an insular experience where the foreboding house acts as a keeper of both the vulnerable characters and a startling secret. One would be remiss to not mention how the conclusive twist borders on plagiarism. Be that at it may, Unhinged is steeped in doomy ambience, and the erratic, rummy soundtrack will leave you restless.
6. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
For those who have somehow missed out on the diamond in the rough that is Sleepaway Camp, they will be taken aback by the impulsive turn of events at the very end. This slasher is low on aspirations, but it’s evident of how sometimes we ourselves are part of the deep, dark family secret without ever realizing the roles we play. In the movie, young Angela joins her cousin Ricky at summer camp years after Angela suffered a tragic, personal loss. Once there, someone begins to pick off the counselors and campers one by one.
Although Sleepaway Camp is coarse in most regards by today’s standards, it’s redeemed by sharp characterizations on top of ingrained scenes and death sequences. The film is also a conversation starter about topical social issues today. Now, for anyone up for more campy mayhem, there are three sequels that all vary greatly in quality in addition to tone.
5. The Boy (2016)
Babysitters and nannies just don’t fare too well in horror movies. The main character in The Boy is no exception either. Upon moving to a lonely English estate, an American named Greta learns that the child she will be caring for is really a doll. The parents give the new caregiver a strict itinerary for their beloved son, Brahms, and they expect her to follow it as if the doll were an actual boy. Over time, Greta acclimates to her new job as Brahms‘ stand-in guardian. So much so that she starts to believe her ward is more real than not.
As outlandish as The Boy may sound on paper, it’s quite the opposite as the story resists being fantastical. It forages other admittedly better horror films for ideas, but when everything’s melted together, this is a gainful feast of familiar frights. By the way, keep an eye out for more dolly disturbance in the upcoming sequel starring Katie Holmes.
4. The Initiation (1984)
As large and labyrinthine as malls and stores are, we surprisingly have very few horror movies set inside of them. One of the most notable ones in existence is 1984’s The Initiation, a film that fits in with the likes of Sorority House Massacre and The Slayer. In this nightmarish, stalk-and-slash flick, a sorority pledge is assigned the task of staying overnight in her father’s department store. Kelly experiences disconcerting dreams that neither she nor a grad student can decipher. It’s not until she’s trapped inside the store when things become clear — Kelly and everyone around her is in mortal danger.
Upon its release, The Initiation was eclipsed by A Nightmare on Elm Street, another teen-aimed horror movie that banks on spooky dreams and point-of-view lens shots. Nevertheless, this slasher is noteworthy for its ambitious plot, likable characters, and a sneaky killer’s reveal.
3. Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
As recognized as the original Candyman film is, not a lot of fans appear to acknowledge its first sequel. Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh entails a New Orleans teacher who learns of her family’s dark connection to the fabled, hook-handed boogeyman. By all accounts, this followup to Bernard Rose’s urban Gothic masterpiece falls short. It delves into a deeper mythos that it can barely withstand much less execute properly.
That being said, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh is a determined expansion on the established lore. Anyone who dismissed it the first time around should watch it immediately with the original and the third film, Candyman: Day of the Dead. Rarely will anyone insist these two continuations surpass the flagship; they do broach the idea of how our family’s misdeeds regularly define us.
2. Raw (2016)
Julia Ducournau’s debut Raw is a tour de force. She introduces us to Justine, a prodigal student who has enrolled at the veterinary school her older sister attends. There, Justine undergoes a transformation — both mental and physical — following a hazing ritual. And as part of the ramifications, she’s now driven by uncontrollable, carnal desires.
Raw is a fleshly, coming-of-age horror drama. As its name implies, its chaste surface is abraded by taboos and poetic viscera.
1. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
It might seem odd to include this horror-comedy, but Tucker & Dale vs. Evil contains a rather wicked family secret for one character. Of course, the truth that drives said character mad isn’t expressed up till the final act. This slapstick subversion of horror tropes big and small concerns two affable hillbillies aptly named Tucker and Dale. As they spruce up their newly purchased cabin in the woods, they get mixed up with some accident-prone college kids who think Tucker and Dale are sadistic murderers. It’s a comedy of errors rich in risible misunderstandings.
The actual villain in the film is ignorant of his own origin and how it’s shaped his views and actions. No matter how protected he was from the truth, nature steered him to behave despicably. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is proof we can’t pick our families.