Time is of the essence when it comes to horror. Pacing, scares, setting, and, sometimes, even the concept we revolve our lives around around all come into play. As we approach the final hours of the day, we have to remind ourselves to wind the clock back an hour at midnight, a phenomenal practice that keeps the earth (or at least our daily schedules) in orbit.
Daylight Saving Time is a simple concept really: each fall we set our clocks back an hour and each spring we set them forward an hour to optimize our exposure to sunlight. With modern technology most of the legwork is done for us, but we have to acknowledge what makes the sun set a little earlier in the evening and rise a little earlier in the morning come this time of the year. Each of the choices on my Top 11 Terrifying Tales of Time Travel in Horror are easy reminders to keep your clocks in check and refrain from meddling with time’s natural order. Given the following situations, it’s obvious that the repercussions of doing otherwise can be pretty horrifying.
11. The House at the End of Time (2014)
For all of you obsessed with keeping lists, channels, and volumes to a specific number, a special exception had to made for Alejandro Hidalgo’s Venezuelan tale, The House at the End of Time (La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos). In 1981, Dulce is arrested for murdering her family, serves 30 years, and is released for the remainder of her time to live on house arrest in 2011. It is only then that Dulce, an elderly woman, figures out the truth behind the bumps in the night, the ghostly apparitions, and her son’s disappearance as the clock strikes 11:11 pm on November 11th and transports her back in time. Make a wish, Dulce!
10. Lake Mungo (2008)
One of my personal favorites, Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo, takes the concept of a causal time-travel loop for a long, emotional walk around the block of a suburban neighborhood following the tragic drowning and death of a young woman in an Australian lake. Heavily eerie premonitions of the future and spirits from the other side collide in this traumatizing ‘mockumentary‘, creating a predestined climax that will knock you out of your seat more than once. Anderson’s underrated ghost story is as haunting as it is timeless and realistic.
9. Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s cult classic Donnie Darko combines teenage coming-of-age motifs, wormholes, and the psychological effects of space and time. When Donnie narrowly escapes death after a misplaced airplane engine crashes into his bedroom, he begins receiving messages from the ominous bunny suit-wearing Frank. Suddenly, a book titled The Philosophy of Time Travel written by the local loon, the unmasking of a hometown idol, and a sweet romance with an equally odd girl converge on each other like collapsing timelines. Donnie’s mad world stirs up quite a circle in this weird system resulting in a dark wrinkle in time.
8. Triangle (2009)
The Bermuda Triangle is a cesspool of mystery and wonder, but director Christopher Smith gives some rhyme and reason to the territory’s disappearances. Jess and a yacht full of other recreational boaters are plagued by strange, volatile weather and must jump ship to a neighboring vessel. From there, the passengers find themselves trapped in a dangerous loop that sinks all the expectations we have of watching a random B-Movie. This film causes us to wonder if the Bermuda Triangle even casts a three-pointed shaped at all, or rather a never ending circle of doom.
7. Devil’s Pass (2013)
Renny Harlin’s low-key, hair raising ghost adventure Devil’s Pass exposes the disturbing found footage of five students searching for the reasons behind the mass disappearance of a Russian hiking expedition up in the treacherous Russian climate of the Dyatlov Pass. While time travel and the confusion surrounding the sequence of events these students find themselves in does not begin to fall into place until the end of the third act, all of the sad pieces twist into a perfect, horrifying whole. What makes this film so much more terrifying than the others? The Dyatlov Pass is a real place. The mysterious, ill-fated expedition of those Russian hikers? That’s real too.
6. Blair Witch (2016)
In a major twist only horror film history can provide, Adam Wingard’s secretive festival film The Woods took everyone back in time and back into the woods in search of The Blair Witch. In this followup to the wildly successful The Blair Witch Project, simply titled Blair Witch, curious friends follow the brother of missing filmmaker Heather back to the consuming forests of Maryland in search of her and the killer legend hiding in the trees. Whatever entity The Blair Witch is, it’s quickly learned that she can can warp time by slowing it down, speeding it up, and ensnaring anyone that dares face her in it. As soon as these kids leave their car behind and step off the trail into the woods, like Mike, Josh, Heather, and all those lost before them, they’re on the Witch’s clock.
5. Grave Encounters (2011)
What do you do when you’re trapped inside a haunted house? Better yet, what do you do when you’re trapped inside a haunted house where time is nothing more than a series of numbers on the face of your ticking watch? In Colin Minihan (What Keeps You Alive) and Stuart Ortiz’s (It Stains the Sands Red) tongue-in-cheek, yet brutally scary found footage horror, Grave Encounters, uses lost time as an additional way to torture the crew of a ghost hunting television series who find themselves unable to escape the truly haunted asylum they’re investigating. Hours turn to days, days turn to weeks, but who’s keeping count when you’ve becoming one of the patients there for eternity?
4. John Dies at the End (2012)
Time is a silent killer and no one spins a story around that thought like David Wong in his John Dies At The End book series. Don Coscarelli’s edgy, otherworldly adaptation mixes humor, out-of-body hallucinogens, violence, alternative dimensions, and heavy machinery to send you on a trip through time that may have you returning a little different than you were before. Have no fear, the title is not necessarily a preconceived spoiler. John Dies At The End will have you doing a hardcore dance begging for more while singing “Let’s do the time warp again!“.
3. The Final Girls (2015)
We often look upon the past with feelings of nostalgia to revisit our favorite memories of people and places. Outdated horror tropes and expectations, on the other hand, are best left in the past as we’ve evolved our genre roles, rules, and culture as a whole. Todd Strauss-Schluson’s The Final Girls pokes fun at our favorite types of horror character, the situations they find themselves in, and the stupid mistakes they make. Following the tragic death of her scream queen mother, a literal tear in fabric of time takes Max and her friends back in time to an 80’s slasher style camp environment where they are subject to a familiar machete-wielding madman. We learn, for the most part, it makes more sense for old horror archetypes stay limited to the screen. Time has definitely changed the factors of horror, for better and for worse.
2. Paranormal Activity (Franchise)
What started off as a low-budget, found footage film evolved over time into a monster franchise spanning five installments and one sister film. Time is not exactly relative when it comes to the Paranormal Activity saga of Katie, her family, and all of those they effect with their occult magic. The generational hauntings (and mysterious closet portals) allow for good, old fashioned time jumps that weave throughout the whole series. One thing this franchise has taught us as viewers is that the past can haunt us, but the future can be a frightening unknown place if you’re on the other side of a demon’s coven.
1. Army of Darkness (1992)
As the origin of our beloved Necronomicon and third installment to our treasured Evil Dead series, Army of Darkness was a timely deliverance of whimsy, gore, Bruce Campbell one-liners, and classic scary movie effects topped with the perfect amount of cheese. When horror hero Ash is sent back in time to 1300 and enslaved by King Arthur and his men, its game on between him and the historic deadites they face. The film’s original ending is an added bonus time jump fit for any Evil Dead fan. There’s no question Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness holds a special place in time and in our hearts. Hail to the king, baby.
Like a good ride through time, these films range in modern-age thrills and old age goodies that will surely leaving you contemplating time, space, and all of the unknown in between. Stephen Hawking has nothing on the horror genre’s ability to manipulate, control, push, bend, and stop time. These horror films are right on time with the season and perfectly quantum transitions to get you from Halloween to the month of November without getting lost in space. Remember to set your clocks back… or else!