The horror genre has been known to boast some of the bloodiest, vile movies known in cinema. Movies franchises like Saw, Hostel, and Nightmare on Elm Street push the buttons of the MPAA and taunt audiences with grotesque ideas involving guts and gore. We hate (and love) seeing depictions of realistic torture on the silver screen because it makes us squeamish and repulse in horror, yet we can’t get enough of it. However, there are definitely some movies that can offer up the scares and terrorize their viewers without resulting to much use of violence at all.
Visionaries like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski are known for pushing horror movies by use of suspense, thrilling atmospheres, and dark writing, but who else does Hollywood have to offer for gore-less fright flicks? We’ve has compiled a list of 15 frightening movies that feature hardly a drop of blood. If you’re looking for a sophisticated scare, or you if you can’t really handle seeing the red stuff on the big screen, we highly recommend checking out the following movies.
15. THE CHANGELING
In 1979, director Peter Medak and writer Russell Hunter saw their creepy haunted house horror flick, The Changeling, released in theaters to much acclaim. The movie starred George C. Scott as John Russell, a composer who recently lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. For grieving purposes, Russell decides to move to an old Victorian-era mansion in total solitude to begin piecing his life back together.
Of course, in typical haunted house fashion, the spirit of a murdered kid begins to terrorize Russell as he just begins to settle in. It’s up to him to uncover what exactly happened with the murdered spirit and bring him to justice. The film uncovers a murder-mystery story in a horror-type fashion, except with hardly any use of blood and not a single hint of gore. Its fresh screenplay relies heavily on the creepy haunted house setting, a psychologically paralyzing situation, and George C. Scott’s terrific, engaging acting.
14. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is known for its frightening, legendary tale of alien abduction and body-swapping. Both the original 1956 film and its brilliant 1978 remake convey a horrific science fiction story without any violence at all, showing aliens slowly replicating everyday humans and replacing them with emotionless clones.
While the original movies and remake have a few differences in plot, the general story is very much the same: a silent alien invasion is sprawling through a town in California and it’s up to a handful of humans to uncover what exactly is happening. Alien plant spores appear throughout town and slowly begin to hatch with unexpressive human clones, replacing all human life forms with alien “pod people.”
The idea of humans losing their personalities and identity is terrifying and, for some, a realistic and horrific fear. Invasion of the Body Snatchers manages to convey a scary idea and stretch it out as wide as it can be, giving audiences their own concept of fear. As much of a thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers is, the film retains all its creepiness with a surprising PG rating.
13. THE BABADOOK
The Bababook first made waves in 2014 for being one of the most refreshing horror films in the past decade. The independent Australian-Canadian film by director Jennifer Kent was praised for its creative atmosphere and intense screenplay, as well as its genuine depiction of horror in a genre often dominated by jump scares and torture porn.
The movie follows a single mother named Amelia attempting to discipline her rebellious six-year-old son, six years after the death of her husband. After her son begins having nightmares about a monster coming to terrorize the family, Amelia finds a story book called “The Babadook” in her own home and realizes that monster may not be just a figment of her son’s imagination after all.
The theme of internal struggles between The Babadook’s cast of characters, as well as depression manifesting itself into an actual movie monster, makes this film such a thoughtful entry in horror. The Babadook is a scary, enthralling film, and it’s successful without the use of any guts or gore.
12. THE ORPHANAGE
Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, with some budgetary aid provided by producer Guillermo del Toro, crafted one of the best horror movies in the last decade with his 2007 entry, The Orphanage. Not only is this film terrifying, it’s also pretty clean in terms of blood splatter — there’s really none to be found. This movie doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares or playing with its audience via loud noises, but rather building an atmosphere creatively and filming a concise screenplay with intense acting.
The movie sees a former orphan named Laura revisiting her childhood home with her adopted son Simón. After Laura decides to reopen the orphanage she lived in before she herself was adopted, her son Simón begs for her to meet his new friends. Laura insists these kids only exist in his imagination, but after spotting a masked child at the orphanage, Simón eventually goes missing. It’s then up to Laura and a team of hired parapsychologists to uncover the house’s mystery and track Simón down.
11. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
In 2009, Paranormal Activity created shockwaves throughout the world. Oren Peli saw his supernatural horror flick release in theaters to much acclaim, racking up nearly $200 million at the box office on a mere $15,000 budget. Peli crafted a movie that terrorized audiences while creating a realistic setup of real-life horror, which definitely saved a ton of money in the long run. By swapping out gore and violence for a rational fear of a home invasion via paranormal forces, Paranormal Activity became one of the biggest horror hits ever.
Paranormal Activity heavily relies on its two actors (whose names are the same as their characters): Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. After Katie and Micah movie into their new home in San Diego, it’s revealed Katie has been haunted by an evil presence since she was a child. After Micah doubts her claims, the two set up a video camera to take a glimpse into their lives after hours. By starting off with just a few house flickering lights and door slammings and gradually building into a full-on demonic possession, Paranormal Activity creates a real-life horror adventure through the scope of home surveillance cameras and a realistic living situation.
10. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
This may come to be a shocker to some, but despite its name, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn’t actually feature a ton of gore. Director Tobe Hooper omitted the script’s bloodshed in hopes of receiving a “PG” rating for his film, though the MPAA actually gave the movie an “X,” which was later downgraded to an “R.”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did its best to hide its blood, though it was clearly visible in most scenes. Leatherface was drenched in it, as was his grandfather and most of the cast, but we never saw it being spit out toward its audience. Hooper decided to instead show the impact of terror and what comes with it. Sure, there was blood, but the audience never saw it physically coming from anyone’s body. A gang of friends ultimately fell victim to Leatherface and his cannibal family, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre only hinted at the terror that ensued without fully demonstrating the results of the character’s gasoline-fueled weapon of choice.
John Carpenter’s genius 1978 horror slasher Halloween introduced a killer named Michael Myers to the world of cinema. He was incredibly threatening and seemingly unkillable, stalking his victims through a mask and soundtracked to his own breathing. The audience participated in his stalking, as Halloween often gave a first-person view through the eyes of the killer via Steadicam and showed how Myers chose to murder. But most importantly (for the purposes of this list, anyway), Myers killed his victims and they didn’t really bleed. We just knew they did.
John Carpenter’s Halloween tells the tale of a six-year-old killer named Michael who murders his sister, gets put into a sanitarium, and busts out to kill once again 15 years later on Halloween. We’re shown Myers’ intentions from the beginning: he’s as bloodthirsty as they come. He’s pretty much an unstoppable force fo nature throughout the movie, and he uses his signature butcher knife to carry out the deed of death. But we’re also visibly shown hardly a lick of blood, as his victims squirm their way out of his path or simply die off in the shadows, and the audience barely sees any of the red stuff.
8. THE GRUDGE
The 2004 film The Grudge was a remake from director Takashi Shimizu, sourcing his own Japanese release Ju-On: The Grudge and repackaging it for American audiences. It’s a supernatural tale revolving around a curse that kills, originating from the very moment someone dies in extreme sorrow or rage and passing on to its next victim. It’s all a bit confusing, as the rules aren’t explicitly stated in a straightforward manner, but that didn’t stop the film from terrifying moviegoers and making a major dent at the box office (it brought in $187 million on a $10 million budget.
The movie was told in a non-linear sequence, showing tales of the curse’s victims and splicing them all into one intersecting plot. The Grudge‘s murders aren’t shown, however, and this neither is the film’s ensuing violence. The camera would sometimes cut away from the death or cleverly give a reason for the audience to not be able to view the blood of victims, rightfully earning its PG-13 rating.
7. THE RING
The Ring was a 2002 American remake of a Japanese film called Ring from 1998, which itself was based on a novel of the same name by author Koji Suzuki. It’s considered one of the first American-Japanese horror remakes, followed by The Grudge, Dark Water, and One Missed Call. The movie revolves around a cursed videotape that kills its viewers within seven days after their initial viewing.
The Ring joins the likes of The Grudge in terms of clean, dark and disturbing horror. Most of the movie’s scary visuals come from the videotape itself being shown to its victims, as well as the psychological aspects of a simple VHS tape holding a curse that could kill. It may seem a bit outdated by today’s standards, but even its marketing campaign depicting a long-haired girl popping out of a screen in commercials caused some havoc over television sets.
It remains to be seen whether the film’s upcoming sequel, Rings, will take heed from its predecessor and pass over the red stuff in favor of more subtle scares.
Roman Polanski is the famed director of horror classic Rosemary’s Baby, but before shooting one of the most defining films of his career, he crafted a beautiful black and white movie by the name of Repulsion in 1965. The movie was a psychological thriller that revolved around a woman named Carole (played by Catherine Deneuve) who becomes mentally sickened by thought or actions of intimacy. Repulsion ended up releasing on Compton Pictures, which was, at the time, known for distributing softcore pornography movies.
Roman Polanski shot most of Repulsion inside of an apartment, thus marking the beginnings of a series known as the “apartment trilogy.” Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant would follow years later, with all three films depicting a female lead stuck in an apartment in some capacity. Repulsion was made without gore and conveyed most of its scares in thoughtful fashion, showing Carole in realistic and uncomfortable situations. The killings depicted in the movie also gave sympathy toward its lead character, giving the audience a skewed view of Carole’s alluded-to past.
Released in 1932, Freaks is one of MGM Studios’ most controversial movies ever. The movie was directed by Tod Browning, best known for helming the 1931 horror classic Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. Shortly after Browning’s success with Universal and Dracula, he was given the green light for Freaks, but unfortunately, due to the film’s lack of success and critical panning, Browning’s film career success would soon grind to a halt.
Freaks showed real-life circus and sideshow performers cast in its story. The plot revolved around a beautiful trapeze artist who agreed to marry the leader of the group of sideshow performers, only for the group to find out the woman is in it to inherit a large sum of money. Many panned the movie as exploitative toward its cast, offending those who watched it. MGM pulled the movie fast after its initial release in theaters, deeming it a failure before it ever reached domestic audiences.
4. THE BIRDS
The 1963 horror film The Birds was based on the 1952 story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. Acclaimed and legendary filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock, of course, directed this incredible movie. The movie tells the story of a woman named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) who finds herself in the midst of unexplained and violent bird attacks in Bodega Bay, California. Without much blood at all, The Birds depicts a story featuring a horde of nameless killers from a beast called Mother Nature.
Tippi Hedren makes her acting debut in The Birds, and it’s her terrific performance that helps meld this masterpiece together. Most all of the scares in The Birds rely heavily on Hitchcock’s talent and knack for suspense building, ultimately crafting disturbing scenes that startle the audience without much bloodshed. The movie is a PG-13 horror masterclass, using camera cuts to hide most of its violence or flashing visuals to depict its scarce gore without a full depiction.
3. IT FOLLOWS
It Follows is a clever horror film from 2015 that combines the Japanese styling of curse-killing with the West’s craving for sex and paranormal entities. Directed by David Robert Mitchell, the movie shows a group of teenagers attempting to ward off a sexually transmitted curse. The curse kills whoever catches it via intercourse, but it could also be passed onto others through sex as well if given the opportunity.
There’s a sense of lingering that is abundant within the universe of It Follows. Generally, the audience is often left in the dark when it comes to horror movies, but It Follows enjoys taunting its viewers with shots that seem to focus on nothing for too long, or simply not providing a jump scare when it has the opportunity. A lot of the film’s terror comes from simply not knowing, whether it be who will die next — if anyone — or how the movie will decide to pan out in the end. None of its kills are grotesque, but rather thoughtful, and even at times, strategic.
2. ROSEMARY’S BABY
The second entry in Roman Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” came with his 1968 film, Rosemary’s Baby. Based on an Ira Levin novel of the same name, this horror classic tells the tale of Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) as they move into their new apartment building and handle Rosemary’s strange bodily reactions to a pregnancy that may or may not lead to the birth of the spawn of Satan.
Like Repulsion, this movie doesn’t feature much gore or violence at all, but rather an immense, darkly sense of disturbing actions. Its atmosphere is unmatched in the horror genre, depicting cleverly written characters pushing through a gripping pace. At concise moments in the film, even the most mundane actions of Rosemary seem to be frightening. While the genre is often depicted as cheap thrills and jump scares, Rosemary’s Baby succeeds with its understated terror. The movie has been recognized by the Library of Congress and has been preserved in the National Film Registry as one of America’s most important films.
Directed by Patrick Brice and based on a script written by Brice and Mark Duplass of The League fame, Creep is a brilliant film that offers a realistic scare for today’s society. The movie follows Aaron, a man who answers a vague Craigslist ad written by a man named Josef. Aaron documents his entire encounter with Josef and watches as this elusive, socially inept character evolves into a total creep right before his eyes.
Without any reliance on gore, violence, or blood whatsoever, Creep paints the portrait of a modern day, anxiety-ridden weirdo. Aaron’s nice guy attitude and Josef’s blunt, aggressively odd personality clash as the two interact throughout the film. The audience is left to wonder about Josef’s motives while joining Aaron’s own worries about the mysterious man who hired him via Craigslist. As the film progresses, the two characters build up an amount of tension that feels like the ultimate climax upon release, and when the film’s reached its end, the audience is left in shock of its creepy, realistic portrayal of encounters with the mentally ill.
What other horror flicks manage to elicit scares without heavy use of the red stuff? Let us know in the comments.