We love horror movies around here, and that appreciation for the genre comes with the knowledge that occasionally, it will dish up some nonsense.
The search for the perfect fright has taken us to old, dark houses; damned villages; the open ocean; and even space. We’ve encountered aliens, clowns, monsters, and enough cursed objects to fill a museum that would, itself, probably be super haunted. Some of our favorite horror films play upon unconscious human fears, like how John Carpenter’s The Thing is more about distrust and isolation than shapeshifting aliens, and Teeth‘s vagina dentata “monster” represents not only anxieties about sex (and sexual violence), but also teenagers’ own lack of control over their developing bodies.
Despite all those metaphors, however, these movies work because their concepts are terrifying, and they locate their horror in appropriately scary places. But not all creators are so successful.
Some writers and directors find sources for terror in places that are, if not ridiculous, then at least silly. They ask their audiences to be afraid of objects and characters that you would normally ignore, if not hug. We’ve collected some examples here, and while we’re not necessarily saying that this makes their movies bad — although some are — they all had some serious work to do to make an impression.
Here are 15 Horror Movies That Tried To Make You Afraid Of Stupid Things.
15. The Conjuring – Raggedy Ann
This one’s low on the list because we aren’t going to pretend that the doll from the prologue of director James Wan’s The Conjuring — and the Annabelle spin-off films — isn’t ghastly to behold. It’s an effective design, and we get uncomfortable just looking at it.
But Annabelle gets way less terrifying when you’ve seen the actual toy that demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren kept locked in a cabinet in their house. It’s not a creepy, decrepit figure with a chipped, porcelain face like you see onscreen; it’s just a regular Raggedy Ann.
Wan is a smart and talented filmmaker, but even he must know that the scariest thing about Raggedy Ann is that the anti-vaccination movement adopted her as a mascot. We appreciate the redesign, which we’re sure is about 90 percent of the reason why the offshoots got the go-ahead.
14. Monkey Shines – adorable capuchin monkeys
Capuchin monkeys like Ella, the villain of director George Romero’s Monkey Shines, aren’t, themselves, stupid. They’re incredibly clever animals, and that’s why humans have been able to train them as service animals, performers, and spies, like the tiny Nazi agent in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It’s a bit of a leap from “fast learner” to “vicious killer” like we see in this movie, however, which is where Ella loses us. She limits herself to arson and light stabbings with hypodermic needles, which we appreciate because those are probable avenues for a tiny, insane primate. But look at that little face.
It also doesn’t help that she loves both hugs and snugs, which is not only adorable but also proves to be her downfall. Her quadriplegic owner, Allan, has very few avenues for defense once he discovers that his furry helper has been putting the kill on people. She does have a weakness, however: she loves him. Allan lures Ella in with the promise of a cuddle and then bites the evil monkey, whipping her back and forth in his teeth until she dies.
13. Night of the Lepus – rabbits
Rabbits are cute, and giant, killer rabbits are … still cute.
The marketing department behind 1972’s Night of the Lepus probably knew that, which is why the “monsters” receive neither a picture nor a mention on the posters. All we get are some spooky eyes and mentions of a “scuffling, shambling horde” created “when Science made its great mistake.”
You’d have to recognize the Latin word in the title to catch that this film is about deadly bunnies, and even that was a trick to hide the monsters’ true identities. The original title was Rabbits, but MGM changed it to hide the fact that it was making one of the most ridiculous movies imaginable.
12. Death Bed: The Bed that Eats – beds
Director George Barry’s 1977 cult classic Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is frankly one of the weirdest movies we’ve ever seen. It’s brilliant, in a way. It tells the story of a cursed bed that “awakens” periodically to consume anyone who lies in it. And that seems like the sort of thing that would be easy to avoid (i.e. just don’t sleep in the weird bed in the abandoned mansion in the middle of the woods), but you’d be surprised.
Some of the most effective horror films play on the times at which we’re most vulnerable. That’s how we get the shower scene in Psycho and the monster hiding in the toilet in Ghoulies. Death Bed tries a similar trick, attacking its victims when they’re all asleep and unassuming, but it won’t make you look twice at your own sleepy place because it’s so bizarre, wacky, and amazing.
11. Hausu – a piano
Apparently, 1977 was just a weird year all around, because it also brought us Hausu, a Japanese film that contains some truly strange on-screen deaths.
Typically, when we see a piano in a room, the scariest thought we have is how long it will be before someone sits down at the thing and starts playing “Heart and Soul” or, even more mortifying, “Chopsticks.” But Hausu contains an amazingly weird scene in which a piano devours a girl alive. And that’s unfair because she was playing pretty well before it went horribly wrong.
And the baby grand isn’t alone in having a body count here; one character suffers a death via mattresses, and another dies in a refrigerator. Unlike Death Bed, Hausu’s evil exists in pretty much any room you might enter.
10. Harbinger Down – water bears
We’ve already mentioned how Harbinger Down’s mutated tardigrades were more effective than the movie itself, but they had a lot to overcome to become truly terrifying.
Tardigrades, also known as water bears and moss piglets, are some of the hardiest species on the planet. They can survive extreme heat and cold, withstand incredible pressure, and are highly resistant to radiation. They also look like real-world versions of characters from a film by animation director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro).
We can see what Harbinger Down was going for: it takes a species that is already basically impossible to kill and then makes it want to murder everyone. But we couldn’t ignore that behind all those gruesome, clever practical effects were creatures that look ready to befriend an orphan and join them on an adventure full of magic, discovery, and hijinks.
9. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge – tiny birds
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a gloriously bad movie that recasts dream killer Freddy Krueger as an unwitting metaphor for the main character’s anxiety about his own homosexuality. And we appreciate that, but it doesn’t explain the movie’s most baffling “horror” scene.
The hero’s family notices that their home has become unbearably and inexplicably warm, and while Dad fiddles with the thermostat, protagonist Jesse investigates a strange ruckus coming from the covered cage in which their pet birds reside. He pulls the sheet off to discover that one of the two parakeets has murdered the other, and then it escapes and starts attacking the family.
This goes on for about 30 seconds before the bird explodes, leaving more questions than it answered. The scene adds nothing to anything, and even if it did inspire bird owners to take a cautious look at their feathered friends, at least they knew that any mayhem the thing might cause would be over pretty quickly.
8. Ringu – VHS tapes
Ringu is no joke. It’s probably the most legitimately terrifying film on our list, and that’s saying something considering you could obliterate the cursed video at the center of its plot with a strong magnet or a rerun of Cheers.
The tape and its mysterious contents aren’t the real horror, of course. That comes a week after you watch it, when the ghost of an evil girl emerges from your TV and kills you with her mind powers. But it is to Ringu’s credit that it drew nightmares out of an object that would melt like a candy bar if you left it in your car too long.
7. Slugs – slugs
Slugs starts with a teenager fishing in a boat while having a stupid argument with his girlfriend about where the local water comes from when he suddenly yells and slides awkwardly into the lake, which then erupts into bloody froth? “What killed him?” you might ask, if you’re watching this movie completely cold. And the opening credits are there for you.
“Slugs: The Movie” pops on the screen, which tells you two things: slugs ate that kid, and you are not reading a book. Slugs is, in fact, based on a novel, but that’s neither here nor there.
We’ve learned by now not to question the drastic biological changes that must occur for these animals to develop both the desire and capacity to eat people. Night of the Lepus taught us that. But we’re curious about how long “experts” spend figuring out how to kill the rogue gastropods when all they really need is a truckload of salt. One character suggests that, in fact, but they never follow up on it because she’s a woman in a crappy movie about carnivorous slugs.
6. Squirm – earthworms
Squirm, like Slugs, is about animals that shouldn’t be able to kill people somehow managing to do so. It’s about as good as a movie about deadly earthworms in an electricity-induced frenzy can be, partly due to some decent effects from award-winning makeup artist Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London).
Regardless, Squirm is still a movie about bait that wants to crawl into your face. It tries to sell the horror with some gross close-ups featuring the annelids baring their tiny teeth and screaming (vocalization is among their uncanny worm powers), but it never really works.
If you insist on making a movie about murderous earthworms, however, this is probably as good as you’re going to get. And if nothing else, Squirm at least got us a decent episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
5. Apollo 18 – rocks
If we told you that a horror movie exists about deadly space rocks, you’d probably assume we meant an asteroid, meteor, or comet that threatened to exterminate all life on Earth. But you’d be thinking too big.
Apollo 18 scales things way down when it reveals that the rock samples its two doomed astronauts had been collecting on their secret mission are, in fact, hostile alien critters in disguise. We don’t know what evolutionary advantage this stony form lends the creatures, other than providing a creepy reveal for a found-footage horror film, but movies take liberties with science sometimes.
4. Oculus – mirrors
Mirrors can be creepy. Anytime someone in a horror film opens their medicine cabinet, for example, odds are good that something scary is going to be in the reflection when they close it.
But Oculus goes one further by making a reflective surface the villain of the story. That doesn’t seem super scary on its own, but the thing is evil and capable of twisting reality through unknown means. The mirror drove the main characters’ parents crazy and caused their deaths, and the kids are trying to both prove that it’s full-up with black magic and destroy it, but the malevolent object is just not having it.
3. Paranormal Activity – doors
When you’re all snuggled up and asleep in bed, the very last thing you want is for your bed to eat you. Second to that is having your bedroom door creak open, seemingly on its own, and that’s the space that 2007’s Paranormal Activity occupies.
It’s not that the door is haunted or evil. When it opens, that’s just the invisible demonic entity that has been stalking main character Katie her entire life popping in to … do something. Very little of Paranormal Activity’s events make sense unless you’re making a horror movie. Its low budget and lean presentation mean that it’s very involved with getting the audience invested in what a door is doing from moment to moment.
2. Exte – hair extensions
We were going to use the South Korea’s The Wig, which is about a haunted hairpiece, but then we remembered Exte, and it’s way weirder.
Exte is a 2007 Japanese movie, and it’s about a hair fetishist who sells cursed extensions that come alive and kill the people who wear them. They’re damned because they come from the victim of an organ-harvesting operation, whose hair continues to grow supernaturally long. It’s similar to the more famous film Ju-On: The Grudge, which has the victim of a traumatic death returning as a vengeful spirit, only Exte is way hairier.
1. The Happening – the wind
The real threat in writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 eco-horror film is a neurotoxin that drives people to suicide. Plants release it as a reaction to the threat humans pose to their survival, and if you think that sounds impossibly not-scary, you’re right.
Even a movie this silly can’t contain ominous shots of plants, nor can it show the toxin itself, because that would give away the (underwhelming) twist. So what The Happening ends up doing to indicate the danger without overtly showing it is to have scenes in which characters run away from the wind.
This is mostly insane, but if you’re making a movie about killer plants that is not Day of the Triffids (a 1962 picture about deadly vegetation from space), you have to figure something out. Short of not creating the project at all, “scary death wind” will have to do.
What are the most ridiculous “scary” things you’ve seen in a movie? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
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