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Even before it blew away expectations on its way to a surprising $30 million opening weekend and a Certified Fresh 95% on the Tomatometer, the Blumhouse- and Atomic Monster-produced M3GAN was already a cult hit thanks to its hilariously WTF trailer. Audiences expecting just another “killer robot” retread now didn’t know what to think, and that promise of unexpected left turns went on to fuel M3GAN’s killer debut. Now, we can also expect a sequel to the film in 2025 (yes, it’ll be called M3GAN 2.0), with stars Allison Williams and Violet McGraw set to reprise their roles and Akela Cooper returning to write the script.
If you were like the many moviegoers who left the theater with a hankering for more horror films that zig when you expect them to zag, you are spoiled for choice. From new releases to cult classics, here are 10 horror movies that defy expectations, take surprise left turns, and leave audiences with heads full of WTF. Oh, there may be some SPOILERS ahead, so tread carefully.
(Photo by ©Vitagraph Films courtesy Everett Collection)
This is the movie that made sure the world knew Japanese goremeister Takashi Miike’s name. Audition is about a lonely recent widower looking for love whose movie producer friend devises a phony audition for a non-existent project in order for him to meet new women. One of the participants is a beauty named Asami, and the widower immediately falls for her. What follows is red flag after red flag – why are all the contacts listed on her resume missing? – building to some of the grossest and goriest reveals you’ve ever seen. It’s a movie that feels like it’s going to be Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct but then becomes….well, very much NOT either of those. This one is only for the strong of stomach.
“Just when you thought it was safe to book an Airbnb…” Barbarian tees you up for one kind of movie – a woman traveling alone has to share a double-booked rental house with a creepy guy – and then takes you on a much different (and much, much more frightening) journey. Just when you think you have a handle on it, it throws something else at you. It’s full of gruesome surprises, and the less you know going in, the better. So we’ll shut up now.
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
The set-up couldn’t be more horror movie cliché: A bunch of clueless teens gather for a night of debauchery in a sprawling mansion while a hurricane rages through the area. Cue power outages and dead bodies, right? Well, yes…but not the way you’re thinking. Despite its seemingly traditional premise, Bodies Bodies Bodies quickly shifts from Horror to Black Comedy Whodunit, skewering Gen Z culture along the way. The final reveal – what exactly happened to kick off the ensuing night of panic and terror – completely upends everything you’ve seen up until that point, and it’s perfectly, pitch-black hilarious.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Another film that plays on the conventions of traditional horror movies – horny teens, creepy cabins, oddball locals – The Cabin in the Woods sets up the game board with everything you think you know and then flips it off the table. As the layers get peeled back and the story begins to reveal itself, it’s one “WAIT, WHAT?” moment after “WAIT, WHAT?” moment until the final, blood-soaked finale. It works as both a meta joke and a kind of “horror movie mixtape” that somehow keeps finding new left turns.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
It’s rare that you find a film where the twist is so dramatic and sudden that its first half and its second half feel like two completely different movies. For a while, From Dusk Till Dawn gives you exactly what you’d expect from a Robert Rodriquez/Quentin Tarantino co-production: Long, funny monologues about questionable topics, black-clad criminals on the run from the law, and even Big Kahuna Burgers. But then escaped cons Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Tarantino) and their hostages (a widower and former preacher played by Harvey Keitel and his children played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) find themselves at The Titty Twister – a sleazy strip bar in the middle of the desert. Things then take a sudden and violent turn squarely into Horror, with the club becoming a vampire-infested Alamo.
It’s really hard to talk about Malignant without spoiling the reveal of who, what, and where the killer is, but suffice it to say, if you’re expecting another “the killer was in the main character’s head all along” you’ll be… Well, it’s tough to say, really. Both surprised and right? Malignant – directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring, and also a producer on M3GAN) – is about a woman who believes her violent dreams are actually having real world consequences. So far, so basic, right? The movie then reveals a truly bonkers twist that elevates the whole exercise to instant cult status.
A lot of the movies associated with the “torture porn” subgenre were little more than nasty excuses to be flagrantly misogynistic with only the barest of stories. While Martyrs certainly shares similarities with some of these movies, it is not just gleeful gore indulgence. It has more on its mind, and it’s revealed with shocking twist after shocking reveal, all built around truly uncomfortable viewing. Just when you think it can’t get worse…it does. The premise is simple to start – a woman who escaped imprisonment and torture sets out for revenge on those she feels are responsible – but the story does not unfold in any way you’d ever see coming. It’s the rare movie that is both well made and really hard to recommend. Martyrs is not fun or easy viewing, but you won’t soon forget it or its many disturbing surprises and graphic images.
The Menu (2022)
If you ever wondered what would happen if you mixed one part Glass Onion (2022) with one part The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), sprinkled on a little Clue (1985), and baked it all in a broth of Gordon Ramsey at his angriest, you’d have some idea of The Menu experience. A twisty and unsettling thriller, it’s a dark tale where food snobbery and the wealthy elite are served up as the main course. Starring Ralph Fiennes (who doesn’t have to work too hard to be unsettling) and Anya Taylor-Joy, The Menu is full of misdirects and unexpected hard lefts while not being stingy with the social commentary.
Speak No Evil (2022)
The very definition of a “slow burn.” A conservative Danish family – a dad, mom, and daughter – befriend a more relaxed and adventurous Dutch family – a dad, mom, and son – while both families are vacationing in Italy. A surprise invitation for the Danes to come and stay with the Dutch in their home for a long weekend several months later lights the fuse on a tense, creepy, and unsettling story. What’s masterful about Speak No Evil is that you’re never quite sure if the unease is because of cultural differences – are the Danes simply being too uptight? – or if something odd really is going on. The ending is a deeply troubling gut punch that will leave you stunned.
You can’t accuse director Tobe Hooper of being lazy. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was dirty and grimy and, at times, felt a little too real, as if Hooper was a documentarian who stumbled onto something he should never have seen. When it became a surprise smash hit, he could have easily followed it up with more of the same. Instead, Hooper lured audiences in with a familiar title only to completely swipe the rug out from under them. The sequel is nothing like the original; from its deliberately stylized lighting and color (like the comic book-inspired look of Creepshow) to its weird attempts at slapstick comedy, it left fans scratching their heads and newbies completely confused. Hated upon release, it’s since become a WTF cult classic.
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