Ending with a scream… right?

Posted: May 22, 2024

Can you recall the end of the last horror movie you watched?

On Halloween night, like many other high-schoolers, Minnehaha Academy sophomore Christopher Stone chose to spend his evening watching a horror movie with friends. After scrolling through Netflix to find the Goldilocks porridge that would settle their hankering for a horror, the friends chose The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.

“It was a great watch,” Stone said. “However, I don’t recall many specifics from the ending.” 

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of horror movies; they evoke that unique gut-wrenching, heart-dropping visceral reaction of sheer terror, and yet we’re oddly left wanting more. The draw to horror movies is the big scare, but what about the ending? Are we actually invested in our hero’s journey, or are we just there for the adrenaline rush?

Horrors are designed to freak us out; it’s the appeal. Some love it, and others, not so much. A late-night horror movie might have you checking a few extra times to make sure that you locked the door, or even looking under the bed to reassure yourself that there aren’t any monsters lurking in the shadows. We’re still terrified when the horror ends, but is it the endings that terrify us?

One of the most celebrated horror movies with a not-so-memorable ending is The Silence of the Lambs. Director Jonathan Demme’s 1991 thriller features one of the genre’s most haunting villains, Hannibal Lecter — a quintessential, textbook antagonist bound to make any watcher’s skin crawl. Despite the film’s overall excellence as one of cinema’s premier horrors, the ending doesn’t provide the satisfaction that the rest of the film upholds. Ultimately, the ending is fairly simple, and our villain Lecter escapes. It sets up a cash-grab for the ages, establishing a franchise that went on to make numerous sequels that blatantly failed to capture the high of the original. The missing coup de grace isn’t too detrimental to the film’s general quality, but the vapid cop-out of an ending certainly compromises the authenticity. 

Although The Silence of the Lambs ending may seem bland to some, to the larger public, it never hampered the film’s success. The Silence of the Lambs even went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars as the only horror movie to ever win the prestigious award that some filmmakers spend their whole careers chasing. 

Another popular horror movie, Psycho, takes an approach to the horror genre ending that has caught on in the many years since its release: the twist. Alfred Hitchcock — the director of Psycho and many other classic thrillers — is such an esteemed director in the horror industry that he was deemed “The Master of Suspense.”  Psycho features one of the most shocking twists in cinema history, but that’s not what the movie is remembered for by those who saw it in theaters.

“What I remember from when I went to see Psycho was digging my nails into my cousin’s palm,” said Minnehaha grandparent Sheila Wagner. “I can still see the image of the skull, and it was terrifying.”

Though she has some vivid recollections of a few specific scenes, the ending’s grand hurrah only seemed vaguely familiar.

“I can picture the final shot of the mother, but I forgot about the twist at the end,” Wagner said.

Whether the villain gets away, or the hero wins, it doesn’t seem to impact our long-term memory of the film, but what we do remember is what had us jumping out of our seats. We’ll picture the same scene playing over, and over again in our minds, but the ending becomes just a distant memory. So maybe, the endings just don’t matter all that much.

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