Without the need of ghosts, monsters, or killers, these films will terrify you to your very bones.
By Corina Mendoza
1896 was the year that saw the birth of horror cinema. The film was simple: it featured nothing but an incoming train, heading straight for the camera. People, unused to such an odd experience as watching motion pictures, were filled with dread and terror when they thought the train was actually going to hurt them. It looked so real, so vivid, and so menacing, that nothing in their previous experience told them it wasn't actually behind the screen and that it wouldn't break through and run them over. The whole audience ran away from the theater as they saw the train approach. The film is called Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, by the Lumière Brothers. One simple scene was enough to scare the audience, and it featured no ghosts, no monsters, no blood, and no crazy killers on the loose. It was just an incoming train.
Horror is a genre that has undergone constant changes and re-inventions in the film industry ever since the 19th century. It has created some of the most terrible demons and murderers, but it has also kept the primal expression of fear by merely implanting some terrifying idea in the minds of the viewers. The following films take this latter approach, and they're pretty scary even without the need for ghosts, monsters, or killers.
Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
A married couple decides to extend their family and adopt a child. When they visit an orphanage to do so, they meet a young and seemingly delightful girl. She appears to be educated and highly intelligent. However, after she arrives to her new home, everything begins to change. Things happen that range from the strange to the sinister. As the parents decide to investigate their new daughter's past, they discover terrible things.
Where's the horror? Basically, in the girl's personality and behavior. It's an outright creepy matter.
The Birds (1963)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
A pair of strangers meet in a pet store. When the woman finds out who the stranger is and where he lives, she decides to pay him a visit bearing a gift: a pair of birds. Somehow, their arrival alters the behavior of the entire avian population in the region, turning them into utterly disturbing creatures.
Where's the horror? The masses of birds may be cute to watch in the sky and from a distance, but they are nightmare-inducing if the fly right above your head and stab you with their threatening beaks.
Dir. John Carpenter
Arnie is a timid boy who diligently goes to school every day in his friend's car. Shy as he is, Arnie must endure bullying and abuses from his classmates. One day, he finds a red car, in terrible condition, for sale. He buys it without a second thought. The car not only gives him a new project, it completely changes his personality and sets strange—and even paranormal—events in motion.
Where's the horror? The car's name is Christine…
Dir. Brian de Palma
Carrie's shyness has always made her vulnerable to bullying and mocking. The fact that her mother is a religious fanatic doesn't help either. But the breaking point comes when Carrie suffers the worst humiliation of her life, after which she exploits hidden powers to cause a bloody massacre.
Where's the horror? The moment when Carrie unleashes her anger is deeply shocking, to say the least.
The Human Centipede (2009)
Dir. Tom Six
An eccentric doctor has the most disturbing dream in the world. Unfortunately, two unlucky girls who happened to get lost on the road will discover everything about it and experience it with their own flesh and blood—literally.
Where's the horror? Unwilling and invasive human experiments are always cruel enough to scare any sane person.
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
An innocent girl is seduced by a somewhat mysterious man. Even though he shows a rough character and a distant demeanor, she decides to marry him and move into his mansion. The luxury and size of the place leave her in awe, but she'll soon discover that the man's first wife, Rebecca, used to live there as well. Rebecca's presence is so ubiquitous that it soon breaks the newcomer, with terrible consequences.
Where's the horror? You always dread that a ghost will jump out from any corner of the house.
Black Swan (2010)
Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Nina is a repressed ballet dancer. She's isolated, stressed, and always under pressure to be perfect and secure the leading role in The Black Swan. However, though she's an excellent performer as the White Swan, the Black Swan character demands her to unleash her true colors—to experience raw emotions and let go of any constraints. Her development as a dancer and person ends up filling her with anxiety and delusions.
Where's the horror? Nina's hallucinations are terrifying, so much so that looking in the mirror will never be the same.
Dir. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Angela and Pablo accompany a couple of firefighters to document a typical night at the station. Reports of an incident force them to go into a building where neighbors are upset over the strange behavior of one of the residents. Little do they know that, once they go in, they won't be able to leave. Inside, they'll experience the greatest danger and sheer terror imaginable.
Where's the horror? The black-and-white scenes from the recording camera's perspective show very little—we can't help but fear the unknown and imagine the worst.
The Tall Man (2012)
Dir. Pascal Laugier
Julia, the town's doctor, is distressed by the mysterious disappearance of some of the community's children. So, she keeps a close eye on her own son. One night she loses sight of him for a couple of seconds—and that's enough for a tall and unknown figure to kidnap him: the very same one that has taken the others. Julia's desperate quest to find her son leads her to discover the terrible identity of "the tall man."
Where's the horror? The kidnapper's identity is nothing short of terrifying.
Dir. Rob Reiner
Annie is the biggest fan of popular writer Paul Sheldon. So, she follows him to the cabin where he retreats to write his novels. When a devastating snowstorm leads to a car crash, Annie takes advantage of the situation and "saves" her hero's life, who will live the worst experience of his life under the "care" of his disturbing fan.
Where's the horror? Annie's personality goes from caring to outright psychopathic within moments. Her descent into madness is truly disturbing.
Shutter Island (2010)
Dir. Martin Scorsese
Teddy Daniels and his deputy, Chuck, arrive to a psychiatric hospital in Shutter Island to investigate certain suspicious events. But they soon find that the mysteries of the island go well beyond their investigation, as the place's atmosphere and the obstacles laid in front of them by the staff lead to the detectives' mental breakdown. They soon start hallucinating and doubting the very nature of reality. The more they investigate, the more lost they get in the remote corners of their own mind.
Where's the horror? As the detectives search around the island, they start to reveal a deep mystery and unexpected happenings. The ending will make you shiver.
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)
Dir. Curtis Hanson
Peyton, a woman of striking beauty, is hired as a nanny by the Bartel family in order to have her look after their newborn daughter, Claire. Though at first Peyton appears to be perfect for the job, little by little she takes over the place even at Claire's expense. Not only that, but it will soon be revealed that Peyton has a dark secret.
Where's the horror? Peyton's beauty is as great as her wickedness.
Translated by Oliver G. Alvar
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