In 2002, I saw my very first legitimately scary movie — The Ring. It terrified me, shook me to my core, and made me a wimp when it comes to horror films.That may sound melodramatic, but even to this day, if I think of The Ring when my home is dark, I’m pretty much screwed for the rest of the night. But apparently I’m a glutton for punishment, because in 2005, I was first in line to see The Ring Two, which was equally as frightening, but not as entertaining.
Then, the final movie in my trilogy of horrors was released in 2008, in the form of the superbly disappointing Mirrors, starring Kiefer Sutherland. Mirrors wasn’t even good, but it did something to me. It disgusted me. It ruined me. It freaked me out so bad that I vowed to never watch another horror film. Ever.
But later this year, Rings, the third film in The Ring series, will be released. If any movie is going to tempt me to break my seven year absence from horror films, Rings will be the one. But even though it’s been years since I’ve seen an actual horror film, I, like most people, enjoy a good scare every once in a while. And while there are plenty of crap-your-pants worthy films out there, I enjoy a movie that is more creepy than terrifying. One that is not as scary in the moment, but freaks you out because you can’t get it out of your head. So, if you’re a grown man and suck at watching horror films, but still want to watch something scarier than Finding Nemo, check out our list of ten creepy movies that aren’t horror films.
Back when Shia LaBeouf was still famous, and before he was giving terrifying motivational speeches, he was on a rise to the top and was doing a remarkable job of breaking out of his Disney shell and taking on more serious roles. Case and point: Disturbia.
Kale is a 17-year old guy who, after being charged with aggravated assault against one of his teachers, is placed under house arrest for three months. Lame. Quickly becoming bored of TV and video games, he takes up a new hobby. He begins to spy on his neighbor, Robert Turner, who Kale believes to be a serial killer. The majority of the film is spent with Kale spying on Turner, and gathering evidence, until the ugly truth comes out.
The “most disturbing” scene: After Kale’s friend enters Turner’s home and records a video of his snooping, Kale reviews the footage. He notices something in one of the vents in Turner’s house, and zooms in to discover the face of a woman who died in pain, stuffed into the vent.
Following the huge success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan was under a lot of pressure to deliver another supernatural thriller that would be even better and more shocking than his previous films. While some will debate which film is better, my vote goes to Unbreakable.
The movie is a dark and realistic look at the lives of two superheroes, Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) and David Dunn, the unbreakable man. Throughout the film, Dunn comes to grips with his superhuman durability, and discovers he also has the ability to perceive the crimes that others have committed simply through touch. It’s a great superhero film, and a fantastic thriller with the great twist. Shyamalan films just don’t get any better than this one, and it is the last of his really great movies.
The “earth-shattering” moment: At the conclusion of the film there is a huge twist, a la M. Night Shyamalan. Mr. Glass reveals himself as Dunn’s archenemy, and Dunn discovers that Glass is guilty of a string of murders and terrorist attacks. Glass tells Dunn that all these crimes are justified because they were committed in order to find Dunn, so that the duo could finally meet.
8. Pan’s Labyrinth
I’ve never seen a foreign language film as rich and creative as Pan’s Labyrinth. But I guess that’s what you get when Spanish director Guillermo del Toro takes the reigns. The film revolves around events in the real world following the Spanish Civil War in 1944, and within the mystical realm of the labyrinth that Ofelia, the young protagonist, discovers in her backyard. In the labyrinth, Ofelia meets a faun that believes her to be royalty, and gives her three tasks she must complete if she wants to prove her royal status and become immortal. Ofelia struggles to complete the often terrifying tasks and survive the wrath of her brutal, abusive stepfather. Mystical creatures and locations provide a creepy and beautiful ambience that make the film not just eerie, but just plain great.
The “makes your skin pale” moment: One of the three tasks that Ofelia must complete involves stealing a dagger from the lair of the Pale Man (that super creepy guy in the picture). She is warned that the Pale Man enjoys eating children, and she must not wake him while in his lair. She, of course, does, and the Pale Man picks up his eyeballs, puts them in his palms, and chases after her.
This classic 1995 film feels like a more gritty and realistic version of Angels and Demons. In Angels, four of the Catholic Papal preferiti are murdered using one of the four natural elements — earth, fire, wind, and water. In Se7en, detectives Somerset and Mills (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, respectively) hunt a killer who is murdering each of his seven victims by means of one of the seven deadly sins — greed, gluttony, lust, and so on. The murders are gruesome and disturbingly creative, and the true horror of Se7en comes in the form of realizing that there are actually people like the killer who exist in the real world. Se7en vaguely plays off the religious fanaticism of people like David Koresh and Jim Jones, who both murdered in the name of religion. If you find this stuff interesting, Frailty is another great film along the same lines, as well as Fox’s The Following.
The “holy crap” scene: Mills and Somerset stumble on an address which may lead them to the potential killer. As they enter the apartment, they find not the killer, but the third victim. The man has been bound and unable to move for an entire year, and thus has been killed by way of slothfulness. But as the detectives investigate the decaying body. the victim suddenly gasps and lashes out, proving that he is not dead, just very close to it.
6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Temple of Doom is, more or less, the entire reason for the creation of the American PG-13 rating. When it was released, it was rated PG, and parents were pissed that they took their kids to it, expecting it to be all fun and games, like Raiders was. Instead, what they got was a film where Indy is tossed into the freaky world of human sacrifice, demonic possession, black magic, religious cultism, and, of course, chilled monkey brains for dessert. So, being too intense for a PG rating, but nowhere near deserving of an R rating, PG-13 was born!
Originally, Temple of Doom was seen as the weakest entry in the franchise, but its popularity has grown lately, and may be my personal favorite Indy film.
The “makes your heart beat faster” moment: Indy, Willie, and Shorty witness a Thuggee sacrificial ceremony. Mola Ram (the leader of the cult) rips the still-beating heart of the human sacrifice straight from his body, then the man is dropped into a pit of fire. As he is engulfed in flames, so is his heart, which Mola Ram still holds in his hands.
Nothing is as scary as a true story. In Cropsey, filmmaker and director Joshua Zeman explores the urban legend of Cropsey, the Staten Island Boogeyman who kidnapped and killed no less than five children, all of which had special needs. When the killer is revealed to be Andre Rand, a former orderly at the now abandoned Willowbrook State School (just a fancy name for an insane asylum) Zeman’s investigation takes him to the shell of a building, and he searches for clues about the inhumane treatment of its past residents.
The “insanely scary” scenes: Footage is shown from an expository news feature from the 70s regarding Willowbrook. It shows disabled kids sitting on the ground or other locations around the institution. Many of them are naked, have physical deformities or disabilities, and sit in their own filth. It’s tragic, heartbreaking, and horrifying.
4. I Am Legend
I saw I Am Legend in the theater having literally no knowledge regarding its plot. I knew Will Smith was in it, so that was good enough for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for the ensuing emotional trauma caused by this unsettling post-apocalyptic thriller.
When scientists believe a cure for cancer is discovered, the supposed antidote is administered in mass quantity throughout the world. But the cure quickly turns into a virus that kills 90% of infected patients. The remaining patients are transformed into some kind of monster/zombie hybrid, called Darkseekers. The only way to stay safe from the homicidal monsters? Stay in the light. Classic.
The “legendary scare”: There are multiple scary scenes in I Am Legend, including when Neville (Will Smith) first discovers the Darkseekers, and when he’s caught outside, injured, with the sunlight fading. But when the Darkseekers launch a full scale offensive attack on Neville’s home, you’d better have a change of pants ready.
Coraline has all the makings of a great children’s movie: characters that are wild and outlandish, stop motion animation, and a fantasy world where all of the the blue-haired protagonist’s wishes come true. So, is it a kid’s movie? Hells naw.
When Coraline Jones moves into a new home, she finds her new life unsatisfactory. She’s bored, her parents are neglectful, and she can never go outside because it’s always raining. She travels to a parallel world where everything she dislikes about her life is transformed into something amazing. Her bland meals become rich feasts with literal gravy trains. Her boring parents are loving and attentive. Her new friend who talks too much in the real world can’t open his mouth in the other world. It all sounds lovely, right? Oh, did I mention that everyone has buttons for eyes, and that there are creepy ghost children that are trapped in the other world?! No, this isn’t a kid’s movie. It’s as creepy as anything I’ve ever seen, and that’s why I love it.
The creepiest scene (and the other creepiest scene): Everything in Coraline emits an eerie feeling, and nothing feels right. The first time the Other Mother turns around and you see her button eyes is a pretty major WTF moment, but when she begins her transformation from caring mother to monster spider, this movie gets pretty out of control.
2. Shutter Island
A woman convicted of the murders of her children vanishes without a trace from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Two detectives are sent to investigate the disappearance, but things aren’t what they seem on Shutter Island. As time passes, Detective Teddy Daniels begins to lose his grip on reality, and the mystery of the vanishing woman becomes more bizarre rather than more clear.
Shutter Island is the textbook example of what a great psychological thriller should be. It’s creepy borderlining on scary, and keeps you guessing. Each character has a complex range of emotions and psychological issues, and even the sane people on Shutter Island seem crazy.
The scenes that “make you shudder”: Basically all of them. When the detectives first arrive, when they visit the pitch black Ward C, and when the truth about who Daniels really is is revealed. The movie is super intense right from the beginning, and just never allows you to let your guard down and feel safe. You feel like, at any moment, one of Ashecliffe’s criminal residents will do something unspeakable and terrifying. I really can’t convey the feeling of dread that surrounds this movie well enough, so just go watch it and see for yourself.
1. Donnie Darko
This little masterpiece is simple in premise, but its details are mind-melting. Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a high school student who suffers from visions and hallucinations caused by paranoid schizophrenia. In these visions, he sees the demonic-looking Frank the Rabbit, who tells him that the world will end in 28 days.
As the supposed apocalypse draws closer, Frank convinces Donnie to commit various crimes, like flooding the school, arson, and eventually murder, leading up to the end of the world. If you haven’t seen Donnie Darko, I won’t spoil the ending for you because it’s too good.
The “darkest” moments: Every single one of Donnie’s hallucinations involving Frank are pretty disturbing. Frank is clearly some kind of imaginary being that Donnie has created that allows him to act on dark fantasies and then pin the blame on someone else. The film is dark, confusing, and pretty freaking entertaining. But most of all the images of Frank the Rabbit will stay with you long after the movie is over. He’s incredibly freaky and memorable, and that’s why Donnie Darko takes the number one spot on our list of creepy (but not horror) films.
What are your favorite scary non-horror films? Do you prefer the supernatural or psychological thrillers on this list? If we’ve missed any great creepy movies, make sure to let us know!
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