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10 Famous Twist Endings That Were Actually Not That Great

17 May 2016 | Features, Other Lists | by Christian Olson

best psychological horror movies

It’s a wonderful sensation to be surprised at the movies. When everything comes together in a film, and the screenplay is written well, and viewers are left scratching their heads, saying “I did not see that coming!”

It’s the “twist ending,” the GOTCHA that rarely happens to today’s movie-goers. Granted, it’s not an easy job to do well. Unfortunately, that means that more-often-than-not, a movie’s “plot twist” is obvious within the first act. That doesn’t necessarily mean that filmmakers’ end results are terrible. Quite the opposite, time has shown, again and again.

The ten films on this list, in no particular order, are good examples of when a “plot twist” is possibly not used to its full potential. Most of these movies are loved by their fans, and many have become “cult classics.” But remember what the late Robert Altman said, “What’s a cult? It just means not enough people to make a minority.”

 

10. Friday The 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham)

Mrs. Voorhees (Friday the 13th)

This envelope-pushing debut in the slash-and-stalk niche of the Horror film turned out to be box-office gold to the studio that snatched it up for major distribution, Paramount.

Critics were falling all over each other to get on their soapboxes and condemn everyone involved. The late Gene Siskel hated it so much that he revealed the film’s twist to his readers in an attempt to affect ticket sales. It failed. Friday The 13th made so much money, in fact, that its easy formula would be copied and repeated hundreds of times.

And what was the twist ending that Gene Siskel infamously revealed? The killer was actually a woman, played by the once squeaky-clean, girl-next-door Betsy Palmer. The problem with this twist ending is that it’s literally impossible to guess. In mysteries, audiences have their fun trying to guess the identity of the killer.

Friday The 13th actually had no mystery to it. Other than the machete-wielder’s gender, there was no “Ah ha!” to it. She was never seen nor mentioned up until her reveal, so there was no way to solve the non-existent twist that Siskel so famously “revealed.” Despite that plot hole, the film would go into the history books, as everyone fully knows.

 

9. Devil’s Advocate (1997, Taylor Hackford)

Devil's AdvocateDevil's Advocate

Nobody doesn’t like Al Pacino. From the serious, quiet roles, like Frank Serpico and Michael Corleone, to his screeching, arm-flailing scenery-chewing in later films like the epic heist film Heat. Heat is a perfect example of later-Pacino genius. To his credit, Devil’s Advocate is another slice of Pacino at his unhinged best.

Unfortunately for him, and everyone who sat through it, the ending is no surprise to anyone except the befuddled Keanu Reeves. We know what he inexplicably doesn’t: Pacino is in fact…Satan himself. Gasp.

The resulting film is a flawed horror/legal thriller. While its twist is more than obvious from the first glimpse of Pacino; it’s not a completely awful film.

Devil’s Advocate has a lot going for it. Great cinematography, eerie and frightening special-effects, and enough of an interesting story to make it ultimately a fun movie. Pacino’s acting choices are intensely amusing, and completely overshadow the bland, expressionless Reeves. You may not be surprised, but it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy the attempt.

 

8. Secret Window (2004, David Koepp)

secret window

It’s always a disappointment when Johnny Depp stars in a so-so movie. This time it’s another Stephen King adaptation, which has Depp playing a miserable character: Mort; an author, residing alone in his country manor, running away from his soon-to-be ex-wife so he can be alone.

His peace is broken by John Turturro playing “John Shooter”, an author who believes Depp stole, then copied Shooter’s story, “Secret Window”. (“You stole my boooook.”) Mort tries desperately to find his first-published story to prove he wrote it before Shooter made his version.

Its twist ending is one that some of the audience feels cheated by; The old creative-copout: split personality. But, with King’s and Depp’s names attached, Secret Window made money. Though, critics weren’t impressed, with results being mixed, to say the least.

It isn’t that bad, silly ending notwithstanding. Koepp’s a good director who showed a surprising amount of restraint when it came to violence. And it’s hard not to like Johnny Depp, at least in this particular thriller.

 

7. Haute Tension (2003, Alexandre Aja)

High Tension

This is a horror movie, no bones about it. (Pun embarrassingly intended.) The fact that it’s in French, with English sub-titles is in no way a distraction.
Translated into English, “High Tension”, there’s maybe no more fitting description of what this slasher-homage delivers.

Cécile de France is Marie, the star/victim, endlessly chased by the terrific French actor Philippe Nahon as The Killer. (If you’re interested in Nahon’s other films, check out Gaspar Noé’s sadistic “Seul Contre Tous”) Cécile is staying with her girlfriend Alex’s (actress Maïwenn) parents’ house. What should have been a sexy, fun holiday with the two girls turns abruptly and inexplicably NC-17 violent.

The Killer (that’s the only name given) pursues Marie after slashing almost every other cast member to ribbons. It’s a bloody film, with much suspense and…tension. Though, its twist ending is absolutely incredible, in the literal meaning of the word. It completely defies credibility. It is an unbelievable explanation for the abundant bloody body count.

Critics (here we go again) were as mean to Haute Tension (aka “Switchblade Romance”) as Nahon was to his victims. Seemingly, the majority of the negative reviews had to do with the ending; the horrible, plot-hole-filled, unbelievable, “No f—ing way!” final resolve. Yes, it’s yet another use of the Dissociative Identity Disorder. [see Secret Window]

However, it’s a well-made throwback to the films of the short-lived post-Friday The 13th-era slasher age. Proving that point, Alexandre Aja’s next project would be the obligatory remake of Wes Craven’s cult favorite “The Hills Have Eyes.” But it’s this brutal movie, whatever title you choose to call it, that horror and gore aficionados return to again and again, despite the intelligence-insulting explanation.

Note to screenwriters: D.I.D. is never a crowd-pleasing ending! Keep trying!

 

6. Angel Heart (1987, Alan Parker)

Angel Heart (1987)

The main gimmick in this film was the chance to see Bill Cosby’s then-TV daughter, Lisa Bonet, play an adult role, with all the expected nudity to follow. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke plays a private detective hired by Robert DeNiro to find a character named “Johnny Favorite.”

Rourke, eventually, has sex with Bonet’s character in a scene which earned Angel Heart the dreaded X-rating. Cut by mere seconds, it then passed with an R. Controversy regarding the “wholesome” Lisa Bonet inevitably ensued. (Who’d have guessed that the director of Bugsy Malone would go on to helm such a semi-pornographic horror/thriller?)

The film’s major reveal is something even a fifth-grader could have predicted. Actually, anyone who glanced at any of the film’s press could’ve figured it out. You see, Robert DeNiro’s character is named Louis Cyphre. Thinking on that name for more than three seconds is the reveal. To further the obvious, the novel it’s based on is called “Fallen Angel” by William Hjortsberg. (Have you figured it out, yet?)

Okay. If you don’t know; the name: “Louis (aka Lou) Cyphre” phonetically sounds like “Lucifer.” Well…if stretched just a wee bit.

Audiences most likely knew the reveal without even having to see it, because the final box-office take was a paltry 17 million dollars. Critics mostly disliked it. As is predictably the case, it has since gone on to amass a cult following. A cult which will proudly defend this fun-to-watch-anyway, mystery, quasi-horror picture.

 

 

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  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    This is the better list.

  • Patrick Hill

    I think that with Usual Suspects, the fact that we realize that we indeed have no idea what really happened ties in amazingly to Soze’s invisibility. After we thought we knew it all, he even fooled us, and that’s why it’s the best of them all, he played everyone as fools. Seems self evident really, no?

  • Dave Teves

    I think that’s what The Usual Suspects is all about. The feeling that we are duped is exactly what makes the movie genius. It makes you question the validity of everything you believed in and how you were very convinced by it.

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    Nice list. I think Secret Window is very underrated. Personally i loved it, even though i figured out the twist ending pretty fast.

  • Felony Jones

    martyrs needs to be on this list.

    • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

      I’m not sure I’d even call the end of Martyrs a twist, just an inane pseudo-profound wash-out.

  • Jack Napier

    I agree with The Usual Suspects but not because it invalidated everything we saw. That was probably the best element of the twist ending. The disappointing factor is simply that the victim turned out to be the killer, which is… Well not particularly interesting or creative… It’s kind of like that Now You See Me film’s ending… Man I hated that film.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    The ending of Haute Tension is of course in keeping with the slasher tradition of ludicrous endings. What makes it sting is that the film as a whole is far better put together than most of the oldies were, so the ridiculousness sticks out instead of being part of the fabric of goofiness.

  • Aitor

    so you think the “major reveal” of Angel Heart is deNiro’s character name? 😀 it’s not a revelation nor an ending twist… more like a hint to help viewers to keep up with the ongoing investigation and make sense of the intermingled network of the lord of darkness.

  • R. D. Finch

    My vote for worst twist ending in recent memory goes to “Fight Club.”

  • Moy Hernández

    You should’ve added “Now You See Me”, it’s horrible

  • SupernaturalCat

    I didn’t perceive a twist ending in Angel Heart since too many things are revealed that point to “Harry” throughout the telling of the story …aside from the prevailing creepy atmosphere, the real horror of Angel Heart actually rests with the audience already knowing what the protagonist does not (yet) and how we watch that doomed character pull back the veil bit by bit, scene by scene, until he can longer run from the awful truth. That haunting piano score of one of “Johnny’s” tunes, the oft relied upon religious iconography, that bit with “Harry” descending to Hell in the elevator as the end credits roll…all leave a lasting impression. Back in the era it was released, this and Jacob’s Ladder (another twist ending story) were two of the creepiest in the genre, and all these yrs later, still are.

    • Toby Dammit

      Excellent description.One of my all time favorite movies and the inspiration for one of the best pc graphic adventure games ever: Gabriel Knight: The Sins of the Fathers.

      • SupernaturalCat

        There’s a book from the early ’90s, Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film, that contains a brilliant essay from Katherine Ramsland, titled, “Angel Heart: The Journey to Self as the Ultimate Horror.” If you’re a fan of the film (although she does draw comparisons from novel-to-film adaptation) I highly recommend seeking it out. I picked it up back when it came out, but it’s likely still in print, or uploaded to the web.

        She walks it through in amazing detail, and it was only after reading it, and then re-watching the film that I was cognizant of the myriad of just-below-the-threshold-of-awareness, Kubrick’esque symbolism that’s used throughout – doubles and counterparts everywhere, all subconsciously alerting the viewer to elements most would scarcely be wary of the first time watching it. As an afterthought, it reminds me of the symbolism employed in Kubrick’s The Shining.

        • Toby Dammit

          Thanks for the tip on the book. I have it saved on my to buy list.

          The symbolism is great in Angel Heart. I especially liked the backwards rotating fans as a symbolic push towards death.

          I find that Kubrick is much more abstract in his symbolism, especially in The Shining.

          Have you seen The Ninth Gate by Polanski perhaps? Another great film with lot’s of atmosphere and symbolism.

  • womanity13

    What are the “actually great” famous twist endings?

    • SupernaturalCat

      I don’t know about “great,” but as a recent example I found that Take Shelter has an incredible slow burn twisty conclusion …it apparently really angered many people who apparently needed Michael Shannon’s character to be ‘just crazy’ instead of imbued with psychic visions/portents. After all, the looming storm at the film’s conclusion is not imaginary, and he and his family are not having a “shared hallucination,” ha …an oft implied rationale to ‘explain away’ the prophecy angle.

    • Toby Dammit

      Psycho, Profondo Rosso, The Parallax View ,Welt am Draht, Planet of the Apes, Old Boy, American Psycho, Seven and Arlington Road are some great ones.

  • Rudi

    I actually NEVER heard anyone say they guessed the twist of The Others right. This one would without a doubt be in my top 3 of best movie twists.

  • Paesito “Martin Paez” Paez

    When I fist saw The Usual Suspects I freaking loved it but know the more that I think about the film itself the more I realize if you just take the ending away the film is not that great

  • Tony Emond

    I thought that one of the strong points of Angel Heart is that the audience can see the “twist” coming long before Angel does, even though he’s supposed to be a detective.