Horror that is heartfelt: When the genre turns fears into tears


When you think of the type of emotion a horror movie may stir up, you probably think of fear. But, there are a handful of horror movies that stir up a different type of emotion entirely.

Some horror flicks can reach an emotional depth that most do not. An example of the type of horror that I’m talking about is Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series. Many viewers were shocked and surprised by how emotional it was; some were not pleased, and felt like this made it less scary.

The Crain family’s reactions to the trauma they experienced at Hill House made it seem more frightening to me. If the events in the series were to happen to a “real” family, the children may indeed have grown to adulthood with the same issues the Crains grapple with: addiction, crippling aversion to human contact, low self esteem, the desire to “fix” every thing that goes wrong, etc.

*Please note that spoilers are included in the remainder of this story!

Probably the single most emotional moment, judging by reactions on social media, was the reveal of Nell’s “Bent Neck Lady.” Nell had been traumatized since childhood by visions of this woman, who had a horrifically broken neck. In a gasp-inducing scene, Nell is pushed from the top of the stairs, noose over her neck, and as she hangs, she seems to be dropping down repeatedly. At each abrupt stop, she is looking at scenes from her life, from childhood to adulthood – the times she saw The BNL. That’s right, friends, Nell WAS The Bent Neck Lady.

It was a heart breaking moment, and it left viewers reeling. Of course, we later got the jump scare scene in the car, which also involved Nell. That one stirred up emotion of a different kind entirely!

Heartfelt Horror – The Haunting of Hill House – Courtesy of Netflix

What made Hill House so emotional was the Crain children, who were played to perfection by Julian Hilliard, Violet McGraw, McKenna Grace, Lulu Wilson, and Paxton Singleton. Unless a movie is about an evil child (ex. The Bad Seed), children in peril always tug the heartstrings, especially if there is a parent-child relationship involved.

The film Train to Busan is a gory, action-packed zombie flick with a lot of heart, thanks to the father-daughter relationship portrayed on screen. Seok-woo portays a workaholic father, who for whatever reason is raising his little girl Su-an alone. Mom is still in the picture somewhat, but Su-an lives with her father, who barely pays any attention to her. He buys her a Wii for her birthday, which would be great…except he bought her a Wii for her last birthday too.

Out of guilt, he agrees to take Su-an to visit her mother in Busan as a birthday gift, and they board the train the next day. Seok-woo’s plan is to drop his daughter off, then return to work immediately after but the zombie apocalypse happens, and they must band together with other panicked passengers to stay as safe as possible.

Heartfelt Horror – Train to Busan – Courtesy Next Entertainment World/ Well Go Entertainment

The surprising catch to this movie was the emotional journey taken by Seok-woo. He has, up to this point, been an impatient, distracted father, more focused on work than his child. But, when he and Su-an are separated on the train, he becomes frantic, and begins to realize how much he really loves his daughter, and how he will make any sacrifice to save her.

As anyone who has watched Busan knows, there is no happy ending (although Su-an lives, which was a relief), and I was ugly crying for the final few minutes. I am always happy to recommend this movie to my friends, but I also warn them to be prepared for the emotional reaction they will probably have.

The other emotional horror movies I can think of off the bat are:

Heartfelt Horror – The Final Girls – Courtesy Groundswell Productions

The Final Girls Max and her late mother’s relationship is so sweet and touching. When Max literally becomes part of her mom’s classic slasher film, she tries desperately to re-write the script and keep her from being killed. What she was really doing, of course, was trying to keep her mother alive in real life as well.

The Girl with All the Gifts:  This was another zombie movie featuring a child you really care about and empathize with. Melanie is so intelligent and charming that you can almost forget she eats human flesh.

The Sixth Sense: Haley Joel Osment gave perhaps the most natural child acting performance EVER, and I just wanted to hug him. This was again, a very real portrayal of a child who was experiencing trauma.

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I know that not everyone appreciates horror movies that have emotional layers, but I certainly do. I love a movie that can make me cry when I don’t expect it – which is interesting, because I am not much of a crier in real life.

How do you feel about horror movies that make you cry? Are you a fan, or do you think it’s a bad idea to mix emotion with horror? And, what are your favorite horror movies with heart? Let me know in the comment section.