Part one: Jaw-dropping horror movie twists fans didn’t see coming

Isabelle Fuhrman as "Esther" in Orphan: First Kill from Paramount Players, eOne, and Dark Castle Entertainment. Photo Credit: Steve Ackerman/Paramount Pictures
Isabelle Fuhrman as "Esther" in Orphan: First Kill from Paramount Players, eOne, and Dark Castle Entertainment. Photo Credit: Steve Ackerman/Paramount Pictures /

I love good horror movie twists, especially the ones I didn’t figure out along the way. To give myself credit, I have gotten pretty good at spotting a twist coming, but that still doesn’t damper my respect and enthusiasm when it’s a well-executed twist.

Before reading any further, you should know that there are MAJOR spoilers ahead…that should go without saying when discussing horror movie twists, but I am going to say it anyway. If you haven’t yet seen one of these films, I suggest skipping that particular discussion and watching the actual movie instead. Then, please rejoin us!

This list is in no particular order, since I am not good at “ranking” horror films – I like so many of them for very different reasons. Without further ado, let’s start talking about some excellent horror movie twists.

Orphan – There’s a reason people still talk about this film, which was released in 2009. I mean, a prequel will be released on August 19 of this year, 12 years after the debut of the original! Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are John and Kate Coleman, a married couple grieving the stillbirth of their youngest daughter. Upon visiting a local orphanage, they are captivated by 9-year-old Esther, a sensitive and artistic child from Russia, and adopt her.

Soon enough, Esther starts to display some very mature (and very disturbing behavior), which makes Kate realize something is oh so wrong with her new daughter. Unfortunately, her husband doesn’t believe it, and Kate ends up hospitalized.

Shortly after this, we get one of the most brilliant horror movie twists ever written when Esther tries to seduce her adoptive father. That sounds pretty icky, but as it turns out, “Esther” is not actually a little girl. She is a 33-year-old woman named Leena, who suffers from a hormonal disorder that makes her appear much younger than she actually is. Not only that, she has already murdered several people, including the last family who adopted her.

Isabelle Fuhrman was only 12 when she played Esther in Orphan, but she blew it out of the water with her performance. She was believable as a child, and she was believable as a grown woman; I don’t think many young actresses could have pulled that off so seamlessly. I will always remember the look of fury on her face, as her heavy eyeliner streams from her eyes.

horror movie twists
The Cleansing Hour. Image courtesy Shudder /

The Sixth Sense – We can’t talk about horror movie twists without bringing up M. Night Shyamalan’s chilling, heart-wrenching 1999 film, which was nominated for six Academy Awards. Of course, this being a horror movie in 1999, it did not win any of the awards, but the mere fact that a “scary movie” was even nominated was unusual.

Osment was only 10 years old when he appeared in the film as Cole, a quiet, serious little boy with a very big secret. His overwhelmed mother (Toni Collette) knows something is troubling him, and pleads with him to open up to her, but he is so afraid that he won’t tell her.

The Sixth Sense opens with Malcolm Reynolds (Bruce Willis) and his wife coming home after he has won an award for his work as a child psychiatrist. Malcolm is shot by a former patient who has broken into his home, a gaunt, tortured young man who says that Malcolm failed him.

Malcolm begins working with little Cole, and we as the viewers begin to see why the child is so afraid; as he later tells Malcolm in the movie’s most famous scene, “I see dead people.” Cole is constantly being contacted by people who have passed away, usually in violent ways, and they appear to him with horrific injuries.

When Cole finally reveals his secret to Malcolm, he doesn’t believe him, and thinks the boy is suffering from hallucinations. But he later recants, and tells Cole that perhaps these dead people are pleading for his help. That tip does the trick, and Cole begins to help the ghosts tend to their unfinished business. He becomes happier, and finally tells his mother his big secret in a scene that still makes me cry every single time I watch the film.

You would think the “I see dead people” reveal would be the horror movie twist, right? But the big whammy comes shortly afterwards, when we realize that Malcolm is one of those dead people. It makes the viewer replay everything they have just seen, and realize that it was right under our noses the entire time. His wife didn’t ignore him because she was angry with him; she couldn’t see him. Cole’s mother wasn’t leaving the two alone because she thought they needed privacy; Malcolm was not really there (at least to her).

Given the brilliance of this twist, it’s no wonder Shyamalan’s follow-up films have left viewers feeling disappointed, although it seems unfair. A film this brilliant and well executed is a rarity.

The Cleansing Hour – This Shudder Original didn’t really seem to be a huge success for the streaming platform, although I personally loved it. In particular, I loved the twist that came at the end of the film.

Max and Drew have been friends since they were children, and as adults, they work together on a livestream show called The Cleansing Hour. As “Father Max”, Max performs an exorcism on each episode of the show, which has a lot of followers. What the followers don’t realize is that the show is a fake, and the possessed humans are actors who are paid for their performances.

Drew’s fiancée Lane has been trying to convince him to leave this sordid business, but she reluctantly agrees to fill in when one of the hired actors doesn’t show up for their big exorcism scene. She gives a heck of a performance too, until finally Max and the crew realize that she isn’t acting, she is actually possessed.

The possessed Lane kills off the crew members, one by one, and then forces Drew and Max to start telling their secrets: that the show is a fake, that Max committed an accidental murder as a child, and much more. As the number of viewers climbs, Drew realizes that the demon is up to something, and identifies it by name as Aamon. By the time Aamon finally leaves Lane, Max and Drew’s friendship has been ruined by the lies that have come to light, but, hey, the demon is gone, right?

When horror movie twists come out, everything gets turned on its head, and Aamon reappears with a jaw-dropping confession. “Hey, I’m not really Aamon, I am Satan himself…and by the way, the 17 million watchers you currently have? Yeah, I have now possessed all of them.” I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s the gist.

We then see people all over the world suddenly attacking and killing everyone in their vicinity. Even the US President is slaughtered by his own son. Mass demonic possession, followed by murder: what a great twist!

Keep your eyes on 1428 Elm, as we return for part two of jaw-dropping horror movie twists.

dark. Next. Watch the trailer for Pearl, the prequel to X

Are you good at figuring out horror movie twists? Let us know which twists were your favorites in the comments section.