We generally have an idea of when a movie is going to make us cry. Usually it’s a drama about cancer or an epic film where characters die while shouting heroic speeches. Occasionally, however, we’ll be watching a horror film when something happens that causes our chins to quiver and our eyes to mist up. “What’s going on here,” we might say. “This is a horror movie! I’m not supposed to be getting all choked up! This wasn’t supposed to make me cry!” Here are four such moments. (This article contains SPOILERS.)
In Mama, a man having a meltdown on a murderous rampage kidnaps his two daughters, Victoria and Lilly. After driving his car off the road, they end up in an abandoned home in the forest. Here he intends to kill the little girls. They are saved by a ghostly woman, Mama, who spends the next five years as their protector deep in the wilderness. When the girls are brought back to civilization to live with their uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel, Mama follows.
Raising the girls, whose development and vocabularies have been stunted by life in the wild, proves a major challenge even without the interference of a malevolent spirit. They have a hard time trusting Annabel as a new mother figure—as does Mama herself. Mama tries to make herself the girls’ sole guardian, and she’ll stop at nothing to get her way. Eventually, Victoria, being the older and wiser of the two girls, realizes that Mama is wrong, and Annabel’s actions toward the girls have earned her the chance to be their permanent guardian. Lilly, on the other hand, is still attached to Mama. The conflict climaxes at the edge of a cliff, where Mama has taken the girls and plans to bring them with her to whatever lies beyond the living. Annabel fights for them, and grabs hold of Victoria and won’t let go. Victoria wants to stay, but Lilly remains in Mama’s grasp. Lilly tearfully, with limited vocabulary, makes a plea to Victoria to come with her and Mama. But Victoria knows better. The two little girls reach for each other, sobbing as their guardians separate them. Eventually, Mama wraps Lilly in her arms and takes her to the other side.
Why it’s unexpected: Lilly essentially dies. The two sisters were inseparable throughout the film, and it’s a sad twist to see them torn apart from each other in such a profound manner.
3. Evil Dead (2013)
2013’s remake/reboot/quasi-sequel Evil Dead included a fresh twist on the “cabin in the woods” horror trope. Instead of featuring a group of friends simply out to have a good time far from the rules of society, the characters in this version are on a mission: Save their friend (and sister), Mia, from herself. Mia is a drug addict, and this cabin trip is a tough love effort to cut her off from her supply and help her through the intense withdrawal phase that will follow. No one knows Mia’s struggle with addiction quite like her brother, David. After a rough childhood with a mentally ill mother, her addiction has been threatening to bring further ruin to their small family.
When demons are unleashed on the group by the Necronomicon, Mia is the unfortunate recipient of the most powerful demonic possession. As her friends’ bodies pile up, Mia soon finds herself fighting for her soul. David, desperate to save his sister, realizes that the only way to drive out the demon inside her is to go to extremes by burying her alive. He restrains his sister and places her in a shallow grave, all the while being taunted by the abomination residing in her body. After he completes the burial, the fire on the tree next to him flames out. Quickly, he digs his sister from the ground and, using a makeshift defibrillator, tries to restart her heart. Believing he has failed, he morosely walks away, defeated. But then: “David?” His sister’s voice weakly calls to him, and he turns to see her standing up, fear in her eyes. He runs to her and they share a tearful embrace. They have had to endure so many battles throughout their lives, but none more intense than the literal battle for Mia’s soul. Finally, it appears, the worst is over, and these two loving siblings can move on and be the support for each other that they have needed their whole lives. This moment is even more heartbreaking when it comes to a violent end minutes later.
Why it’s unexpected: Fans of the original Evil Dead films may not have gone into the latest iteration expecting a powerful sibling relationship to be at the heart of a story where kids get possessed and killed by demons. The film also features many intense scenes of blood and gore, and tender moments between siblings don’t typically follow such action.
2. Odd Thomas
Odd Thomas tells the story of Odd, a small-town cook whose clairvoyance and communication with the dead have earned him quite a reputation. He works with the local police chief to solve crimes, either by getting help from victims or by predicting the future. His girlfriend, Stormy, with whom he is destined to be together forever, helps him along this weird journey. The arrival of a strange man, plus increased sightings of wicked creatures from another dimension that enjoy watching carnage unfold, disturbs the pair. Something horrifying is on the horizon.
Odd and Stormy eventually unravel the mystery and find out that a mass shooting is going to take place at the town mall, where Stormy manages an ice cream shop. Odd does not arrive in time to stop the shooting from beginning; however, he manages to ensure the safety of the mall’s patrons and employees, including Stormy.
Odd is badly wounded, but is hailed as a hero. Once he is fully recovered, he is sent home, or, rather, to Stormy’s home, where they proceed to canoodle and spend every waking moment with each other. Then comes the sucker punch to the heart. The police and a friend enter and tell Odd that it’s time to leave here, because the coroner has released Stormy’s body. WHAT?! Odd turns and sees Stormy, who now has tears streaming down her pretty face and is wearing the outfit she wore in the mall that fateful day—when she was shot to death by the killer. Odd had been able to still be with her because of his remarkable abilities to communicate with the dead, and he subconsciously didn’t want to let her go. The two share one last hug and tearful goodbye before she walks off into the ether of the afterlife.
Why it’s unexpected: The film is a fun horror-comedy. Although it has plenty of scary moments, it has a lightheartedness that betrays the heartbreaking finale. Plus, the filmmakers do a great job of hiding the reveal from us by showing Stormy at Odd’s side throughout his recovery, without anything looking out of the ordinary. A second viewing confirms, however, that she never said a word to anyone during that time, keeping with the rules the film established about the dead not being able to speak.
1. Bubba Ho-Tep
Bubba Ho-Tep has an outlandish premise: Elvis Presley and JFK are both still alive spending their twilight years in a nursing home, which is being terrorized by a soul-eating mummy. Oh, and JFK is black (“They dyed me this color!”). While the premise, and indeed much of the film itself, is comedic and absurd, Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, as Elvis and JFK, respectively, ground it with heartfelt performances. Larger than life personalities aside, these are two old men who’ve suffered through loss and heartbreak, now living dull existences peppered with scheduled meals and awkward nurses visits. When they discover the terror lurking in the halls, an evil Stetson-styled mummy who preys on the souls of the elderly, they team up to figure out its mystery and try to stop it. Finally, they once again have a purpose—something to really live for. Plus, in each other they have found not only a partner, but a friend.
During the final battle outside on the nursing home grounds, JFK has died in action. It is up to Elvis alone now to stop this mummy from devouring his soul and those of anyone else it terrorizes. He succeeds, but not without suffering the ultimate price. Laid out on his back, mortally wounded, he knows his time is about to expire. “I still have my soul,” he declares. “Folks up there, at Shady Rest—they have theirs, too. And they’re gonna keep ‘em. Every single one.” He looks up to the night sky. Stars rearrange themselves and spell out a hieroglyphic message for him as the music softens to a gentle piano melody. The message is subtitled, and it reads, “All is well.” These two men, who previously thought themselves lost and forgotten, have just saved the souls of countless people. Because of their heroics, all is well. Elvis works up enough strength to speak his last words: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Why it’s unexpected: Re-read that premise. Would you go into a movie like that expecting a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes at the end? The viewer enters the film expecting a silly and fun ride, which they receive, but not without a massive pull to the heartstrings.