10 Devastating Thought-You-Got-Away Moments in Horror Movies

These horror characters appear to be on the verge of survival — only to be met with a shocking demise.

Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) almost got away in I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).

Horror filmmakers love torturing not only their characters, but also their audience. It’s the foundation on which the genre is built. After all, what would horror be if every character had a happy ending? One of the most satisfying tricks in the horror movie playbook is the “thought-you-got-away” scene. 

The ending of House of 1000 Corpses (2003) mirrors Sally Hardesty’s successful escape at the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) — but writer/director Rob Zombie subverts expectations by having the “final girl” unknowingly “rescued” by one of the film’s villains, Captain Spaulding. See also: Final Girls Who Don’t Survive.

In these movies viewers and characters are lulled into a false sense of security — only for the killer to end up getting the last laugh. Many times characters we were rooting for come remarkably close to surviving, only to be killed in the end. Victory quickly turns into defeat. Even characters who are set up to be the final girl can end up dying in the end. No matter how often this trope is utilized, it always ends up eliciting a strong reaction from the audience—shock, sadness, rage, sometimes even a good laugh. 

This list contains the most memorable “thought-you-got-away” scenes in horror. Due to the nature of this list, spoilers lie ahead!

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Ben (Duane Jones) is the hero of Night of the Living Dead. All of the other characters make frustratingly poor decisions (especially Barbra) but Ben seems to do everything right.

Who thought they got away? Ben

In the finale, morning has come and Ben (Duane Jones) has made it alive through the night in the cellar—the lone survivor. The cops and posse of armed men exterminating the living dead from the countryside are fast approaching. It looks like he’s going to find salvation after all the horror he endured trying to keep himself and others safe. Everything pointed to this capable, resilient character emerging as the final boy. He was so close to survival, but he’s shot by trigger-happy white men when he goes upstairs to check on the commotion—seemingly mistaken for a ghoul, but arguably killed in an act of bigotry. 

A trigger-happy posse of men supposedly mistake Ben for a ghoul.

Ben was visibly carrying a gun and didn’t resemble the undead. He was Black, so they were never going to bother making sure he wasn’t a survivor. An earlier scene where the group watches a news broadcast points to this not being a one-off incident: “Well, we killed nineteen of ‘em today right in this area. The last three, we caught trying to claw their way into an abandoned shed. They must have thought someone was in there, but there wasn’t, though. We heard ‘em making all kinds of noise so we came over, beat ’em off and blasted ‘em down.” These could have been people trying to find shelter from ghouls, especially if no one was inside. Although it has been reported that Romero didn’t intend to make a film about race, the themes of race-based dehumanization, racial relations, and systemic racism cannot be denied. The post-credit scene highlights the reality of Black lives and bodies being treated as expendable as Ben’s body is unceremoniously thrown on to a pile of burning bodies.

See also: The Best Zombie Movies of All Time

Scream (1996)

Wes Craven said, “The fact that we killed America’s sweetheart at the end of 15 minutes, it was like a body punch to the audience.”

Who thought they got away? Casey Becker

Casey Becker’s thought-you-got-away moment was one that no viewer saw coming back in 1996. Horror fans were misled to believe that she was going to be the movie’s final girl, since she was portrayed by starlet Drew Barrymore, whose face was the focus for promo posters and trailers. The film begins with Casey’s iconic phone conversation with Ghostface in an opening sequence that set the stage for all sequels to follow—the phone ringing, the cat-and-mouse chase, the horror-defying tropes, the brutal slayings. It’s undoubtedly the best intro kill in the franchise (and one of the best in the genre).

When Casey’s parents pull into the driveway, it seems like she is going to get away — only for Ghostface to ruthlessly cut her throat so she can’t scream for help.

After failing a horror pop quiz, Ghostface forces Casey to witness her boyfriend Steve’s final moments. Then, Ghostface crashes through the glass patio door and chases her down and out the house. When her parents’ headlights appear down the road as she’s hiding, it seems like she’s going to make it, if she just hangs on a bit longer. Ghostface spots her through the window and almost gets her in that moment, but she fights back. She nearly succeeds in outrunning him, but is stabbed once in the upper chest and nearly strangled. Casey hits him in the groin and manages to reach the front porch, just feet away from her parents as they walk up the doorstep. At this point, viewers were convinced she’d survive and go on to fight Ghostface for the rest of the movie, but he recovers and finishes her off. Audiences everywhere gasped, so sure just seconds before that there was no way that they’d kill off the biggest name so early on in the film. 

Scream 2 (1997)

One version of the Scream 2 script saw Hallie as Ghostface.

Who thought they got away? Hallie McDaniel

The sequel to Scream sees Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as a freshman at Windsor College after surviving the horrific events of the first film. She’s been picking up the pieces of her shattered life, but is soon reminded that the past is never far behind her when a new Ghostface starts murdering students from campus. Through it all, Sidney has the bestest of friends, her roommate Hallie McDaniel (Elise Neal), by her side. Hallie deserved to be a final girl alongside Sidney. The decision to kill her off and allow her to fall prey to the Black friend trope was a cruel—not to mention problematic—decision on behalf of the writers. 

Hallie seemed home free after surviving this scene where she crawled over an unconscious Ghostface.

It seems like Sidney and Hallie are headed to safety when they get into a car with two cops whose job it was to protect them. But when the car crashes and the officers are killed, the girls have to crawl over an unconscious Ghostface in a very tense scene. They manage to slip out the car, and they both could have survived had Sidney not made the stupid decision to go back and look beneath the mask. She fell right into Ghostface’s trap, left Hallie in the middle of the street alone and got her killed. Hallie had great potential for exploration of an arc of her own in later sequels. She was owed more than being a side character who almost got away. 

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Helen Shivers — not Julie James — deserved to be the final girl of I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Who thought they got away? Helen Shivers

Horror fans have been fuming over the death of Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), one of the most beloved non-final girls in the history of slashers, since the movie’s release. Many share the sentiment that it was Helen who should have survived the hook-wielding killer, and not whiny and insipid Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt). They’re not wrong—Gellar’s performance stood out from the rest of the cast and her character undoubtedly had the best arc. Her death is so upsetting because she fought like hell for her life. 

This scene begins an incredible chase sequence that is probably the best part of I Know What You Did Last Summer.

After witnessing the slaying of Officer Caporizo (Stuart Greer), she kicks out the cop’s backseat window and sprints in a gown and heels all the way to her family’s shop, where her sister is soon murdered. Trapped and refusing to accept the same fate, she uses a lift to make her way to the third floor, where she hurls herself out the window to escape her tormentor. Saved by a dumpster, she runs through a maze of back alleys. She is just yards away from a crowd and Fourth of July festivities in sight, but the viewer’s moment of relief is short-lived. Helen stops suddenly, startled by the fireworks, and looks back. When she turns back around, The Fisherman is standing right in front of her. Helen is brutally killed, her screams drowned out by the parade just mere feet away from her. She was so close to safety. 

The Descent (2005, UK Cut)

A group of adventurous women explore an uncharted system in The Descent.

Who thought they got away? Sarah

In the American cut of The Descent, Sarah Carter (Shauna Macdonald) survives. The protagonist escapes the crawler-infested cave after leaving Juno (Natalie Mendoza) to die for arguably good reason—she had an affair with her husband and left an injured Beth (Alex Reid) alone after accidentally stabbing her with a pickaxe. Sarah drives away, is startled by a hallucination of a bloodied Juno in the passenger seat next to her, then the screen is cut to black. The sequel confirms Sarah’s salvation, but her survival wasn’t always planned for. The change was made for the US version because American viewers found the original ending to be incredibly bleak and hopeless. 

Does Sarah survive? Or not? It depends on which version of The Descent you prefer.

The audience’s glimmer of hope is short-lived in the extended UK ending, which cuts back to the cave after Sarah hallucinates Juno in the car with her. British viewers were bamboozled with an extra scene in which it’s shown that Sarah never got away. Her “escape” was just a figment of her imagination. She awakens on a pile of bones, realizing she’s still trapped in the cavern, a dead-end with no light coming in and no way out. 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Chrissie (Jordana Brewester) encounters Leatherface while on a cross-country road trip.

Who thought they got away? Chrissie

Final girl Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) found salvation via a passing vehicle in the original movie, so it felt befitting that Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) would save herself in a similar fashion in the 2006 entry to the franchise. The feeling didn’t last long, however. Audiences were definitely fooled into thinking the movie would have a final girl. 

Chrissie puts up a good fight, and deserved to live to tell the tale.

Only Chrissie remains by the finale. The poor girl had to witness her boyfriend’s face being skinned and worn like a mask while hiding, willing herself to make absolutely zero noise and hold back her reaction. Her friend is killed brutally in front of her soon after. She still manages to put up a fight, stab Leatherface with a screwdriver, and escape the slaughterhouse. After her last companion is finished off, she’s able to make her way to a nearby car and starts driving off to safety. Depending on where you stand, this is where the movie should have ended, only Leatherface appears in the backseat and butchers her with his trademark chainsaw. The movie has a few alternate endings, but she’s killed in each one.

Eden Lake (2008)

Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) think they’re embarking on an idyllic vacation at Eden Lake.

Who thought they got away? Jenny Greengrass

Eden Lake is a very bleak horror movie. By the time the finale comes around, the film has mentally and emotionally drained its audience—we feel as exhausted as Jenny (Kelly Reilly). What was supposed to be a romantic countryside getaway with her would-be fiancé, Steve (Michael Fassbender), turned into the worst weekend of her life—and her last. The couple is terrorized by a posse of teenagers throughout the whole movie (a plot which was met with controversy for perpetuating the “hoodie” stereotype). What starts off as mean-spirited mischief evolves into sadistic barbarism. 

Jenny not surviving after all she has endured is heartbreaking.

Jenny survives so much, including almost being burned alive tied to the corpse of the man she loved. When she steals a van she flags down, she speeds off only to crash into a residential yard once making it into town. Making her way around the back, where there’s a full neighborhood party in swing, she asks for help before collapsing. She wakes up to a woman comforting her on a couch and tending to her injuries. For a moment, it feels as if she’s safe and all will be well, until she realizes she’s inside the home of Brett’s (Jack O’Conell) parents, the ringleader of the bunch. The teens arrive, lie, and point all fingers at her. As the film closes, her muffled screams are heard from downstairs, while Brett stands in front of the mirror and puts on the Ray-Bans he stole from Steve. Jenny is killed not only for revenge, but to silence her. 

Friday the 13th (2009)

Jenna (second from right) is the only one of her friends who wants to help Clay find his sister.

Who thought they got away? Jenna

Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) from 2009’s Friday the 13th reboot is another character on this list who deserved to be a final girl. She won over the audience with her empathy, selflessness, and fearlessness. She was the only kind person in her circle of friends, generously offering a stranger, Clay Miller (Jared Paladecki), to help find his missing sister. 

Jenna died so Whitney could be the film’s final girl.

Her character was set up to be the final girl, so it was shocking to have it go to Whitney (Amanda Rightetti), who did zero throughout the film to earn it. The girl quite literally gave nothing! Jared would have never been able to save her if it hadn’t been for Jenna, who bravely stood on the lookout in the underground corridor as he freed her. Pursued by Jason (Derek Mears), they hit a dead end, but luckily find an exit to surface above. The siblings go in first. Jared reaches down, offering his hands to pull Jenna up. Just when she grabs a hold of him and it seems like she’s about to make it to safety, she’s impaled by Jason’s machete through the back and out the chest. It was unbelievable watching the first time around. 

Us (2019)

Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) didn’t even want to take her family to the beach after having an unsettling experience with a doppelgänger there as a child.

Who thought they got away? The “real” Adelaide

The thought-you-got-away scene in Us is way different than the rest on this list. The genius trick Jordan Peele pulled on the audience throughout the whole film is revealed in the final scene. Throughout the entirety of the movie, viewers were rooting for Adelaide Wilson, only for them to find out that the character they’ve been cheering for isn’t who they thought at all. 

We thought the good Adelaide survived, but it was her doppelgänger.

It’s revealed through a series of flashbacks that young Adelaide never made it out safely from the house of mirrors. Her Tether choked her, dragged her underground and chained her up in the tunnels, then assumed her identity and took over her life. The real Adelaide was Red the whole time, which is why she was the only one of the Tethers with the ability to speak. Horror fans were played and left divided over the implications. Some believe she had repressed her memories of being a Tether. Others argue that she remembered exactly what she had done, and that this was the cause of her aversion to the beach—she didn’t want the real Adelaide to find her and she was afraid of going back to her old life. However interpreted, that is one chilling closing sequence.

The Rental (2020)

The horror in The Rental begins when Mina (Sheila Vand) notices a camera in the shower.

Who thought they got away? Mina

Dave Franco’s directorial debut is a brutal, nihilistic “Airbnb horror” that revolves around two couples who book a remote house for a weekend getaway on the scenic Oregon coast. It follows Charlie (Dan Stevens) and his wife Michelle (Alison Brie), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and his coworker Mina (Sheila Vand), Josh’s girlfriend. The trip is automatically off to a bad start. Mina was racially profiled when applying for the rental, and experiences further microaggressions from the owner upon arrival. Things get worse over the next 24 hours. Sexual tension between Mina and Charlie culminates in drunken shower sex, as their significant others sleep elsewhere in the house. Petty arguments transform into a hostile environment. Secrets are exposed. 

The fog is Mina’s downfall in The Rental.

Things spiral out of control when Mina realizes there’s a camera in the shower head. The masked assailant who has been stalking them begins terrorizing them. Before long, Mina is the only one left alive. Seemingly positioned as the final girl, Mina flees the house. She runs for her life, the killer chasing her through the foggy forest. Just when it looks like she’s going to get away, she drops out of sight, having accidentally run off a cliff due to the mist.

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Meet The Author

Natalia is a writer, poet, and collage artist living in Houston, Texas. Her favorite scary movies include Pearl, Midsommar, and Jennifer’s Body. In her spare time, she enjoys writing “good for her” horror fiction.