10 of the Most Emotionally Devastating Moments In Horror Movies

The best kind of horror movies do more than just terrify you—they have moments that viscerally conjure up the real terrors of human emotion.

Sweet Gage has a fate almost everyone hates to watch in Pet Sematary (1989).

Horror movies are known for evoking strong reactions in the audience, usually fear. They make you gasp, scream, shudder, jump, and want to close your eyes and cover your ears. Afterall, the genre is designed to scare the audience. However, it’s the emotional elements that strike more, making the horror aspects of the film permeate with more depth and duration. The real horror is when the reality of the human experience ensues and not only reminds us of our capacity to feel, but resonates personally into our own lives. This is what directly links sadness to horror.  

While Jennifer appears to be an a trance while getting into the band’s van in Jennifer’s Body, the audience is aware something awful is about to happen to her.

Jennifer’s Body (2009), which was marketed as a horror comedy has some emotionally excruciating moments, beginning with Jennifer Check’s (Megan Fox) violent sacrifice, which serves as a metaphorical rape. It was a gut-wrenching scene to watch, especially for anyone who has ever experienced sexual assault. Adam Brody delivers comedic lines during the scene, but there’s nothing funny in it. Megan Fox is playing it completely straight in a superbly well-acted performance on her part. Later on, there’s another gutting scene in which Needy (Amanda Seyfried) tears off the BFF necklace from Jennifer’s neck before killing her, forever cementing the demise of their friendship. These moments are sad because there was loss—-something to grieve. You cannot have horror without having something to lose first. In a split second, one scene can absolutely shatter your heart. 

A gutting moment in A Quiet Place (2018).

Most horror fans are familiar with the gut-punching ending of The Mist (2007) and with Babadook (2014), which is a movie about depression, loss, and anxiety. Both were genuinely scary films that in other ways were horribly heavy to watch. A Quiet Place (2018) destroyed the audience by depicting a father’s sacrifice. There are countless moments in horror movies that evoke feelings of sorrow, grief, trauma, guilt, hopelessness, and loneliness. Movies in the genre come with scares, but also with heartbreaking moments that remind you what it’s like to be human. 

Below discover devastating scenes in horror movies that make you want to curl up into a ball on the floor. 

Carrie White Holding Her Mom’s Corpse in ‘Carrie’ (1976)

Carrie holds her mother as the house burns and collapses around her, choosing death over escape.

After the tragic events that took place at prom, Carrie (Sissy Spacek) returns home broken down and covered in blood to a house covered in lit candles. She takes a bath and cries her heart out, then seeks out the comfort of her mother—the one person who is supposed to show her compassion and kindness but has only ever reserved cruelty for her. In tears, she begs her mother to hold her and pleads for forgiveness, telling her that she was right all along. Mrs. White tenderly embraces Carrie, like she never has before. She then proceeds to stab her daughter in the back as they hug. It’s gutting to watch. Carrie was at her lowest, and her mom only gave her solace as a distraction to get close enough to kill her. Smiling, she chases her daughter through the house until Carrie defends herself. She holds her mother’s corpse tightly in the closet she was forced to pray in for hours on end. All Carrie ever wanted was to be loved and the first person who should have given her that was the first to abuse and bully her. Yet, she never let go of the love she had for her mother.

Nancy Thompson’s Death in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Nancy was a final girl who deserved to live.

Nancy’s (Heather Lagenkamp) death in Dream Warriors is one of the most unjust things to have happened to a horror movie character. She was the ultimate example of strength and determination in a final girl. Nancy didn’t become a final girl out of sheer luck, but out of an unbreakable will. She survived the events of the first ANOES movie because she actively sought out the monster who tormented her and her friends. Nancy insisted on finding out the truth behind Freddy Kruger. She defeated evil by choosing not to be afraid. Then she went on to make a life for herself helping others. When a new group of teens are targeted by Freddy, she offers everything she’s learned for their survival. Nancy’s spirit was never broken. The ultimate final girl should have remained a final girl

Gage’s Death in Pet Sematary (1989)

This scene from Pet Sematary is among the most disturbing in cinema.

Whether you read the book, or the shot of the truck driver on the road clued you in, you expect what’s about to unfold. Yet, when it happens it’s still a punch to the gut. Louis (Dale Midkiff)  turns his back for one brief moment and little Gage begins chasing after the kite and onto the road. His mom is desperately screaming, “Get the baby,” but you know it won’t happen in time. It doesn’t matter how fast Dad is sprinting. The driver hits the brakes on the 18-wheeler too late. Then all there is a shot of a tiny toddler shoe on the road. It’s a visceral moment watching every parents’ worst nightmare on the screen. One can’t help but also feel pity for Louis who will undoubtedly blame himself and carry that guilt. It was just a tiny moment that changed everything. 

Laura’s Realization in The Orphanage (2007)

Every parent’s worst nightmare: Laura finds her missing son and realizes her actions led to his death.

Leave it to Guillermo del Toro to make you want to weep your heart out. After losing her son Simón (Roger Príncep) during a bad game of hide and seek, Laura (Bélen Rueda) suffers for months with no answers to his disappearance. Prior to Simón’s vanishing, he spoke about his imaginary friend Tomás (Óscar Casas), who we later come to find is the ghost of a kid who had a deformity and died from drowning in a tide while hiding inside a cave. The mask he wore to help him blend in had been stolen by other kids. Tomás’ mother later poisoned those responsible. Laura contacts the spirits of the orphanage’s murdered children to help her find her son by playing one of their games. The ghosts lead her to a door of a hidden underground room. Here, she discovers the body of a dead child wearing Tomás’ mask. It’s her son, Simón. Her cries of pain and grief hit hard, and so does her realization that she unwittingly trapped her son in the basement the night he disappeared. She had moved some scaffolding over while looking for him, essentially blocking him in and sending him to his death. The night she lost him she kept hearing loud banging coming from within the walls. Now she knows what those crashing sounds were—or who.

Annie’s Death in Halloween II (2009)

One thing every horror fan agrees on: Annie Brackett didn’t deserve that.

Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) deserved to be a final girl in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. After surviving the terrific events of the first movie in which she braved a fight with Michael Meyers, Annie was owed a better fate. She lived through the physical and psychological trauma only to be brutally slain in the second film. She had grit, as proven in the first installment. With the ridiculous ending they gave Laurie, the slasher felt like it lacked a final girl at all. It was heartbreaking to see Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) pleading with her to hang on and stay alive. She was the last semblance of a family Laurie had left. 

Kaylie’s Death in Oculus (2013)

Kaylie sees her mother in the mirror, but Tim unfortunately doesn’t see either of them.

Mike Flanagan is the king of putting emotion into horror—and shattering your heart into pieces in the process. After the Lasser Glass robbed them of their parents and childhood in the most horrific way,  Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillian) return to their old home eleven years later. Kaylie is hellbent on destroying the mirror and sets up cameras everywhere to prove that the mirror is haunted. After a tortuous night of brutal and terrifying occurrences, the unthinkable happens. Tim wakes up seemingly alone in the room with the mirror, while Kaylie hallucinates her mother calling out to her from the mirror. Tim sets off the swinging blade to finally destroy the Lasser Glass, and it’s not until it has swung that he realizes the mirror employed one last evil deception. The blade hit Kaylie’s back, sending her to her death. She was standing right in front of it. For anyone with a sibling, it’s a hard scene to process. He lost his best friend and the last member of his family. Unfortunately, Kaylie’s footage incriminates him and places him in the back of a cop car in the end. 

The Reveal in Goodnight Mommy (2014)

Rewatching Goodnight Mommy it seems obvious from the cinematography that one twin is real and the other is not.

Throughout a good portion of the movie the viewer questions along with the boys if the woman who returned from the hospital is actually their mother. Several eerie elements imply that she may not be. This changes as the film progresses, the audience goes from fearing the mother to feeling completely disturbed by the behavior of the young twins. What starts out as small acts of rebellion and attempts to wear down the mother evolve into serious acts of violence. The ending confirms that she was their real mother all along—and that Lukas died prior to the events of the film. She tells Elias (Elias Schwarz)  that Lukas’ (Lukas Schwarz) death wasn’t his fault and pleads with him to set her free so that they can heal together from the tragedy. This implies that although he may not have directly killed his twin, he was intrinsically involved somehow. Elias, unable to cope with his grief and guilt, has imagined that his brother has been with him all along. In one final test to prove his mother’s identity he asks her what Lukas is doing and says that a real mother would be able to see him. She tries to pretend that she can, but encouraged by the figment of his dead brother, he sets fire to the house with her inside. 

Charlie’s Death in Hereditary (2018)

One of the most disturbing shots in Hereditary, but not the most disturbing part of the film.

Yes, that decapitation scene is forever embedded in the viewer’s brain, but what’s more haunting is what comes after. Those moments where Peter (Alex Wollf) drives home in shock are heartbreaking. It speaks of his trauma. Even the actor spoke of the psychological damage he endured after finishing filming. What follows is a bloodcurdling scene, with Annie (Toni Collette) writing and wailing on the floor in grief for her daughter. Her cries are almost animalistic and hit the audience on a visceral level. The shot where Charlie’s casket is being lowered into the ground and Annie can’t stop sobbing is an inescapable memory. It’s gut-wrenching to watch Peter’s inability to process that he unwittingly caused his sister’s death. This is a family who will forever be torn apart by grief (and other sinister forces). 

Opening Sequence of Midsommar (2019)

Dani’s sister’s familicide is revealed in the horrifying opening scene from Midsommar.

The most horrific scene in Midsommar has no gore and is arguably one of the most harrowing sequences in horror. Ari Aster wastes no time in unnerving the audience and brings the dread right from the intro, immediately setting the tone for the upcoming disturbing cinematic experience that awaits. The scene builds in such an inescapable and bleak manner. An emergency responder turns off the ignition in a car inside the garage. There’s flashing red lights as the camera moves slowly from a hose connected to the vehicle’s exhaust, all the way up the stairs to two separate directions. Dani’s parents lie dead in their marital bed. Then there’s a reveal of Dani’s sister’s corpse with a suicide mask ducktaped to her face. There’s vomit on her shirt and her eyes are agape. Cut to Dani whose wails sound like violins and whose grief is visceral. Aster is a class at capturing grief in a raw, truthful way. The scene is jarring for anyone, especially those who have had any loved ones die by suicide or have struggled with depression. It’s a gut-wrenching depiction of murder-suicide that will forever haunt any horror fan. 

Later in Midsommar the face of Dani’s sister is visible in the trees behind the Hårga procession (look above the third group of people from the left).

Dewey Riley’s Death in Scream 5 (2022)

Dewey was actually supposed to die in the original Scream but was allowed to live because David Arquette crushed the role and his chemistry with Courtney Cox was so good.

Fans of the franchise were divided on Dewey’s death in 2022’s Scream. Some vehemently believe it was a mistake. Others thought it was necessary to advance the story of the franchise and up the ante. David Arquette still reflects on his character’s death and feels saddened by it, while Courteney Cox wanted filmmakers to film a scene that hinted at his survival. It was filmed, but sadly shelved to collect dust in a drawer. No matter what your stance is on Dewey’s death, any fan of the franchise felt gutted by it (pun intended). Dewey could have gotten away in the elevator, but he chose to go back to shoot Ghostface in the head to ensure that the killer didn’t come back. And so, one of the franchise’s most beloved characters met his violently gruesome end. It was a true tragedy for his character who deserved a lot more respect. He wasn’t even living a happy life prior to his brutal death. He was heartbroken and alone without Gale, living an empty life inside a cramped trailer, lamenting what could have been. Dewey deserved true joy before meeting his demise. 

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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.