20 Scariest Non-Gory Horror Movies

Not a fan of all the carnage? This list has you covered with 20 horror movies that go to dark, chilling places without all the gore.

In The Night House (2020), Rebecca Hall unravels a mystery left behind by her husband’s sudden death by suicide.

Horror has an affinity for embracing distressing visuals designed to disturb audiences, but gore isn’t necessarily required to elicit uneasiness. Splatterfests and stomach-churning imagery certainly have their place in horror. However, for some the more thrilling movie is bloodcurdling and not blood-filled. Some of the greatest films in the genre don’t lean on gruesome special effects to frighten, but rather on masterfully created tension, intrigue, and a well-crafted plot. Suspense is the most vital element of making an excellent horror movie. It’s all that is left when you strip away the shock value of blood and guts.

Horror movies like The Haunting (1963) don’t need gore to terrify fans.

Curated below are 20 of the scariest non-gory horror movies. These movies rely on atmosphere, mood, implication, dark writing and tension to unnerve its viewers. They were chosen because they terrorize through suspense and not gore. This list will satiate the appetites of horror fans who have more of a taste for psychological chills. 

The Haunting (1963)

Some argue that The Haunting was also an early representation of queer horror.

The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, focuses on a group of people who have been assembled by Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), an investigator of the paranormal, to spend a few nights at Hill House, a notoriously haunted eerie mansion, where they experience strange phenomena. Eleanor (Julie Harris), a young woman who experienced poltergeist activity as a child, comes to believe that the house, which she thinks is alive, is directly speaking to her.

This black and white haunted house film isn’t to be disregarded. It may be a classic, but it’s unsuspectingly terrifying. Its power lies in its ability to send the viewer’s imagination into overdrive. There’s loads of terror in the film, but it never comes from what you see. The horror comes from what you can’t see and from what you’re afraid you’re about to see. Robert Wise’s use of angles to disorient the viewer alongside Nell’s deteriorating psychological state is as effective in eliciting fear as the use of suggestion, play of light and shadow, and heavy atmosphere. There’s a reason Martin Scorsese named it top on his list of scariest movies of all time. 

The Changeling (1980)

It’s not the sight of gore that’s terrifying Trish Van Devere in The Changeling.

The Changeling is one of the greatest haunted house films. Its chilling effects are never lost with time. This movie has served as clear inspiration for other excellent gothic horrors, such as The Others (2001) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001). It has also been a heavy influence on the grief horror subgenre. Guillermo del Toro included it on a list of his favorite ghost stories. The Mexican filmmaker approached director Peter Medak at the BAFTA Awards in 2018 to call his movie a “masterpiece.” The tale revolves around John Rusell (George C. Scott), a music composer who loses his wife and daughter in a tragic accident and moves into an old mansion to rebuild his life. There he encounters the spirit of a little boy who was drowned in a bathtub and whose identity was buried along with his body. The Changeling succeeds in keeping the viewer in suspense with an intriguing supernatural plot that doubles as a whodunit, a ghostly and gothic atmosphere that permeates the air, and a phenomenal creepy musical score. 

The Vanishing (1988)

A woman is abducted by a sociopath in broad daylight in The Vanishing.

This picture was adapted from the 1984 novella by Tim Krabbé, The Golden Egg. Although it’s technically not a horror film, The Vanishing is such an intense and unsettling thriller that it’s typically classified as one. Stanley Kubrick was a big fan who watched it many times. Director Sluizer shared that Kubrick told him it was the most terrifying film he had ever seen. The Vanishing is so troubling that it doesn’t need to rely on jolts, cheap scares, or tropes to be effective. It’s a story about obsession that doubles as an exploration of the psyche of one of the most vacant sociopaths.The Vanishing explores what it means to be devoid of a soul. The filmmakers of this chilling Dutch gem take their time in peeling back the layers of each of its two main characters—one man obsessed with his girlfriend’s disappearance and a killer obsessed with his first kill. It’s the type of movie that terrorizes you by making your chest tighten and your breath quicken and by ever refusing to leave you. You’ll forever be marked by its end. 

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Filmmakers didn’t need any gore to make Blair Witch terrifying.

The Blair Witch Project is responsible for reviving the found footage subgenre and paving the way for films that came after it, like Noroi: The Curse (2005), REC (2007), and Paranormal Activity (2007). When it was first released, it was made particularly more scary by the fact that viral marketing successfully tricked audiences into believing that it was, in fact, real footage from a true story. All of that aside, the film has a uniquely original concept and execution, making it one of the most revolutionary works in the genre. Events in the movie are depicted so realistically with a handheld camera that even today it’s hard to forget it’s all fiction. It’s a truly singular viewing experience.

Three film students travel to the woods to investigate a legendary murderer in a small town known as the Blair Witch. Their project takes a dark turn when they begin to be terrorized by the very truth they’re trying to uncover. One year into their disappearance their footage is found. There are no jump scares, blood, or explicit violence. Instead, there is fear laced in the atmosphere—in every plea for help, in every word, in every accusation, in every scream, in every collapse of morale. The Blair Witch Project is so unsettling because it makes your imagination fill in the gaps of what isn’t seen on screen. The terror comes from knowing that hope is forever lost in that forest with Heather, Josh, and Mike. Horror comes from the reminder of how truly fragile, alone, and insignificant we all are in this world. While its ambiguous end may continue to be a subject of debate among horror fans, one thing audiences can agree on is that it’s one of the most hair-raising endings in cinematic history. 

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The Blair Witch Project may have been the first big found footage movie, but Paranormal Activity launched the subgenre into the stratosphere.

Paranormal Activity is one of the most prominent and highest-grossing movies in the found footage horror subgenre. The film is also one of the most effectively frightening, given that it’s watched under the right circumstances. One needs a dark room, a quiet setting, and no distractions to have a successful experience with Paranormal Activity. The filmmakers took $15,000 (and then some) and turned it into pure paranormal gold. Paranormal Activity doesn’t rely on graphic visuals, cheap jumpscares, or blood. Instead, it leans heavily on subtleties and sound to execute the haunting experience it provides. Slowly, it grooms the viewer into being terrified of a bedroom—into checking their own covers to make sure their feet are tucked in at night. Its end, which rivals that of The Blair Witch Project, is an unsettling and memorable one. 

Insidious (2010)

This scene from Insidious is one of the best jump scares of all time.

The standard for what it means to be frightened was raised in 2010 when Insidious was released, a movie about a family terrorized by dark spirits after their son enters what doctors have diagnosed as a coma. From the moment it begins, the eerie tone is set. Insidious delivers as a supernatural horror with refreshing jump scares woven in through the story with impeccable timing. Just when the viewer thinks it’s safe to relax again, another surprise appears to jolt them out of their seats. You never know what sinister entity, what shadow, what demon, or what creepy figure is going to appear on the screen. The plausibility of the astral projection premise, the unpredictable scares, the atmosphere, the unsettling sound effects, and the outsider’s perspective make Insidious one of the scariest modern horror movies. 

It Follows (2014)

It Follows feels like an urban legend come to life.

Maika Monroe stars as a young woman who has inherited a deadly curse after a sexual encounter. A nameless entity stalks her, moving closer and closer, with the intention of killing her unless she passes it on to someone else. It Follows prefers to inflict fear on its viewer using suspense and dread, as opposed to tantalizing with gore. There isn’t much violence or blood in the film, except for (warning) that gruesome quick shot at the end of the opening scene. Instead, It Follows frightens by placing an emphasis on mood and with its inventive premise. Not knowing whose appearance the monster may take, the mystery of the entity’s origin and true form, and the frequent shots that linger to make you think “It” could be in the frame make for a truly horrifying film. The horror lies in the movie’s unrelenting tension and the feeling it instills that you can never truly get away from “It.” Even if you succeed in getting rid of it, it’s only temporary. It can always find you. It will always follow you.

The Night House (2020)

Rebecca Hall stars in this suspenseful ghost story with only one scene containing a quick view of dead bodies/gore.

The Night House is one of those through-provoking types of beautiful horror films that move something in you and linger long after the credits roll. It’s an intelligent and multifaceted exploration of grief, self-destruction, love, loneliness, depression, nihilism, and the darkness people can hold. Rebecca Hall gives a visceral performance as a woman left reeling after her husband’s suicide in the lake house he built for her, where strange events lead her to uncover his sinister secrets. The movie offers a suspenseful first half with legitimate scares and culminates in an unnerving final act. It relies on tension, despair, intrigue, and atmosphere to deliver its scares. The sound design, optical illusions, use of negative space, and gorgeous visuals elevate the horror unfolding on screen. The Night House is a unique psychologically heavy and utterly suffocating film that will make you meditate on your own horrors and tragedies—it’s not for the weak-hearted. 

The Black Phone (2021)

The Black Phone is a creepy kidnapping movie that includes a little gore, but only in the scenes in which kids are fighting other kids or are the one harming an adult.

Ethan Hawke gives a disturbingly demented performance as a serial killer who abducts a 13-year-old boy, played by Mason Thames, and keeps him held in his soundproof basement. The child starts receiving calls on a disconnected telephone from the sadistic murderer’s previous victims. The Black Phone is a chilling cold blooded experience. From the very beginning it seeks to unsettle its audience, and it accomplishes in doing so with atmospheric, tense, and brilliant writing. The movie evokes an oppressive feeling that keeps the viewer in a chokehold and feeling as trapped as the character fighting for his life on screen. There are some scenes that, while lacking in gore, are incredibly terrifying to watch and almost make you want to cry from the fear. 

Skinamarink (2022)

Skinamarink (2022) tells a horror story from the perspective of a very young child.

The story follows two siblings who wake up in the night to find their father gone and that all the doors and windows in their home have mysteriously vanished. Skinamarink is a deeply disturbing movie, which may be more of an acquired taste. Lovers of analog horror, creepypastas, and experimental cinema will appreciate this bizarre picture. It requires an open mind and a willingness to immerse yourself in the film. You have to allow yourself to be taken to places your mind doesn’t visit often (or ever) in order to properly experience it. The movie does a brilliant job of capturing what it felt like when you were young, alone, and afraid of the dark. It recalls a feeling of when you experienced something that you could not explain. The movie is surreal, yet feels eerily familiar—like every fear you had as a little kid produced into one genuine nightmare. To watch Skinamarink is to feel small, confused, and lonely. It forces the viewer to examine how they may avoid certain memories. Themes explored include childhood trauma, abuse, hopelessness, and loneliness. 

More terrifying and gore-free horror movies…

The Wicker Man (1973) a British folk horror about a police sergeant who arrives in a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl whose existence is denied by the local pagans. It’s a startling film filled with twists and turns, perfect for lovers of Midsommar (2018), and heavy with atmosphere. 

The Others (2001) a film that might be more frightening the first time you watch it, but frightening nonetheless. Nicole Kidman stars as a woman who lives with her two photosensitive children on their old family estate and who soon becomes convinced that their home is haunted. The movie relies heavily on tension and a spooky atmosphere to elicit fear. 

Session 9 (2001) has one of the creepiest settings in the genre. This low-budget horror film does a lot with a little, and has a craftsmanship that is nothing short of masterful. It hits a specific part of the psyche that disturbs and horrifies, making you want to bite your nails off. The story revolves around an asbestos removal crew hired to work a clean up job in an abandoned asylum.

Creep (2014) a found footage film that unsettles without gore. Short on cash, a man answers an ad to film for a dying man who wants to shoot a movie for his unborn child. Once he realizes how unstable his subject is, he struggles to find a way out. 

The Babadook (2014) instills anxiety and dread and terrifies with a unique monster. The story, which doubles as an exploration of grief, centers around a single mother plagued by the death of her husband. Her son asks her to read a pop-up book one night, Mister Babadook, and soon the monster in the children’s book comes to life. 

The Visit (2015) is one of the creepiest found footage films ever made and filled with frights and tension. Two siblings document a visit with their estranged grandparents, an elderly couple who displays deeply unsettling behavior in the middle of the night. 

The Witch (2015) unsettles with a steadily building tension and unrelenting sense of dread. Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Thomasin, a teenager in 1630s New England whose family has been banished from their Puritan settlement. Strange events plague the family and the youngest disappears. Thomasin is quickly blamed and targeted. 

Hush (2015) an underrated and adrenaline inducing invasion thriller with slasher elements by Mike Flanagan. It centers around a deaf writer who must fight for her life when a masked killer terrorizes her in her secluded home in the woods. The movie has been sadly removed from Netflix after the company’s distribution license expires. Flanagan teased a future physical release—here’s hoping. 

Under the Shadow (2016) a horrifying Persian-language film that hits you on a personal level. It centers on a mother and daughter struggling with the horrors of post-revolutionary war-torn Tehran in the 1980’s who encounter a mysterious evil in their home.

Get Out (2017) unnerves with intense psychological terror. The movie stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a young Black man who comes face-to-face with a racist suburban nightmare when he meets his white girlfriend’s family.

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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.