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20 Realistic Horror Movies That Are Hard to Watch FSalinks

What classifies a movie as horror? Is it that it makes our stomachs flip into our throats in shock? Is it that it burrows into our psyche like a parasite and stays with us, like a stench we can’t wash off?




Or, perhaps, is it that, in a possible, not entirely distant reality, we realize that the events we are choosing to be entertained by aren’t all that far-fetched after all? What makes the listed films so potent, and the audience’s reaction to them so visceral, is the fact that no one is immune. The genuinely horrific display we’ve paid money to sit down and witness could very well happen to any one of us. We’ve watched enough true crime documentaries to know.

Each of the selected films has its own unique method of making the viewer squirm. Be it outright gore, fraught anticipation that leads to the mother of all jump scares, or the psychological implications we are being forced to consider as we journey through the story alongside the characters, these movies bang on the door of our worst fears and nightmares and demand to be let in. They can touch the delicate nerves deep within and whisper to our subconscious just how unsafe we might be.


This selection of films takes the mystique out of the horror genre and makes horror real in a way that, once we’ve been stirred by it, we are hard-pressed to wipe our minds clean of it.

Updated on May 31, 2024: This article has been updated with additional content by Federico Furzan to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.

The following list contains major spoilers.


20 Speak No Evil (2022)

Speak No Evil

Release Date
March 17, 2022

Director
Christian Tafdrup

Cast
Morten Burian , Sidsel Siem Koch , Fedja van Huet , Karina Smulders , Liva Forsberg

Runtime
1hr 37min


A European import that heavily scarred audiences in 2022, Speak No Evil tells the story of a Danish family on vacation who meets a Dutch family that has similar chemistry and mood. They instantly become friends, and when the vacation ends, the Dutch invite the Danish for a getaway trip to their countryside home. Of course, they accept and end up going through what becomes an unspeakable ordeal that mainly has to do with the true nature of their new friends, and what they see in the victims’ son.

Speak No Evil Is a Materialized Nightmare

Speak No Evil is a horrific nightmare come true. A celebration of absolute nihilism that will surely make you evaluate your existence and decisions because everything about it is eerily possible. It takes its time unveiling the dark side of a couple that appears to be harmless, and save a few kinks, doesn’t pose any danger. However, the victims are a great reflection of a naive side of society that simply wants to see the good in the world. Well, “good” just doesn’t exist in the universe of Christian Tafdrup’s terrific film. Try to see this one on a sunny day. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.


19 The Vanishing (1988)

The Vanishing poster

The Vanishing (1988)

Release Date
October 27, 1988

Cast
Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu , Gene Bervoets

Runtime
107 min

The Vanishing, also known as Spoorloos, is a horrific thriller with far too many hints of horror. It tells the story of a man trying to find his girlfriend after she disappears from a rest area. When he finds the culprit, he’s given some instructions, and he complies, just to know what happened to her. In the same vein as Speak No Evil, The Vanishing is an unsettling depiction of an incident that’s frighteningly possible if you think about it. Evil is out there, and as much as you can sense when it comes for you, it also lies dormant waiting for you to take the wrong step.


The Vanishing Could Happen

While the horror genre may at times be designed to titillate or provide a campy, fun jump scare or two, certain films cut right to the quick and leave us wondering anxiously. Like the pictures listed here, this specific niche of horror is indeed difficult to digest, as it taps into that intentionally quieted section of our minds that reminds us we never really are safe from humans’ worst inclinations. What we are more accurately in danger from is the indifference, or the outright malice that may just be hiding behind a friendly face, or the guise of a romantic partnership, or nature itself. Whether it’s the elements that seem out to get us, or those people we’ve so innocently chosen to surround ourselves with, we can never be too sure, or too careful. Therein lies the true terror.

18 The Hitcher (1986)

The Hitcher

The Hitcher

Release Date
February 21, 1986

Director
Robert Harmon

Runtime
90 Minutes


The Hitcher centers around the brooding and dangerous hitchhiker John, who is innocently picked up by Jim (C. Thomas Howell) on a Texas highway. When they pass by an abandoned vehicle, John claims he has killed its driver, and threatens to do the same to Jim, challenging him, “I want you to stop me.” Terrified, Jim pushes him out and later finds another car with a massacred family. Then the relentless chase game begins, with John stalking Jim and attempting to run him over while sending him bloody messages, such as a severed finger he finds while having a much-needed dinner at a restaurant.

The Hitcher Is the Capitalization of True Fear

If you’ve ever considered picking up a hitchhiker on the road, then this action horror thriller, directed by Robert Harmon and starring the charismatic Rutger Hauer, will probably dissuade you from doing that. Everything you think can happen as you slow down your vehicle and a stranger approaches celebrating your acceptance, actually becomes true in the movie and then some. It is also a very graphic execution of an idea that materialized into a law at some point. The hitcher wasn’t a supernatural monster, but he was scary enough to induce a nightmare.


17 The Girl Next Door (2007)

Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door

Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door

Release Date
July 19, 2007

Director
Gregory Wilson

Cast
Blythe Auffarth , Daniel Manche , Blanche Baker , Grant Show , Graham Patrick Martin , Benjamin Ross Kaplan

Runtime
91

Based on the true case of Sylvia Likens and the ordeal she was forced to go through, The Girl Next Door is perhaps one of the most difficult films you will ever have to endure. The plot follows a young lady, Meg, who is left in her Aunt Ruth’s care after the death of her parents. The events that unfold are horrifying, as the director spares nothing in displaying the vile and unrelenting cruelty inflicted upon Meg, not only by her supposedly loving aunt but by her cousins and the neighborhood boys, upon Ruth’s insistence no less.


The One that’s Hard to Believe It’s Actually Based on a True Story

If you are a parent, this may be a particularly difficult watch for you. But then, so is the real case of Likens and how she was murdered by a group of people for no particular reason. She was the target of something dark lurking inside the soul of a woman. All this is proven in the film that scared the hell out of Stephen King, as he called it the most shocking experience since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. You should also watch this one on a sunny day.

16 Devil’s Pond (2003)

Directed by Joel Viertel, and starring Kip Pardue and Tara Reid, Devil’s Pond is a straight-to-video romance turned violent escape thriller. The story begins with two young newlyweds, Mitch and Julianne, who go away for some time alone at a lake cottage in complete seclusion. Sounds like a relaxing, intimate start to a life together, right? You will cancel that camping trip with your loved one after watching Devil’s Pond.


A Character’s True Nature Arises in Devil’s Pond

Unfortunately for Reid’s character named Julianne, Mitch has some frightening ulterior motives and a disturbing end-game. As soon as she realizes he used to stalk her before they had even met, Mitch’s frightening descent into madness begins, as well as Julianne’s desperate attempt to regain her freedom. Sadly, Mitch’s awakening sounds too much like a real depiction of a creepy partner, the same way it happens in real life. Devil’s Pond isn’t a widely known film, but it’s worth going back a couple of decades and streaming an eerily realistic horror film not many people saw.

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15 The Road (2009)

Based on the 2006 book by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is directed by John Hillcoat, and stars Viggo Mortensen as “Man” and Kodi Smit-McPhee as “Boy.” This bleak and depressing film is a bare-bones, hopeless trudge through what used to be America after an unknown catastrophe has left the land barren and the people as savage as the first humans. We witness the two main characters, a father and his son, make their way across the wasteland that once was the United States, barely surviving the elements and what is left of humanity.


The Road Is a Realistic Depiction of Absolute Fiction, Hopefully

This isn’t a typical horror film. However, it does not shy away from the macabre and the instincts hidden inside the human psyche. Upon watching it, the viewer is bound to be left with a sense of dread, wondering whether society will become that horrible in the event of an apocalypse. Without Mortensen’s exceptional performance, the film wouldn’t have been as effective. It is definitely not based on something real, but the outcome is so realistic, it will creep up on you as a horrifying and bleak experience.

14 Borderland (2007)

Borderland

Borderland

Release Date
November 9, 2007

Director
Zev Berman

Runtime
104

Part of the After Dark horror craze of the 2000s, Borderland tells the true story of American tourists who fall prey to the narco-satanists who were under a cult influence. A Mexican drug lord with too much power was responsible for the human sacrifice that ended the life of Mark J. Kilroy in the late ’80s. The film is loosely based on the real case and cleverly mixes an indie horror backdrop with the realistic aspect of the events.


Borderland Is a Lesser-Known Horror That Matters

By sticking to a realistic style, Borderland feels like a nightmare from beginning to end. Extremely violent sequences made the audience squirm in their seats as they evidenced a film that was unnervingly different from its festival peers, because of its realism and bleak narrative. Unfortunately, the real case didn’t exactly end well, so the film stays on that note and features a horrifying conclusion that will remain on your mind for a while. Once again, a film not many people saw that deserves to be brought back to the horror circle.

13 Eden Lake (2008)

eden-lake-film-poster.jpg


Eden Lake is a British-French horror thriller flick written and directed by James Watkins and featuring Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, and Jack O’Connell. Steve and Jenny are in love and fiercely devoted to one another. Steve whisks Jenny away to the countryside to propose. Unfortunately, a group of local, violent teenagers decides the couple is nothing more than fodder for their twisted rage games. This doesn’t end very well.

Eden Lake Is “Broken Britain” at Its Best

This grisly depiction of a cat-and-mouse game does not falter in its effort to display every blood-soaked, adrenaline-rushed moment of terror the couple is forced to endure. Set in the English countryside, Eden Lake is one of a handful of films that revolve around the theme of “Broken Britain,” effectively addressing the general unease of British society, especially among the youth and more those that usually wore hoodies. This is not a recommended choice for horror fans who enjoy a story that wraps up nicely at the end.


12 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Directed and co-written by John McNaughton, and starring Michael Rooker in his first acting role, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer centers around a psychopath who goes on a killing spree as soon as he gets out of prison. His celebration is one of nihilism, dread, and absolute contempt for decency. It is the perfect example of the blood, guts, and gore staple one might expect in the psychological crime horror genre.


The Perfect Definition of “No Remorse”

To begin with, the opening scene alone features a blood-spattered woman, contorted unnaturally, eyes wide open, yet staring lifelessly into the void. More often than not, horror is equated with suspense and boogeymen in masks. However, Henry is one of those monsters who don’t care about concealing their face or their murderous intentions. Henry simply kills, leaving a pile of victims, and greeting each new interaction with a level of indifference that can be jarring. He is the embodiment of the sociopath who takes a life without hesitation or remorse. It’s undoubtedly one of the best serial killer films ever made, and the characters are based on Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.

11 Snowtown (2011)

The Snowtown Murders

The Snowtown Murders

Release Date
May 16, 2011

Cast
Lucas Pittaway , Bob Adriaens , Louise Harris , Frank Cwiertniak , Matthew Howard , Marcus Howard

Runtime
119


Most films on the list have something in common: they’re based on true-life incidents. But in the case of Snowtown, you can’t help but hope this didn’t happen in real life. It’s just too horrible of an ordeal that victims had to endure when John Bunting insisted on cleansing society of pedophiles and homosexuals. He did so upon entering a broken household and being a father figure to a vulnerable teenager who saw the right amount of charisma in Bunting and turned into his follower.

Snowtown Is One of the Best Australian Films Ever Made

The violence in the film has become notorious because of its realism. However, the film doesn’t fall under the repetitive pattern of other horror films. This one’s all about evil disguising itself behind the charismatic monster that believed in his cause. Snowtown is very, very hard to watch, especially a scene that takes place in a bathroom that truly bends the rules of what’s acceptable and what should not even be attempted. It’s one of the best films to come from Australia.

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10 Killing Ground (2016)

What is it about the outdoors that makes for the most unnerving settings? Whether it’s a lake, a corn maze, or the dark woods, a sense of dread is no doubt going to come pouring in. The Australian horror thriller Killing Ground, directed by Damien Power, is no exception. It tells the story of a couple who take a leisure trip to an isolated region and find a crime literally taking place. You won’t guess where this one goes.


Killing Ground Is the Classic Trip Gone Wrong Movie

Told through the lens of a camping trip gone wrong, this misadventure into the wild provides all the fraught nerve-ending, live-wire energy we’re accustomed to in a slasher flick, with no relief in sight. Starting with the heart-wrenching gut punch that comes from the main characters finding a lost toddler alone in the wilderness, to the absolute gore-fest that ensues, Killing Ground is merciless. This one proves Australian horror has a very specific style to be celebrated.

9 The Last House on the Left (2009)

Revenge horror is one of the most satisfying plots for audiences since the hunter becomes the hunted. What happens when a typically docile family is pushed to the brink? In Dennis Iliadis’ The Last House on the Left, we get a front-row seat to the extreme lengths a mother and father will go to avenge their daughter’s suffering. The culprits are a handful of gang members unwittingly squatting in their house. This is a powerful revenge film that sadly went unnoticed because of its release during Hollywood’s remake craze.


An Underrated Remake that Deserves a Rewatch

This remake of Wes Craven’s 1972 masterpiece of the same name (which is also a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) leaves nothing to the imagination when a couple’s worst nightmares — followed by their most undeniable parental instincts — come out to play. Though the film’s setting isn’t very realistic (imagine that coincidence), what follows is a sober depiction of revenge that you will find a hard time forgetting. And yes, this one is actually more realistic than Craven’s version. Just make sure you find the unrated cut.

8 Green Room (2015)

Green Room

Green Room

Release Date
April 15, 2016

Director
Jeremy Saulnier

Runtime
94


In Green Room, the punk band The Ain’t Rights isn’t very successful. Its members accept every gig in order to survive, and when they get hired to play at a remote location, they don’t even think about it. Upon arriving, they realize the bar is full of neo-Nazis, which isn’t exactly a problem at first. The problem is that one of them witnesses a murder that has taken place in the green room. They get trapped inside the club, and the skinheads leader calls for their heads. This is a gig they shouldn’t have accepted.

Green Room Is an Underworld of Hate

Jeremy Saulnier is behind this gritty thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Saulnier doesn’t go for anything fancy in the film’s visual language and instead decides to portray a very realistic situation in a horrific setting. One that’s so filled with dread that, halfway through, Green Room succeeds in transitioning from thriller to horror when the hateful violence gets overwhelming. Nevertheless, the film doesn’t fall under the standards of its genre and actually provides a great shift in tone, but always within the boundaries of its effective and tangible realism.


7 Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)

Fans who take their obsessive adoration for their favorite celebrity too far (e.g., Yolanda Saldivar regarding Selena Quintanilla Pérez, and Robert John Bardo with Rebecca Schaeffer). A theme that has been approached in cinema in different ways but never this poignantly and realistic. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne‘s nose-dives into horrifying fanatic territory. Inspired by actress Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, filmmaker Adrian Tofei shoots footage to get the actress he so admires to work with him. In doing this, he has managed to bring complete unease and all-out creepiness.


An underrated found footage film, Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is a very realistic portrayal of toxic fandom taken to the extremes of a twisted case. Even if you believe the events in Be My Cat: A Film for Anne have to be impossible, the nerve-wrecking direction of the movie is exhausting. Tofei is a madman, but he takes his time in paying tribute by submitting his victims to psychological torture, physical abuse, and more. It’s all done following his “script,” one that eerily resembles the true-life cases that have ended in tragedy, and are constantly revisited in the true crime subgenre.

6 The Strangers (2008)


Inspired in part by the Manson Family murders, The Strangers, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, is a chilling exploration of isolation and panic that will leave viewers checking and double-checking their locks. Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) have planned a quiet, romantic getaway after a rejected marriage proposal has left them disconnected and uncomfortable. Instead of the peaceful escapade they had anticipated, however, they are met with gruesome disruption.

The Strangers Is a Solid Exercise in Cinematic Tension

Classified as a psychological thriller, this movie will keep your eyes glued to the screen, as you watch them both question each other’s and their state of mind until it becomes all too clear that neither of them was on the slack side of sanity. This is yet another title that leaves the viewer confused about its conclusion and is certainly not for those prone to anxiety and paranoia. The scariest thing about it is that, yes, it’s based on a true story, but this becomes creepier when Bertino’s execution stays in a realistic tone throughout the entire film. Staying home alone will never be the same again.


5 Ils (2006)

Ils (Them) tells the story of a couple being harassed and attacked by strange children in the French countryside. As the night progresses, what appears to be a series of pranks turns into a sick rendering of the home invasion subgenre everyone loves. We won’t spoil more because not many saw this obscure French horror film, and you’re probably making a list of “horror firsts” for Halloween. You won’t regret it, but try to put the kids to bed first.


There’s No Mercy for the Audience in Ils

Indirectly related to the New French Extremity movement, Ils is supposedly based on true events. And though this hasn’t been confirmed, the film follows the style of this particular trope of horror films, in which a realism-based frame becomes the perfect setting of dread where horror is very, very “possible.” If you want a feature to double-bill with The Strangers, there’s nothing better than Ils. Just be aware that it may prove to be too much.

4 I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

A remake of the controversial 1978 film of the same name, I Spit on Your Grave, holds nothing back and is unerringly brutal. Jennifer (Sarah Butler) is a novelist who decides to rent a remote cabin for privacy while she works on her next project. She then has the grave misfortune of running into a group of men who sexually assault her and attempt to kill her. Fortunately, she narrowly escapes their grasp and turns the tables around in the most graphic and unforgiving way.


Only for Those With a Strong Stomach

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to stomach some of the more graphic scenes, teeth pulling and emasculation included. There is no grace permitted here. I Spit on Your Grave is a great modern-audience emulator of exploitation films that were so popular in the ’70s. But saying more about it is unnecessary. This is senseless and radically graphic torture porn.

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3 The Lodge (2019)

The Lodge

The Lodge

Release Date
January 16, 2020

Director
Severin Fiala , Veronika Franz

Runtime
100


In The Lodge, Richard Hall and his two children face a horrific tragedy. Laura, Richard’s wife and Aiden and Mia’s mother, dies by suicide after Richard tells her she has met someone else. Grace is his new girlfriend, and he has an idea of sending Grace and the two children to a cottage in the middle of nowhere. Eerie stuff begins happening to the trio. But then the truth arises, and it may all have to do with Grace’s past.

A Bloodcurdling Twist that Will Leave You Shaking

The twist of The Lodge is good enough to keep for ourselves. In the film’s third act, a very risky change is presented to the audience as they try to figure out how the film’s supernatural theme has been discarded in favor of a more sinister one. This direction, a much more relevant one in terms of the film’s initial approach, is quite realistic and connects very well to the more sober aspect of the film. After that horrific final scene, you won’t sleep for days.


2 Hostel (2005)

Hostel

Hostel

Release Date
January 6, 2006

Cast
Jay Hernandez , Derek Richardson , Eythor Gudjonsson , Barbara Nedeljakova , Jan Vlasák , Jana Kaderabkova

Runtime
95

Hostel tells the story of Paxton and Josh, two college friends who decide to go on a trip to Europe. There they meet Óli, an Icelandic dude who promises more fun than they asked for. They end up going to Slovakia for a quick trip, but when Óli vanishes, Paxton and Josh are forced to investigate and quickly fall into the hands of a criminal organization that considers them to be very, very valuable.


Vacation Is Canceled Aftering Watching Hostel

Eli Roth’s torture porn extravaganza is actually a pretty solid modern horror film. It’s well-written, doesn’t play around the bushes, and delivers the scares it has to. However, it isn’t quite traditional in its portrayal of the horror elements. It transitions from thriller to horror in such a radical way that, before you expect it, you’re in the hands of a very sick individual who knows what nerves to hit on, literally. Its graphic violence looks real, but the setting in which it takes place will give you goosebumps when you realize something like this could happen. You will cancel your European vacation.

1 Angst (1983)

The 1983 Austrian film Angst is a very, very dark film. It tells the story of a serial killer who, after spending years in prison, is released again. His intention is to continue his rampage, and he doesn’t hide this, and soon after, he begins to kill again with all the sadism that characterizes his acts. This one puts Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Speak No Evil to shame. Yes, we told you Angst was dark.


Angst Is a Sick and Experimental Piece of European Horror

Directly associated with its German peers, Angst is an intimate portrayal of a sick man’s fantasies being complied with. Based on the life of a real serial killer by the name of Werner Kniesek, Angst is unlike anything you will ever see. It’s cinematography and score are groundbreaking, and the performance by Erwin Leder is unforgettable. However, it’s a cinematic experience you will probably have once and only once, because there are no limits to the realism the director Gerald Kargl uses to his advantage and for shock value.

To keep the spirit of unsettling horror movies alive, here’s a video of the most disturbing ones ever made:

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