Is there such thing as a horror film with no evil in it?
March 30, 2011 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Is there such thing as a horror film with no evil in it?

I'm a huge fan of horror films, and I'm fascinated by the reasons people (like me!) enjoy watching them. It seems that perhaps by definition, horror films always have an evil presence, whether a human or a supernatural force or the devil or an animal or something.

My question is, are there any horror films that derive their horror from something else? Films that maybe don't have an identifiable source of evil but are still scary and still classified as horror films? Does this exist?
posted by ORthey to Media & Arts (80 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
I viewed Stigmata sort of along these lines, but I don't know that it was classified as horror.
posted by Zophi at 2:46 PM on March 30, 2011


Ultimately, The Sixth Sense isn't about anything horrific or evil.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


The Birds arguably fits this description. There is an animal menace, of course, but no assignment of "evil" to them; as far as I recall, they're just inexplicably violent.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stir of Echoes is horror, yet the fear does not come from a malign source, only a presence which is having trouble making itself understood. (Well, there's some fear from human sources, too, but that isn't the thrust of the movie.)
posted by adipocere at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The Others"
posted by Erasmouse at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


The Final Destination series? It's basically just the universe trying to make up for failing to kill those damn kids all at once.
posted by theodolite at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, Requiem for a Dream scared me more than maybe any other movie I've ever seen, and the "evil" there is simply human nature/addiction.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


The Butterfly Effect is more psychological thriller than horror, but there's no real "evil" there.
posted by brainmouse at 2:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Frankenstein! Classic monster flick, but it didn't really have a villain, per se. (At least the book didn't, I'm sure the various iterations of the movies all do it differently.)

There are also entire sub-genres that use non-human forces to provide the danger. Movies like Open Water have plenty of tension and horror, but no villain.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most horrifying interpretation of Kubrick's The Shining involves no supernatural forces but does have escapist fantasy by a boy being molested by his father.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:54 PM on March 30, 2011


Along the "Animal Menace" lines - both "Open Water" and "Jaws" come to mind.

Why yes, I am terrified of sharks!
posted by pazazygeek at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd say most zombie films don't involve evil.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sunshine scared the bejeezus out of me, and the "enemy" there is just the harshness of space and of the sun and the problems of human error ... although there's a religious-ish fanatic in the second half.

One thing that's interesting about it is that the menace and terror of the film is the brightness of the sun, so light and golds and yellows are the scary thing; security is found in the darkness and coolness of the claustrophobic little ship, so darkness is calming and soothing. It's a flip from a usual horror film where light=good/safe and dark=bad/danger and they do it very effectively.

(Although not so interesting I'll watch it again, I had nightmares for weeks.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I would think that movies with diseases or force of nature would fall into that category. A virus or a shark or whatever wouldn't be evil per se, it's just doing its thing. It sucks to be eaten/diseased/drowned/etc, but it's not caused by evil.
posted by Neekee at 2:57 PM on March 30, 2011


Cujo? Rabies sucks but it's not the work of the devil.
posted by Fuego at 3:02 PM on March 30, 2011


The Happening is more thriller than horror, but involves no evil.
posted by koselig at 3:03 PM on March 30, 2011


Alien, along the lines of Jaws, &c.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems like you're going to have a hard time with this question for two reasons.
One, since the genre lines can sort of be skewed. For example, almost everything listed so far is more Thriller or Suspense or Scfi than horror to me.

Two, how far you stretch the definition of what is evil. I think in almost all films, especially horror, the villain is painted to be "evil."
Like in Jaws, it isn't about just any Shark, it's about a gigantic shark that hates and wants to destroy everything in it's path.
With that said, Birds and Jaws probably best fits your criteria.

The Happening is a comedy
posted by zephyr_words at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would say that Alien comes pretty close to fitting the bill, unless you consider capitalism at the expense of human lives to be evil.
posted by muddgirl at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2011


I think 'Cabin Fever' would qualify pretty well - the 'antagonist' is pretty much just the spread of a flesh eating disease, and the 'action' is how people deal with the breakout and trying to contain/endure it, or avoid revealing they've succumbed to it. Definitely no supernatural forces, and no 'evil' unless you count people being dicks to each other on occasion.
posted by FatherDagon at 3:09 PM on March 30, 2011


Thanks for all the answers!

You're right, zephyr, and I should have articulated my question better. For the purposes of this question I would consider things like sharks to be "evil." Not that sharks ARE evil, but rather, in movies they represent a villain, and in that way, are a type of evil. Same with Cujo.

Sorry this isn't more clear. I may not fully understand what I'm asking myself.
posted by ORthey at 3:11 PM on March 30, 2011


Well, there's existential horror, which doesn't have to do with evil at all. It has to do with the kind of dread you feel when you think your life might be meaningless. That things happen for no reason at all, which is more disorienting and horrifying than 'evil' is, imo.

The Cube would be a prime example of that.
posted by empath at 3:11 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Evil" is a really loaded word -- there are a lot of moral/religious implications of calling something evil that might be confusing your search.

In The Paradox of Horror, Noel Carroll does an extraordinarily close analysis of the elements of horror, as a genre.

He concludes that something can be considered a member of the horror genre if: it contains a monster (an entity that cannot be explained by contemporary science), and this monster is intended to elicit a mixture of fear and disgust in the viewer.

So, if you're curious about this, you may want to check out what he has to say.
posted by meese at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


along the lines of what empath said above, Moon evokes that sort of horror.
posted by changeling at 3:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Cube movies are no different from the Saw movies, in the protagonists have been kidnapped and forced to suffer. I don't think they're particularly existential.

If sharks and Cujo are "evil," then Alien is certainly out.

It sounds like you're looking for horror that doesn't have an antagonist, and I can't think of any.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Would Jacob's Ladder count? [Spoiler warning, if you decide to look it up]
posted by yaymukund at 3:18 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


A horror movie without an antagonist is a thriller.
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


How about that spate of disaster movies in the 70s - Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure. No evil, just stupidity and/or Mamma Nature shaking things up. Not too familiar with anything more recent - very boring subgenre.

On to the animals. Anaconda wasn't about an evil animal IIRC, just a freakishly large and freakishly intelligent one doing its thing. Piranha also not evil. Arachnophobia, basically just a love story about the chance encounter of two crazy young arachnids. I'm sure there are more examples - animals just doing what comes naturally - not gene-spliced or messed about with or exposed to toxic waste/radiation/Republicans.

Anything with aliens... not evil, just the way Mother/Father Universe made them. The first and second Alien movies, Independence Day, Signs, War of the Worlds, Species.

Then there are the serial killer/slasher/snuff flicks. Quality ranges from Silence of the Lambs to - well, you know the ones. Apart from Nightmare on Elm Street stuff, no evil. Just deeply disturbed human beings.

Now, I didn't say all of the above were good movies. And for my money, with one exception, none of the above is actually horror. For me, to be a true horror movie, there has to be at least an element of the supernatural involved, and yes, evil. Take a feeling/tendency/instinct we all possess and spin it into something alien. Something other, something inexplicable but somehow instantly recognizable. Last time I felt that? Well, Paranormal Activity came close.
posted by likeso at 3:21 PM on March 30, 2011


The Fly. Of course, you get into genre-boundary beanplating there too, as body horror is really just sort of psychological thriller with a directly physical metaphor--it's still about disintegration of self.
posted by Drastic at 3:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the IMDB page for Safe: "Safe" has been described as a horror movie of the soul, a description that director Todd Haynes relishes.

Unless perhaps the evil is MODERN LIFE ITSELF????????
posted by Greg Nog at 3:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Picnic At Hanging Rock?
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pulse doesn't have any explicit evil just "electricity kills people".
posted by Four Flavors at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2011


Both the original and the American remake of 'Let the Right One In' are nominally horror films in that they involve a hungry vampire, but the only "evil" in the film is really the bullies that threaten the protagonist.

And I'll agree that most zombie flicks do not have an overtly evil antagonist. See also films like "The Mist" or the recent "The Crazies" remake (which maybe is a zombie flick really).
posted by elendil71 at 3:43 PM on March 30, 2011


Hmm, I think there is always an evil, but in the twist version of these movies (or maybe a subtext of all of these movies - at least the good ones) is that the true evil is within ourselves. This is the basic message of Frankenstein, right?
posted by serazin at 3:46 PM on March 30, 2011


The Cube movies are no different from the Saw movies, in the protagonists have been kidnapped and forced to suffer. I don't think they're particularly existential

Not to spoil it, but the cube wasn't built by anyone for any particular reason, nor were they put in it for any reason. It was built by a corporation or government, but nobody knows why, everyone just punching a time clock and not looking at the big picture.
posted by empath at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2011


To me the horror of cube was about the futility of struggle against a system that grinds people up, not because it hates them, not because it's evil, but because it's so vast and complicated that the concerns of individuals just don't matter.
posted by empath at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I might call The Machinist or Pi horror. I don't think the concept of insanity is evil.

Along the same lines, perhaps some Uwe Boll movies? Unless you count Uwe Boll as evil.
posted by cmoj at 3:55 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to spoil it, but the cube wasn't built by anyone for any particular reason, nor were they put in it for any reason. It was built by a corporation or government, but nobody knows why, everyone just punching a time clock and not looking at the big picture.

Depends on if you count the other two movies as parts of a canon, which I don't.

But, yeah, "The Fly" is a good example of body horror. "Threads" would be a good example of apocalyptic existential horror, I think, without an actual villain.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:58 PM on March 30, 2011


There was no evil in The Ring; only stupid.
posted by The World Famous at 3:59 PM on March 30, 2011


The Tenant features a protagonist whose enemy is his own psychosis, although he certainly does perceive malice in those around him.

Possession is a bizarre movie that is nominally a horror film, although it is unclear if there really is any "evil" in it. It's more like a divorce movie with a hideous monster in it, except...well...you'll see.

The Ghost and the Darkness and Jaws are both about animals who cannot be properly described as "evil" in any legitimate sense.

This is a blatant spoiler, but The Others does not have evil antagonists.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:59 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to spoil it, but the cube wasn't built by anyone for any particular reason, nor were they put in it for any reason. It was built by a corporation or government, but nobody knows why, everyone just punching a time clock and not looking at the big picture.

Having sat through the trainwrecks that were Cube Zero and Hypercube this past month (oh so dreadful), I disagree. I really enjoyed Cube, but I think it's hard to argue that kidnapping innocent people is not evil just because you're doing it for no particular reason.

The Ghost and the Darkness and Jaws are both about animals who cannot be properly described as "evil" in any legitimate sense.

The OP has already said animals are out. I think we're looking for the absence of antagonists, not the absence of malice.

In that regard maybe Eraserhead? It has been forever since I saw it, but I don't remember there being antagonists, but I remember being horrified.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:05 PM on March 30, 2011


I really enjoyed Cube, but I think it's hard to argue that kidnapping innocent people is not evil just because you're doing it for no particular reason. To clarify: later films give a reason why people are being tortured, at least in part. It was certainly more interesting not knowing.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:07 PM on March 30, 2011


I'd say that in both Jaws and Alien the "evil" isn't the shark or the monster, but the characters who let them wreak havoc - the major and Ash, respectively. They set in motion the "everything goes to shit" bit of the movie, and I'm sure you find similar characters in a lot of movies. They're evil because you understand them on human terms.

I totally second Possession though, it's an odd, odd film. Maybe add Don't Look Now and Cannibal Holocaust. Everyone's evil in the latter.

But, fundamentally, films need good guys and bad guys.
posted by hnnrs at 4:08 PM on March 30, 2011


By "major" I meant "mayor", of course.
posted by hnnrs at 4:08 PM on March 30, 2011


I haven't seen the second two movies, and I don't think they really matter if you just take the first one by itself.
posted by empath at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ooh, and Antichrist. There's a lot of very disturbing events in that film, but from what I remember there isn't anything that can rightly define it as a horror film, even though it's come to be labelled as such. Its evil presence is arguably everything or nothing.
posted by hnnrs at 4:11 PM on March 30, 2011


Eraserhead is horrible, but it's not really specifically about something - except some kind of vague Kafkaesque future/present and, I don't know, just general weird scary stuff. So I guess it could sort of qualify. It seems to me the message of Eraserhead is just everything, everywhere is evil. But I haven't seen it in a while.
posted by serazin at 4:13 PM on March 30, 2011


Perhaps Teeth? I wouldn't necessarily call it a horror movie, but some of the people I watched it with thought it was. There are plenty of bad people doing bad things in it, but no definable antagonist except maybe men as a whole.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 4:16 PM on March 30, 2011


Not an entire movie, but the Winkie's scene in Mulholland Drive, which is about as scary as scary gets, has no evil.
posted by The World Famous at 4:19 PM on March 30, 2011


This is a really fascinating question.

Along the lines of the "body horror" idea--which I think is very fruitful for antagonist-free horror--one of the motifs that I have always found absolutely terrifying is the character that dismembers himself, and recoils in horror and revulsion, but somehow can't stop. This happens, for example, in the first couple of minutes of the third (awful) Cube movie (man sprayed with acid pulls himself to pieces), and also in the first Poltergeist (one of investigators, Ryan) pulls his own face off at one point). In each of those cases there's some outside force at work (the people who put the acid there, the Poltergeist), but as a concept, it's not evil, per se. It's similar in the Cronenberg Fly where Seth Brundle pulls of his fingernails etc. In some ways, that's a better example, since he himself put that in motion, but Seth qua the monster is the antagonist.

In real life, you have 127 Hours--the arm caught under a boulder movie.

Reminds me, as well, of the Stephen King horror story Survival Type (or whatever)--the auto-cannibal.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Videodrome?
posted by naju at 4:41 PM on March 30, 2011


What about 2001? That movie scared the shit out of me as a kid. HAL isn't evil; he's just a machine operating in a way that he's not designed for. And the trippy post-HAL section of the movie is... gah. The frozen faces of the astronaut as he hurtles through the monolith... gah.
posted by selfnoise at 4:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not a horror movie, but Dr. Strangelove is a curious film in that almost all of the characters have basically good intentions. (Jack D. Ripper is mad, but he really does think that he is responding to a sinister threat. Dr. Strangelove himself is ominous, but he doesn't really do anything "evil" per se.)

The Twilight Zone also had a number of extremely eerie episodes that I would call horror without any evil or even any real antagonists. For example, "Eye Of The Beholder."
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:21 PM on March 30, 2011


What munchingzombie said about the Shining is truly disturbing.

Freaks might count if the only evil you consider is human nature.

Frozen is an excellent recent single-setting horror, in which the only evil is solitude.

and maybe the wolves
posted by therewolf at 5:22 PM on March 30, 2011


IIRC, the Spanish movie The Orphanage involved no evil, though it was very scary.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:23 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Make-Out with Violence is a wonderful one.
posted by yes at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2011


Rofuto
posted by Infernarl at 5:37 PM on March 30, 2011


How about ghost stories where the spectre(s) seeks revenge for their murder or such? I wouldn't say the ghosts there are evil, just angry and unforgiving. Many movies in this vain, perhaps the best I've seen in the last years is Rinne (Reincarnation).
posted by Iosephus at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2011


There's also an arguable case with horror caused by characters who are crazy or have severely warped perceptions but are portrayed sympathetically enough to not be evil; and characters with severely warped POV who see evil where there is none. Black Swan is psychological horror of this type: Nina is the POV character, and her greatest antagonist is Nina herself (or really Nina VS Nina's Insecurities).

The Yellow Wallpaper and The Little Stranger derive their horror from the disconnect between the portrayed contemporary society's assumption of what is "good" for someone and modern recognition of how misguided that is.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:54 PM on March 30, 2011


One thing to look out for is when the evil thing isn't the scary antagonist but people's reactions to it. While animal horror (Jaws, Cujo, the Birds) doesn't have any identifiable perverse intention behind it, we put it into the story - "they're coming to get us!" - but that's only because we're so self-important we anthropomorphise a nonexistent malice into something that's just trying to get lunch. But if you've set your definition of 'evil' to scary antagonist, then almost anything counts.

The stuff I really see as evil is what happens when a bunch of people show their worst traits in the face of a threat to which no intention can be attributed. Things like Cabin Fever where friends turn on each other out of fear of killer germs. Or the original Night of the Living Dead - the zombies outside were just very creepy; but there was certainly a lot of evil going on inside the group trapped in the house. Or in the Ring, what's more evil - what's on the videotape, or passing it on for someone else to watch?
The only redeeming feature of Signs was that it was the opposite of this trope; scary threat and claustrophobia actually brings out their best selves instead of the group turning into the usual snarling xenophobic backstabbers.
posted by bartleby at 6:40 PM on March 30, 2011


The Mothman Prophecies was exceedingly creepy, but the titular character (almost entirely unseen) wasn't really evil, just beyond human comprehension.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:00 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh. Oh. This lets me add one of my favorite bizarre Japanese horror movies: Uzumaki, or Spiral, in which the horror is the concept of spiralness. Fabulous movie.
posted by rtimmel at 7:18 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


How about Polanski's Repulsion?
posted by hot soup girl at 7:58 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most horrifying interpretation of Kubrick's The Shining involves no supernatural forces but does have escapist fantasy by a boy being molested by his father.
Huh?

Evil is a loaded word as someone from above said. The definition of horror varies widely, as well.

If you're going to do this, you have to pretty much look up horror movies that have very few characters. Twilight zone type stuff...
posted by hal_c_on at 7:59 PM on March 30, 2011


Threads
Safe (I enjoy casting the nets of genre as wide as possible)


And seconding Picnic at Hanging Rock.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:05 PM on March 30, 2011


Trouble Everyday? What causes certain characters to do what they do isn't really explained.
posted by citron at 8:30 PM on March 30, 2011


Picnic At Hanging Rock?

Thirding.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:40 PM on March 30, 2011


Huh?

It isn't evil in the way I read the question before the clarification. Child molesters are most certainly evil.

But, the best way to experience it is to watch the movie again with the assumption that there is nothing supernatural, Danny is being molested, Wendy knows and is powerless to do anything.

I had watched The Shining a dozen times before someone told me about this and thought it was an alright film. After hearing this interpretation I felt my skin crawl at parts, a few times I screamed in horror.

Ugh, I am putting it on Netflix right now.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:29 PM on March 30, 2011


I came in here to suggest The Orphanage but triggerfinger beat me to it. Anyway, it's definitely a horror movie but without any evil (except for one character who isn't really the antagonist).

The movie is about a parent's worst fears, which are realized in such a sickening and frightening way, without anyone being evil. It's a brilliant and wrenching film.
posted by Toothless Willy at 9:32 PM on March 30, 2011


I don't know, if it's a scary animal but it's just acting mostly naturally, I don't think that's really evil. (Like, if a Tiger is stalking people because they're encroaching upon it's hunting grounds or something). Like, I'm hesitant to say there's evil in Jurassic Park. Animals just want to eat (and Dinosaurs are animals.) You could argue that the people that made the dinosaurs were evil for creating something dangerous, but really, science often takes risks and they did think their control measures were enough to keep the dinosaurs from being dangerous. That they were wrong dosen't make them evil.

Or also The Others and The Sixth Sence. The ghosts in question are not evil, just confused and misguided, in need of help.
posted by RampantFerret at 10:16 PM on March 30, 2011


Seconding Uzumaki. Great manga, great movie, and it's sort of almost exactly what you seem to be looking for. Similarly, I would investigate the great short manga The Enigma of Amigara Fault, which is another horror story without any evil in it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:52 PM on March 30, 2011


I sort of think Frailty fits into this category. Don't want to blow the ending if you've not seen it, but it works...
posted by richmondparker at 4:33 AM on March 31, 2011


What about Carrie? You could argue that her classmates are evil, but really they're just mean in a conventional way. Her mother is insane and misguided, but she clearly believes that she is the one fighting evil forces. Or is Carrie herself evil? It is pretty clear that she's is just lashing out against the people that hurt her, and her final actions show that she feels guilt about what she has done.

Or maybe An American Werewolf in London? I guess maybe the werewolf nature inside of the protagonist could be the evil, but that seems a bit abstract.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:11 AM on March 31, 2011


Pulse doesn't have any explicit evil just "electricity kills people".

In the original, Pulse/Kairo, it isn't electricity but a strange series of ghostly visitations that are ostensibly related to a website, but seem more like a metaphor for hikikomori. The ghosts also manifest as black silhouettes reminiscent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There's no villain to speak of, and it's the most frightening movie I've ever seen.
posted by heatvision at 8:13 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was horrified by Threads, Eraserhead, Aliens and Repulsion, but I would not consider those pictures horror. I think this question requires a strong definition, and for me "horror" means a story involving some supernatural/evil menace: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, etc.
posted by Rash at 8:57 AM on March 31, 2011


The Wicker Man (1973)?

The antagonists are merely true-believing pagans carrying out a community tradition while simultaneously trying to defend against meddling outsiders.

Though you might argue that Christopher Lee falls into the category "evil supernatural being" by default.
posted by General Tonic at 9:37 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I enjoy movies where the potential antagonist can also be viewed as the protagonist. This is why I LOVE, LOVE , LOVE Ginger Snaps. No evil to be found (depending on your point of view).
posted by coolguymichael at 10:12 AM on March 31, 2011


nthing The Orphanage. Great scary movie.
posted by brgale at 3:29 PM on March 31, 2011


I came in to suggest the very underrated Birth. It may be stretching it to call it "psychological horror," but it certainly gave me the shivers, and there's no "evil" in it at all.
posted by Paris Elk at 3:05 AM on April 2, 2011


for me "horror" means a story involving some supernatural/evil menace: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, etc.

Alien is explicitly a sci-fi horror movie. To limit definitions of horror movies to supernatural horror movies cuts out like 50% of horror movies ever made. Slasher films like my personal favorite Slaughter High are a huge part of the horror genre that generally do not contain supernatural elements.
posted by muddgirl at 12:09 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older How to transform random variables from a...   |   Sad Ikea face Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.