‘The end… or is it?’ Trope In Horror, explained

The ending of a horror movie might be the most important thing. Audiences want thoughtful twists and characters making powerful decisions and villains wearing masks that are more interesting than usual…but audiences also want a thoughtful final scene. When a story falls apart in the final act, it can leave a bad taste in fans’ mouths, as the creative choices made should lead to something exciting.

The horror trope “The End…Or Is It?” appears in many films to mixed results. Sometimes this can be irritating if not done properly. But sometimes the trope is clever and helps the audience look forward to a sequel.


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Corresponding TV tropes, “The end … or not?” Trope is when a film’s ending “reveals that a villain, monster, or other major threat is still out there.” This is of course a problem for the main characters as the viewers thought they won and now it’s clear the battle isn’t over yet.

There are a few films where this trope works really well. One of them is Halloween (1978), which is definitely the best example. If Final Girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) really beat Michael Myers at the end of the first film, there wouldn’t be a beloved franchise and Michael Myers wouldn’t kill as much. Instead, Laurie thinks about The Boogeyman and if it was real. She sees Michael seemingly disappear before her eyes and realizes he’s still out there in their town of Haddonfield, which is a terrifying thought.

Without this proof that Michael is still around, the next movies would feel like they came out of nowhere. It’s hard to convince audiences that a horror villain has returned from the dead as the result is always cheesy and not scary. There is nothing worse than when a story seems complete and years later a sequel comes out that completely changes things. That makes sense Halloween would go this route. Even if fans are debating the new trilogy, this original ending shows that Michael is a boogeyman who is not easy to fight, which creates a scary atmosphere in every film.

Sometimes “The end… or is it?” can be frustrating as there is an understandable debate about whether horror movies need a satisfying ending. For example in the case of Go out (2017) Rod Williams (Lil Rey Howrey) and Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) escape the horrific Armitage family and drive to safety. This is exactly the ending that audiences are looking for. Other times a horror movie has a seemingly solid all-in-one-box conclusion, but there are more sequels in the slasher franchise that prove the terror isn’t over yet. One of the best examples is Scream (1996), when Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) defeats killers Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) and Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) tells the story on a newscast. Everything seems fine in Woodsboro…until scream 2 (1997), of course, when another Ghostface rears its ugly head.

If this trope isn’t used well, it can feel cheap and like the movie didn’t get a proper ending. cherry falls (2000) is an underrated teenage horror film, but its use of that trope doesn’t do it any favours. Brittany Murphy’s character Jodi learns that Leonard Marliston (Jay Mohr) is the killer, and while she believes he has been caught, she appears to see him behind a school bus, suggesting he will kill again. After the horrific experiences that the characters in this film go through and the fact that this is a slasher with no sequel, it feels like Jodi should get a happy ending.

Most of the time, this horror trope is used to create sequels, and it’s hard to argue that this is a bad idea. This happens in the Netflix movie The babysitter (2017) when Cole (Judah Lewis) is fine but Bee (Samara Weaving) injures a firefighter, proving she’s still out there. The trope is also used in I know what you did last summer (1997), when Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) takes a shower in her dorm and the killer shows up. The most underrated horror movie sequels wouldn’t exist without a proper setup, and it makes sense for audiences to know that the killer/villain isn’t dead and the evil isn’t over and more danger is still to come.

Like many horror tropes, The End…or Is It? can be frustrating, but it can also be intelligent, creative, and compelling. Amigious endings can sometimes be done cautiously, like at the end of the 2011 thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene when Elizabeth Olsen’s character is unsure if her escape from a terrible cult was successful. At least this horror trope makes you think.

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