In horror movies, payoff is everything—but for some directors, the little touches matter just as much as the climactic reveal. In this list, we're uncovering the best kept secrets in horror movie history. From the hidden meaning behind Freddy Kreuger's costume to the freaky subliminal messages in The Exorcist, this list will have you combing through your favorite fright fests for easter eggs all night long.
And fair warning, major spoilers abound!
As you can tell from the title, Ari Aster's Hereditary is all about fate and destiny. To reinforce that meaning, Aster adds creepy details that make it seem like the family is doomed from the start. Minor characters who seem like harmless neighbors or classmates reappear as cult members at the end of the movie. There's a mourner at Annie's mother's funeral, one of Peter's high school friends, and more.
Plus, in a quick shot of the house, you can see that the place is already swarmed with Paimon's supporters. NO THANK YOU.
The Atlantic argued that this was the scariest shot in all of 2019. If you turn the brightness way up, you can see Annie clinging t the corner of Peter's bedroom ceiling. Though the movie slowly reveals that she's there, the creepiness comes from the viewer being in Peter's shoes. Along with him, we realize that Annie has been lurking there for much longer than we realized.
The main (incredibly upsetting) premise of Get Out is that a group of wealthy white liberals who "would've voted for Obama for a third time" are actually entrapping young Black people, auctioning their bodies off to the highest bidder, and then implanting a white person's brain into their body to use as a vessel. Jordan Peele actually foreshadows the entire plot with a single image in Chris's apartment. To the right, there's a picture of a little white girl wearing a dark mask, symbolizing how characters like Walter, Georgina, and Andre are being controlled by white people inside their bodies.
The artists behind the iconic Halloween poster insists that he didn't intend this Easter egg—but whatever because it's definitely there. If you look closely at the hand clutching the knife, you can see a face formed by the veins, knuckles, and fingers. It even looks eerily like the creepy mask that Michael Myers wears throughout the movie.
At the iconic first meeting between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, Jodie Foster's FBI trainee gets frustrated because Hannibal won't answer questions about the Buffalo Bill case. However, Lecter actually drops a major clue during their conversation. He casually identifies two huge details about the case that's currently stumping the FBI.
Lecter points to the sketch above and says, "That's the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere." Guess where Buffalo Bill nabbed his first victim? Belvedere, Ohio. He told Clarice exactly what she wanted to know. She just didn't realize it at the time.
The Cabin in the Woods is fun from start to finish (and also introduced movie-goers to pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth—thanks Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard!). In one of the movie's many Easter eggs, you can see shout-outs to iconic horror monsters throughout cinema history on the white board where the workers bet on who will terrorize the campers in the cabin.
We've got references to the Wolfman, the alien from Alien, Pennywise, Pinhead, the tree from The Evil Dead, the mummy, the bride of Frankenstein, and more.
The internet went crazy when it realized that Mike Flanagan had hidden background ghosts throughout The Haunting of Hill House. Here are two of the many MANY spirits that silently appear behind the Crain family. And bonus fact: You see the most ghosts, by far, behind one particularly appropriate character: Theodora, who is extra sensitive to apparitions.
Here's a spirit creeping on young Theo:
And here's a lady ghost who haunts my nightmares:
In James Wan's Insidious series, the poor Lambert family gets followed by ghosts trying to possess their young son Dalton. Eagle-eyed viewers have spotted that the spirits actually pop up much sooner than many might have realized. In one sequence, Renai walks through her home and doesn't realize that a little boy is hiding near an ironing board.
This freaky Insidious detail is much less known than the creepy dancing boy above, but equally likely to make you shake your first and yell "James Wan!" to the heavens. In the sequence where Josh learns that he passed his childhood ability to astral project onto his son, you can see a face in the smudges on the wall behind him. A few frames later, the face is replaced by the iconic red demon.
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James Wan is behind three of horror's most famous current franchises: Insidious, The Conjuring, and Saw. In the first Insidious flick, Wan shouts out his big break with a doodle on the chalkboard behind Josh Lambert. Apparently, some of Lambert's students are fans of Saw, and especially of Billy the Puppet, the creepy biking doll that Jigsaw uses to communicate with his victims.
Jordan Peele's favorite movie is The Shining and it seems like he took major inspiration from the wacko numerology in Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece. Throughout Peele's second movie Us, you can see endless references to the number 11. The symbolism goes back to the movie's obsession with reflections and mirrors (11 is the same forwards as it is backwards, and also resembles to figures standing back to back).
The most obvious reference to 11 comes when the homeless man at the fair holds up a sign that reads Jeremiah 11:11. The Bible verse reads, "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them." This seems to foreshadow the way the tethered will rise up and take vengeance on their counterparts in the world above.
Like Get Out, Peele's follow-up Us also includes a telling shot right at the beginning of the movie. If you look carefully, you'll see that all of the cages have white and brown rabbits, except for one which contains a black rabbit. It's a reference to how one person doesn't quite fit into their surroundings—in this case, Lupita Nyongo's character Adelaide, who we learn is actually a tether who took the place of her real-world counterpart.
Other clues to Adelaide's true identity are sprinkled throughout the film. For instance, when she tries to snap to the beat of "Five On It" in the car, she's just a little out of rhythm with the song, suggesting that she doesn't quite fit in the above world.
Fair warning: This one is impossible to unsee. At the end of Poltergeist, Diane has to fight off a swarm of muddy skeletons that rise out of the family's pool. Well, it turns out that those skeletons were not props. They were real human skeletons that the crew bought from labs in India. Apparently, back in the 1980s, prop skeletons weren't really a thing. To save money, the crew just...got real bodies.
In a scene where Diane is doing her hair on her bed, viewers can see a group of photographs on her dresser. However, it doesn't take long for "The Beast" to start attacking Diane and pulling her up to the ceiling. Once that happens, one of the photographs in the background subtly changes to a demonic-looking face. As well, all of the boxes in the room are now facing Diane, and each of them shows a gun pointing directly at her, symbolizing how she's under attack.
Fede Alvarez's ultra-gruesome 2013 remake of Evil Dead got clever with the names of its five main characters. Instead of Ash and company from the original, the new characters are now Derek, Eric, Mia, Olivia, and Natalie. Take the first letter of each of their names and what do you get? One very appropriate word for the spirit-summoning group: DEMON.
In the climax of The Conjuring 2, Lorraine Warren saves her husband Ed and the little possessed girl Janet by casting out the demon that has been tormenting the Hodgson family. How exactly does our girl Lorraine do this? She realizes that she knows the demon's name: Valak. Clever audience members already know the name too. Valak is sprinkled throughout the movie, appearing in the Warrens' library and twice in their kitchen too.
Horror movies love a good subliminal message—and the obsession with blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments arguably started with 1973's The Exorcist. At the end of the movie, when Father Karras nobly sacrifices himself to save young Regan, his mother's face appears in the window for less than a second. The vision reminds Karras about his guilt over not being there when his mother passed and spurs him to save another person from a grim fate. It also foreshadows how Karras will soon join his mother in the afterlife.
Vegans and vegetarians, you guys might want to skip this one. The filmmakers behind The Exorcist revealed a crucial part of Regan's demonic screams. To create the harrowing sound effect, the crew mixed Mercedes McCambridge's voice with multiple noises, included the panicked squeals of pigs just before they were slaughtered.
William Friedkin loved a subliminal message. Throughout Friedkin's classic horror film The Exorcist, viewers can see flashes of the demon Pazuzu and other freaky spirits popping up in and around the MacNeil household. In the picture below, the statue of Pazuzu from the beginning of the flick briefly appears on a dark wall as Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) leaves the house.
The Pazuzus and demons just keep coming. In the picture to the right, Pazuzu's stone face briefly flashes against a dark screen. In the picture to the left, a creepy demon terrorizes Chris from her stove. While many viewers mistake this white-faced demon for Pazuzu, it's actually a make-up test that the studio didn't ultimately use, but liked so much that they just had to splice it into the movie.
Jigsaw is one of the biggest baddies in modern horror history and, though Saw's successors didn't always hit their marks, the original still holds up. The first Saw movie features an incredible twist where we realize that the seemingly deceased man in the bunker is actually the mastermind of the entire scenario, John Kramer. Viewers who are watching carefully, though, will already know that something is up with this guy.
In a scene where we see Kramer at the hospital, his sketchbook shows the infamous reverse bear trap. Just some light doodling to pass the time between appointments, I guess.
In the 2014 horror film Goodnight Mommy, German speakers get a major clue about the big reveal ages before the rest of the audience. Even though the mother in the movie addresses both of her twin sons, she constantly uses the singular form of the German word for "you." It's a subtle sign that both boys didn't actually survive the car crash that started the movie. Instead, Elias has been imagining that his brother Lukas is still alive.
Maybe Goodnight Mommy took a cue from John Carpenter's classic thriller The Thing. In this movie, the crew could have saved themselves a world of pain if one of them knew how to speak Norwegian. At the very beginning of the movie, a man yells, "Get the hell outta there. That's not a dog, it's some sort of thing! It's imitating a dog, it isn't real! Get away, you idiots!" but because he isn't speaking English, Kurt Russell and friends don't heed his warning. Carnage ensues.
The ending of The Thing is notoriously ambiguous (who's really human, MacReady or Childs?) but according to a man who worked with John Carpenter, one tiny clue holds the answer. In the last few minutes of the movie, MacReady and Childs talk to each other and try to figure out which one is the monster. During the scene, which is set in the dead of winter, MacReady's breath is clearly visible, even obscuring Kurt Russell's face throughout the sequence.
Even though Childs is in the same place, his breath doesn't function like a normal human's would. It's invisible, despite the freezing cold. For some, this a clear sign that Childs is the monster.
The Ring was always going to be meta AF (it's a horror film about a movie that literally kills whoever watches it). True to form, the director Gore Verbinski made sure to subliminally splice stills from The Ring's haunted video tape into his own movie. One blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment occurs in the movie's first frames, when the Dreamworks logo briefly turns into the ring.
When it comes to creepy horror movie animals, Black Philip is the GOAT (I had to and I'm not sorry). The song that Thomasin's little siblings sing to the animal at the beginning of the movie spells out the ultimate reveal that Black Philip is Satan. Some choice lyrics include: "Black Phillip, Black Phillip, A crown grows out his head, Black Phillip, Black Phillip, King of sky and land,
King of sea and sand. We are ye servants, We are ye men." No one can say the movie didn't warn them.
Ready or Not, starring a modern day scream queen Samara Weaving, was one of the most entertaining horror movies of 2019. But even though the wacky plot was almost impossible to predict, the directors snuck a clue to the entire movie in a brief shot near the beginning. When the camera pans over the Le Domas family's games, they summarize the plot. There's a ritual whenever a family member gets married, then the family have a top-secret meeting, choose which game to play, and ultimately, if you look on the second shelf below, the sun rises, confirming that Grace will survive the night.
A world where you can't eat potato chips is the scariest world of all. This is the world of A Quiet Place. In the opening shots of John Krasinski's horror flick, we see the Abbott family scavenge for food in an abandoned grocery store. Even though most of the shelves are empty, one section of the store is untouched: The potato chip aisle. Fair enough, considering how the baddies in A Quiet Place will gank you if you make a noise, and potato chips are the loudest food ever.
But the really genius detail at the beginning of A Quiet Place isn't the chips. It's the knocked over traffic light, which immediately stands out if you realize that almost nothing else in the town has been destroyed or toppled over. Why the light, then? It's a sign that red lights emit a frequency that the alien-spider-monsters hate. This detail foreshadows the end of the movie, when Evelyn (Emily Blunt) turns on red string lights to warn her family that she's going into labor, only for the lights to attract the monsters to the house.
In the cult classic (pun intended), The Wicker Man, Edward Woodward's Sergeant Howie accidentally chooses a meaningful costume to sneak into the May Day parade. Howie dresses a fool, which unfortunately, he turns out to be. Though Howie thinks he's saving a woman from the cult, he's actually been their victim all along—a fate foreshadowed by his costume as an ignorant fool who has no idea about what he's gotten into.
This movie is jam-packed with references to other horror movies, but its most brilliant hidden detail is the way that the writer and director Edgar Wright makes sure to include before and after shots of almost every single extra. If you see a human in the background of one of the movie's shots, chances are that if you look hard enough, you'll see their zombie-fied self later on too. From pizza delivery boys to tavern patrons to a couple on a TV screen for a nano-second, Edgar Wright filled his flick with tiny monstrous callbacks.
Get ready to have your mind blown. The reason that Freddy Kreuger, the iconic villain of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise wears that red and green striped sweater isn't because he's spreading some early Christmas cheer. It's because Wes Craven knew that our eyes have trouble processing dark olive green and bright red. It's a subtle nod to how Kreuger exists beyond the physical world and is difficult for humans to capture.
Like Black Philip's song in The Witch and the Norwegian man's warning in The Thing, Jordan Peele also uses a foreign language to send a message to viewers. The movie's Swahili title theme "Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga" recurs throughout the film and literally tells the protagonist Chris to get the heck out of dodge. Its lyrics mean, "Brother, Listen to the ancestors, Run! You need to run far!"
Halloween and Scream: This is the horror crossover event I crave. It turns out that John Carpenter and Wes Craven subtly set their franchises in a shared cinematic universe. In Halloween, Laurie Strode tells her babysitting charges to “go down the road to the Mackenzie’s” for help. As an homage, this same line was written into Scream—said by Casey Becker’s dad. Halloween H20 takes this even further when Laurie Strode tells her son to “go down the street to the Beckers” and repays the reference to the Scream characters.
The little old lady in Halloween H2O is way more important than many movie-goers realized. The secretary is played by Janet Leigh, who isn't just Jamie Lee Curtis's real-life mother, but an iconic scream queen in her own right. She played Marion Crane in Psycho and as a nod to her past role, Leigh drives the same car in the 1998 Halloween reboot as she did in Hitchcock's masterpiece. It's an exact replica, even down to the license plate.
Like we said, Wes Craven idolizes John Carpenter, so it isn't surprising that he included more than one reference to Halloween in his own horror franchise, Scream. In one sequence, Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy) watches the original Halloween and tells "Jamie" (referring to Jamie Lee Curtis but also referring to himself, Jamie Kennedy) to look behind her, ironically telling himself that Ghostface is right behind him.
Look out for this eerie mistake the next time you watch Brian De Palma's Carrie. At the end of the movie, Sue (Amy Irving) has a nightmare where Carrie's hand shoots out of her grave, leading her to wake up screaming. In the scene, Sue's mother (played by Irving's real-life mother Priscilla Pointer) comforts her daughter. But Pointer was so concerned that she accidentally said "Amy" instead of "Sue." Her mistake is in the final cut of the film, but it's hard to hear because of the loud music.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Sally (Marilyn Burns) survived Leatherface, but she left a little bit of herself back at his horrific house. And I mean that literally. During a scene where Leatherface cuts Sally's finger so that his grandpa can drink her blood, the actor (Gunnar Hansen) accidentally wounded Burns and really did cut her finger. Which means that the man who played Leatherface's grandpa sucked Burns's actual blood. You'll never watch that scene the same way again.
For most people, the scariest scene is Rosemary’s Baby is the nightmare sequence of the final party, but for the star Mia Farrow, a less famous part of the film was the most terrifying. In fact, it even risked her life. During one sequence, the director, Roman Polanski, actually made Farrow walk into real oncoming traffic. He assured her that no one would hit a pregnant woman. Luckily, he was right.
This isn't exactly a hidden detail, but it will definitely change the way you watch an iconic horror series. Many people believe that the Poltergeist movies were actually cursed because of all the terrifying fates that befell the cast. First, Dominique Dunn (Dana in the movie) was killed by her ex-boyfriend shortly after the first movie came out. Then, two actors from the sequel perished of cancer. Finally, the main actress, 13-year-old Heather O'Rourke tragically died of a bowel obstruction.
Stanley Kubrick was a well-known perfectionist who obsessed over every little detail in his movies, but out of them all, the one that sparked the most conspiracy theories was definitely The Shining. Some people think the whole movie was a way for Kubrick to subtly admit that he helped fake the moon landing. The proof? The distinctive carpet pattern looks like the Apollo launching pad, the all-important room 237 refers to the 237,000 miles between the earth and the moon, and of course, Danny wears a sweater with the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
Oh, you thought 237 was the only meaningful number in The Shining? Boy, do I have news for you. Kubrick stuffed his horror movie full of wacko numerology. You can see the number 42 EVERYWHERE. It's on Danny's shirt sleeve in the picture below, it's part of Hallorann's license plate, and of course, it connect to Room 237. After all, 2 x 3 x 7=42. What does it mean? I have no idea. But once you start looking for 42, you can't stop.
The eerie poster for the 2006 horror movie Orphan is designed to get under your skin. Here’s how it does just that, with the help of a simple photo editing trick. Esther’s face doesn’t look quite right because it’s not actually the face of a real human. The photo editors took a picture of half of Isabella Fuhrman’s face and flipped it so that the face in the poster is perfectly symmetrical—and perfectly creepy.
At the beginning of Midsommar, the rare horror film set in broad daylight, we see a mural that spoils the plot of the entire movie. To the left, we see Dani's family under a skull (symbolizing how they have passed), then we see Dani, Christian, Mark, and Josh being led to the Harga community. Towards the right, you can see the cliff where the elderly cult members plummet to the ground, and then on the far right, under the sun, we see Dani becoming the May Queen, awkwardly alongside the skeletons of her now-deceased friends.
At the beginning of Ari Aster's Midsommar, we see the heroine Dani (Florence Pugh) resting in bed. It doesn't seem like a particularly meaningful shot, but the portrait behind her actually foreshadows a huge part of the movie. In the painting by John Bauer, we see a young girl with a crown and a bewildered-looking bear. And what happens at the end of the movie?
Dani's boyfriend Christian is sewed up inside of a bear skin and set on fire, while Dani becomes the May Queen and wears a crown. Each one plays a role in the painting, with Christian's grisly end foreshadowed by the picture's title: "Poor Little Bear." Yikes.
Towards the end of Midsommar, there’s a hidden detail so disturbing that it’s impossible to ever forget. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that Dani’s sister’s face is visible in the trees behind Dani’s coronation parade. Fans think the eerie image is a sign that Dani has symbolically found her family in the Harga community and is finally where she belongs.
Need more proof before you believe that one? Dani also sees her mother, sister, and father in the crowd when she becomes the May Queen. As though freakin Midsommar needed to be even scarier than it already was.
Psycho’s shower scene instantly made horror film history—but a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment is even more terrifying. Towards the very end of the movie, Alfred Hitchcock spliced in a frame of Norman’s mother on top of Norman Bates’s smiling face. For a split second, he looks like an undead skull. But here’s the creepiest part.
Hitchcock only put this detail in some versions of the movie. If viewers who saw this version tried to talk to friends who saw the other version, they’d seem as insane as the movie’s iconic main character.
In It: Chapter One, young Ben looks at old papers about Derry in the town library, only for Pennywise to pop up and terrorize him. However, you can see that Ben is in danger long before the clown appears. As Ben reads through documents, the librarian creepily lurks behind him and smiles. Because she's blurry, most viewers only notice her on their second or third watch.
At the end of It: Chapter One, the Losers' Club take a blood oath swearing that if Pennywise comes back, they'll return to Derry and fight him. It's an inspiring scene, but the director Andy Muschietti inserted a sad detail. The first person who leaves the circle is Stan, who ends his own life at the beginning of the second movie. Eddie leaves after Stan, and passes in It: Chapter Two. After Stan, Mike leaves and is horribly injured at the end of the series. The kids who leave last don't just survive, but are least harmed.
Lots of tiny details in It: Chapter One and It: Chapter Two imply that Pennywise has infected the town of Derry for centuries, but this one might be the creepiest of them all. When Ben researches the history of the town, he finds this picture of the doomed Easter egg hunters who perished in the Kitchener Ironworks explosion. Lurking blurrily in the background is, who else, Pennywise the clown.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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