Faux Horror Film

This is where a film is advertised as a Horror film, but there is no horror. The supernatural elements, monsters, aliens, psycho killers, etc., are a ruse of some kind. Frequently, the heroes just turn out to be schizophrenic or overly paranoid.

This was a major trend in the early American talking pictures; nearly every horror featured the ghosts and ghoulies explained away at the end. It took the one-two punch of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) to knock the genre out of it.

Compare Through the Eyes of Madness, where the hero's paranoia is the horror. See also Mundanger, and Scooby-Doo Hoax.

Could also overlap with Doing In the Wizard. Not to be confused with a supposed horror film with real monsters that turns out to actually be a dark comedy; for that, you want Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror.



    open/close all folders 

  • April Fools' Day
  • Bug
  • Catacombs
  • Cry_Wolf
  • Donnie Darko qualifies as this. Definitely creepy, but never outright horror, despite every poster and trailer of this movie making it look like a slasher with a bunny serial killer.
  • Hide and Seek, the darker alternate ending would have definitely put it into horror territory though.
  • Session 9. Or not...
  • Scooby-Doo - Though subverted in the animated and live action films, in which the monsters are actually real.
  • The Village
  • Shrooms, although its also a case of Tomato Surprise.
  • The Uninvited (2009) is a perfect example of this trope. Turns out there is no ghost, no monster, the stepmother is not a crazy psycho murderer. Emily Browning's character is just nutso.
  • Possible Trope Maker: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
  • Stay (2005)
  • Obscure 80's horror film The Slayer. After the protagonists are picked off one by one without a monster ever showing up it was pretty obvious one of them is the killer, probably via Tomato Surprise. In fact Kay (the Final Girl) is almost set up this way, Until the actual Slayer monster thing shows up at the front door during the last few seconds of the film. The appearance of an actual monster was jarring, since people expected there was none. Although among the small cult following it's highly debated whether or not the monster was real due to the Mind Screw nature of the flick.
  • Played straight then subverted in the Thai horror film Who Are You.
  • The Last Exorcism Played this cynically straight. Until the last 5 minutes or so, where it fantastically subverts this. Turning it into Real After All. Likely the main reason for its Critical Dissonance.
  • Shutter Island
  • Volver, a rather hilarious (and sad) example.
  • Black Swan
  • The Last Horror Film
  • Lost Signal
  • Take Shelter:...Maybe
  • The Tall Man: Is a blatant example of this trope, marketing and all.
  • Monster A-Go Go: "But there was no monster!" Joel and the bots were not amused. Especially since we actually saw the monster on screen killing people, yet apparently it never existed. And none of this is ever explained, resulting in the film just becoming completely incomprehensible
  • The remake of Dark Water was sold as horror but was actually a drama with supernatural elements. The director went on to disown the released version as the studio insisted on more scares and less drama.
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959)

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Appears that they like to have it both ways.
    • Interestingly enough the schemes in nearly all of the Scooby Doo series are so elaborate the shows manages to go into Sci-Fi territory.

Alternative Title(s):

Faux Horror Story