Today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 fairy tale horror movies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at horror films that are based on or inspired by fairy tales and folklore. To be considered, the movies needn’t be a direct adaptation of the source material or even stick to a single story - they just need to be, at their core, inspired by those classic fairy tales and folklore. Also, we’re being somewhat more liberal with our definition of horror films than usual by including thrillers with a horror element.
Scroll down to find out which fairy tales turn out to be horrible nightmares.
#10: “Hard Candy” (2005)
This is the sort of film that you could easily watch without ever thinking of fairy tales. But don’t you think that 14-year old Hayley, the character played by Ellen Page, has made some rather distinct fashion choices? In her red hoodie and matching leggings, she’s a modern day Little Red Riding Hood! And in the role of the big bad wolf? We have Patrick Wilson as 32-year old photographer and predator Jeff Kohvler. It’s a dark and twisted game of cat and mouse that, although at times hard to watch, is absolutely riveting. The filmmaker claims to have not seen it as an adaptation of the classic fairytale during production, but the obvious allusions did wind up influencing the film’s marketing.
#9: “Good Manners” (2017)
By the time the supernatural elements come into play in this 2017 Brazilian horror movie, you’ll have completely forgotten that you were expecting them. And that’s not a bad thing! It’s actually a testament to the strength of the performances and the filmmaker’s genre-bending ways. “Good Manners” follows a young woman, Clara, who, estranged from her family, becomes a housekeeper for Ana, a woman going through an especially difficult pregnancy. Ana’s strange cravings make a lot more sense when it’s revealed (in spectacularly bloody fashion) that her baby is a werewolf. It’s a wildly original film, one that, for all its modern touches, feels deeply rooted in the fairytale tradition. It’s a monster movie about motherhood and unconventional love, but also so much more.
#8: “The Hallow” (2015)
Before being tapped to join the Conjuring Universe as the director of 2018’s “The Nun”, Corin Hardy first garnered attention with this excellent debut feature film. Released in 2015, “The Hallow” is a British-Irish co-production and is deeply rooted in the folktales of the latter culture. The story takes place in a dark and decidedly spooky forest in rural Ireland, where something ancient and sinister lurks. The locals know to keep their distance, but when an English conservationist moves in with his family, his presence draws these evil forces out, resulting in a terrifying battle of life and death. Hardy blends various subgenres of horror to create something at once familiar, yet undeniably his own.
#7: “Snow White: A Tale of Terror” (1997)
No vague allusions, no tangential connections… this one says “fairy tale” loud and clear. You’re getting an adaptation of Snow White, and it’s being recast as a “tale of terror”. Don’t let the overly explicit and rather generic title fool you though, this film is a gem that, despite somewhat mixed reviews upon its release in 1997, is now held up as something of a classic of fairy tale horror film. It’s a very dark take on the tale that feels miles away from the Disney adaptation, but actually rings surprisingly true with how the Brothers Grimm told it. Plus, how often do you get a horror movie this niche that boasts acting talents like Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill?
#6: “Sleepy Hollow” (1999)
Boy… the 90’s were great years to be a fan of fairy tale horror. Just two years after seeing Sigourney in “Snow White,” we got Johnny Depp in this supernatural gothic tale. American folklore might not have quite as long of a history to it as other cultures, but “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, written by Washington Irving, is just about as classic as they come. Taking place in the sort of rich, spooky and atmospheric world that only Tim Burton can deliver, and boasting solid performances all around, “Sleepy Hollow” makes for a viewing experience that is both evocative and terrifying. And to think, this adaptation was first developed as a low-budget slasher! We’re glad Paramount took it back to the drawing board.
#5: “The Lure” (2015)
“Little Mermaid” fans, you may want to look away, after seeing “The Lure” you may never look at Ariel the same way again. This film at once hews far closer to the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen (in terms of themes and tone), while also pushing the narrative in bold modern directions. “The Lure” transposes the action to 1980s Poland, where, after meeting a band on the beach, two mermaids, Gold and Silver, wind up following them ashore to discover a life of human desire and debauchery. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of sexuality, murder and a whole lot of music. Equal parts rock opera, fairy tale and genuine horror film, “The Lure” is one of a kind.
#4: “The Company of Wolves” (1984)
Didn’t get your fill of Little Red Riding Hood with “Hard Candy”? We’ve got you covered. This 1984 gothic horror fantasy blends elements of the Red Riding Hood story with various werewolf tales for a narrative that feels ripped right from the works of Andersen, Grimm or Perrault, albeit with a framing narrative set in the modern day. The plot is somewhat meandering, but in addition to delivering plenty of scary moments, it also functions as an analogy for the transition from childhood to womanhood. Relative unknown cult actress Sarah Patterson shines bright as young heroine Rosaleen, while Angela Lansbury is reliable as ever as her Granny. For fans of practical effects in horror, the film is worth watching even if only for the creative transformations (transformations).
#3: “Black Swan” (2010)
We knew that the world of professional ballet was competitive and physically demanding to an extreme, but we never thought that it could lend itself to a psychological horror thriller this effective. The film stars Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, a young dancer with the New York City ballet company who shoulders the immense pressure of playing the dual role of both the black and white swan in a production of “Swan Lake”. Director Darren Aronofsky is a master of uncomfortable cinema, and this sees him operating in top form. As the stress of her position begins to chip away at Nina’s mental health, she becomes a danger to herself and others. It makes for an exhausting viewing experience, but it’s riveting, and an approach to “Swan Lake” like you’ve never seen it before.
#2: “Suspiria” (1977)
Dario Argento’s 1977 Italian supernatural horror film is unlike any released before or since (including its interesting 2018 remake). From the use of vibrant colors to the unconventional score provided by Italian prog-rock group Goblin, it is a real lesson in redefining horror cinema. Though it’s by no means a direct adaptation of any single fairy tale, the director did take many cues from fairy tales, not only in terms of the dreamlike atmosphere, but more specifically the visual manner in which Disney animation has historically told them. Of course, Argento then takes this tale of dance and supernatural conspiracy and absolutely douses it in blood. The film is an exercise in excess in every sense, but it’s also an absolute classic of world horror.
#1: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
Long before “The Shape of Water”, director Guillermo Del Toro already had a strong history of finding beauty in the monstrous. He blends horror and fairy tale elements in ways that few can even imagine, and 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” is easily amongst his best work. Set in 1944 Francoist Spain after the Civil War, the film follows a young girl named Ofelia who becomes drawn into a world of magic, strange creatures and enchantment. Though an original story, “Pan’s Labyrinth” pulls from a wide variety of classic fairytales and common folklore figures, including the faun. It’s a stunning and truly moving film, that, while perhaps less horrific than others on our list, delivers plenty of scares in the classic fairytale sense.
- “Tigers Are Not Afraid” (2017)
- “The Red Shoes” (2005)
- “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” (2013)
- “Rumpelstiltskin” (1995)
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.