Let’s face it, getting older isn’t something that most of us look forward to—though we have to admit that it usually beats the alternative. For a genre that is often viewed as being aimed at teenagers, horror has mined old age for plenty of scares over the years, from the “hagsploitation” films of the ‘60s to Ari Aster’s cult hit Hereditary. Sometimes, this means upending expectations that elderly people are kind and harmless, while other times old age itself is the source of the horror. Here are just a few of the other horror films centered on elderly people that have scared our pants off over the years.
Related: A Bunch of New Spine-Chilling Movies Are Coming to Shudder
The Visit (2015)
In his triumphant return to horror/thriller territory after a string of high-profile disappointments, director M. Night Shyamalan put together an intimate and ambitious play-with-your-mind thriller in the form of this sharp little movie about two kids who get dropped off for a weekend with grandparents they don’t know. A weekend that quickly takes a very strange turn for our ill-fated young protagonists…
Related: 18 Best Blumhouse Horror Movies
The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)
Elderly upstairs neighbors, the Castevets, are among the most unlikely villains in movie history—and among the creepiest parts of Rosemary’s Baby. This sun-drenched Satanism shocker from 1971 takes it one step further, centering on a whole cult of Satanic senior citizens (led by veteran character actor Strother Martin) who are inducting all the children in town into the service of their dark lord.
Related: Read It and Scream: 10 Horror Books That Inspired Movies
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
This freaky found footage movie was the feature debut of director Adam Robitel, who has since gone on to direct Escape Room and the fourth film in the Insidious franchise. In it, a documentary crew are filming what is intended to be a heartfelt story about Alzheimer’s disease—a documentary that gradually turns into something far more terrifying than they had anticipated. The twists will surprise you, but even when Deborah Logan feels like it’s going to be just another possession movie, the Alzheimer’s angle adds a dose of real-life pathos to the proceedings.
Exorcist III (1990)
William Peter Blatty’s personal follow-up to the 1973 hit adaption of his novel The Exorcist follows Lt. Kinderman, a character from the original movie (he was played by Lee J. Cobb there, by George C. Scott here) as he investigates a series of crimes that seem to have been committed by the ghost of a deceased serial killer. While the 63-year-old Scott wasn’t exactly a spring chicken at the time of the film, the real creepy moments come as the killer begins possessing members of a dementia ward within the hospital where his host is imprisoned.
Related: 13 Possession Horror Movies That Will Get Under Your Skin
Ghost Story (1981)
Following close on the heels of the 1979 publication of Peter Straub’s novel of the same name, this 1981 movie follows a quartet of older gentlemen—played by Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman, several of them in their final film roles—who form the “Chowder Society” to get together and tell one-another ghost stories. Except that the men soon become caught up in a ghost story of their own, as a deadly deed from their past comes back to haunt them.
Related: 13 Spine-Tingling Ghost Story Books for the Chilly Autumn Nights Ahead
American Gothic (1988)
A group of young people who are forced to land their seaplane on what at first appears to be a deserted island is an ideal setup for a pretty standard slasher, in this 1988 film from director John Hough (The Legend of Hell House). What isn’t as standard is the weird, murderous family they meet on the island, led by Ma and Pa, played by aging stars of the silver screen Rod Steiger and Yvonne De Carlo, who had previously played Lily Munster on the sitcom The Munsters.
Many of the films in the subgenre sometimes called “hagsploitation” (though I prefer “Grande Dame Guignol”) deal with women who struggle to accept that they’ve gotten older. Though it is generally cited as starting with Robert Aldrich’s 1962 classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, its roots go back farther to films like Sunset Boulevard (1950). In 1964, William Castle (never one to let a profitable trend pass him by) took his own swing (pun intended) at the subgenre. The script, by Psycho scribe Robert Bloch, flips the formula on its head, however, and in Strait-Jacket Joan Crawford (who had appeared in Baby Jane just two years before) plays a convicted axe murderer who is desperate to leave her past behind, only to be gaslighted back into it.
Related: How Movie Gimmicks of the 1950s Reinvigorated the Horror Genre
Terror at Red Wolf Inn (1972)
Also released as Terror House—under which title it boasts a truly lurid and bonkers poster—this tongue-in-cheek early example of comedy horror nonetheless boasts a pretty stomach-churning main premise, as Arthur Space (Doc Weaver in TV’s Lassie) and frequent television actress Mary Jackson portray a seemingly kindly old couple who serve banquets of human flesh in a truly weird take on the Texas Chain Saw Massacre—a film that wouldn’t hit screens for another two years.
Speaking of absolutely wild poster art, the French poster for Homebodies is a hell of a thing. While the movie may not be quite as wild as that, it has been widely praised for its offbeat premise and wicked sense of humor. A group of elderly tenants wage a war of terror and homicide in a futile attempt to keep their condemned home from being razed to make way for a new high-rise condo complex—subtle, the metaphors here are not.
One of a spate of recent indie horror films that have tackled the subject of aging—see also The Dark and the Wicked—2020’s Relic, the feature debut of director Natalie Erika James, was a critical darling, with a 91% score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Like The Taking of Deborah Logan, Relic uses a bizarre and supernatural story to tackle themes of cognitive decline and other serious subjects with a deft hand that balances scares and pathos.
Related: Relic Is the Creepy New Sundance Horror Hit You Need to See This Weekend
Featured still of "Strait-Jacket" via William Castle Productions