We’ve all seen them, the movie endings that have been done so many times they’re nothing more than a cliche. But imagine the first time it was seen, it would have been thought of as a stroke of genius.
Here are a few examples of classic films employing the twists we’ve come to know and love.
*warning* contains extreme spoilers.
1. “It was all a dream,” Dead of Night, 1945.
An architect arrives at a genteel British house party where he reveals to the guests he’s seen them all before in a dream. He then begins to predict events that will happen, leading to death.
This film boasts ‘the scariest moment in film,’ which many modern viewers may disagree with but is still rather creepy, especially if you don’t like ventriloquist dummies. Its also the picture that began the portmanteu, or several stories linked by one, format employed by Amicus films.
2. “I was making it all up,” Cabinet of Dr Caligari, 1920.
Two friends competing for the same woman visit a travelling carnival, where Dr Caligari announces that his somnambulist slave Cesare can predict the future. One of the friends asks him to predict his fortune, to which Cesare replies, “You will die before dawn tomorrow.”
Part of the German expressionist movement, this film by Robert Wiene includes trippy set designs and dreamlike performances, and has to be the first film with a twist ending full stop.
3. “I was dead all along,” Carnival of Souls, 1962.
Mary Henry is involved in a car accident but manages to crawl free. She begins a job in a new town as a church organist, but is plagued by strange visions and sounds. She finds herself drawn to an abandoned carnival, where the truth is revealed.
Many, many films are still doing this twist. In my humble opinion Donnie Darko is merely a convoluted version of this film. Despite its obvious low budget, Carnival of Souls is still quite entertaining.
4. “It was me all along,” Stage Fright, 1950
This Hitchcockian crime tale sees Jonathan, a young actor, confide in his friend Eve that the actress he’s been having an affair with, Marlene Dietrich, has committed murder. Eve and Jonathan investigate, leading to one of the now most overused endings of the movies (Switchblade Romance I’m looking at you).
When the film was released some people had a problem with the ‘lying flashback.’ The Jonathan character relays a story to Eve which turns out to be a lie. Nowadays incorrect flashback is acceptable as even CSI uses it to portray theories, but at the time flashback had only been employed to show the gospel truth. This led many viewers to have little sympathy for the Jonathan character.
Well, there we are! They’re the genius endings which became the cliches of the future, watch them and rejoice!