6 horror movies like Malignant that also explain the wild ending’s origins

A buddy who captured an early screening of Deadly stated it was by far the worst movie from The Conjuring and Perilous director James Wan, and a competitor for each “worst of 2021” list. That description activates something in this author: complete and unchecked enjoyment for whatever insanity Wan formulated. The worst motion pictures provoke no sensations whatsoever, ones where I have a hard time to bear in mind any particular information by the time I get home from the theater (or go upstairs after opting for a house best, as 2021 typically permits).

Deadly is not that sort of film.

James Wan swings huge in his most current scary film. Yes, there are some doubtful choices to be discovered in its 112-minute runtime (consisting of the, uh, 112-minute runtime), however they are the choices from a filmmaker who has actually made it clear over the previous 17 years that he is not thinking about providing any form of truth in his jobs (hint Dom and Brian in Furious 7 driving through not one however 2 high-rise buildings to land in a 3rd). Even when dealing with something based upon truth in his Conjuring movies, Wan likes to challenge himself by accepting the intrinsic hokeyness of something like a huge misaligned ghost and after that finding out how to frighten you anyhow. He typically prospers.

And he plainly has much love and regard for the scary masters of yore, whose names are typically discussed along with his when discussing the excellent artisan of the category. Throughout Deadly, an astute scary fan ought to feel right in your home, as the script (by Wan, Ingrid Bisu, and Akela Cooper) mainly draws impact from Italian movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but also Dark Castle’s late ‘90s/early ‘00s funhouse delights, Hammer scary, and the more polarizing entries in the filmographies of Wes Craven and John Carpenter. And yet it still stays clearly his, with the challenging camerawork, (indoor!) fog makers cranked as much as 11, and brilliant reds and blues that have actually been a function of all his previous category workouts.

Anybody who just understands Wan for his billion dollar hits like Aquaman and Furious 7 may be tossed for a loop by the method. And even for those familiar with the Conjurings (which keep their weirdness to a relative minimum) may take advantage of a little guide of previous scary movies that instantly came to mind while seeing it. So consider this list; if you were to put these 6 movies in a mixer and job the outcomes, it may rather look like Deadly.

[Ed. note: This list includes spoilers for James Wan’s Malignant, so if you’d like to avoid that, go watch the movie in theaters or on HBO Max.]


Dead Silence

A ventriloquist dummy leers ominously at an unsuspecting woman

Photo: Universal Pictures

After making his directorial debut with Saw, Wan’s sophomore film, Dead Silence, was primed to be a major hit when it was released in early 2007 (between the release of the third and fourth Saws), but audiences just couldn’t connect to the film’s kooky puppet-driven plot or Hammer horror aesthetic. Despite being tonally confused due to studio meddling (in a reverse of the norm, Wan and partner Leigh Whannell wanted a PG-13 kind of vibe; the studio wanted R rated Saw-like gore), Dead Silence established quite a few things about the filmmaker’s canon going forward: unusual supernatural elements, an outdoor world that seems overcast at all times (the low budget Saw had no exterior scenes), and — most importantly to Malignant — a commitment to jaw-dropping plot twists delivered with a straight face. The rated version of Dead Silence is the superior one, though the unrated adds even more gore if you seek it out and want both options.

Dead Silence is currently available to rent or purchase through most streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Apple, or Vudu.

Tenebrae

Ania Pieroni as Elsa Manni in Tenebrae

Image: Synapse Films

Lots of Dario Argento’s gialli concern an innocent person witnessing a murder and being suspected of it, but Tenebrae’s version is closest to Malignant, as the evidence points to more than just being in the wrong place at the right time. Here, author Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is troubled to learn that someone is killing people who are connected to him via the release of his new book (his agent, an obsessed fan, etc.), just as Malignant protagonist Maddie (Annabelle Wallis) discovers the people whose deaths she keeps seeing all treated her as a child. Argento’s work is, like Wan’s, a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but 1982’s Tenebrae is one of the most accessible (read: coherent) entries in his filmography, making it a good place to start if you’re a newcomer to this one-of-a-kind auteur’s work.

Tenebrae is currently available to watch on Shudder.

The Psychic

Franscesco Ducci (Gianni Garko) and Virginia Ducci (Jennifer O’Neill) opening a letter opposite of a reflecting mirror.

Photo: Scorpion Releasing

Argento is practically Disney-level mainstream compared to Lucio Fulci, who is perhaps not as skilled as his contemporary or, at least, wasn’t blessed with competent crews as often. 1977’s The Psychic is hardly his best film, but it’s one of the last traditional giallo movies he made before hitting his peak with Zombie and his other more famous undead films, and the one horror buffs might think of most during Malignant. The plot centers on a woman who is having visions of deaths she wasn’t present for, at least for its first half or so before the film’s big reveal takes center stage. Bonus for Tarantino fans: you’ll recognize the film’s theme music, which he used in Kill Bill.

The Psychic is available to stream for free with a library card on Kanopy or to rent or purchase through Alamo On Demand.

My Soul To Take

A ghoulish masked effigy with a cardboard sign reading, “Fear Ye The Ripper” in My Soul To Take

Photo: Universal Pictures

In a perfect world, this and not Scream 4 would have been Wes Craven’s final film (well, in a perfect world it’d be neither, but you know what I mean). Hitting theaters a few months before what would be his swan song, 2010’s My Soul To Take was also written by the filmmaker, making it a “truer” Craven film than another Williamson/Kruger-penned trip to Woodsboro. Craven’s tale of a serial killer’s soul being spread across seven children born on the same night in a small Massachusetts town is vintage nonsense from the filmmaker, who previously explored similar territory regarding souls in his would-be franchise starter Shocker. The horror genre certainly has a number of bugnuts story concepts, but usually they’re made by people who don’t know how to point a camera either. Seeing it from legit filmmakers like Craven or Wan is what makes such baffling ideas enter must-see territory, if only for the sheer bravado of committing to something so off-kilter.

My Soul To Take is available to stream on Starz and available to rent or purchase through Amazon Prime Video, Apple, and Vudu.

Trauma

A woman wailing as she’s drenched in a downpour of rain

Photo: Republic Pictures

It’s Argento again! If you got through Tenebrae and find yourself wanting more, then go deeper into his insanity with his 1993 return to giallo-esque fare (and first solo film made entirely in America), which shares a “revenge on the doctors” backstory, albeit one that in some ways is even more ridiculous than the one in Malignant. It also has a distinct weapon fashioned from one of the victims’ belongings: While Malignant’s Gabriel uses the pointy end of his first victim’s Caduceus award, Trauma’s killer uses a “Noose-O-Matic” out of surgical tools. The two even share killer doll movie royalty; Annabelle Wallis reunites with Wan after starring in the first Annabelle, and Trauma features none other than Chucky himself, Brad Dourif.

Trauma is available to stream for free with a library card on Kanopy, IMDbTV, or to rent or purchase through Apple and Microsoft.

Basket Case

A mutant child sits in a basket with its mouth agape in Basket Case.

Photo: Arrow Video

If you’re here just wanting more movies like Malignant (bless you), or simply don’t care about spoilers, then it’s safe to note that Wan’s film is not the first to use a conjoined twin that never fully formed as its antagonist. You might have seen some tweets alluding to “a film that I can’t name without spoiling Malignant’s twist” — well, that film is in fact Basket Case, the debut from indie horror stalwart Frank Henenlotter. This film tells you right up front what is going on; the normal looking Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) was separated from his mutated twin Belial when they were younger, and now the two seek revenge on the doctors who split them up, with the larger brother carrying the other in a basket as they carry out their revenge plan. Basket Case is at the opposite end of the budget spectrum, and tonally different, but it’s a perfect example of how a particular idea can yield vastly different outcomes depending on the filmmakers’ resources and sensibilities.

Basket Case is readily available to watch on Shudder and Tubi, or to lease or buy on Amazon Prime Video and Apple.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.