Daylight horror is an underappreciated genre. Ever since our youth, we’re taught that sunlight washes away the dark terrors of the night – a visceral, universal human fear dating back to our earliest days. While most horror films involve dark corners, midnight terror, and spooky settings, there are plenty of movies that take the opposite approach. They explore the terrible things that can, and often do, happen in the daytime.
With summer right around the corner, what better time to discover – or rediscover – some amazing horror films that don’t rely on the dark to give you a fright?
Jaws is one of the best horror movies ever made. This Spielberg classic makes a day at the beach into a horrifying ordeal, even when you don’t see the giant shark for most of the film. Most of the action – and the most terrifying shark encounters – happen in broad daylight. The true terror in this movie is the open water and, more importantly, what lies beneath.
The latest in the resurgence of folk horror movies, Midsommar is the obvious choice for exploring daytime terror. At the behest of their Scandinavian friend, a group of graduate students visit the idyllic Swedish countryside to participate in a summertime festival. It just so happens that said friend is also part of an unorthodox pagan cult. The bright landscapes and beautifully shot daytime scenes do little to remove the ratcheting tension of an unraveling relationship at the center of this horror movie. The film is part slasher, part break-up movie, and entirely terrifying.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Few movies convey the sweltering summer Texas heat the same way the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre manages to do. When a pair of siblings and their friends visit old family property to investigate reports of grave robbing, they don’t anticipate stumbling onto a sadistic, murderous family of chainsaw wielding cannibals. Even as the climax takes place at night, most of the tense first and second acts – including the reveal of Leatherface – occur in the middle of the day.
This campy horror comedy takes place in in a tiny Texas town under siege by giant subterranean “Graboids.” These prehistoric sandworms don’t need to wait until after dark to hunt down their prey – including a young Kevin Bacon. They chase the townsfolk through the desert in broad daylight, devouring anyone they come across. The film (and its six sequels) have become cult classics.
The Ruins (2008)
You’ll never look at summer vacation the same again after watching this underrated gem. A group of college students venture off the beaten path to visit an archaeological site of Mayan ruins. When they find themselves trapped on top of the pyramid without food or water, they find themselves at the mercy of the elements. And that’s before the supernatural element makes the whole thing that much scarier. This movie is terrifying in the best way!
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) & (2006)
Another sun-soaked desert bloodbath, both versions of this film feature a young family’s road trip gone awry in the middle of nowhere Nevada. After an unusual car crash, they soon discover they are not as alone in the wilderness as they might think. As they find themselves hunted by a clan of deformed cannibals in the hills, the limits of civilized behavior soon find a tipping point.
Funny Games (1997) & (2007)
This is a rare one on the list, as very rarely do you see home invasion films that take place during daylight hours. Interrupting a summer vacation, two strangers take a middle-class family hostage and soon begin terrorizing and torturing them for the satisfaction of “the audience.” It’s sadistic, mean-spirited flick designed to make a point about our expectations for violence in cinema (to the point of breaking the fourth wall). As the 2007 version is a shot-for-shot American remake on the original, they both are placed together on this list.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Another folk horror film on the list. It’s easy to see why this sub-genre of horror happens so often during the day – there’s something unsettling about watching a seemingly normal investigation for a missing girl unravel into increasingly bizarre holy practices. While the internet loves the meme-tastic remake, the original film was a suspenseful story about the conflict between modern religious beliefs and pagan ritual.
A Quiet Place (2018)
There’s a lot to love about The Quiet Place, from the stellar performances of the main cast to the film’s suspenseful use of silence. But one of the most interesting things about the film is how it doesn’t rely entirely on darkness to make you afraid of the creatures lurking around in this post-apocalyptic survival story. In fact, one of the most brutal and unexpected moments happens in the daytime. It’s an unforgettable monster movie that feels perfect to watch on a warm summer night.
Blending weird science fiction and body horror, Annihilation (based on the Southern Reach book series) doesn’t shy away from either. Blinding daylight and lush topography combine into a technicolor fever dream for the scientists sent to explore the mysterious “Area X.” Weird, delightful, and genre-bending in almost every way, this science fiction thriller deserves a place on this list for how frequently it saves its more bizarre moments for bright lights.
The Host (2006)
If you haven’t seen this early monster movie from director Bong Joon-ho, the brilliant mind behind Parasite (2019) and Snowpiercer (2013), you are missing out! The Host blends satire, political commentary, and fantastic special effects into a hilarious, heartfelt, and tense movie. When the film starts with showing your big creature immediately – and in the middle of the day – you know from the beginning that it’s going to something unique.