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The Most Brutal 'Daytime Horror' Movies You Need To See

The horror genre is full of creepy stories about things that stab, bite, and go bump in the night. There are lots of reasons why these movies take place in the dark, but the most obvious one is that people have an inherent fear of things they can't see. And over the decades, filmmakers have gotten really good at manipulating that fear. 

Of course, there's a flip side to that play-by-night approach to horror, one that understands seeing a bloodthirsty creature, a knife-wielding maniac, or a brutal act of violence in the light of day can be even more terrifying than a monster in the dark. Thus the sunny sub-genre known as "daytime horror" was born. Like every sub-genre, daytime horror has had its share of ups and downs over the years. But when a daytime horror flick makes proper use of its sun-and-blood imagery, the results are absolutely thrilling and deeply unsettling. From aquatic adventures to undead action, these are the most brutal horror movies that get their gruesome kicks with the lights on.   

Jaws takes place on the sunlit sea

Ever since Steven Spielberg's Jaws first made the world wary of hitting the beach for some summertime fun, there's been an ongoing debate about whether or not this legendary killer shark flick fits the bill as a real horror movie. That may be because the bulk of the film — which, for the record, is totally a legit horror film — takes place in the broad light of day. Plus, many of the film's more chilling moments unfold in family-friendly environments. But really, that just amplifies the tension of Jaws' unseen killer. 

While it's true that Jaws was hardly the first film to scare moviegoers by presenting its bloody mayhem in full summer light, it's certainly one of the horror films that makes the strongest use of its sun-drenched scares. That claim is only bolstered by the fact that Spielberg didn't need to front the film with gore to elicit the desired effect. Instead, he relied on an iconic bit of scoring from John Williams, the sight of a single fin breaking the waves, and a few meticulously placed jump scares to set the stage. Thanks to Spielberg's sunny yet scary vision, Jaws has terrified every moviegoer who's dared to wade into its choppy, red waters. 

Funny Games isn't so funny during the day

German provocateur Michael Haneke has taken excessive pleasure in turning the screws on decency in service of creeping out viewers. As patently disturbing as Haneke's films are, the director has generally avoided doing straight horror, instead presenting deeply paranoid stories of relatively normal folks struggling through ominous societal discourse. Of the 12 feature films in Haneke's unsettling oeuvre, only two fully earn their horror stripes, and they just so happen to tell the exact same story.

The film in question is Haneke's nihilistic home-invasion horror show, Funny Games, a film he first directed for German audiences back in 1997, and surprisingly revisited with the Americanized remake a decade later. If you've suffered through either version of Funny Games — or if you're one of the masochistic gluttons who've seen both — then you know the film spends the bulk of its button-pushing narrative watching a pair of clean-cut sociopaths terrorize an innocent suburban family for no reason whatsoever. Both films are especially uncomfortable because Haneke frequently implicates his audience in the terrors on-screen. After all, we are watching this awful stuff go down.

What horror fans may not remember — especially given the film's unfathomably dark tone — is that Funny Games begins with an awkward-yet-neighborly visit in the golden glow of an afternoon sun that eventually begets the film's brutality. And on top of that, after a truly torturous evening, the film's emotionally punishing finale unfolds under the crisp, overcast glow of daybreak.

We can see all the horror happening in It

Few authors have terrified as many readers and created as many memorable monsters as genre maestro Stephen King. While the famed horror scribe has dedicated a lion's share of scares to creatures and killers running amok in the cover of night, it's worth nothing that he's dedicated just as much time to exploring the profound unpleasantries of things that go bump in the waking hours. For proof, visit some cinematic adaptations of his work like Cujo, Children of the Corn, Pet Sematary, and Silver Bullet. And of course, there's the pitch-perfect 2017 adaptation of King's killer clown classic, It.

A fear-hungry, subterranean demon, Pennywise is the stuff of nightmares. Scarier still, his unseemly antics are especially terrifying because he's often active during the daytime. There's the grueling opening moment with poor Georgie, the shock of seeing that dismembered arm wave, and don't forget about all those floating red balloons. This stuff would be bad enough in the dark, but they're made even more disturbing in the seemingly endless summer light of Derry, Maine. 

Midsommar is some super gory daytime horror

Barely a year after setting our collective souls ablaze with the incendiary horror flick Hereditary, Ari Aster unleashed another soul-shattering experience on genre lovers with his sophomore flick, Midsommar. Seemingly out to prove Hereditary was no fluke, Aster ups the anguished ante throughout Midsommar, doubling down on the the moody thrills and shocking gore, and gamely proving he was just getting warmed up when he left heads rolling in the wake of his debut film. 

If you're wondering just how Aster managed to eclipse the horrors of Hereditary, well, the solution was quite simple: If Hereditary scored lots of scares in the dead of night, Midsommar would do the same in the golden light of day. As such, Aster boldly set his latest nightmare among the sun-soaked vistas of a way-off-the-map Swedish village, one whose legendary midsummer festival coincides with the land's yearly "midnight sun." Into that sun-soaked narrative, Aster drops a group of doomed young Americans, a bear in a cage, and a sense of impending doom fit to unnerve even the staunchest genre vets. He then pumps his troupe of tragically naive characters full of powerful psychedelics, and captures every gory misfortune that befalls them in glorious sunlight — all but ensuring the film's savage imagery will stay burned into your brain for days after.    

The Wicker Man is full of sunny scares

Ari Aster is hardly the first filmmaker to twist a stranger's visit to foreign lands into a pagan-tinged nightmare. Point of fact, British filmmaker Robin Hardy actually beat Aster to that prickly punch by a good 40-plus years with 1973's human sacrifice thriller The Wicker Man. And yes, before the bee-infested version with Nicolas Cage sullied its good name, The Wicker Man was a legit touchstone film for both the "cult horror" and "sunny scary" sub-genres. 

Granted, the plots of both Wicker Man movies are relatively the same, but the original is grounded, haunting, and will leave you shaken to the core. The razor-sharp screenplay by Anthony Shaffer is largely responsible for The Wicker Man's effectiveness, with the scribe coolly leading viewers into a troubling missing person mystery, before pivoting toward an inflammatory battle of wits and religious beliefs. That battle pits Summerisle's pagans against a naive Christian police officer who finds out tragically late that he's been had. Of The Wicker Man's shocking finale, we'll simply offer that the sun plays a key role, and not just because it's majestically lighting the insanity of the scene below. 

We can't look away from The Last House on the Left

Wes Craven made his name directing the ultimate "night comes for us" horror show in 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street, but the fact is that he'd already been terrifying audiences for a full decade-plus before Freddy Krueger helped him cross over. Even if Craven didn't officially break out until Elm Street, his preternatural gift for bringing nightmares to life was well on display from his very first film.

That particular movie was 1972's "horror comes to the suburbs" chiller The Last House on the Left. The film follows a pair of teenage girls who leave the supposed safety of suburban life to catch a rock show in the big bad city. All is going to plan until the pair set out to score a joint, and fall into the spidery grasp of escaped convicts, who promptly kidnap and brutalize the girls in ways we're definitely not going to describe.

Craven's harrowing The Last House on the Left earned itself quite a reputation for the deeply uncomfortable "reality" of those heinous acts, because Craven captured the savage brutality of each in the half-light of forested day. It's also worth noting that — though the film is bookended by moments of nocturnal nastiness — the well-lit nature of those pivotal acts help twist them into the sort of galvanizing images that you simply can't unsee.

The Hills Have Eyes takes place in a sun-scorched desert

The Last House on the Left wasn't the last time Craven bathed vile acts in the light of day. In fact, he'd return to the "sunny scary" side of horror pretty regularly throughout his career, with horror flicks like The People Under the Stairs and the Scream series, though he'd never do it quite as effectively as he did in 1977's "vacation gone horribly awry" freak show, The Hills Have Eyes.

Now, before we proceed, we're happy to acknowledge that some of the most terrifying scenes in Hills occur at night — especially when a clan of cannibalistic, cliff-dwelling mutants lay siege to an unsuspecting family's trailer. But when the sun comes up, and the survivors fight back, Craven amps up the tension and ensures that we've got shocks-a-plenty.

For Alexandre Aja's gore-centric 2006 remake, the director kept the bones of Craven's story, but had little use for the more nuanced approach Craven brought to the original. In reality, Aja completely cast aside tone in favor of gore and ghastly makeup effects. He did, however, note the effectiveness of the sun-baked landscape in Craven's film, setting more of his untoward tale in the daytime, and thus making sure you see more grisly violence and mutated faces than you can stomach.

Revenge is a tale of burning anger and a broiling sun

If stylized, hyper-violent stories of survival unfolding within hazy desert landscapes are your cup of tea, you're going to want to add Coralie Fargeat's Revenge to your watch list. And believe us when we say that Fargeat's nerve-wracking tale of hunters becoming the hunted makes as dramatic use of its unforgiving, sun-drenched desert vistas as Lawrence of Arabia. It also might have more fake blood than any other horror flick or revenge movie ever made.

For the record, that arty/gory combination makes Revenge a perfect a daytime horror confection. At the center of the action is a young party girl who has her sexy weekend getaway with her very married beau interrupted by the arrival of some dimwitted hunters. A despicable act of sexual violence pits the woman against her deplorable male counterparts, and, well, you know what they say about a woman scorned, right?

After she's left for dead in the suffocating desert sun, our battered hero unleashes the beast within and turns into a cold-blooded killing machine bent on exacting brutal vengeance against the men who wronged her. Amid the fervid bloodletting, Fargeat frames every violent act in the glorious light of the Moroccan sun, which often feels as much a villain as the bad guys themselves.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is all about death during the day

When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre hit theaters in 1974, moviegoers must've felt like they'd inadvertently walked into a screening of a legit snuff film. And even if modern audiences know all the behind-the-scenes stories surrounding Tobe Hooper's film, the ultra-gritty tale of psychotic cannibals laying waste to a group of youngsters somewhere in the wilds of Texas still maintains a staggering sense of hyper-reality today. 

Sure, budgetary restraints were chiefly responsible for the grease and grime that paint every frame of Hooper's gore-forward opus, but the fact remains that all that sweat and dust is eerily visible because Hooper shot so many of those images in punishing light of the Texas sun. While we're fully aware that some of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's more grotesque moments unfold at night (see that stomach-churning "dinner" scene), the ones that tend to resonate most — Pam getting snatched up through the door, or blood-soaked Sally screaming as Leatherface wildly swings his weapon through the air — remain forever burned in our subconscious, if only because the sunlight lets us see them all so clearly. 

The Birds shows our feathered friends in a new light

Throughout his historic, decades-long career, there weren't many topics that the iconic horror-loving Alfred Hitchcock didn't cover. However, while the legendary filmmaker took obvious pleasure in finding new, gruesome ways to dispatch with his characters on-screen, Hitchcock had never really done so via the time-honored, B-movie bombast of a creature feature. Of course, that all changed when Hitch unleashed The Birds on the movie-going public in the spring of '63, and the world has never looked at our feathered friends the same way since.

The Birds follows a young socialite who follows her would-be beau to a small Northern California town, only to see the village overrun by flesh-hungry birds from many different flocks. Yeah, it sounds a bit silly, but while the effects are dated, there's a whole lot to like about Hitchcock's harrowing tale of survival. After all, it's a story that makes giddy use of California sunlight to build a seriously eerie "calm before the storm" vibe. Hitchcock then unleashes the feathered beasts, capturing every manic moment thereafter through a sun-fused, Technicolor-tinged haze that'll probably make you think twice about heading west to see one of those famed California sunsets.  

The Host certainly doesn't try to hide its monster

Directed by Bong Joon-ho, The Host is a merciless and hilarious creature feature that sets its beastly action almost entirely in broad daylight. The movie finds a particularly nasty foe wreaking havoc over a peaceful, waterside setting (the Han River), a space full of everyday people soaking in the rays. And while The Host's daytime setting surely complicated matters for the film's effects team (how often do we actually see such creatures in the light?), the impact of seeing their vividly detailed, flesh-devouring, fish-type-thing running amok on the sunny river banks is nothing short of incredible. The strategy of unleashing such a savage monster in the midday sun — thus highlighting the ensuing carnage — helps The Host transcend its B-movie roots to become the ultimate sunlit monster movie.

Making The Host even more intriguing is the fact that the story (which opens with a U.S. doctor ordering a large amount of formaldehyde be dumped into the Han) was inspired by a real event that took place in Seoul circa the year 2000, though there has yet to be a single report of any monstrous, amphibious creatures emerging from the mighty river.

Dawn of the Dead is daytime horror at its undead beast

Sure, George A. Romero's genre-birthing, 1968 zombie flick Night of the Living Dead actually has the word "night" in the title. Yes, it follows a group of disparate strangers as they spend a torturously long evening fending off undead hordes. But it's worth noting that one of the black and white film's scariest scenes (that iconic "They're coming to get you, Barbara" opening) is set in the middle of the day, which bolsters its creep-factor beyond infinite.

The power of that moment clearly resonated with Romero, and may be the reason for all the daytime scenes in his followup, 1978's Dawn of the Dead. Because even if Dawn spends the bulk of its narrative taking aim at consumerist culture in the confines of a largely abandoned shopping mall, the film spends ample time watching undead beasts dismember humanity in full daylight — with Dawn's human characters observing all manner of mayhem (and sun-baked zombie flesh) from the sunny rooftop of that mall.

Seeing those undead hordes in the daytime was effective to say the least, and you can be certain Zack Snyder had those hauntingly bright visuals in mind when he set out to direct 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake. He even went so far as to bathe the film's appallingly gruesome opening moments in the golden light of morning, and spent the entirety of Dawn's shocking mid-credit sojourn to a deserted island in the light of day, which only made that final image on the docks all the more punishing to witness.