Top 10 Afterlife Horror/Thrillers!

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

Movies about the afterlife have been around since at least the 1940s. Flicks like BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, HERE COMES MR. JORDAN and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH are examples of such, ones that admittedly lean on the romantic/fantasy tonailty rather than outright horror. GHOST, CHANCES ARE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT…this isn’t what we’re here for. Because, as you know, FLATLINERS is a week from hitting the lights on filmgoers everywhere, and we thought it only right to round up some of its friends and revisit what made them work so well as purgatorial horrors. Sound good? Let’s get it! Our Top 10 Afterlife Horror/Thrillers are underneath!


Celebrating its 60th birthday this year, it only seems right we honor the elder statesman of the lot with the coveted top spot. Besides, when Ingmar Bergman makes a movie, it usually gets cribbed, bitten or aped in some shape or form (I’m looking at you BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY). And while not a total horror-show, the idea of literally facing off wit the Reaper – aka Death – is a pretty headily meditative peek into the hereafter that no doubt strikes fear into your heart and mind. For those in the know not, the film sees a man on the verge of death, given a brief reprieve to play chess against death, allowing for soul-searching, existentially exquisite rumination on the true meaning of his life. Most definitely worth seeing for all who haven’t!

#2. JACOB’S LADDER (1990)

JACOB’S LADDER is still a bone-clattering chiller, made all the more disturbing the final revelatory shot of Jacob’s moribund body splayed out on a Vietnam MASH table. Adrian Lyne’s purgatorial fever dream of a man’s grief-stricken, bullet-wounded soul and spirit plays out like a dizzying whirlwind of nightmarish dread. Everything feels amiss. Illusory. Intangible. The way Tim Robbins plays the part is nothing short of inspired, as he carries us the audience on a ride of mysterious madness that he never indicates or lets us on to. So by the time that final shot does come, and holds, all we can do his reassess what we saw in the two hours prior as an absolute heart-stopping realization of where he is: on death’s doorstep!

#3. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

One of the wonderfully tricksome feats of M. Night’s THE SIXTH SENSE is, when seeing it a second time, how painfully obvious the truth of the matter becomes. So many veiled and not so veiled hints, clues, suggestions and directions are given in the film, that, by not guessing the jaw-dropping twist ending, you actually feel a bit stupid. Now, as far as the afterlife goes, this is less Haley Joel’s story and more of Bruce Willis’, as he’s the one who can’t quite relinquish his past and let go of the living. Admitted this to you guys before, but when I rented this flick with my sis as a teenager, I looked over at here halfway through the film and said, “what’s up with Bruce, he looks dead.” I mean the actor, not the character, and damn if my underdeveloped brain couldn’t make the connection.

#4. BEETLEJUICE (1988)

“Yalppp…looks like I’m next. Good thing too, I have to do a photo shoot for GQ in about an hour and half!” So many quotable lines from the Ghost with the Most – BEETLEJUICE – that it’s hard to fathom Michael Keaton is only onscreen for a mere 17.5 minutes of the films overall 92. Of course, he isn’t even the purgatorial subject of his own movie, that distinction belongs to Adam and Barbara Maitland (alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) – as they somehow survive a bridge-collapsing car-crash that allows them to wander among the dead in a phantasmagoric afterlife. Less surprising is how this is Keaton’s favorite film of his own. Speaking of, where are we on BEETLEJUICE 2? Ain’t heard shit since January!

#5. FLATLINERS (1990)

Speaking of, granted, FLATLINERS loses a bit of its vitality as the film goes on, but damn the premise of five med students taking brief purgatorial fun-rides through the afterlife is a hard one to top. It will be interesting to see, given the advancement in technology across the board (not just medically), how director Niels Arden Oplev handles the material. And not just the material (world) but the ethereal! Another cool thing about FLATLINERS is how, unlike most on this list, the dalliances with death are conducted in a controlled environment, but in time spiral out of control of scientific reason altogether. The performances make the movie soar, so it’ll be worth seeing if the newfangled cast of the sequel will breathe life into the story or leave it flatter than yesterday’s beer!

#6. THE OTHERS (2001)

“No door is to be opened before the previous one is closed.” This is one of a half-dozen or so taglines for THE OTHERS, a splendid cinematic breath-taker that revels somewhere inside the gray-area presumably found between life and death. Interestingly, the director of the movie – Alejandro Amenabar – also wrote and directed OPEN YOUR EYES, the Spanish inspiration of VANILLA SKY that also deals with the afterlife. But THE OTHERS, with yet another standout turn by Nicole Kidman (this chick rocks!), delicately balances on the edge of fantastic paranoia as the mysterious matriarch can’t quite make heads or tales (dead or alive) of her two wan, light-sensitive children. All of this leads to a flatlining finale!

#7. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

Gaspar Noe’s ENTER THE VOID is a hallucinatory maelstrom of sensory marauding madness, and one of the most visual and visceral accounts of what it just might be like to experience the afterlife. Please see this movie if you have not, as the story sees a French drug pusher who is killed when a deal goes sour in Tokyo. His soul, not quite willing to depart from Earth, undergoes a vengeful journey into the trippy, candy-colored and kaleidoscopic void between heaven and Earth (or hell and Earth I suppose). As the man seeks revenge on his killer, he witnesses everything from repressed memories, his sister’s sad existence, his former lover’s living space, and of course, the allure of Tokyo’s underside.


I never realize before today that Peter Jackson was born on Halloween. Explains a lot, no? And in terms of the afterlife, old Petey flirted with the theme once before via THE FRIGHTENERS in 1996 (almost made the list), but it is his 2009 adaptation of Alice Sebold’s THE LOVELY BONES that explores the ethereal terrain even more. Not just thematically, but dramatically, as we literally see what happens when a young girl is raped and left for dead, how she processes it en route to a lifelong reflection in the space between the here and hereafter. Stan Tucci’s greasy pedo-stache notwithstanding, this is a beautiful look at what it might be like to have your life flash in front of you before departure.

#9. HEREAFTER (2010)

Okay, so this one isn’t so much of a horror/thriller, but still, what Clint Eastwood manages to accomplish in HEREAFTER is pretty damn heartening. It treats the idea of the afterlife with sincerity, it doesn’t pander to cheap thrills and chills to elicit a spine-tingling reaction. A chest-warming one though? Yeah, kind of. The movie sees the lives of three total strangers – each with their own challenging notions of mortality – that strikingly intercede with one another in the coincidental ending. It’d be tough to go into the particulars of each of the three strands, but suffice it to say, here’s a movie that treats the afterlife with genuine, intelligent curiosity.

#10. VANILLA SKY (2001)

There are a half-dozen entertained theories on the thematic meaning of VANILLA SKY, according to director Cameron Crowe’s own website, The Uncool. At its core however, the movie is most likely about a man’s coma-ridden fever-dream after suffering a horrific near-fatal car wreck. Many hints allude to this purgatory dream-state, from R.E.M. featured on the soundtrack (REM sleep), to the word Fantasy written on a t-shirt, the word Dream written backwards on a blackboard, to numerological codes that decipher phrases like “do not wake him up,” “pleasant dreams,” on and on. Hell, I’d like to bump my head and wake up in the arms of Penelope Cruz!

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