Still/Born, debuting this week in theaters and on digital platforms, follows two young parents coping with the loss of one child while fearing their remaining son is being targeted by an evil spirit. It’s a paranoia-based thriller as much as it is a supernatural scary movie — and it’s the newest addition to the pregnancy-horror canon.
By itself, pregnancy is a pretty scary thing, but when you add in variables like cannibalism, mutations, new species bent on world domination, and home invasion, suddenly you’ve got horror fodder for days. In advance of Still/Born’s birth, here are ten of the most terrifying films centered on the miracle of life. (We know Rosemary’s Baby is the best one of all time, so just put an asterisk next to it and make room for something else.) Your pregnant friends are strongly advised to skip these movie nights.
David Lynch’s feature debut is exactly the kind of pregnancy horror you’d expect him to deliver — meaning there’s a guy who’s left alone to care for his “baby,” except his baby is a lizard creature. We would give you more to go on, but really, what good is trying to summarize David Lynch?
Demon Seed (1977)
Techno-horror from the analog days is great, because objects so powerful and intelligent as computers were still rare enough to scare the hell out of people. Thus we have Demon Seed, a movie about a brilliant scientist who builds a system that is so smart it can develop leukemia treatments, achieve enough self-awareness to know it’s trapped in a framework it wishes to escape, and is even capable of coveting human women. The supercomputer, called Proteus, becomes so obsessed with the scientist’s wife that it traps her in her own home and forcibly impregnates her with its human-hardware hybrid offspring. In a genre that’s filled with supernatural occurrences and tricks of the mind, Demon Seed is a dose of dark sci-fi to keep things interesting.
The Brood (1979)
Just because the pregnancy in The Brood isn’t conventional doesn’t mean The Brood isn’t a top-notch pregnancy-horror experience. Body-horror master David Cronenberg directs this movie about a troubled woman named Nola undergoing an experimental psychological treatment to address her trauma while her concerned husband Frank cares for their daughter. All the while, a series of brutal murders are taking place in town, and Frank comes to realize that Nola is connected to the killings in a most unexpected way. The twisted visuals are classic Cronenberg, and The Brood’s climax is one of the most arresting final scenes in all of cinema.
Baby Blood (1990)
The French really know how to deliver good body horror, and this one’s got a circus performer, a creature in search of a uterus for shelter, and plenty of cannibalism. When a woman named Yanka (said circus performer) has her womb taken over by a serpentlike organism that commands her to kill and consume blood to nurture it, she reluctantly becomes a complicit host and goes on a kind of road-trip killing spree. Yanka doesn’t want to do the monster’s bidding, but she also knows this thing growing inside her is all she has — never mind that it tells her it will replace humans as the dominant species on Earth a few million years from now. A mother’s love is a crazy thing.
Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury most recently directed the reboot of Leatherface, but 2007’s Inside is their opus of terror. The movie is a standard-bearer for the hard-core violence that defined the New French Extremity cinema wave from the mid-aughts (also see: High Tension, Irréversible). It centers on a grieving widow spending her final night alone before a scheduled labor inducement. First, though, she will have to survive the night, as a strange woman tries relentlessly to corner her and excise the baby from her body. Inside is maximally disturbing, blood soaked, and truly hard to watch. Expecting moms (and everybody else): proceed with high caution.
Widowed mothers are a good setup for a pregnancy-horror film. The twist in Grace is that new mom Madeline carries her child to term after being advised against it to protect her life, and ends up giving birth to … an undead infant. As is custom for the undead, the baby hungers for something other than milk, and since Madeline can’t provide an endless supply of her own blood, she has to start finding it elsewhere.
Hungry Hearts (2014)
Hungry Hearts distinguishes itself from the rest of the list by becoming a horror movie almost by accident. The psychological thriller stars Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher as Jude and Mina, a young couple who hastily marry after she gets pregnant. It’s a stark movie with very little involvement from anyone besides Mina and Jude and the doctors growing ever more concerned that the newborn’s life is in being endangered by his paranoid mother. Mina doesn’t trust doctors, and is terrified that everything surrounding her son could poison and kill him, leaving him undernourished and underdeveloped as Jude fights to save him and pull her from madness. The couple’s entire life feels claustrophobic, and the movie invokes terror by way of discomfort that leaves you in near-constant fear for the baby’s safety. There are no violent gimmicks here — just the horror of becoming a new parent.
Devil’s Due (2014)
Devil’s Due goes full-tilt possession. Adorable newlyweds Samantha and Zach go on honeymoon to the Dominican Republic, and after a night of dancing and drinking, they end up at a local party they’re really going to regret later — if only they could remember what the hell happened. When Sam gets pregnant, the two are eager to start a family together, but everything takes a turn for the terrible when a group of mysterious strangers start stalking the house, and disturbing things start happening with the baby. We’re talking telekinesis, pentagrams, Satanic rituals — the whole demon dog-and-pony show — and it’s all done home-video style thanks to Zach’s obsession with recording everything. Hey, you can’t have a pregnancy-horror list without at least one anti-Christ.
A gruesome genre needs some levity, and this body-horror entry from writer, director, and star Alice Lowe is a black-comedy horror movie about a woman at the whims of her fetus. Ruth’s partner and the father of her unborn baby was killed in a climbing accident (yes, another widow!), and to cope with the loneliness and anger and resentment, she starts taking marching orders from a voice in her head (or maybe the voice of her future baby) to kill all the people who were with him at the time of the tragedy. Ruth goes on the most unassuming rampage imaginable, but the real terror in Prevenge comes from the battle women have with themselves when their bodies are hijacked by a growing being inside them, as the world demands they think, feel, and act in prescribed ways. It’s a pregnancy movie for the frustrated soon-to-be mom who needs to feel seen.
There are horror films that focus on demonic pregnancies, and those that focus on parental paranoia, but the fun of Still/Born is that it does both. Mary and Jack are new parents, and Mary’s stay-at-home mom life gets a lot crazier when she starts suspecting a powerful demon is trying to claim her baby. The tension is exacerbated by the fact that the newborn is the only surviving half of a set of twins, so Mary and Jack are grieving the loss of one baby as they try to care for the other. So is there really a malevolent old crone trying to eat her baby, or is Mary just so afraid of losing her remaining child that she’s hallucinating the whole thing? And will she sacrifice another baby to save her own?