Horror Movies With Alarming One Word Titles, Ranked By Portentousness

Insidious, Sinister, Malignant and more, graded by how upsetting the titles sound…

Insidious, Pernicious, Ominous, Sinister, Macabre, Malignant
Photo: Hybrid, Blumhouse, Soli Deo Gloria Releasing, Medusa Distribuzione, Lionsgate, Benetone Films, Warner Bros. Pictures

Naming horror movies is a serious business. It needs to sound scary, it shouldn’t give too much away, ideally it shouldn’t be named the same as someone else’s film, but it should also be memorable enough to stick in the brain. So unsurprisingly a lot of horror filmmakers have opted to call their movie “scary sounding adjective”.

But which word is scariest? We have ranked the movies based entirely on how alarming our perception of the adjective is. Come at us in the comments. 

7. Ominous

Rain clouds can be ominous. Your boss saying “can I borrow you for a minute” can be ominous. 

But to describe your child dying in an accident and a mysterious stranger offering to bring him back to life as “Ominous” feels like a bit of an understatement. That’s the plot of this film from 2015 by Peter Sullivan, which sounds like it has some things in common with Pet Sematary

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The gentlest of the scary adjective films and possibly the more obscure. There’s also a 2009 film called Ominous too, which sees a family on holiday encounter a paranormal presence in a secluded cabin. Which does actually sound pretty ominous. 


6. Nefarious

Nefarious has a cheekiness about it. Nefarious conjures up an image of a dastardly gentleman twirling his mustache or perhaps in modern times a low level scammer. Nefarious has a sense of fun.

The movie Nefarious, which was released in August on DVD and Blu-ray and stars Sean Patrick Flannery (young Indiana Jones!), looks like it fits the bill. It’s about a serial killer about to be executed who either is, or is not, a demon named Nefarious. Flannery is hamming it right up in the trailer, and it looks like a blast.

5. Macabre

Macabre has something of the night about it, but macabre can also be quite appealing. You can be a fan of the macabre. It evokes dead things, cobwebs, a gothic aesthetic, though it doesn’t necessarily conjure up visions of murder or terror. It’s a bit more ick.

There are several movies called Macabre, including the one by Lamberto Bava. That 1980 film features a woman who keeps the head of her dead lover in a locked freezer box in her apartment which she brings out for sexual gratification. Which is pretty macabre. The movie also features her murderous daughter, a blind landlord, and a shock ending which should be good for laughs, all very on brand for the title.

There’s also a William Castle film from 1958 with this title, but that’s more of a thriller/melodrama about a dastardly man who attempts to inherit the wealthiest man in town’s riches by marrying, and sort-of murdering, his daughters by denying them sufficient medical attention. Convoluted rather than macabre. 

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4. Sinister

A bit off. A bit creepy. A portent of doom. The word sinister actually derives from the Latin word for “left” (and dexter, where the word dexterous comes from, means “right” which gives you an idea of how left handedness was viewed…). Sinister is a bit worrying.

Sinister, the movie, is quite a bit more than worrying. In it, Ethan Hawke plays a true crime writer who, unbeknownst to them, moves his family into a house where the previous residents were murdered. There he discovers a series of horrible home movies depicting the deaths of various different families — on investigation he finds out that in each occasion one child went missing. What follows is a bleak and scary horror surrounding the legend of an ancient entity called “Mr Boogie”, and atrocities carried out on, and by, children. Mushrooms are sinister. Sinister is more upsetting. 

3. Pernicious

I wasn’t entirely sure exactly what pernicious meant so I looked it up. “Having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way. ‘The pernicious effects of air pollution’”. Which sort of sounds more irritating than terrifying. Although air pollution is of course a very real problem.

Pernicious the movie is a Thai-American production shot entirely in Thailand. In it, three American girls travel to the country to teach for the summer, but once they are there, eerie things start happening, their new friends vanish and they are drawn deeper into Thai folklore. What they uncover is the story of an ill treated little girl murdered decades before, whose spirit is hell bent on vengeance. 

2. Insidious

Insidious might be the most popular of the alarming one-word titles series, having spawned four follow ups to the original and raked in a whole bunch of money. It’s a pretty evocative title, which also implies a subtle approach very much with a hint of malice (there’s also a movie called Malice, starring Nicole Kidman, though this is a crime thriller not a horror). 

Starring Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan (the dream team), the movie sees a couple’s young son fall into a coma and become possessed by ghosts in another astral plane called The Further. The plot’s inventive but the first film is notable for having one of the very best jump scares of the 2010s (crusty red demon face behind Patrick Wilson). Earns its title admirably.

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1. Malignant

Let’s be honest, there is not going to be an instance in which the word “malignant” is going to be a positive thing. There’s no hint of fun about “malignant” and there is no disguising “malignant’s” intentions. It’s right there in the word itself “Mal” aka Bad.

But for a generically ominous title, you’re getting one hell of a bonkers movie with Malignant. It’s also directed by James Wan but don’t expect the expert thrills and cheeky sense of humour of Insidious this is out and out nuts with Giallo influences and an insane ending. Annabelle Wallis stars as a woman who has visions of murders after an incident of domestic abuse. There’s definitely someone or something malignant at work…