The Cannes Film Festival is one of the biggest annual events in international cinema, showcasing films from all over the world. It began back in 1946, and has been held almost every year since. As the name implies, it’s held in Cannes, France, and attracts big names and high-profile films every year, with plenty of classics having their debuts at Cannes over the years.
It serves as a showcase for movies from every genre under the sun, but certain types of films ultimately end up associated with the festival more than others. Of the genres, it seemed to be a little less common to have a horror movie debut at Cannes compared to something like a comedy, historical drama, or romance movie. However, that doesn’t mean the genre’s been unrepresented when it comes to Cannes debuts, with the following being some of the most notable horror movies to have premiered at the prestigious film festival.
10 ‘Titane’ (2021)
Julia Ducournau is one of the most exciting French filmmakers working today, with Titane being her most acclaimed film to date. It’s a psychological thriller/body horror movie about a woman who goes on the run after committing a shocking crime, only to find her life forever changed – physically and emotionally – by a series of unusual events.
Not only was Titane a horror movie that premiered at Cannes, but it also happened to win the festival’s top honor: the Palme d’Or (or “Golden Palm”). It’s a brutal and very disturbing movie, but also has a strong emotional core that makes it surprisingly moving in parts, making it easy to recommend for those with cast-iron stomachs.
9 ‘The Neon Demon’ (2016)
Following the success of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn set about using his added exposure to provoke, challenge, and shock audiences. He did this through 2013’s Only God Forgives, which was an even slower-paced and more violent crime/thriller than Drive, and then with 2016’s horror/thriller The Neon Demon.
It tells a dark story about a young model who moves to Los Angeles seeking fame, only to come into contact with some other women who envy her looks, and seem willing to acquire her beauty through violent means. It’s dark, strange, gruesome, and ultimately impactful – for better or worse – making it a horror movie that kind of feels at home at the Cannes Film Festival.
8 ‘The Lighthouse’ (2019)
The Lighthouse is one of the dirtiest, smelliest movies in recent memory (well, if you could smell a movie, The Lighthouse would probably reek). It follows two lighthouse keepers who stay together on a tiny island that has a lighthouse and not much else, with the boredom and isolation causing them both to unravel in explosive – and eventually violent – ways.
Beyond being a surreal/psychological horror movie, it also has a slightly fantastical feel to it, courtesy of some bizarre imagery in certain sequences, and also a good deal of dark comedy throughout (there’s a surprising amount of toilet humor). It was a hotly anticipated debut at the 2019 festival, thanks to Robert Eggers‘ successful previous film, The Witch, and ended up being far from a disappointment.
7 ‘Antichrist’ (2009)
Lars von Trier has a complicated history with the Cannes Film Festival. In 2000, he won the Palme d’Or for his film Dancer in the Dark, enabling later films of his – like Antichrist – to premiere at the festival. But then the notorious 2011 Cannes Film Festival came around, and the director ended up being banned for seven years after he made some unusual and unacceptable comments at a press conference for Melancholia.
But back to Antichrist: it’s definitely a horror movie, and it definitely premiered at Cannes. It tells the story of two grieving parents who go and stay at an isolated cabin, hoping it will help them heal… but of course, it just makes everything worse. It’s a depressing, disturbing, and aggressively graphic film, so viewers should approach it cautiously (if at all).
6 ‘Possession’ (1981)
Despite the fairly generic sounding title, Possession is one of those unique kinds of horror films that are basically remake-proof, since very little about it’s aged, and very little could be made more effective. Like Antichrist, this one’s also about a relationship that goes to hell in a distressing and violent fashion, making it a powerful yet difficult watch.
Though it becomes more of a horror film as it goes along, Possession also feels like a particularly intense relationship drama for much of its runtime. It morphs into something of a psychological thriller at a point, and then ends up feeling like a full-on horror film by the final act. It’s a strange and absorbing watch, and very likely the most bizarre and unsettling film to debut at Cannes in 1981.
5 ‘The Skin I Live In’ (2011)
Pedro Almodóvar tends to specialize in making colorful, stylish, and generally good-hearted dramedies, so The Skin I Live In represents something of a change of pace for the Spanish filmmaker. It follows a plastic surgeon who’s driven to make a type of synthetic skin that protects against damage, and what happens when he makes a mysterious woman into a guinea pig for his experiments.
It’s a movie that sinks its hooks into viewers pretty quickly and refuses to let go, making for a tense and sometimes alarming viewing experience. Though Almodóvar’s won a Best Director and a Best Screenplay prize (neither for The Skin I Live In) at Cannes before, a Palme d’Or still eludes him.
4 ‘Funny Games’ (1997)
A rare movie that was remade by its own director, Funny Games is a stomach-churning horror movie that also serves as a satire on home invasion thrillers. The plot sees two young men breaking into a house while one of them also breaks the fourth wall. They then torment the family who lives there, which is all presented in a blunt, unflinching manner.
The film’s director, Michael Haneke, went on to become one of the most awarded directors in the festival’s history, and one of only nine filmmakers to have won the Palme d’Or twice. Funny Games still stands as one of his hardest to watch, ensuring its anti-violence message and condemnation of viewers who view it remains effective.
3 ‘Seconds’ (1966)
Seconds is surely one of the oldest horror movies to have premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, in this case doing so way back in 1966. This psychological horror/thriller/sci-fi movie revolves around an organization that allows customers to change their appearance to any existing person, though that also involves killing and eradicating any evidence of said existing person.
It’s an inventive premise, and it’s executed in a way that makes things feel as unsettling as possible. Despite its age, parts of Seconds still feel genuinely shocking and unnerving, making it a grim yet interesting watch for those who like their 1960s movies as out there as possible.
2 ‘Train to Busan’ (2016)
One of the most popular (and best) zombie movies in recent memory, Train to Busan is a South Korean action/horror film that delivers when it comes to undead-related thrills. It follows what happens to a group of train passengers during a deadly viral outbreak, with the stakes being high very early on, and things progressing to a point where the characters need to fight for their lives.
It takes a no-nonsense approach to its simple yet engaging premise, and unfolds in a manner that’ll surely satisfy any zombie movie fan. It’s safe to assume that there probably haven’t been many zombie movies with Cannes Film Festival premieres, given it’s often held in May, which is naturally pretty distant from October (if you look at a calendar), with a Halloween release likely looking desirable for most zombie films.
1 ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ (1992)
Even though Fire Walk with Me came out the year after Twin Peaks was canceled, viewers would’ve been way off the mark for thinking it would continue or conclusively wrap up the classic TV show’s narrative. This 1992 movie is much more of a prequel than a sequel, with a good deal of the runtime focusing on Laura Palmer’s final days, shortly before her dead body’s discovered in the TV show’s pilot episode.
Twin Peaks as a show could be creepy, but Fire Walk with Me doubles down on the horror elements, becoming a very distressing and often terrifying movie in the process. Upon its Cannes premiere, many critics dismissed it or didn’t know what to make of it, but it’s now considered one of David Lynch‘s best films.
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