In about a month from now, on July 12th to be exact, the haunted house thriller “Insidious” will be released on DVD & Blu-ray. I thought it was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had watching a movie in a theater. It made me scream and jump, a lot. It really created fear. That red-faced demon is super creepy! As a fan of horror, it’s pretty rare that a movie really makes me terrified since I’ve seen so many slashes and gashes and boo-scares in my lifetime. It got me thinking about other scary movies and what specific moments or sequences I think are just absolutely frightening. Here is a list of what I find to be some of the scariest moments in movies. You’ve been warned… they are scary!
“Halloween” - The closet sceneMaybe I’m biases because this is my favorite horror movie, but there was a time when it was simply just the scariest freaking movie I had seen in my whole life. And my whole life had consisted of about 8 or 9 years at that point. Michael Myers’ mask was the scariest image I had ever seen up to that point and the music was something I just couldn’t listen to without almost screaming for the hills. “Halloween” still stand up til this day, but I think the most frighten sequences comes at the end when babysitter Laurie Strode, confident that she has killed “the boogeyman” is unaware that he has climbed the stairs right behind her young charges. He stands there, they look at him and not only do the kids scream, but the audience does too. Just Michael Myers standing there is creepy in itself, but once Laurie locks herself in the closet and he comes after her, it’s a moment of sheer unadulterated terror. The entire movie he has been watching from a distance, but now he's right in her face.
“Jaws” – Ben Gardner’s headSteven Spielberg created a phenomenon with Jaws. He not only created the summer blockbuster, but he created a master work of horror and suspense. In arguably the movie’s biggest jump scare, Richard Dreyfuss is examining the bite marks on the hull of an abandoned boat in the middle of the ocean. He picks up a huge shark tooth and when he goes to take a closer look, a one-eyed face comes into full view while John Williams’ disturbing stinger blasts on the soundtrack. It scares the living daylights outta me even on my 1245th viewing.
“Psycho” – the shower sceneAs clichéd as it might sound, the shower scene in Psycho is probably the greatest moment in horror movie history – and definitely one of the most well known scenes in all of cinema. Its power still holds up more than fifty years later. It’s an expertly crafted sequence with perfect editing choreography, striking camerawork and an astonishingly effective score. Not only is it one of the most well-made sequences in movies, but it’s one of the scariest. There is no other more vulnerable location than a shower – you’re emotionally and literally naked and the idea that someone could jump at you and stab you to death is such a dreadful concept that this scene alone is the reason why there will most likely never be a shortage of water. The fact that this happens to the MAIN CHARACTER makes it all the more disturbing.
“The Mist” – the pharmacy sceneI’m almost too scared to even talk about this scene. “The Mist” is a wonderfully underrated movie about a dense fog that covers an entire town – this mysterious mist is full of terrifying creatures and monsters that have only one intention: to kill. The mist traps a whole bunch of people in a small supermarket. I’m pretty much completely terrified of spiders, so when a small group of people make their way to the pharmacy to collect meds for those that have been injured, I was taken completely by surprise by a man being used as a spider’s nest. The guy literally bursts open and a flood of tiny spiders crawl out of him, meanwhile giant mutated spiders who spit out acidic webbing cause havoc for these folks. It’s an utterly freaky and horrifying sequence which I’m not I’ve actually seen all the way through.
“Alien” – the chest bursterThe facehugger is one of the creepiest creations in a horror movie. This giant spider like monster jumps out of an egg and attaches itself to a person’s face. Hours later it seems to fall off its host and just die. But what it does is far worse than having an alien stuck to your face. It creates a completely different-looking creature that bursts from your torso instead – usually while eating dinner. When John Hurt is hanging out with his fellow space crew, relieved that his alien pest has seemingly died, he’s even more horrified to realize the pain he’s experiencing as something seems to be moving underneath his stomach. His crew is even more shocked to see a small creature burst out with blood and guts everywhere and run off and hid. That is some effed up stuff right there.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” – Tina’s deathThere is something so completely disturbing about the death of teenager Tina Gray at the hands of Freddy Krueger in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” She’s been affected by these terrible nightmares about this man with a burned face. He knows he’s after her. As creepy as this guy is, her death doesn’t even show her attacker because we see it completely from the point of view of Tina’s awake boyfriend Rod. We see her struggling with her attacker but then we cut from inside her dream, to the “real world” where Rod sees her struggling with an invisible force. Her chest is sliced by four invisible blades, she’s thrown from the bed, dragged up the wall and across the ceiling, where she collapses into a gigantic pool of blood. And then it’s silence. You can’t even describe what you’ve just witnessed. It’s one of horror master Wes Craven’s most well-directed sequences and features mindboggling special effects that hold up disturbingly well today.
“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” - Kirk gets clubbedIn a movie filled with disturbing, although not altogether very explicitly violent, images. I still think poor young Kirk getting clubbed in the head is the movie’s scariest moment. It’s the moment we first get a look at “Leatherface” the movie’s iconic cannibalistic villain. A group of young people are just trying to find their way around, but you don’t go knocking on doors in the middle of no where, especially in Texas. Kirk, who up until the point of his death, seemed to be the leading man of the movie. You’d never ever think that he’d be the first one to go. He enters this creepy farm house, asking if anyone is there. All he hears is the sound of pigs squealing. He runs up to an open doorway and BOOM he’s slammed in the head with a mallet. He drops to the floor in a matter of seconds and his bleeding body begins to convulse. Then Leather face drags him into the room and slams that metal door shut. A door slam has never sounded scarier as that ominous low-pitched music fills the soundtrack. It’s a moment of pure dread in a movie filled with plenty of pure dread. It’s just plain creepy.
“The Blair Witch Project” – the endingThe shaky fake documentary “The Blair Witch Project” works for some people and not for others. I think it works for me. While I don’t mind seeing blood and guts, sometimes it is totally scarier when you can’t actually see anything. Which is why the ending of “Blair Witch” is one of horror’s greatest and most disturbing endings. There are now only two people left lost in the middle of the woods: Mike and Heather. They both enter a old abandon house, they’re looking for their missing friend Josh. They scream his name over and over. They think they hear him. We see from the points of views of both Mike’s camera and Heather’s camera cutting back and forth. Soon Mike’s camera drops to the floor. Soon Mike is no longer shouting. As Heather, completely and utterly terrified enters the basement of the house now screaming Mike’s name, she pans over to the corner of the basement and sees Mike standing silently in the corner as some unseen force knocks the camera out of her hand. And then the film cuts to black. The fact that we heard a story told about a killer placing children into the corner of the room makes this one of horror cinema’s most frightening images as the entire film’s build of dread has been completely unleashed on one freaky image of a man standing with his back to us. Still gives me the creeps.
“The Thing” – the spider headI said I hated spiders and that was no lie. I especially hate when a human head sprouts giant legs and starts walking around like a spider. “The Thing” has some of the most disturbing special effects in a horror movie. They’re all the more disturbing because they’re all practical effects achieved through the use of make-up prosthetics, animatronics and puppetry. “The Thing” revolves around an alien that has invaded a small group of scientists working in Antarctica. Sort of like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” you never know who has been “infected” by the alien until they change form into some grotesque creature. One character beings using a defribulator on someone else when the man’s chest opens up, bites off the guy’s hands and then his head breaks off and grows spider legs. It’s a great combination of jump scare and absolutely gross effects (the sound effects are rather gross as well) that is definitely one of the movie’s flat out scariest moments.
“Scream” – the opening sceneWes Craven’s “Scream” totally reinvented the entire horror movie genre. But not only is it a cultural icon, but it features probably the strongest opening sequence of any slasher movie, rivaled only by its main inspiration: John Carpenter’s Halloween (and a nod to “When a Stranger Calls” of course). The opening sequence in which “star” Drew Barrymore begins receiving menacing phone calls which result with her hanging disemboweled from a tree works completely as its own short film. These 12 minutes are so effective that nothing that happens in the rest of the film really lives up to it (although I love it all of course). The way things go from good, to bad to worse in a matter of minutes is just wonderfully disturbing and scary. Barrymore’s performance is exquisite and the terror in her eyes and tears feels authentic. You watched this sequence completely glued to the screen and it messes with your mind so much that you can’t imagine what the rest of this movie has in store for you.
“Misery”– Annie hobbles PaulThe word hobbling didn’t really enter the lexicon of America much until the 1990 suspense flick “Misery.” Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, the film is about an author who is rescued from his crashed car during a blizzard by a woman who claims to be his “number one fan.” Annie Wilkes, as brilliantly played by Oscar-winning Kathy Bates, is a total nut job. She lives in almost total isolation and begins nursing author Paul Sheldon back to health. But once he begins to get a lot better she realizes his time with her is going to be ending and she refuses to let him go… so she “hobbles” him which involves bashing his ankles in with a sledgehammer. Ouch indeed.
“Final Destination” – Todd’s deathIn the entire “Final Destination” horror franchise (which will soon consist of five movies) I still find the death of Todd in the bathroom the most disturbing. Mostly because it feels the most realistic. Ok sure the water leaking from the toilet onto the floor seems just weird and the fact that he can’t really stop himself from being hung from a clothesline in the bathtub might seem farfetched, but his struggles to free his neck feel so realistic I almost wanna shout “cut!” and have the poor actor stand up and call it a day. The look of pain on his face and seeing the whites of his eyes slowly become red as his brain gets cut off from oxygen is such a tragedy you almost forget you’re watching a fun slasher movie. And as he desperately reaches for the scissors he was using just moments before to clip his nose hairs, it makes you realize just how incredibly disturbing this whole scene really is.
“Wait Until Dark” – Roat jumps upThe 1967 thriller “Wait Until Dark” starring Audrey Hepburn in an Oscar-nominated role as a blind woman who’s being stalked by several scary thugs is worth seing for a brief moment towards the finale. Alan Arkin plays Roat a killer who is trying to get a heroin filled doll back from her after she unexpectedly comes in possession of it. He enters her apartment and there is a final cat and mouse sequence in which Hepburn must fend for her life. She’s able to stab Roat and we think he’s dead… but as she comes down the stairs and into her living room he leaps up and grabs her ankle. A shocking stinger is heard on the soundtrack. It’s such a solid jump scare that it makes the film as whole worth seeing. The movie is alright, but nothing particularly special. I never understood why she just doesn’t give up that stupid doll.
“Poltergeist” - The guy picks his face offThe Steven Spielberg produced haunted house flick “Poltergeist” was never altogether that frightening to me. I just thought it was a really fun and entertaining thriller. However there are a number of solid sequences like the tree eating Robbie, that clown and course what I think is the scariest part: when one of the parapsychologists assisting Tangina rid the suburban house of ghosts goes for a midnight snack. He takes a steak out of the refrigerator and places it on the kitchen counter. He looks over at it and it begins crawling, then it begins erupting. Hey then notices the piece of fried chicken in his mouth is covered in maggots. This makes him run to the bathroom where he notices a cut on his face and he begins picking at his face, with large gory chunks of his face plopping down into the sink. It’s an utterly disgusting moment and has no place in a movie rated PG (Remember this was one of several films that helped prompt the PG-13 rating). It was always the moment in Poltergeist that made me look away from the TV and therefore I always check to make sure my chicken isn’t covered with maggots before taking a bite.
“Paranormal Activity” - Katie’s dragged out of bedAnother movie similar to Insidious (same producers) about a haunted house sort of told in a “Blair Witch” style about a young couple, Katie and Micah, who have disturbing encounters with a (mostly) unseen force in their suburban home. They set up a camera at night to capture any odd phenomenon and they certainly get plenty of that. Each evening brings more and more alarming evidence of something sinister living in their home. Most of this stuff has to do with creaking sounds or slamming doors. But on one evening something grabs a hold of Katie’s foot literally drags her out of bed and down the hallway as she screams dearly for Micah. This effect is done so well for such a low budget movie I’m not even quite sure how it’s pulled off. The shrieks of terror coming from Katie as she’s pulled out of our view with Micah running after her is probably the image that most kept me from sleeping that night.
“Arachnophobia” – the whole freaking movieSpiders make their appearance for the third time on this list but this time they aren’t grotesque creatures or animatronics. “Arachnophobia” is a fun, yet terrifying movie about a deadly South American spider who happens to make his way to a small rural American town. The spider breeds with an ordinary house spider and unleashes a new strain of deadly spiders on the unsuspecting townsfolk. The movie is watchable mostly because it has solid comic relief otherwise it would be pure torture for me. I can’t even pick a specific moment as being the “scariest” but some highlights include the spiders coming up through the bathroom sink drain, the shower scene and the entire climatic battle between arachnophobe Jeff Daniels and the “queen” spider who will do anything to defend her egg sack. This is probably to this day the scariest movie I have and probably will ever see.