Cinema is an emotive beast; it can make us laugh out loud, shed a tear or think about things is a new and different way.
It can also scare the bejesus out of us. Horror is almost as old as cinema itself and over the past century or so has adapted to reflect the times we live in.
We love having our primal fears tapped into and each of us is affected differently. For some it’s slasher movies, while for others it’s good old fashioned creature features. For me it’s supernatural horror, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise when glancing over the list below.
This is just a limited selection of scenes that have freaked me out over the years. There are many more I could list, but I’d much prefer to find out:
What are your scariest scenes?
The J-Horror wave produced plenty of scares, but none as blood-curdling as this deeply unsettling scene from the supremely effective Ring (Ringu). Unfortunate viewers of a cursed video receive a phone call telling them they will die exactly one week later. It’s a fate that befalls poor Ryūji (Hiroyuki Sanada), who watches the TV with mounting horror as the vengeful spirit of Sadako crawls out a well and then out of the TV towards Ryūji. It’s a terrifying conclusion to a film that severely curtailed my video cassette watching.
The Haunting (1963)
“Whose Hand Was I Holding?”
There’s nothing like a well-made haunted house movie to really chill the bones and Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting (as opposed to the dreadful 1999 remake) is as good as it gets. Highly strung Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) agrees to join several others to disprove the ghostly tales that have built up around a creaky old house by staying there for a few days and nights. Big mistake. Wise slowly cranks up the tension and spooky goings on to unbearable levels, not least of which in the unnerving scene when Eleanor is in bed and trying to shut out the ghoulish crying and laughter emanating from the walls. She thinks her hand is being held by Theodora (Claire Bloom), only to discover she’s in bed across the room. “Whose hand was I holding?” a terrified Eleanor asks, not wishing to know the answer.
Although not a horror movie per se, there’s plenty in David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece about the obsessive – and ultimately unsuccessful – hunt by a detective (Mark Ruffalo), crime reporter (Robert Downey Jr) and political cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) to identify the Zodiac killer, who murdered several people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fincher, who showed he could do grisly in Seven, amps up a different kind of dread here, not least of which in the hair-rasing scene when Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith visits the home of movie projectionist Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), believing he can shed light on the case. Following the unnerving Vaughn down into his basement, the paranoid Graysmith suddenly believes he’s standing in front of Zodiac himself. It’s a masterclass in psychological horror on Fincher’s part, helped in no small part by Gyllenhaal’s convincingly strung out performance.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
One of the first films to properly take advantage of viral marketing, the buzz around The Blair Witch Project had audiences freaking out before they even set foot in the theatre. Despite trying to convince you otherwise, horror movies are generally at their best when they adopt the less is more approach and it certainly works here. It also reinvigorated the found footage sub-genre, for better or worse. More than just a story of three student filmmakers getting lost in the woods while investigating a local witch legend, the genuinely terrified reactions of its cast elicit a raw fear in the audience that builds and builds until the frenzied finale when they enter what appears to be an abandoned house… only to find out something terrible lurks inside.
One of the more effective found footage films that followed in the wake of The Blair Witch Project was this low-budget Spanish zombie flick, which follows a TV crew as they cover a fire station’s night shift. They’re called to check on an old woman who’s trapped in her apartment, but before they know it all hell breaks loose when the old dear – and others within the apartment block – turns very, very nasty. Although not to everyone’s taste, REC‘s use of ‘shaky cam’ is particularly effective and adds a sense of chaotic terror to proceedings. It’s a pretty scary film throughout and the heart beats that much faster during the nerve-shredding climax, which borrows the night vision technique of The Silence Of The Lambs and throws in extra nastiness.
The Eye (2002)
The second Asian film on this list (and another product of the Hollywood remake machine) that truly chills, the concept of The Eye is simple. A young blind woman regains her sight after undergoing cornea transplant surgery, but this gift turns into a curse when she begins seeing figures that seem to foretell death. Her visions are as distressing as they are supremely hair-raising, in particular the one she experiences when she enters a lift and realises she’s not alone. As the lift ever-so-slowly reaches its destination, a figure first seen facing the corner floats closer and closer to her, cranking up the creepiness to unbearable levels.
Nice list. One of the scariest scenes for me comes from a non-horror movie: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, when Laura walks into her room knowing that Killer Bob is there. Lynch manages to create dread in all of his films.
That is a great one, forgot about that!
Lynch really does create truly scary scenes, often thanks to them being completely inexplicable. Almost all of his films have moments terrifying enough to consider for a list like this – the phone call home in Lost Highway, the monster behind the dumpster in Mulholland Drive and the creepy Laura Dern run in Inland Empire.
The Laura Dern run in Inland Empire is a great one, really unsettling, while the cafe/monster scene in Mulholland Drive came very close to making the list. Should of really.
Oh, forgot those ones. Also I thought I should mention the final scene in Eraserhead, that’s frightening as well.
Yes! That’s one of the only films I’ve felt physically sick watching.
Pretty much all of Eraserhead terrifies me! I’ve seen a few film sites/blogs over the last few days include Lynch films in their “best X horror films” lists, and generally I don’t agree that his films are horror. But you can certainly make a case for Eraserhead
That’s a very good list. I agree on the Zodiac basement scene, by the way. Very tense. Definitely belongs.
Cheers man. I love Zodiac, Fincher’s best film arguably.
Maybe. Definitely a very good flick.
As a kid, I had a months’ worth of nightmare fodder after watching The Blair Witch Project. The finale is so simple, but it’s the simplicity that makes it frightening. Great selection!
Thanks! I was pretty freaked out by Blair Witch I remember, couldn’t sleep that night! Such a wuss!
Wow, some really great scenes here. Can’t believe I have never seen The Blair Witch Project, but since you’ve provided the ending scene here I can’t wait to see it now. I guess when it came out I avoided because i REALLY wasn’t into horror at the time, and since then it all but got left behind in my memory and I even forgot it existed lol. That REC scene is probably the scariest scene I’ve ever seen. that’s some crazy stuff. I guess for me, it’s really between that and the scene in The Silence of the Lambs, in that basement. Night-vision on. Such suspense.
Absolutely. You can’t go wrong with night vision, there’s something inherently nasty about it, but that scene in REC is *really* unsettling.
Sweet list Mark. I’ve only actually seen Blair Witch from this lot (although I have seen the American remake of The Ring). I love the old horror films like The Haunting so I’d definitely be interested in checking that out.
Cheers Chris. The Haunting’s a great film, very atmospheric. The Innocents is also a cracker too. The original Ring freaks me the f**k out!
Nice list! God, that TV scene in Ringu. I still can’t get over how frightened I was the first time I saw it.
It is pretty freaky! Thanks for the feedback 🙂
Cool list! REC and Blair Witch scared me too, but my scariest moment ever is the Winkies scene in Mulholland Drive.