We are right in the thick of October and for any one on the internet claiming to know a thing or two about movies is coming up with some sort of “Best of” in relation to horror films. Scariest movies ever. Scariest movies of the past decade. Scariest scenes. Scariest kids’ movies. It goes on and on. Well, I’m here to add to that cavalcade because I have a one post a month quota to fill and there aren’t too many promising films I want to review scheduled for the month so why not a list?
Now I am in no way claiming to be outside of the box on this one. Given my outlet is the internet, I’m well aware hundreds of better written lists like this one exist.
So what makes mine different, you may ask?
This one is…um…
This one’s mine!
Also, as you may or may not have surmised, I’ve pulled from non-horror films.
As an added condition, I’ve also avoided the typical “this scared the pants off me as a kid” scene you often find such as the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. That isn’t to say any of these movies aren’t scary. No one here is arguing that. No one.
The point is I wanted more of a challenge. To think OUTSIDE of the box as it were. In other words, I had to think on this one. It was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be once I set out. Like many, I go to horror movies to get scared. For whatever reason, I never assume fear is something that’s necessarily going to translate into other genres which is inherently absurd.
There was also an effort on my part to avoid documentaries as well. I could probably dedicate an entire, separate post on frightening documentaries. No real defense to their lack of representation here other than I wanted to keep things simple.
Now as we navigate this cinematic myriad, it may be important for me to preface with the notion that most, if not all, of these scenes are going to relate back to what I personally find frightening.
Words you’re going to see again and again will be “realistic” and “relatable.”
And possibly even….EXISTENTIAL. Ooooooooo scary.
So yeah there will probably be more than one moments while you scroll down where you find yourself asking, “Really, Tyler? Really?”
Then I’ll look down out the ground and get really quite for a bit.
I’m going to do my best not to ramble in the descriptions even that’s kind of like my thing at this point. I highly recommend you watch every one of the scenes because…they’re great. I’ll add a little commentary but kind of just want them to speak for themselves.
It’s also important to note that I am in no way arguing these are the scariest films of all time. They’re are just 13 that I happen to think of off the top of my head. If you have any to add, I’d love to read about them in the comments section.
Quotas. Am I right?
13 is unlucky, right?
That’s kind of spooky.
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SPOOOOKY NUMBERSSSSSSSSS!
1) “Not quite my tempo.” – Whiplash (2014)
It speaks volumes that I’ve had nightmares just like this after seeing this movie.
We’ve all had that one person we want to impress. Whether it be a parent, professor, boss or what have you. There’s always going to be THAT person who’s validation you’re going to be perpetually fighting for.
We all also harbor deep-rooted fears of failure. Failing in front of your person of reverence AND being called out on it by said person? Well, you have yourself one dandy of a nightmare cocktail.
Through in being an introvert, you have why this scene (and whole movie, really) got deep down in my psyche.
I almost thought it was a comedic scene the first time I saw the film because in as is oft the case when faced with any form of conflict, tension or general uncomfortableness, my immediate instinct is to laugh as to hopefully ease tension.
But this is not a funny scene. There really isn’t any aspect of it that is treated as a gag.
It could even be argued that the scariest aspect of all of this how it seemingly works in the long run. Fletcher’s methods of pushing someone to the very precipice of their limits through psychological (and even physical) torture comes back in a big, bad way by Whiplash‘s finale and it is as unsettling as it may be triumphant.
2) Plane crash – The Grey (2012)
We’ve seen a lot of plane crashes in film.
We never LEAVE the plane. Director Joe Carnahan and Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi don’t give us spectacle. Instead we’re right there with Ottway (the camera never trailing too far from his perspective) as the vessel goes down. It’s many of our worst nightmares brought to terrifying reality.
It’s scarier than anything with the wolves because it’s such a universal fear. I’m pretty damn sure anyone who has stepped foot on a plane has had this exact scenario in the back of their head. Many easily conquer that fear. After all, if they didn’t we probably wouldn’t have many airlines.
3) A festering pit of NOPE – King Kong (2005)
By this scene’s inclusion, I think you may be able to ascertain that I am not OVERLY fond of bugs. It’s clear director Peter Jackson isn’t either.
Sharing his entomophia in interviews before, Jackson GETS what makes bugs scary. For those paying attention during Return of the King, Shelob acts and moves just like an actual spider. Moving lightening fast and then abruptly stopping. Waiting. Waiting. Then moving in an unanticipated direction. (Least we forget, spiders have eyes on every side of their heads.)
Jackson’s ode to creepy crawlies is no where expressed better however than in the revitalized Spider-Pit sequence in his 2005 remake of King Kong.
It’s surface-level horror, (not to mention a complete deviation from the main conflict in an already overstuffed film) but it works. All the bug designs are unsettling, with the meat-weasels and massive weta’s being the true-standouts.
To me, this is all the fears I had about jumping into a leaf pile or the mud made manifest.
4) The red dress – Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream is a movie I never need to revisit.
It’s a very good movie, don’t get me wrong. If you haven’t seen it, I fully recommend you do so at the nearest connivence.
It’s just a real bummer. Like, a HUGE one.
There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in it.
I know that’s kind of the point. It’s a film about the horrors of drug addiction after all.
Moving along though, this is the most “traditional” scary sequence in the film, and it’s pretty damn effective. That fridge gets me every time. There are a number of creepy drug sequences (some of the most famous come from this very film) but this is the one that I’d argue is the scariest.
Sara’s descent is probably the one that hits closest to home for many viewers as it’s hard not to project our own mothers on to her. Where she ultimately ends up is another key reason I avoid the film. Without getting too personal, it hits too close to home in things I worry about almost on a day-to-day basis. My mom is NOT a drug attack, but she deals with things and every time I see this film (or just this scene or this one), I’m compelled to give her a call.
5) “He’s coming towards us.” – Zodiac (2007)
Almost all of David Fincher’s cannon appears to have at least one memorable frightening moment in them. So many in fact, that is was hard limiting myself to just two (the other we will get to momentarily).
Murder is common element of any crime film. Other it’s dramatized via gore, score, or all of the above. In Zodiac, Fincher takes a different route.
The murders are so startlingly real, that you don’t recognize they’re taking place initially. There’s no build up to the violence. It just happens. No pomp or circumstance. Random violence is often the scariest as it cannot be defined. To cope with senseless death, we as human often do are best internally “make sense” of things. “Oh, he was crazy,” or “Of course that she killed them. We saw the warning signs.” But the Zodiac Killer(s) were never “found out.” To this day, we don’t know who he, she, they were or why they committed such heinous deeds, adding another layer to just how unsettling this scene is.
6) Sloth – Se7en (1995)
I’ve gone on record through multiple avenues to declare my undying love for Fincher’s Se7en.
I went with Mills’ and Somerset’s discovery of Sloth because, as with the last scene, it exemplifies Fincher’s knack for taking a well-worn troupe and making it fresh. In this case, it’s the jump scare.
The scene draws you in with every little detail. Much like the unnamed SWAT-member, we are drawn to this body under the assumption that of course it’s dead.
Fincher doesn’t even bother with racketing up tension. The cough comes out of nowhere and we’re flat on our asses once again.
7) The Pale Man – Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
I mentioned I avoided scenes that scared me as a child; opting instead to focus on those I still found frightening as an adult. This is the one main exception I made as it successfully plays to those fears we all had as a child but placed in an adult setting; something director Guillermo del Toro appears to have an absolute hard-on for.
Ever a slave to detail, del Toro builds up his monster masterfully through silent clues throughout the set.
As with any good movie monster, the Pale Man is slow, quasi-methodical. It doesn’t need to move fast because it nows the playing field. Run as fast as you like. It’ll get you. One way or another.
8) “LOOK AT ME.” – The Dark Knight (2008)
The initial horror in this scene is on-the-nose.
The Joker is on a crime spree as he attempts to goad Batman into facing him; a part of his larger scheme to bring the Caped Crusader down to his level and show that ANYONE can fall. Typical Joker scheme.
A common thread you’re going to see, and may have already noticed, is “real.” Joker’s tape is a video that could have easily been leaked to reddit, 4chan, or any other social sharing site. I’ve seen ones before, much more violent of course, that could have served as the inspiration.
Look to the on-air murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward last year. That is but one of many examples.
It’s the most frightening aspect of Heath Ledger’s Joker. He isn’t about elaborate death traps.
9) Curb stomp – American History X (1998)
I really wrestled with including this scene. Not because it isn’t scary. It’s why it’s scary, and that gets into a touchy space that is a breeding ground for contempt and hurt feelings.
I hate how racists have recently begun to appropriate this movie. As if they only take certain scenes (like this one) without context. As if to say, “See, we were right! Ed Norton was right at the beginning!” And I hate that. Of course, there are multiple ways to view a movie but revising a movie altogether and making it out to be representing something it isn’t is moronic and insulting.
The main message of the film, at least in my opinion, is how hate is taught from one generation to another. It’s not the glorification of one man’s racist ideals; it’s the deconstruction of them altogether.
This scene could easily be considered a “fuck yeah” moment in a piece of action junk.
It isn’t though.
It’s horrific, and director Tony Kaye treats it as such. Yeah, these guys were robbing Danny but we’ve seen the chain of events that led them there. No one is innocent truly innocent in the instance.
Violence begets violence. It’s a cycle that continually loops.
“Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it.”
10) “Hi, this is Nikki. Leave a message.” – Swingers (1996)
Well, well, well.
My old nemesis.
To many, Swingers may be nothing more than a comedy and it truly can be experienced as just that. I love the movie, but I rarely re-visit it, largely due to this scene.
It’s so frighteningly real, particularly as a guy who continues to struggle with forming relationships. I’ve been in this exact position with women I liked in which I had a little voice saying, “Leave it be,” but another, much louder one saying “No, don’t make it weird. KEEP GOING TO MAKE SURE SHE KNOW’S YOU’RE NOT WEIRD.” I don’t think I’ve ever left quite this many voicemails, but we are in the texting/Tindr age.
Last night I just found out about “ghosting.” If I’m relating this correctly, this is when one half of a relationship abruptly stops communicating with the other.
Every time I sit through this scene, I’m verbally yelling, “STOP IT” at the screen before it’s over.
Relationships are scary.
Actually getting into one is a whole other beast.
11) “Is it safe?” – Marathon Man (1976)
I guess this scene is pretty much a given. But classics are classics for a reason, right?
To be honest, I don’t remember the rest of this movie all that well. It’s been a while since I sat down and watched it. It seems to be on TV every time I visit one of my parents (who have cable) so I definitely could point out where it is alternatively. I just couldn’t relate specifics to you…the main exception being this fucking scene that plays through my head every time I have to go to the goddamn dentist.
There are a lot of torture scenes I thought about including on this list which is a statement that sounds really creepy with or without context but I went with this one because it pinpoints a fear I think a lot people share and that’s an evil dentist given full-reign to do whatever they want with your mouth.
12) The other side – 50/50 (2011)
Behold, another comedy. Like Swingers, 50/50 is a fairly consistent comedy (jokes land more than they miss) that nails frighteningly realistic situations. In this case, it’s dwindling minutes before we are put under the knife.
You may be thinking,”Tyler, you coward. This scene is relaxing. If anything it’s melancholic.”
I’ve never been diagnosed with cancer, nor have I had to have a life-saving surgery. I have, however, had more than one procedure. Ranging from outpatient to several days in the hospital. Every. Single. One. Stressed. Me. The. Phunk. Out.
You’re kidding yourself if you think that any time you go in for ANY surgery, you’re guaranteed to wake up. The odds are minimal, but that doesn’t stop your brain from going to darker places right as the needle is hooked into your arm or the mask slipped over your face. And being alone sucks. You want someone there. Whether it be a parent or friend.
The conversation with the mom here has played out with me and my own mother every time I’ve laid on that bed in my gown.
13) The war begins – War of the Worlds (2005)
Having grown into adulthood in the post-9/11 landscape, I’d argue it’s very easy for someone my age to become…how do I put it…detached from the 9/11 imagery that utterly dominates popular culture’s depiction of mass destruction.
I argue that imagery has largely fallen flat for me with the key exception being Steven Spielberg’s take on the H.G. Wells’ classic novel, The War of the Worlds. As with any good science fiction, the book zeroed in on contemporary anxieties. In Victorian England, that was the threat of foreign invaders. Wells, clever as he was, took those fears and flipped them on them right back around on your average English Joe, making the book a clear commentary on imperialism.