The horror genre has been sort of a joke in recent times. Lately, scary movies have been blatant cash grabs that are dumped in January or February and forgotten about in a couple of weeks. Sometimes, the film is so bad that people leave the theater laughing rather than shivering from fear. But even if a film is not good as a whole, sometimes there is a specific scene that stands out as particularly haunting. Whether it be a torture sequence or a quick one-second glimpse, some filmmakers know how to cause the audience some discomfort. Most of the films on this list were critically panned at the time of their release for different reasons, but everyone agrees that there was at least one scene that was highly unsettling. These are just some of the scary moments that have made people lie awake at night.
12. Funny Games- The Rewind Scene
The purpose of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is to have the viewers question exactly what they seek in violent entertainment. Fans who want explosions and torture scenes are usually the ones who despise this film. Funny Games revolves around a family that is taken hostage by two men while on vacation. The men force them to play sadistic games with each other and promise that they will kill them by 9 A.M the next morning. The plot is a slow-burn with especially long scenes (a simple phone call took over five minutes), but it’s worth it, every step of the way. While every aspect of the film is disturbing, the scene that sticks out is the “rewind” scene. Haneke regularly has the killers break the fourth wall, and make meta references. When Anna kills one of the intruders with a shotgun, it seems movie is about to unfold like any other horror flick. That is, until the other killer grabs the television remote and rewinds the scene, so it never happened in the first place. A person would never be able to take on a bunch of psychopaths by herself, so instead it went back to the more realistic approach. It felt like a slap in the face, but it proved that viewers’ expectations were too predictable and cliche.
11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Dinner Scene
Leatherface is one of the quintessential slashers of the horror genre. We mainly know him for his infamous chainsaw, but the rest of him is a mystery. We never get to know that much about him in the original adaptation other than that he is part of a cannibalistic family. When Sally is captured and brought to the family home for “dinner,” the audience gets a horrifying glimpse at his family. His two brothers are equally unstable, and his grandpa resembles a mummified corpse. The camera zooms in on their teeth and eyes while also focusing on the fear in Sally’s eyes. Even though the scene brings chills to the bone, Director Tobe Hooper still tries to instill comedic elements. After being given an opportunity to kill Sally, Grandpa can’t even hold a hammer without assistance from Leatherface. This leaves the audience unsure whether to laugh or cheer at his difficulties and illustrates how indescribable this film was.
10. The Blair Witch Project – Mike Standing in The Corner
The Blair Witch Project is so influential for not only revamping the found footage genre, but also for fooling the audience into thinking it was all real. The marketing campaign featured the victims’ biographies, the evidence of their destroyed car, and interviews with the family and police. The film is the story of three filmmakers who disappeared into the woods while shooting a documentary; a year later, their footage was found and pieced together. The film features people’s stories about the Blair Witch, and the documentarians trying to find it for themselves.
While there aren’t any traditional jump scares, The Blair Witch Project constantly has the audience on the edge of their seat. The final frame of the film has Heather finding her partner, Mike, motionless and facing the wall. Suddenly, Heather is hit on the head and the screen goes black, leaving viewers questioning whether there really is a witch or not. The lack of a monster was a perfect way to end the film because it leaves the horrors to the imagination. Only the audience can decide what really happened out there.
9. The Omen – Damien’s Nanny Commits Suicide
The Omen is one of every new parent’s worst nightmares. Having a rowdy child is one thing, but having one who is actually the antichrist is a completely different ballgame. Damien comes from a loving environment with parents and guardians who will do anything for him – literally. At his birthday party, the scene is set with a light and cheery tone and a plethora of happy children playing on carnival rides. Suddenly, a voice is heard shouting, “Look at me, Damien! This is all for you, Damien!” His nanny is seen standing at the edge of a window with a noose around her neck, cheerfully declaring those words over and over again. Then, she jumps and hangs herself for everybody to see.
Normally, suicide is a common trope in horror films but the tone is usually much grimmer. This suicide takes place at a birthday party and doesn’t even register as one at first. The lack of fear in her voice makes it sound like she’s proud of sacrificing herself for Damien and has no regrets whatsoever. Unlike the other events in this film, this was unforeseen and left the viewers distraught.
8. The Ring – Katie in The Closet
Adapted from the 1997 Japanese film, Ringu, The Ring follows the same concept: after watching a disturbing videotape, a reporter, has seven days to figure out how to stop a ghastly little girl from murdering her through. The very beginning sets up the premise by having Rachel’s niece, Katie, be the first victim. While her mother is describing how she found her daughter, it suddenly cuts to her face without any warning at all. Her skin is discolored, with her face frozen in fear like her soul was sucked out of her. The terrifying sight doesn’t give viewers a chance to mentally prepare themselves and launches at them quickly before returning to the present. While it’s only seconds long, it’s one of the scariest parts of the film because of how unprepared we are to face it.
7. The Loved Ones – Lola Drills a Hole in Her Date’s Head
The Loved Ones looks like it should resemble Carrie; a high school girl torturing a guy that rejects her prom invitation seems pretty standard, especially if he humiliated her in some way. The Loved Ones is slightly different. On the outside, Lola seems like an introverted teenager with an innocent crush. When she gathers up the courage to ask him to prom, he politely rejects her, stating that he already has a date.
However, that reason isn’t good enough for Lola. When she gets her father to drug and kidnap him, she puts on a prom of her own complete with crowns and lobotomization. She nails him down and attempts to drill a hole in his skull only to mess up the operation by making the hole too small. Her erratic behavior resembles a child learning how to use power tools for the first time; Her father casually teaches her how to drill the hole big enough, as he has done this many times before. This scene not only showcases their horrific way of torturing boys, but also their own screwed-up (and slightly incestuous) relationship.
6. The Shining- Room 237
All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy but, whenever he tries to take a break, it seems to go downhill every time. The Overlook Hotel may be haunted as a whole, but room 237 has an especially sinister presence. When Jack investigates the room, he gets seduced by a seemingly attractive woman. However, in the mirror Jack notices her back is saggy and full sores and her face resembles that of an old woman. The scene then switches from Jack’s horrified face to her dead floating naked body in the bathtub. Her cackling is heard in the background while she tauntingly reaches out and tries to grab Jack. Stanley Kubrick is able to create a stir in emotions with nothing except the actors and a haunting score. That right there is the definition of true horror.
5. Sinister-The Video Tapes
Nowadays, people don’t seem to take horror films too seriously (especially if they’re distributed by Blumhouse), but Sinister is one of the rare exceptions. The concept is a familiar one: a family moves into a house with a horrific past and discover that it’s being haunted by BuGhuul – an evil demon who murdered the previous residents. While the film has its cliches, the most disturbing moment is when Ellison Oswalt finds video tapes of the families being brutally murdered. One family is tied to beach chairs and pushed into a swimming pool; one family is locked into their car and set on fire; and another family gets run over by a lawn mower. Each tape looks like a sacrificial ritual, and is accompanied by music that sounds almost demonic.
While no other scene lives up to the video tapes, it leaves us unnerved for the rest of the film. It brings the tension to an all time high, and has us imagining how Ellison and his family will be murdered.
4. Audition- The Needles
Takashi Miike has been known for his controversial films over the years. His movie, Audition, has been called an influence on torture porn and compared to works such as 120 Days of Sodom. The story follows Aoyama Shigeharu who holds a fake casting call to find a woman to date. He comes across Asami Yamazaki, who seems like the traditional “girl next door” type. But he soon finds out that she’s anything but; she’s lied about her life, her job has no record of her, and the few people she has been involved with have been murdered. It’s a slow-burn film with many trippy sequences, but it’s all worth the wait once the torturous climax hits. Once Asami finds out what he’s done, she traps him in his home and dismembers him with piano wire and sticks needles into his eyes. It’s a very uncomfortable scene with her chanting “Kiri Kiri Kiri” as she sticks the needles deeper and deeper inside. If you’re covering your face with a pillow, don’t think you’re missing out on anything. Miike makes sure to include the sounds of bones being cut through with the wire mixed with Aoyama’s painful screams.
3. The Exorcist – Cross Masturbation
While Damien is an adorable kid in The Omen, Regan isn’t so lucky in The Exorcist. As soon as she gets possessed, her appearance takes a turn for the worst. Her skin and eyes change color, and her head can suddenly turn all the way around. And while those moments are certainly unsettling, it was the cross masturbation scene that took it to a whole new level. When her mother steps into Regan’s room, she finds her furiously stabbing a cross into her genitalia while shouting, “Let Jesus f**k you!” It signifies Satan sexually corrupting her by taking away her innocence through religious paraphernalia. Masturbation is already considered a sin in the Bible, but to do so as violently as Regan does is an unequivocal rejection of her upbringing, securing her place in Satan’s grasp.
2. The Fly – Seth’s Transformation
From Videodrome to Scanners, David Cronenberg has created discomforting content through the morphing of the human body. His remake of The Fly takes those effects to a whole new level. Jeff Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, an eccentric scientist who begins to transform into a fly/human hybrid after an experiment goes horribly wrong. He starts to go from a stronger, confident individual to a repulsive, humanoid beast.
Like John Carpenter, Cronenberg uses practical effects to their full advantage. In the ending scene, he shows Seth going through multiple transformations into his fly body. His body is gooey and falling apart, and by the end of his transmogrification, he can’t even speak anymore. His eyes resemble the insect’s and, despite not being human anymore, you can see the despair in them. The Fly haunts people’s dreams not only because of the body’s betrayal, but also because of the human element to it. Seth’s life has a tragic ending and you gradually see him dying more and more as the film goes on. For a director who’s so famous for the grotesque, he has a knack for human emotion as well.
1. The Thing – Chest Defibrillation
When it was initially released, John Carpenter’s The Thing was a box office bomb. Critics thought it was repulsive, and even the author of the original novella vowed to never let anyone adapt his work again. And while they might be wrong about other aspects of the film, the critics were right in it having nausea-inducing effects. The story follows a group scientists in Antarctica who are plagued by a mysterious life form who takes the shape of the people it absorbs.
One of the most famous (and disgusting) scenes is when Dr. Cooper tries to revive Norris after he apparently has a heart attack. We know by then he didn’t really have a heart attack, but we don’t know how he will show his true form. We certainly don’t expect Norris’ stomach to open up like a mouth and bite through Dr. Cooper’s arms like cake. Usually, special effects horror focuses on the shock factors rather than the actual scares, but Carpenter sets the bar high. The mixture of the pus and body warping was certainly gross, but it doesn’t feel forced or cheap; it’s something straight out of a nightmare. And special thanks to practical effects artist Bill Rottin for mentally scarring us with his alien spider creations.