Halloween is that one time of the year in which most everyone loves to be scared. While the devil’s favorite holiday usually comes with the release of many terrifying (and some not so terrifying) movies (see: Paranormal Activity), the truth of the matter is that movies, in general, have the power to get our hearts pumping, our blood curdling, our skin laced with goosebumps and our breath suddenly missing from our lungs. Movies can scare or thrill us any time of year, but Halloween season is when we really seek out that thrill.
In fact, the fear inspired by a movie can reinforce some lifelong phobia we already had, or even give us new things to dread. And the effect is not always temporary: many moviegoers will confess that something scary they saw in a film years ago still terrifies them to this very day. For example, after watching Scarface I now always make sure to check every closet, nook and cranny for chainsaw-wielding gangsters before using a motel bathroom in Miami. Better to be safe…
In the spirit of the night of frights, we’ve had the Screen Rant crew recount movie moments that in ways large or small have scarred their souls for life. Some of those moments are ones you and your friends can probably relate to, while others may have you thinking that some of us on staff here are nothing more than yellow-bellied cowards. Either way, by the time you’re done reading, you’ll (at the very least) have yourself a handy to guide on how to get under our armor of bravery, should you ever want to use the following passages for Saw or Hostel-like purposes. You’re welcome.
Our Scariest Movie Moments
Vic Holtreman – Arachnophobia
One of my favorite scary moments in film time-warps me back to 1990 with the film Arachnophobia. Spiders creep me the hell out, especially when they reach a size where I think that technically they should no longer be classified as insects, but as mammals. The scene where the spiders start really coming into the house – specifically where they are crawling up out of the drain in the bathroom sink sent ME climbing up my theater seat. There’s nothing quite like taking a personal fear and facing it in the safety of a movie theater via what’s happening on screen. :)
Kofi Outlaw – Terminator 2: Judgement Day
While my parents were typically strict about what they allowed my young impressionable mind to absorb, whenever there was some big “event” in cinema, they liked the entire family to share in it. I was only nine when James Cameron brought Terminator 2 to the world, but the director’s groundbreaking use of CGI effects to create the shapeshifting T-1000 convinced my parents that this was a moment in cinema I needed to witness.
There’s nothing quite like a good villain, but for me, the T-1000 was nightmare incarnate. The idea that my own mother could suddenly turn around and skewer me, left me with trust issues I carry to this day. While the entire film had me crouched in my seat with my face in my hands, it’s the moment when the T-1000 rises up out of the floor and stabs a hospital guard through the eye that messed me up the most. Seeing a grown man wriggle and spasm like a hooked fish just does that to you, I guess.
Rob Keyes – Gremlins
As a little kid in the late ’80s, Gremlins was the movie that messed me up. I remember loving the film, begging to watch the sequel with my parents and even re-watching it, knowing full well it was the only film in my life to give me terrifying nightmares to the point where I’d wake up in the middle of the night in terror and run to my parents’ room. This happened 3 times before I avoided the franchise forever.
Ben Moore – Creepshow
George Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 anthology horror film Creepshow is a mostly good film with more than a passing resemblance to the old Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear comic books of yore. There are five stories altogether, not counting the book-ends, but the only segment that legitimately “creeped” me out was number four: The Crate.
I was in junior high the first time I watched it, so perhaps that has something to do with why I was so adversely affected. Basically, the gist of the story is – a college professor (Fritz Weaver) finds a wooden crate from a 1834 arctic expedition beneath the basement stairs. With the help of the janitor, he opens the crate, only to find an arctic werewolf monkey inside that subsequently (and ferociously!) murders and consumes the janitor. The dead bodies begin to pile up, especially when the professor tells a colleague (Hal Holbrook) about the monster and he uses it as an opportunity to murder his controlling, alcoholic wife (Adrienne Barbeau).
There’s just something about Tom Savini’s creepy, yeti-inspired creature – dubbed “Fluffy” by George Romero – that never fails to disturb the hell out of me. Partly because of Savini’s truly bizarre creature effects, partly because of the incredibly visceral and unnerving nature of the murder scenes – but mostly because monkeys that kill people are my second greatest fear.
Roth Cornet – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
As a little girl, I had a deep affection for both mischief and horror films. And so it was that I found myself watching a forbidden (and deeply horrific) movie one, oh yes, dark and stormy night with my best friend, out in a cabin tucked into the woods of South Carolina. As a New York City girl, “the forest,” by all accounts, was filled with nothing but Jason Voorhees and the creature from the black lagoon. Why we chose to watch a film about the quintessential dangers of back-woods inbreeding in this environment, I’ll never know. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre features kills that are stark, viscous, relentlessly depraved and dehumanizing. No film has more vividly captured the sense that the victim is little more than a thing to the killer.
The moment in the film that remains branded in my memory is the final confrontation between Sally and Leatherface, when she, in an act of desperation, jumps out of the 2nd-story window. The pure unadulterated fear and hysteria that she expresses, remains one of the most realistic responses I have ever seen in a horror film. One gets the sense that Sally will never again recover the girl she was – that some part of her will be forever chained to that dinner table.
When my brother turned on the blender in the kitchen just as the credits were starting to roll, I did Leatherface a solid and jumped out of my own skin, saving him the trouble.
Sandy Schaefer – The Orphanage
I remember when I first saw Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage – and while it was a pretty effective ghost story on its own, what really made it all the less comforting to watch was that I saw it in a relatively dilapidated theater, which closed just a week after that. And there were maybe two other people in the theater with me. And both looked like retired lawyers.
But I digress.
There’s a scene partway through the film where an already creepy character appears to have died a gruesome death (it involves face smashing) and briefly, but unexpectedly, spasms back to life for a moment. Was it a cheap scare trick? Definitely. Did I totally fall for it? Yeah…
Mike Eisenberg – Phone Booth
I don’t tend to get too scared at the movie theater, but I’ll never forget watching Phone Booth at home in 2003. I was a high school student and home alone in a living room full of windows. During the film I became increasingly paranoid that a red dot was on my head from a sniper in the distance outside. I’ve been like this ever since. I get paranoid and suspicious when it is too dark outside and I am sitting by a window. Additionally, I used to run past doors to get to the stairwell. Luckily, I grew out of that phase. While Phone Booth was a relatively weak movie, it got me good and I’ve been looking over my shoulder and sinking into couches ever since.
Rob Frappier – The Exorcist
When I was a kid my parents let me watch pretty much anything regardless of its rating. For the most part, this was awesome. For instance, it helped kickstart my lifelong love affair with the movie Die Hard. Sometimes, though, it backfired. Once when I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10, I remember watching The Exorcist on TV with my parents. I’m in my 20s and The Exorcist still scares me, so it goes without saying that I was pretty freaked out.
We were watching the part of the movie where Regan is in full-on demonic possession mode: vomiting split pea soup, speaking in tongues, and twisting her head completely around. That last part is what got me. As I tucked my head from the horror on the screen, my mom decided it would be funny to mess with me, so she creepily turned her head 180-degrees and hit me with a spooky demonic smile. I practically jumped off the couch in fear before my mom caught me and settled me down. I think she felt bad about it, but, looking back, I appreciate the scare. She really got me good.
Paul Young – Children of the Corn
I admit it – I am a huge wuss when it comes to horror films. Any movie with demons, ghosts, maniacal killers, haunted houses or alien abductions will always give me nightmares and make me change my sheets for weeks after I watch it. I added children to that list soon after watching Stephen King’s classic movie Children of the Corn.
The one scene that, to this day, I close my eyes and mute the sound during, is near the beginning when the diner owner has his hand shoved in a meat slicer by the demon-worshipping kids. It makes me shudder to even write about it! Just like Jaws is the reason I won’t swim in the ocean or Friday the 13th is the reason I won’t go to summer camp, Children of the Corn is the reason I won’t visit the midwest and walk aimlessly through a cornfield.
Niall Browne – Dracula Prince of Darkness
As a child I had the fantastic opportunity to see films or artistic or cultural merit that many “stricter parents” may have had issue with. This brings me to Dracula: Prince of Darkness; a film which terrified me as a kid and left an indelible mark on my memory.
The film sees a group of travellers staying in the deceased Count Dracula’s castle (he was killed by Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in the previous film). The castle is now maintained by the Count’s loyal servant Klove, who offers to put the group up for the night, supplying his master with some fresh blood which will bring him back to life. What affected me most was when one of the characters was killed behind a giant wall hanging which covered a hidden chamber containing Dracula’s tomb.
At the time (I must have been around ten years old) my family lived in quite an old, three-floored house. My brother and I slept in the top attic rooms, and on the landing below we had a large wall hanging. The wee hours of the morning arrived and I had to visit the bathroom – on the floor below. My mind went to the wall hanging (was Dracula lurking behind it?); I wasn’t brave enough to make the trip alone in the dark. I spent the rest of the night terrified and desperately in need for the toilet – waiting for first light. I made the trip in the nick of time, but it’s a cinematic association that I’ll never forget.
Kevin Yeoman – Jaws
You will believe a fish can fly!
The entirety of Jaws plays on the fear all people have (or should have) of being ushered into the food chain. But it’s when the titular shark breaks the most sacred of all human vs. fish rules of engagement – by hurling itself aboard the Orca, seemingly to spite Quint and prove the salty fisherman’s fate was sealed with the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis – that fills me with dread. In the aftermath, the viewer (by way of Brody) is granted time to contemplate how, at any second, a terrifying (and very real) creature can make a dip in the ocean end with a tour of a fish’s digestive track.
Although Brody emerged victorious, those “dead eyes” and voracious, gaping maw forged in me an everlasting fear of sharks, and, by extension, bodies of water – from a reasonable fear of the ocean, to an irrational one of lakes, swimming pools and even bath tubs.
Now that you know some of the movie moments that terrified us, how about sharing some of the moments that terrified you in the comment section below. All things being equal…
Happy Halloween from us here at Screen Rant!