When we think of certain movies, we often remember one single, particularly impactful scene that sums up the entirety of our personal viewing experience. It will make us remember how the film made us feel in that specific moment, or how it affected us for the rest of the week, month, or even year.
Whether it is down to an unforgettable performance by one of our favourite actors, dark backdrops, a spooky soundtrack, or an explosive moment boasting a myriad of special effects, some scenes will stick with you for a lifetime.
This is particularly true for thrillers and horror movies-- genres that are as famous for their haunting visuals as they are for their ability to reach us on a psychologically disturbing level, often by distorting our perception of seemingly innocent beings. One viewing of It, and our former memories of joyful, happy clowns are erased forever.
Watch The Sixth Sense past your bedtime, and you’ll feel like your six-year-old self again, compelled to check under the bed for puking dead girls. But that’s all part of the fun, right? Plus, when a scene stays with you for that long, in most cases, it’s bound to have been part of a good movie.
Here are the 20 Bone-Chilling Movie Scenes That Will Haunt You For Life.
20 The Exorcist
There are plenty of spine-tingling moments in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but there is only one that really stands out in its chilling subtleness – and it happens prior to the evil spirit of Pazuzu fully possessing Regan’s (Linda Blair) body.
After playing with a Quija board, Regan’s behaviour changes drastically. The 12 year old, who was previously shy and well-mannered, suddenly begins to swear like a sailor and develops abnormal strength, scaring the bejesus out of her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn).
At first, Chris tries to put it down to typical puberty symptoms – after all, teenagers all end up acting up at some point or another. However, soon, Regan’s behaviour becomes beyond worrying.
One night, Chris is hosting a party in their living room when Regan comes down from her room in her night gown. Pointing at Chris’ friend, Regan announces, “You’re gonna die up there,” before proceeding to urinate on the floor. Needless to say, this disturbing moment brings the sing-along to a crashing halt.
19 The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which first premiered in 1980, has long since reached cult status and will go down in history as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Everything about the movie-- from its atmospheric Oregon setting to its incredible cast including Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall-- shows the true markings of a cinematic masterpiece. To this day, The Shining continues to have a huge influence on modern filmmakers who attempt to hone Kubrick’s renowned style as their own.
The Shining was packed with a many a nightmare-inducing scene, but the one that has been referenced in various TV series, movies and literature the most, is the one which sees Danny (Danny Lloyd) encountering “The Grady Twins” in the hallways of the Overlook Hotel.
As if being confronted with two spooky twins inviting him to “come and play with us” isn’t terrifying enough, Danny sees flashes of them murdered on the hallway floor, the walls caked in blood. Yeah, we’d also hurry away on our little tricycle in that situation...
18 The Gift
We’ve all had moments in which we wish we had the gift of extrasensory perception, but of course we only like to think about all the positive knowledge we could gain from it. Visions of tomorrow’s math test answers or the winning lottery numbers, for example. However, that’s not usually the case for people with psychic abilities, and the same is true for Annie (Cate Blanchett) in Sam Raimi’s The Gift.
Annie regularly helps people with her premonitions, but when Jessica (Katie Holmes), the fiancée of the town’s most popular teacher, goes missing, her visions suddenly become frighteningly dark and eventually lead her to assist Sheriff Pearl Johnson’s (J.K. Simmons) in his investigation into her disappearance.
One night, Annie awakens from a vivid dream and steps outside to get some fresh air. As she kneels to pet her dog, she notices water dripping onto her from above. Looking up, she sees Jessica’s lifeless body floating in murky waters.
Now, do you still wish you had The Gift?
This scene might still be fresh on your mind if you have already gone to see the remake of Lawrence D. Cohen’s iconic mini-series It, now starring Bill Skarsgǻrd as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Chances are, he’ll be visiting you in your dreams for many months to come. It really wouldn’t surprise us if psychologists will come to note an increase in coulrophobia over the coming months.
We all know nothing good can come of a clown who hides out in the sewers waiting for unsuspecting kids to come by only to scare the living daylight out of them. Yet, as we see Georgie approaching the sewage drain attempting to stop his boat from disappearing into it, we can’t help but hope he will somehow manage to escape Pennywise’s madness.
Suffice it to say, watching Georgie being dragged down into the depths of the underground sewage system will have you squirming in your seat.
16 16.The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense messed with our minds on various levels, especially in its final scene. The film follows 9-year-old Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a shy, sweet kid who is regularly visited by ghosts – and not all of them are of the friendly kind.
These ghosts are unaware that they are dead and are desperately trying to resolve business they left unfinished in the world of the living. They want Cole’s help but don’t know how to communicate it, and usually terrify him instead.
With the help of child psychologist Malcom (Bruce Willis), Cole begins to talk to them to better understand their needs. One of the most memorable ghosts he encounters, is that of Kyra (Mischa Barton), a victim of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.
Kyra first shows up when he’s hiding out in his little makeshift tent in the middle of the night. The tent suddenly falls from its frame and she appears right next to him, vomiting, crying, and desperate. Not recommended for night-time viewing.
15 The Ring
The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski, was the first remake of a Japanese horror movie and quickly sparked a trend of “J-horror” remakes. As is often the case in the Japanese horror genre, The Ring is less about gore and bloody imagery, than it is about atmosphere, psychology, and artistic visuals that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The film follows Rachel (Naomi Watts), a journalist investigating the death of her sister Katie (Amber Tamblyn), who died after watching a videotape attached to an urban myth: whoever watches it dies within seven days.
Her investigation leads her to Moesko Island, where she finds out about the origins of the tape: it was recorded by a psychologist treating a young girl named Samara (Daveigh Chase), who tormented her parents by psychically etching disturbing images in their minds.
Desperate to escape her evil, Samara’s adoptive mother Anna (Shannon Cochran), drowns her in a well. Whenever someone watches the tape, they summon Samara from the well – her awkward body crawling from the well and through the screen will freak you out.
14 City of God
Moving away from the horror-genre and into the world of crime, our next film is as horrifically gripping as it is mainly due to the viewer’s realization that, the scenes depicted in City of God, aren’t that far from the truth as far as the underbelly of Brazil’s most notorious slums are concerned.
Based on the novel by Paulo Lins, Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s film adaptation follows the lives of organized crime gangs in the favela’s of Cidade de Deus through the '60s to the '80s, and is narrated by Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues).
The storylines in the film are not made-up scenarios, though. In fact, they are all loosely based on real-life happenings, which makes City of God a challenging viewing experience. One of the most difficult scenes to watch shows a young boy, no older than ten, initiated into gang life by being forced to shoot another, younger child in the foot. It is one of the most heart-breaking scenes in movie history.
13 Requiem for a Dream
Dan Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream has a way of seeping its way into your psyche, and its images will haunt you for years to come. Based on Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel, the film explores the power of loneliness and addiction through four main characters: Sarah Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), her son Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans).
While Harry, Marion and Tyrone depend on the “street” drug heroin, Sarah becomes dependent on diet prescription drugs.
Requiem for a Dream is a deep, psychological study of addicted mental states and the harrowing moments of raw sobriety, focused on a small group of people who are all desperate for the same thing – love and connection.
Destroying their chances of ever finding either through their abuse of drugs, the protagonists cling on to their dreams of love and recognition whilst slowly spiralling out of control, losing everything and everyone they once cared for along the way.
Their closing stories are beautifully depicted through the chaos of sound and intimate visuals in the last ten minutes of the movie, really driving home the characters' feelings of complete and utter hopelessness.
In many ways Danny Boyle’s cult-classic Trainspotting is a comedy. In many others, it is a harsh look at Edinburgh’s early '90s heroin-culture. Although it has found the perfect balance between humour and authenticity, it does not make light of the seriousness of addiction, but rather depicts it in a sober, "it is what it is" manner.
The best example thereof is the film’s most shocking scene. After a multiple-day heroin binge, Rent Boy (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) awaken to the hysteric screams of Allison (Susan Vidler).
Not yet aware of the situation, Spud promises “everything will be just fine,” but when he finds the reason for Allison’s tears to be the neglected corpse of her daughter Dawn, he realizes nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing will ever be “just fine” again.
As if the haunting image of the dead baby wasn’t enough, we get to see her again during one of Rent Boy’s feverish withdrawal dreams, crawling above him along the ceiling, turning her head 360 degrees like Regan in The Exorcist.
11 Ichi the Killer
Japanese literature and cinema has a strange way of merging sex and violence into disturbing art forms, and Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer is no exception. It follows Ichi (Nao Omori), a psychologically disturbed man who can’t distinguish rage from sexual arousal, and is forced into torturing the members of a rival yakuza gang.
In one particularly gruesome scene, Suzuki (Susumu Terajima), is suspended from the ceiling by ways of body piercings, and continuously tortured by Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano).
Kakihari suspects Suzuki to have murdered his boss Anjo, but upon realizing that Suzuki is innocent, he offers his penance by cutting off his own tongue. The visuals are so explicit, you can’t help but to imagine the sensation, so if you’re prone to squeamishness, do yourself a favour and look away.
Some critics have referred to Richard Bates’ Excision as a “splatter movie,” and while blood does play a central role in the film, putting it in the splatter-box doesn’t quite do it justice. Because beneath the pooling, red blood is a deeper story that deals with the psychology of its main character, Pauline (AnnyLynne McCord).
Pauline is a strange, highly disturbed teenager who goes through great lengths to gain her mother’s approval. She is determined to become a surgent, a dream that has morphed into a sexual fantasy.
She is obsessed with blood and enjoys images of herself or others being mutilated – and these visuals are openly shared with the viewer. Although these scenes may seem as though they were made for the sheer purpose of shocking, they truly tell a tell a tale about Pauline’s character and the origins of her fascination.
This film would be pretty funny if it wasn’t so wrong. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth focuses on a family of three adult children and their parents, living in a fenced compound in which they have – literally – created their own world.
In an effort to shield their children from “bad influences,” the parents keep their teenagers completely isolated from the modern world, and lead them to believe that they cannot venture out on their own until they lose a “dogtooth.”
None of the children truly question their upbringing until their father brings his colleague Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) home, and pays her to sleep with his son. The eldest daughter (Angeliki Papoulia) spots several Hollywood DVDs in Christina’s bag and trades them in return for other pleasures.
Watching them secretly, she realizes that she has been living a lie and decides to extract her dogtooth to free herself from her family. A friendly word of advice: don’t watch this scene if you are headed to the dentist any time soon.
8 Blue Velvet
You will find many a disturbing scene in Lynchian classics such a Lost Highway, Wild at Heart and Mullholland Drive. David Lynch is famously known for having created the mysterious world that is Twin Peaks, where notorious characters such as BOB (Frank Silva) torment its residents from within the Black Lodge.
However, even the scariest BOB moments can’t quite compare to the bizarre encounter between Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and Frank (Dennis Hopper) in his classic neo-noir film, Blue Velvet.
Frank Booth is a deranged man who has very particular preferences. Manipulating Dorothy into acting as his living toy by kidnapping her husband and son, he gets to live out his fantasies on her.
He refers to himself as both the “baby” and the “daddy,” while repeatedly inhaling a strange gas and doing things with a seemingly consenting Dorothy. This scene is chilling as much as it is excruciatingly uncomfortable.
7 Un Chien Andalou
When the two twisted masterminds of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí merged to create Buñuel’s first film, Un Chien Andalou, it resulted in a nightmarish, silent dream full of extreme and beautiful visuals that don’t necessarily make sense – which, according to Buñuel, was the point of the whole experiment.
The influence of his dreams can be found in most of Buñuel’s work, but watching this iconic short feels like watching a live recording of Buñuel and Dalí’s minds on an acid trip.
Un Chien Andalou was screened at a Dalí exhibition in Berlin, and when the infamous scene of a razor blade cutting into an eye of an animal – edited in a manner that suggests it is actually the eye of a woman – graced the screen, you could visibly see the entire audience flinch. It is a scene you won’t want to remember but always will.
6 Benny’s Video
If you’re at all familiar with Michael Haneke’s work, you will know that he is not one for light-hearted cinema. His films take a critical look at modern society and how it affects the human psyche, and are often presented using cinematic styles complementary to the main stories explored.
Benny’s Video follows Benny (Arno Frisch), a sociopathic teenager, who is fascinated with film-making. His first ever film, and proudest accomplishment, is a short depicting the killing of a pig.
Eager to start his next project, he takes a game of Pilot and Passenger a step further, by inviting a girl to his home and daring her to shoot him. When she doesn’t, he accuses her of being a coward.
She turns the tables and dares him to shoot her; proving he is not a coward, he pulls the trigger and shoots her in the stomach. The viewer sees the scene play out on the screen of a small television at the police station, bringing the same emotionlessness to the depiction of the crime as the perpetrator himself felt.
5 Christiane F.
When Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo was first published in 1978, it was quickly adopted into the curriculum of German school’s as a cautionary tale about drug use. While the book itself offered a raw depiction of the life of thirteen-year-old street worker and heroin addict, Christiane, the movie adaption by Uli Edel, hit just as hard.
Although we have all seen at least a few withdrawal scenes in popular movies such as Trainspotting and the like, the one shown in Christiane F. will be the toughest one you have ever seen.
This is not only because it is so true to reality, and the performances by Natja Brunckhorst (Christiane) and Thomas Haustein (Detlef) are so genuine, but also because your mind will be going over the same mantra over and over again: she is only thirteen years old.
4 The Loved Ones
The lonely, unpopular high-school girl turning into a raging psychopath may have become a bit of a cliché by now – Carrie, Excision, etc. – but Australian director, Sean Byrne, managed to breathe new life into a familiar story with his debut film, The Loved Ones.
Lola (Robin McLeavy) is upset when Brent (Xavier Samuel) turns her down as a date for the prom. However, apparently, Brent has no choice in the matter because, with the help of her Daddy (John Brumpton), Lola always gets her way.
Brent is struck over the head on a nightly-walk and awakes to find himself bound to a chair in Lola’s living room – the entirety of which has been decorated to look like her very own prom, complete with slingers and glitterballs. What ensues is a torturous evening in which Lola gets to perform her favourite party stunt: drilling a hole into her victim.
Don’t worry, she’s had practise – their whole basement is filled with lobotomized captives feeding on roadkill. However, it doesn’t make this scene any easier to watch.
As is often the case with French arthouse horror dramas, Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is a tale of revenge and ultra-violence. When Marcus’ (Vincent Cassel) girlfriend Alex (Monica Bellucci) is brutally assaulted and ends up in a coma due to a street-thug known as Le Tenia, Marcus and his friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) take it upon themselves to find him. Their search leads them to a seedy BDSM club called The Rectum.
When Marcus believes to have spotted Le Tenia, he goes for him with a fire extinguisher, bashing in his skull, while sinister sounds envelope the space. The combination of sickening violence, the dark and dodgy environment, and the haunting sound of the man exhaling even though it looks as though not one part of his skull was left intact will make you nauseous.
Oh, and by the way: Marcus got the wrong guy. Le Tenia was standing behind Marcus watching him beat the innocent man the entire time.
2 Hard Candy
Hard Candy was advertised to be extremely hardcore in its depiction of its famous castration scene, but really, it’s mainly about psychological torture – at first, anyway. Hayley (Ellen Page) has taken it upon herself to rid the internet of child predators hanging out in chatrooms trying to find their next victim by posing as a teenager.
Her latest “victim” is Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a fashion photographer with whom she chats salaciously online before inviting him to meet for coffee. When they end up in his apartment, she drugs him, ties him down and begins to sharpen her scalpel, ready to cut him.
She fakes the entire procedure so brilliantly, it is absolutely nerve-wrecking to watch. On top of that, this movie really plays with your emotions in much the same way as Black Mirror’s outstanding episode, “Shut Up and Dance” – by the end of it all, you will not be able to pick either side.
1 The Blair Witch Project
Sometimes the best movies are the ones that make us jump by sparking our own imagination and primal instincts, and The Blair Witch Project is one of them. Filmed in a documentary style, The Blair Witch Project plays with the viewer’s mind by merely suggesting a backstory that isn’t actually captured on camera.
What motivates our fear is the unseen, and how we fabricate our own stories based on legends, nightly sounds and mysterious visuals. Everything about the film is suggestive – even its end.
After one of the film students documenting the legend of the Blair Witch disappears, his friends Heather (Donahue) and Mike (C. Williams) set out to find him. Following his nightly screams of terror, they are finally lead to an abandoned house.
Heather and Mike lose sight of each other in their search for Josh. When Heather finally finds Mike again, he is stood in the dark corner of a room, staring at the wall, motionless. Heather is attacked from behind, the camera falls and the film ends, leaving us to ponder this chilling moment for years to come.
Are there any other chilling movie scenes that still haunt you to this day? Share your experiences in the comment section!