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The most haunting film scenes

RinguWell.jpgRecently there was a survey carried out to find the most haunting scenes in cinema. The idea was to discover which scenes were ingrained in the mind of the audience after a scary film, images which would come back into their minds again and again and freak them out.

For me there are a few that immediately leap out, and surprisingly there are a few from one of the first horror films I ever saw, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Although Ringu isn't really a surprise, Blair Witch is in there as is Exorcist III, yes, the third one.

The original list was compiled by Blockbuster for their customers, and I found it through Starpulse. Here are the entries they had in the top ten:

  1. The Ring: Samara crawls out of the television
  2. Hannibal: Hannibal Lecter dines on Ray Liotta's brain
  3. The Exorcist: Regan's upside-down spider walk down the stairs
  4. Blair Witch Project: The final chase through the abandoned house
  5. Alien: The birth of the alien baby out of John Hurt's chest
  6. The Exorcist: Regan's head spinning around backwards
  7. A Nightmare on Elm Street: An invisible Freddy Krueger drags his victim across the ceiling
  8. Poltergeist: Carol Anne announces "They're here!" in front of a static TV
  9. The Shining: Danny encounters the murdered twins
  10. Seven: The "Sloth" corpse rises up

Now this list surprised me, haunting moments? Many of these are scary, but haunting?

I'm not going to do what I normally do and list loads, because there's something special about the idea of this feature for me. These scenes really have to stay with you and haunt you, so that days and even weeks after the film you can still see the image in your mind and it still makes you shiver. For me, there are fewer scenes that have achieved this rather than simply scare me for a few moments during the film.

So for me that list isn't really haunting, it's scary yes, but not haunting. Here's what I mean. The following images have stayed with me since I first saw these films, and I'm being honest when I say that they only occurred to me an hour ago when I started writing this feature.

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre:
There are three scenes I specifically remember from first seeing the film when I was thirteen or thereabouts. May I just thank my brother for scaring me to death by letting me see the film at that young age! The first killing was perhaps the most haunting for me, straight out of nowhere comes that sledgehammer and BANG! The guy goes down. It wasn't that moment though, it was my memory of the feet convulsing and kicking against the metal floor plate, and then that doorway slamming shut.

Then there's the girl who is lifted and unceremoniously dropped onto the meat hook. Amazingly I remember it as pushing through her chest and her T shirt, but seeing it recently revealed that nothing like that actually happened. Still I remember the screams and her pain as though it was real and my memory insists that I saw the point come through. I'm having a shiver just thinking about that now.

This may be a spoiler by the way, so you might want to skip this paragraph. If you're still with me you might remember the fact that the meat hook girl was dumped in the fridge freezer. When it is opened later on in the film we realise that she is still alive and after a few seconds delay she leaps out of the freezer screaming. Damn, I was scared to death!

Body Double:
There's an incredible scene where the main character is trying to get upstairs to save a woman who is about to be murdered. He's seen someone about to kill her with an industrial drill - this is a huge two handed drill with a very thick bit which is about four foot long. Look it may sound bizarre but there are valid reasons for it! Unfortunately he's been pinned down by a rather vicious dog, and while it's chomping on his shoulder he sees the drill bit rip through the roof above him and hears the screams of the woman, obviously dying. The drill comes down, back up, and then down again, blood spilling down the bit. It's a lot less gory than it sounds, and way more scary because the camera concentrates on the poor pinned man and the drill bit coming through the ceiling.

Ringu:
Interestingly this was in the list for the full reveal of when Samara (I was about to write Suduko) crawls out of the TV. Yes, I have to say that the full death scene of the man near the end of the film is very scary and incredibly strong, we see her crawl out and towards him in that spooky, broken bodied crawl. However scary that is, the most haunting moment for me is the first reveal in the video that she's coming out of that well. We see the video played throughout the film, and more and more is revealed at each playing, at one point the well is shown in the centre of the screen with nothing happening for ages, then suddenly, just before the images cut off and we go to snow again, hands appear over the edge - BANG! - straight to snow. Now that haunted me.

The Blair Witch Project:
There were a few haunting moments in this film. There were the scenes in the tent at night where one of the characters had disappeared and all we could hear were his screams from afar, and all we could see was darkness. There was arriving at the old house near the end of the film and discovering the child's hand prints all over the wall. However no moment haunted me more than the final images. As the character walked into that cellar and we see one of the guys standing in the corner, it was like a sledgehammer hitting me. At that point you suddenly knew what was happening, that the stories and the myths you'd heard were real, and that was all we needed to see. Despite what you might have thought of the film and the marketing, that moment was superb for me.

The Exorcist III
There's one scene in this entire film that stays with me, and makes me shiver just thinking about it. It defeated every other scene in the whole series, and was filmmaking genius. The camera is positioned at the far end of a hallway, looking down its length at the very end where a nurse walks back and forth at the front desk. We see her walk from right to left towards the room where the possessed man is being held, after a few moments she walks back from left to right. Immediately after her a figure in flowing white walks at a fast pace carrying a pair of shears held at neck height. Totally freaked, and I can see that in my head right now.

So what scenes do it for you? Which are truly haunting and stay with you even to this day, well after you've seen the film? Which have gone much further than simply scaring you and have become ingrained in your mind?





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Yeah Richie, I remembered that scene from the "Ring". I can still recall not being able sleep for a few nights without the lights being on!!!!!!! I know "big pussy".......!

I haven't seen a lot of horror movies, but off the top of my head (possible spoilers):

The Shining: The elevator doors opening to reveal it full of blood and then flooding down the corridor.
Psycho: The murder of the detective at the top of the stairs. So sudden and shocking.
The Birds/Kingdom Of The Spiders: The final scene. These similar man vs nature movies have very dark endings.

Okay, you want to know one of my haunting moments? It's not from a horror film. It's from Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream. It's the final shot of Ellen Burstyn laying on her bed dreaming about the one thing she wanted in life: happiness for and with her son. Shots that haunt you are the ones that connect with you on a level that you don't show on your everyday face. Scary shots are great, but they don't leave trauma in that they don't stay with you your whole life. There are scenes in City of God that are haunting. I know this is an argument of semantics, but those scenes in that list were either shocking, scary, or disturbing but not, in my view, haunting.

I would agree that scenes can be haunting regardless of genre, but Richard narrowed down the discussion to scenes from horror movies.

I think if the scene stays with you after the movie is over, so you revisit it in your imagination or dreams, then I would describe it as haunting.

Feeling shocked, scared or disturbed are usually short-lived sensations.

Very interesting stuff. I always say that there are two things who are completely individual: those which scare you and those which excite you.
What makes one cry makes another laugh sometimes. It´s very difficult to know for advance which will be the behaviour of the audience towards a scene in particular.
Most of the scenes mentioned in the topic are in my personal list, I will add some more:

-Alien: When the monster gets out from the body of John Hurt. Nobody saw that coming.

-The Thing: The blood analysis. Man, I jumped to the ceiling.

-The Shining: Now, this is one who has lots of moments. The most disturbing to me is those creepy twins in the corridor.

-Psycho: The shower scene. No need to say more. It´s still scary after all this time.

-The Fly (old version): When we learn the fate of the white fly in the spider web. It freaked me as a child and it still does.

-The Fellowship of the Ring: The horrible face transformation of Bilbo when he wants the ring from Frodo.

-Lost Highway: John Pullman looks at his own house and discovers there´s lights in the attic.

-The Grudge (Japanese): The woman in the videocamera showing her face.

-Scanners: When the head of that guy explodes.

-Poltergeist: Another with plenty. That fucking clown toy. I hate it, I always will.

-Passion of the Christ: The devil woman carrying a baby with an aged, horrendous face.

-Event Horizon: Those disturbing pictures of what might have happenned "out there".

-Carrie: The hand of the mother coming out from the grave.

-Night of the Living Dead: The little girl becoming a zombie.

There´s so many. I am not sure if I could say these ones are haunting (it´s so difficult to make a haunting movie, or a good horror one). But at least I can say they kept me from sleep at some moments, and I remember them like the first day.

Okay, I missed the brain part in 'Hannibal'. Like I really want to see that.
In the 'Ring', the girl coming out of tv was a rightous moment. Truly, I don't think I have heard so many people scream in unison (myself included).
But, I got one for you Richard that no one has mentioned yet. How about in 'Anaconda' when that snake regurgitated Jon Voight, and Jon not being completely dead winked back at us. Remember that part? Well, it looks like I'm going to be skipping dinner tonight.

I have to agree with you on the Blair Witch Project scene. That may have been the only really scary part of that movie or the one that really sticks out. The only other thing I remember is a lot of bitching about being lost.

"Hauntings" for me really come from films seen too early, ie too young. I have no idea what the film was apart from it being in the Hammer House of Horror series. Some couple being locked up by a maniac (as all good Hammer House films had maniacs) in a house protected by a noisy road, isolation and a few thousand volts of electric beams. One of those beams was temporarily disabled, and the guy throw a stick to see if it was on, which it wasn't. Their puppy then ran after the stick, at which point the aforementioned maniac switched the electric back on, just in time for the puppy to bring the stick back. That poor puppy...

Dave, you're spot on. It doesn't have to be horror movies, and I actually don't class Body Double as a horror movie, however it was these scenes that came to mind.

Now you mention it, Requiem prompts me to think of the final scene, that is extremely haunting and disturbing and Connelly's performance is incredibly powerful.

Event Horizon, another one that has some haunting images all briefly cut through, and great casting.

Anaconda? Really? I haven't seen that film at all and I hadn't even thought it would be freaky...I might give it a go then!

Lee! You hit that one on the head! That's one of the Hammer shows that stays with me to this day. I remember the exact scene...very sad and quite freaky. However there is one other, it's the one that has the rabbits eating their young and then translates that to a real family...shiver indeed.

Right...I've just thought of another.

Something that haunts me are images that aren't properly revealed or explained (Exorcist III as above), but something even worse are sounds alone. Like the Blair Witch screaming.

Then it struck me, in John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness they show this dream that people keep having and it's of a handheld video of the outside of the church that they are all in and a newscaster talking about this figure standing in the doorway. The figure is in darkness with light behind them, and the voice is cracked up. We don't see who the figure is but from the story and the voice, we know it's something terrible.

That whole scene just sets me on edge and unnerves me, mainly because it hits a nerve as Dave says, it's got a reality about it.

i'm not really an expert on scary movies, but the ones i have seen made me crap my pants.(a horror in itself)

which ones made me STOP watching scary movies i hear you say?

well, just about any film that leaves most of the scene to the imagination, so that rules out most "pop horror" movies, friday the rubbish parts 1-453 etc.

the last movie that i saw that had A haunting moment or two was signs, yes ok it wasn't scary, but the actors and general feel for the moment joaquin phoenix is watching the alien running across the screen in blurry-ish images on tv.

anyway, like i said. not big on scary movies. Whats that noise?????

I totally agree with the Exorcist III scene. I remember watching that movie multiple times as a kid and that always got me. I also remember being freaked out by the trailer, which featured the scene where the papers are blowing around the front of the church and the doors fly open, and as the Excorcist theme plays you see a statue of Jesus and his eyes open. RELIGION IS SCARY.

Jay C.

I thought I wouldnt be able to participate in this discussion but I have just been discussing "Munich" with a work colleague today who has just seen the film and thats when it hit me that the final scene where we are shown the Twin Towers in the background when Avner (Bana's character) was fading out of the background really got to me. It was ominous (technically speaking) and Spielberg hauntingly captured it for me.

The bathtub scene in Cabin Fever where she is shaving her legs. That scene still creeps me out more than just about any other scene in a horror film. That and the little girl at the very beginning of the Dawn of the Dead remake, where she flips back up after being kicked.

Don't know if it was because I was young when I watched it but the 'floating vampire at the window' scene in Salems Lot was a creeper for me.

Hmmmm, what else....'Candyman'....there is a scene where 'Helen' is in a car park and all you can hear is the Candyman saying her name....the voice of Tony Todd....that low/slow voice saying 'Hheeellleeennn'...creeped me out. In fact that whole film is pretty scary.

The very last scene at the end of 'I still know what you did last summer' where you think everything is fine....and then the person sees the figure under the bed in the mirror.....cheap scare but it done it for me.

Oh Colin, you're spot on with that one too, there are a number of haunting moments from there but Danny Glick (I think) scraping at that window freaked me out!

For goose-bumpy creepiness. It's hard to beat the elevator scene in Danny & Oxide Pang's "THE EYE".

The original Ju-On (film not OVA) version has more than one creepy moment in it.

Call me weird, but Shyalaman's SIGNS when they watch the TV footage of a the alien walking in the back of some kids birthday party.

In terms of haunting for days afterwards, two films which achieve this are Peter Watkin's Punishment Park, and Oliver Hirschbiegel's Das Experiment.

Just off the cuff thinking here.

Doh, on the Signs comment...Hadn't read the above. Apparently I'm not the only one!

Oh yeah Triflic, the hospital scenes for The Eye creeped me out.

Signs deserves a few mentions anyway, and that scene is very reminiscent of the one from Prince of Darkness. Video footage of actual events, very creepy, hardly seen...shiver.

The Messengers trailer had a few creepy scenes too! Arrrrgggghhhhhh!

I am a total horror movie junkie!

The moment in Signs that got to me was the birthday party video. The fact that instead of seeing the alien in full light we see it on a home video really gave it a good feel to me.

The Omen chilled me to the bone throughout, but the best moments were the nurse hanging scene. the priest impalement scene and the coffin unearthing got to me. Also the end shot where they cut away from Damien smiling.

Any showers scenes scares the crap out of me. The scenes from Psycho, The Grudge and Cabin Fever get to me the worst. Also the euthanasia by shovel in Cabin Fever was disturbing to say the least.

Stalker movies hit too close to home for me. I'm just glad my guy backed off before it became like Play Misty for me. Fatal Attraction at the end where she pops out of the tub after being drowned made me jump over the couch.

All Hitchcock movies, but especially Vertigo. The ending still gives me chills.

Saw in general gives me the chills. It may be considered a gore-fest, but it does challenge you to think what you would do if put in that situation.

And spoiler alert, The scene in Devil's Rejects in which Wendy Banjo is escaping the Firefly clan with her husbands dried facial skin on her face, only to bre run down by a semi-truck.

There are many more. Too many to post. But these are the ones that stuck with me.

Hey Jetta, good to see you here!

If you like that Signs moment and you're a horror fan go see Prince of Darkness by John Carpenter - there's a similar use of hand held video at certain key points and it's really spooky.

Oh I know what you mean about shower scenes, horrors aside I'm continually freaked out by thought of that spider crawling across the shower rail in Aracnaphobia...blergh.

Actually that face idea freaked me out too. She's wearing her dead husband's face! Yuk!

Great choice Jetta.

Just watched Hostel. When Kana jumps in front
of the train after she sees the reflection of her disfigured face. So sad.

Near the end of The Exorcist (the first one), when Karras comes back in the room to resume the exorcism he discovers that Merrin died while he was away.

What happened afterwards is what haunts me. That giggle from Regan while she was watching Karras's reaction sends shivers up my spine and makes my skin crawl and my neck hairs stand up.

That certainly is a creepy scene. Aiman, have you see the third film with the corridor/figure/shears? That's one of the best scenes in the series.

Yes I have seen that scene Richard. Unfortunately I heard about it before I saw it, so that spoiled it for me. I can imagine it would be very scary if you didn't know what was going to happen!

Hey Aiman. I can see that would lessen the scene's impact somewhat!

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