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Most terrifying scenes in film

DoubleExposedScreamingMan.jpgI've touched on this topic a few times before, mainly in a feature back in 2006, but with it coming up to Halloween I thought we should leap right back into it, and believe me this isn't the last halloween based feature that we're going to have this month. The first though will be the most terrifying scenes in film..

I've picked a number of scenes from my cinematic viewing that really does hit the mark when it comes to terrifying and scaring. We're not talking Hostel type scaring and horror here, we're talking the spooky kind that really creeps you out, that stays in your head and makes you think about the scene time and time again. The kind of scene that when you go to switch off the hall light on the way to bedroom and you're in darkness for a few seconds, pops right into your head and makes you wonder, "what if?" just before you freak yourself out and bolt to switch on that light.

So for this Halloween let me ask you, what are the scariest scenes in film? Let me guide you gently through mine.

I'm going to go to town with this because I took some time to think about it and ended up with rather a big list. Let's get started with...

The ghost with sheers in the corridor chasing the nurse: The Exorcist III
Do you remember this scene? The long corridor shot watching a nurse walk back and forth at the end going in and out of the possessed priest's room, and you've just settled into watching her walk back across the screen again when a figure in a white robe holding a pair of shears at next level races across the screen behind her. It's the way you settle into that scene and suddenly this startling image appears unexpectedly, and you just know what's about to happen next. Chilling.

The bouncing ball in The Changeling (Filmstalker review)
Some people have said that The Changeling is the greatest horror film ever. I wasn't sure until I saw it just a year ago in a glorious, big screen, 35mm print, but afterwards I was in close agreement, I think this is one of the best horror films of all time. George C. Scott is superb in the role and the way the presence is displayed is often incredibly unnerving. One of those ways is through the empy bath chair, but the best is surely the scene of the ball bouncing down the stairs to the feet of the main character that the spirit is focusing on. A very scary film from start to finish.

The visions in The Shining
The Shining is filled with scary moments, and it's hard to pull any one out, the corridors are a scary one, seeing Danny cycle around the corridors waiting for him to come upon something terrible, and he does, but it's far more horrific than terrifying and I'll leave that one for the next feature. There are a couple of scenes that stand out for me, Jack talking to the bartender and all the time you know it's all in his head, Jack chatting to Mr Grady who tells him to kill his entire family, and we're sitting there knowing that Jack's talking to someone in his own head. Chilling, but then the entire film is don't you think?

The unseen force in The Entity
I saw The Entity when I was young and it freaked me out. I think it's ultimately down to the fact that there's an unseen force that you just cannot stop, that and something that has now become such a poor crutch for so many films in so many genres, that tag line "based on a true story". That is one of the scariest things that can be in a film these days, but with The Entity it just set the tone, but it was the scenes where the unseen force with unbreakable strength, pins down the woman, rapes her, and she is totally helpless against something she can't see.

The woman crawling out of the well in Ringu
I've mentioned this before and it remains one of the scariest scenes I've ever seen in my life of watching horror films. We see the well the first time, and we know there's going to be something more. Time and time again we see clips of the video, each time showing a little more, and after we see the well a hand appears on the top. It's so quick that you might miss it, but not the next time it appears. The next time the hand is clear, and another hand appears. Then it's cut. This keeps going until we see the woman appear, and in that weird way she walks towards the screen. In the final video she crawls out of the screen, pulls herself into the room and crawls towards the man transfixed by the video. The scariest part of all of this is the first clip that you see her, when that hand appears over the top of the well. Probably one of the creepiest and scariest scenes I've watched in a very long time.

The shadowy hands of Nosferatu
The original vampire film has one of the scariest vampires we've seen to date. No wonderfully manicured nails, salon styled hair, chiselled abs, no it's a scary, evil creature, iconically shown by the shadow of it's overlong fingers and nails creeping along the wall towards the woman asleep in the bed. An iconic image definitely, I'm sure those of you who know the film can picture that very moment, and definitely it's creepy as anything. A scene that visually can stick in your mind.

The window tapping in Salem's Lot
Now here's another scary vampire, one that follows on from the Nosferatu vampire wonderfully. He is one scary character to see on screen, and one of the best and most memorable scenes for me is when his cape flies through the window into the room and slowly rises, inside the Master appears, and when the Priest rises to challenge him, he grasps the cross in his hand and crushes it. A great moment, but the scariest of the film? Close, but I think it goes to the window tapping moment with Danny Glick floating outside the window tapping for his brother, trying to get him to awake and open the window so that he can turn him. I don't know about you, but when I first saw that when I was younger, I always made sure the curtains were fully closed come darkness.

Many scenes in Poltergeist
Which scene do you talk about in Poltergeist? Another film filled with scary scenes, there's the iconic "They're here" moment, the television, the tree, and so many more. I would say the creature coming out of the cupboard and grabbing Robbie was perhaps the second scariest, but there is one that wins out for me, Carol Anne moving closer to the television showing nothing but static and proclaiming "They're here" is a spooky moment that stayed with me again and for a very long time I couldn't have a television showing static.

The balcony death in The Omen
I honestly went back and forth for this film, I had no idea which one to chose, there are genuinely so many scary moments. I was close to choosing the ice death scene, for seeing that poor boy trapped beneath the ice is terrifying. However I decided that the scariest scene was the one where the mother is killed, the long, drawn out cycle of the young boy on his bike cycling around the corridors (sound familiar?) as the mother leans forward against the upper balcony railing to trim a plant. The bike continues, circles the balcony, the mother teeters, the chair wobbles, and the bike nudges it, she teeters, panics, and falls over the balcony. The build up is everything here and really piles on the tension.

The screams of Sergeant Howie on the way to The Wicker Man
Out of the whole film you'd think that this scene so late on that all the frights have gone, and some would argue that seeing the Wicker Man itself is the scariest moment, not so I say, seeing Edward Woodward's reaction to it is incredible, and his words "O, Lord! O, Jesus Christ!" are truly frightening. That for me is the moment that scares me the most.

The sucking the finger of the woman by the old man in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I was scared out of my wits by the poor woman caught by Leatherface and taken to the family table and meet the father of the family, a man who seems to be hanging onto life by a thread. She's terrified, and that terror is coming right through the screen. Then she has to let the old man suck her finger and it's truly a repulsive and terrifying moment in a film that has so many. Again, Tobe Hooper at the helm.

The alien running caught on video in Signs
Not many people would pick an M. Night Shyamalan film in this feature, most people like to hate him and leap on the bandwagon, I actually like a lot of his films, and Signs is one that is rather clever and unjustly hated. There's one scene in it that brings the same feelings as the next scene, and it's all to do with video. There's a moment where they are watching the news reports which show a handheld recording of an alien, the first we've seen, run quickly past the end of a passageway. It's brief, but at the same time the setting and the shaky reveal is incredibly scary.

The recurring future video in Prince of Darkness
That leads me onto the excellent scene in John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. There are some scary moments throughout it, but the scariest as to be the repeating video broadcast from the future, seeing the news footage of the figure in the backlit hallway, and everytime it changes slightly as the future changes. It's chilling seeing that figure, hearing the uncertainty, and knowing what's at stake. I find this the most frightening part of the film.

The final scenes in Se7en
Again we return to drawn out tension building and the fear of the unknown. It's all about that box, and the first time I saw the film and not knowing what was to come, it was the fact that Morgan Freeman's character seemed to realise what was happening and started trying to stop Brad Pitt's character from his growing rage and confusion, and next to the tension it's that confusion and Pitt's reaction that makes this scene so frightening.

The dentistry scene in Marathon Man
This scene is terrifying, if you haven't seen this film then you really need to, and not just for this scene either. Here Dustin Hoffman's character is caught in a typical Hitchockian situation, he has no idea what is going on. He's put in a chair, strapped down, and the good doctor arrives, no not that one, the Laurence Olivier one, a Nazi doctor versed in the art of torture. His torture means drilling into a healthy nerve in a healthy tooth and keeping going until you tell him what he needs to know. The build up is frightening but the repetitive torture is incredibly tense, but it's the fact that Hoffman's character just doesn't know the answers and can't see a way out.

The twisting scenes of possession in The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Of all the scares in this film it's watching the possessed woman twisting and turning into the most horrendous and terrifying contortions is a terrifying thing to watch, again it's the unseen forces that are the scariest part of the story and the fact that they can do anything to her and she just can't stop it, and as the attacks increase so does the fear that there's no end in sight and no understanding of what's really happening.

Many scenes in The Blair Witch Project
There are tons of terrifying scenes in this film, and each help build the tension and fear throughout to the final, terrifying scene. I think it's the final scene that is the most terrifying, but it's made by the other scary scenes on the build up. The screaming of the missing person at night, the unseen attacks at night, the stick figures, it's all about that unseen terror. Then they find it in the form of an abandoned house, the children's handprints on the walls, and then finally the man standing in the corner of the room. That for me, is the most terrifying scene in the film.

You know I find it hard to pull a favourite out of that list. Blair Witch Project, Ringu, Marathon Man, Prince of Darkness, I really can't, any one of these is terrifying. Remember though, these are terrifying, not horrific, but the scariest, creepiest, most terrifying moments, the horrific list is yet to come.

So that's my list of terrifying scenes that I've pulled out of my cinematic viewing, do you agree with them? Do you have a personal favourite? I'm sure you have you have your own scenes that I haven't mentioned. What scene has scared you the most in film?



Never really found movies terrifying. But some other good examples of creepy/tense scenes...

Zodiac - Lakeside murder/assault, truly chilling.

Aliens - the scene were Ripley and Newt realise they're trapped with the Facehugger in the medical room.

Creepy reflections in the mirror in Poltergeist 2.

The Changeling was excellent, really creepy.

Hey Gaz. Zodiac is a good scene. I remember it and it is a scary scene, all to do with that powerful figure walking up to them, no care, no remorse.

Agreed about Blair Witch, The Changeling and Ringu. I'll also add:

- The Woman in Black: meeting Woman in Black at the Drablow Estate graveyard, the "bouncing ball" scene and the bed scene. All 3 are not frightening in themselves (ie do not watch them individually on youtube), but in the context of the movie they are highly effective. One of my favourite films even though it is a TV movie. The bed scene in particular is terrifying.

For me, The Shining scene were the boy goes into a bathroom and finds a dead woman in the bath and he runs out of the room: standing on the corridor, with his back against the bathroom door, he starts counting to ten to make it all go away –you think it works- but the bathroom door suddenly opens and some creepy arms grab him by the shoulder and pull him in the bathroom.
Another one which I am afraid may not enter the category is Misery: the scene where you see she is going to break his legs with a hammer, the reason I find that so disturbing is that is more realistic!!!!

I think Misery is allowed into the category isn't it? That's a terribly powerful scene, and I remember the first time I saw it I was flinching. It's a scene that really does affect you so perhaps it is terrifying. Personally I think it is.

In The Descent, when you first see oneof one of the creatures on the video camera. Also at the end where you thought she had gotten out but she was still in there. I found that terrifying, as being in a dark scary cave miles underground would be scary enough for me even without the albino flesh eating creatures!

my top 2 are from a movie that has already been mentioned...Blair Witch Project.

The first one would be when the tapping comes on the tent and the lead characters run out of it into the middle of the woods in freak out mode. I remember this in the theatre and EVERYONE was screaming or laughing hysterically.

The end of the film has re-occurred in my nightmares more than once. In particular the shot of the dude standing in the corner with his back turned. It made NO sense logically, and the reason for him standing there had been alluded to in the blair witch legend earlier in the film.

That movie was so well done. I dont' get scared much by movies but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

Some good shouts there....

What about...

Audition: The scene where she paralyses him and well, you need to watch it, its one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen.

Suspira: When she lands in the barbed wire

I've been afraid in a "hairs standing up, feeling adrenaline and smiling about it appreciatively" kind of way while watching movies, but I could only think of two specific scenes that actually terrified me.

There's a scene in Don't Look Now which I don't want to spoil in any way. I'm just going to recommend that movie. I love the director.

Also, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the scene when Laura Palmer turns over in bed to see Killer Bob, but slowly turns away like nothing was wrong. Then she turns back--Bob is gone--but she starts screaming and freaking out. It was so surreal and scary it made me sick.

One scene that scared me was in 1408 where he see's a guy in the window across the road who's about to get stabbed by someone behind him but then realises its his reflection. It scared me the second time around as well so I thought it must be worthy of this list

Stevil, is the Don't Look Now scene right at the end? That's such a realistic scene it does hammer itself home with me as very realistic.

Twin Peaks has some great scary scenes, anything with Bob was scary stuff don't you think? Although I prefer the scares in the series to the films.

Hey Ryan, something in 1408 that's scary?

Neil I expected tons more about Suspira.

Michelle in the early scenes with the dark, tight corridors, that's where I find myself the most scared.

Mogulus, I love the Blair Witch ending, that totally freaked me out and when my friends and I were goofing around in a half built house late one night, I stood in the corner facing away from them saying nothing, and we all ran out almost crying like babies!

Good calls on Exorcist III and Ringu.

- Creepy baby, or just indeed the whole cold turkey sequence in Trainspotting.

- Jennifer Jason Leigh acting as the tow rope between an artic and it's trailer in The Hitcher.

- When Will Smith goes after his dog in the darkened apartment building in I Am Legend

How about Amityville II: The Possession? That's a film that scared me so much I couldn't sleep without the lights on for a long time after. The scene where the son murders his famly is very upsetting, and one which I can't watch without being affected very badly by it.

Some of the scariest scenes are the ones with a strong emotional core, the ones you can really connect with in some way, and that sounds like there's a strong connection there with the horror of a family being murdered by one of its own. Some horror really close to home, I think that's why the Amityville films work so well.


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