50 terrifying movie moments



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Time Out's film team's run-down of the scariest scenes in cinema


Went the Day Well? (1942)

Dir Alberto Cavalcanti (Leslie Banks, CV France)

England expects that every man shall do his duty

The second half of Cavalcanti’s deeply upsetting WWII propaganda piece is a masterclass in mounting dread and unexpected horror, but there’s one scene in particular which makes the movie memorable. Based on a story by Graham Greene, the film imagines a Nazi invasion plot beginning in the sleepy village of Bramley End and ending with the entire populace, young and old, taking up arms against the steely, murderous intruders. One of those forced to extreme action is post office mistress Mrs Collins (Muriel George), a loveable, matronly type who has an axe in the woodshed and a disarmed Jerry in the pantry. The resulting scene is shocking now; God only knows how it must have felt in 1942.TH


Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Dirs Various incl Joe Dante, George Miller (Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow)

A demon behind the wheel

Joe Dante’s opening segment for this compendium of remakes of episodes from Rod Serling’s classic ‘Twilight Zone’ TV series sees two guys (Aykroyd and Brooks) driving a straight road in the dead of night. But then, after some playful banter, passenger Aykroyd turns to driver Brooks and says, ‘Do you want to see something really scary?’. The result is a jolt from the blue as Aykroyd’s face instantly morphs into a hideous witch-like creature. But that’s just a precursor to George Miller’s excellent reworking of the classic aerophobia scene in ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’, in which Lithgow’s nervous airline passenger is convinced he sees a revolting gremlin tearing the cowling off the aircraft’s port engine while flying through a storm. What makes this scene especially terrifying is the way Miller ensures we only see a fleeting glimpse of the creature – just enough to freak us out. DA


Naked (1993)

Dir Mike Leigh (David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Greg Cruttwell)

‘I hope I haven’t given you Aids’

He’s not the subtlest character in the history of cinema, but the character of the sleazy, upper-crust landlord Jeremy (or Sebastian, as he also calls himself, played by Greg Cruttwell) in Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’ inspires some deeply uncomfortable viewing. Put simply, he’s a rapist and the scene in which he forces himself on his tenant, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), in her bedroom is horrifying because of the sheer exploitation of power evident on so many levels: he’s a man, he’s a landlord, he feels entitled by his wealth and, to top it off, Sophie is a nervous, damaged character, unable to assert herself and turn him down. After the event, his comments chill even further. ‘We’ve had a very interesting afternoon, haven’t we, Sophie,’ he sneers when her flatmate returns. To top it off, he throws a load of banknotes on top of Sophie as she lies on the floor, visibly shaken. ‘For services rendered.’ DC


Body Double (1984)

Dir Brian de Palma (Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry)

You know the drill

OK, whoever has actor Craig Wasson hiding in their basement, can you please let him out? Despite what reviews at the time said, he’s the perfect lead for De Palma’s ribald riff on ‘Rear Window’ as the sappy out-of-work actor who allows himself to get lured into the grimy depths of the voyeuristic LA porno snuff circuit. Temporarily based in a futuro house on stilts, he’s advised by the mysteriously affable, slick-haired huckster, Sam (Henry), to glance through a telescope pointed at the building opposite and fill his boots as a woman does a striptease with the curtain opens. But wait? Who’s that hiding upstairs? With the leather waistcoat and aviator shades? And what exactly does he intend to do with that masonry drill? No, he’s not going to… Oh, he is. Oh. Oh dear. DJ


The Haunting (1963)

Dir Robert Wise (Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn)

Things that go bump in the night

‘The Haunting’ is a perfect example of how, with horror, context is everything. Watched with a crowd, or in sunlight, the film would have little or no effect. But viewed alone, after dark, it is uniquely terrifying, a screw-turning exercise in pure tension. One scene in particular proves that the deepest dread can be evoked by the simple use of petrified faces, off-kilter cameras and extraordinary sound effects. On their first night in the reputedly haunted Hill House, shrewish medium Nell (Harris) and predatory paranormal expert Theodora (Bloom) huddle together as a mysterious force thunders inside the walls, marches in the corridors and rattles the door handle. Nothing is seen, nothing is explained, but the effect is unshakeable. However, one word of warning – stay well clear of the 2006 remake. TH


Sabotage (1936)

Dir Alfred Hitchcock (Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka)

When it comes to terror, Hitchcock’s the bomb

Hitchcock’s version of Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘The Secret Agent’ has Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka) as an undercover terrorist and the east European owner of a London cinema. While under the suspicion of the police, Verloc sends his wife’s little brother, Stevie, out into the streets with a package – a bomb – to be left in the luggage store at Piccadilly Circus. Only the boy gets distracted along the way by various sights, stall-holders and hawkers. Even we start to forget about the ticking bomb when the Lord Mayor’s Show passes right in front of the Royal Courts of Justice. Only Hitchcock keeps racking up the tension by cutting away to clocks and noting the time approaching the fateful hour. When Stevie boards a bus next to a small dog and an old woman, things really begin to turn sweaty and the mounting score adds to the tension. When the inevitable happens, we’re already quaking with anticipation. DC


Guest House Paradiso (1999)

Dir Ade Edmondson (Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Vincent Cassel)

Blowing chunks

The definition of the term ‘terrifying’ is nothing if not elastic, and we use it here in the sense that any sane viewer must question their life’s trajectory when it leads to sitting in front of a screen watching Vincent Cassell vomit up a boulder-sized ball of hardened sick that rolls down a corridor in a cheap homage to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. Mayall and Edmonson slightly retool their characters from BBC sitcom ‘Bottom’ (and pretty much everything they’ve starred in together) for this silver screen atrocity where they play a pair of crooked hoteliers whose country stack is situated next to a (sigh) nuclear power plant. By the time you arrive at this point, you’ll have endured the bogeys, farts, rabbit punches to the groin and a windfall of bad puns that even John Inman would’ve been loathe to mutter, but the fountains of puke really mark the moment where you’ll want to have your eyes removed and replaced by acid-treated conkers. DJ


What Lies Beneath (2000)

Dir Robert Zemeckis (Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford)

Harrison Ford’s mendacious husband wishes he’d packed his scuba gear

Zemeckis’s underrated Hitchcockian chiller stars Michelle Pfeiffer as a mentally distraught wife trying to make sense of the strange people next door and a deepening mystery about a missing girl. The first part of the film is pure ‘Rear Window’, but then creepy supernatural shit starts happening and every follicle begins to tingle. Harrison Ford’s deceitful husband gets his comeuppance in the closing underwater scene when the motionless corpse of a woman he’d killed earlier drifts over to the sinking car he’s trapped in. For a split, fright-filled second, we see her head suddenly turn towards the camera before it cuts to the cause of his demise. A heebie-jeebies moment of epic proportions. DA


Kill List (2011)

Dir Ben Wheatley (Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley MyAnna Buring)

Skip this one

Though there have been many British triumphs at cinemas in 2011, Brighton-based genre connoisseur Ben Wheatley has to be one of the year’s most fascinating finds. His salty assassin thriller ‘Kill List’ was swathed in an atmosphere of thick dread, as his two hapless protagonists went about their business amid all manner of occult goings on. After Neil Maskell’s Jay discovers that one of men on the titular list has been engaging in some very unsavoury business indeed, he attempts to find others who are part of the ring with the help of his trusty claw hammer. But it’s the next scene, in which he enters an extremely dingy workshop – this time tooled up with a shotgun – while his partner Gal (Smiley) waits in the car, that is an unbearably taut piece of filmmaking. Who knows what could be going on inside – and is Jay even still in one piece? Gal decides to check it out, creeping through a forest of night-shrouded skips in a scene of almost unwatchable tension. DJ


Night of the Hunter (1955)

Dir Charles Laughton (Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish)

When the man comes around

Very few of the great Hollywood leading men came as close to portraying true evil as Robert Mitchum. When he wanted to, Mitchum could be as easy and breezy as Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart – but when the part called for something darker, there was no man better equipped. His role in the original ‘Cape Fear’ came damn close to making this list – the slow-walking chase through the empty school halls is a true skin-crawler – but for sly, creeping evil, ‘Night of the Hunter’ is the one. Mitchum plays a psychotic, hooker-murdering preacher who shacks up with Shelley Winters and family to get his hands on their loot. But when he murders Winters, the kids make a run for it, out into a crooked American dreamscape of nightmarish beauty, epic disquiet and the ever-present threat of discovery by that stalking man in black. TH

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