50 terrifying movie moments



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


Les Diaboliques (1955)

Dir Henri-Georges Clouzot (Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse)

Inspect a Clouzot

The French master of the thriller, Henri-Georges Clouzot, introduces us to a fading, second-rate provincial boarding school in this horror-mystery which reveals a series of chilling surprises. The school is lorded over by its headmaster, Michel (Paul Meurisse), an utterly unsympathetic character whom his wife Christina (Véra Clouzot) and mistress Nicole (Simone Signoret) decide to get rid of once and for all. Or do they? Without giving too much away about a film which specifically requests that audiences don’t reveal the ending, let’s just say we end up being as spooked as Christina and Nicole when their plan doesn’t work out as they’d hoped. There are two scenes that send a special chill up the spine. The first is when a swimming pool is emptied and fails to reveal a body. The second is when a body is discovered in a bath and then… well, we’re keeping this bit secret. Just take our word for it that it’s a shocker. DC


The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Dir Daniel Myrick

If you go down to the woods today, be sure of a sick surprise

Myrick and Sánchez’s woodland chiller is the most commercially successful film of all time, on a cost-to-profit basis. It’s also one of the scariest and most confusing. ‘Blair Witch’ is chock full of hidden terror – the rustling of leaves and that spine-tingling chitter-chatter sound – but there’s one scene in particular that really gets under the skin: the moment Heather (Heather Donahue) finds a shoddily wrapped, blood-soaked cloth containing the teeth and scalp of missing friend Josh. The fact that the items are wrapped and the cloth is bloodstained makes this scene far more disquieting than if the directors had simply showed the contents in a naked state. I still don’t get that ending, mind. DA


The Thing (1982)

Dir John Carpenter (Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David)

‘I’d rather not spend the rest of the winter tied to this fucking couch!’

Having just witnessed one of their bestest buddies detach his own head (which then falls to the floor, sprouts some legs, then canters off), MacReady (Russell) and his remaining ice station brethren decide that now’s the time to nip this shape-shifting alien business in the bud. Realising that the monster exists in all the living molecules of its hosts, he draws blood from the remaining members of his crew and dips in a heated length of wire, the logic being that if the blood moves, there’s killing to be done. Though the symphonic splat seen earlier in the film will have given your gag reflex ample workout, this piece of pure, old-school screw-turning will have your nerves jangling up a frenzy. Carpenter makes us wait as the wire is heated each time with MacReady’s trusty flamethrower, and the way it’s dipped into the blood is excruciatingly careful. DJ


Goodfellas (1990)

Dir Martin Scorsese (Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci)

‘Don’t worry. I got some money for you. It’s down the block…’

There are plenty of edgy and dismaying scenes in Scorsese’s mob aria – mostly involving Joe Pesci, some initially playful banter and the sudden introduction of either a snub-nose pistol or a kitchen appliance. Subtler and far more unsettling than any of this jovial hair-trigger brutality is the scene in which Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco) goes to Jimmy Conway (De Niro) for some financial aid while husband Henry (Liotta) is in jail. There’s a little back-and-forth before De Niro suggests Karen go and pick out a nice fur from the darkened store at the end of the block. A store in which two entirely shady stevedores lurk around in the shadows. Glancing this way and that, De Niro – caught up in a seemingly opportunistic bout of Machiavellian scheming – directs her closer and closer to the entrance before Bracco finally heeds the audience’s silent cries and bolts. Wise woman. ALD


The Others (2001)

Dir Alejandro Amenábar (Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan)

A case for children not being seen or heard

The creepiest scene in Alejandro Amenábar’s nerve-racking ghost story is featured briefly during the final frames of the trailer. Nicole Kidman’s distressed mother apprehensively peers into a cold, empty, unlit room to see the back of her photosensitive daughter kneeling on the wooden floor, dressed from head to toe in full antique lace while humming an eerie tune and playing with an old wooden mobile. The camera zooms in to reveal the grizzled hand of an old woman and the true meaning of the term ‘hair-raising’ becomes apparent. ‘Where is my daughter?’ she implores. ‘You’re mad, I am your daughter,’ replies the wrinkled figure in the voice of a young child. Brrrrrrr – get me outta here. DA


Das Boot (1981)

Dir Wolfgang Petersen (Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer)

Voyage to the bottom of the sea

'Tiefer… Tiefer…’ These words, muttered in a deep, dolorous German accent, are pretty much guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting movie buff (as will the exact same words  in Japanese, more of which later). Petersen’s dank, claustrophobic U-boat masterpiece is packed with scenes of spectacular tension and disquiet, but one particular sequence plumbs the absolute depths of an audience’s endurance. Fleeing from British mines, Prochnow and his already exhausted crew are forced to take their trusty sub well below the vehicle’s manufacturer-prescribed limit. Screws screech, walls creak, the chief mechanic suffers a total mental collapse, but still captain Prochnow urges them to go ever deeper… ‘Tiefer… Tiefer…’ TH


L’Enfant (2005)

Dirs Jean-luc and Pierre Dardenne (Jérémie Renier, Déborah François, Jérémie Segard)

Ice to see you

No, that’s not a typo. We are including Cannes darlings, the Dardenne brothers, in a run-down of most terrifying scenes. Though they are prided on their terse, humanist dramas of everyday woe, one scene in their 2005 Palme d’Or winner, ‘L’Enfant’, struck many as being heavily redolent of the high-octane thrills mostly associated with Hollywood action cinema. Dardenne regular Renier is in a bit of a financial scrape when he casually decides to sell off his newborn son, much to the dismay of girlfriend François. A routine motorbike bag nabbing goes south when a nearby police car takes chase and Renier and his young accomplice are forced to dive in an icy river for cover. The chase itself is thrillingly choreographed, but seeing the lanky lad losing his breath when he descends into the water is genuinely horrifying because you realise his suffering is probably not an act. DJ


The Conversation (1974)

Dir Francis Ford Coppola (Gene Hackman, John Cazale)

You missed a little bit, just there…

In Francis Ford Coppola’s post-Watergate psychological thriller, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a professional snooper, a lonely surveillance expert hired by a corporate high-up in San Francisco to spy on a young couple. The trail leads Harry to a hotel and he overhears a violent struggle in a bedroom and maybe even a murder. But when Harry breaks into the room later on, it’s spotless. He moves around the room quietly. He enters the bathroom and with a nod to ‘Psycho’ pulls back the shower curtain to reveal – nothing. Haskell Wexler’s camera starts to hover over the toilet, which is spotlessly clean and with a paper wraparound on the seat to indicate it’s been serviced. The music starts to rise. Harry flushes the toilet and bloody water and paper rises up and overflows onto the shiny white floor. The look on Hackman’s face says it all as our imagination goes into overdrive about what lies beneath. DC


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Dir Robert Zemeckis (Christopher Lloyd, Bob Hoskins)


This may just be a generational thing, but I certainly received an early childhood scar when being taken to the Enfield Cannon Cinema (RIP) at the tender and impressionable age of seven to see the much-buzzed, grammatically lopsided cartoon/live action hybrid, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. Little did I know, this seemingly innocent comic book caper would be the film to introduce me to the highly corrosive and potentially deadly properties of acid. The scene in question arrives early in the film, planting a seed of threat which grows as the story moves on. Christopher Lloyd’s bizarre, Southern preacher-like Judge Doom is introduced as despising all the toons of Toontown, and he wants nothing more than to rid the entire world of them by submerging them in a noxious brew of turpentine, acetone and benzine (AKA ‘The Dip’). This example, where he frazzles a lovable, squeaking shoe (a shoe ferchrissakes!), is heartbreaking and petrifying. DJ


Alien (1979)

Dir Ridley Scott (Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt)

An astronaut gives birth in a most unconventional manner

The story goes that the production team on Ridley Scott’s intergalactic shocker kept the cast in the dark about this particular scene in order to capture the most accurate reaction possible. Having been given an earlier facial of sorts by a skittish crab-like creature, John Hurt’s character begins to feel in high spirits again. His appetite, too, is fully restored. In fact he’s ravenous. Then comes the first seizure, followed by another. And then it happens… A volcanic eruption of flesh, blood and viscera explodes from his stomach and out pops the slimy, foetus-like head of Hans Rudolf Giger’s cute lil alien. A ten on the jump scale. DA

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