50 terrifying movie moments



Add +

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


Grizzly Man (2005)

Dir Werner Herzog (Documentary)

Some sound advice

Awkward confrontations are the bread and butter of investigative documentary cinema. Think of Michael Moore stitching up a General Motors spokesman on camera in ‘Roger and Me’, the tragic lives of the downtrodden Beales in the Maysles brothers’ ‘Grey Gardens’, or even the chilling reveal at the end of Facebook thriller, ‘Catfish’. But terrifying? The only scene that comes to mind arrives at the mid point of Werner Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man’, his profile of bear-loving monomaniac, Timothy Treadwell, whose eagerness to get close-up-and-personal with his furry friends eventually led him and his girlfriend to become a hearty supper for one of them.

Treadwell, who made sure to film his exploits in the hope they’d be made into a TV series, had his camera rolling at just the point when the hungry critter laid siege to his tent, and though the lens was covered, a document of the audio remains. Ever the intrepid voyager, Herzog dons headphones and listens to Treadwell’s violent death throes. Considering his back catalogue (and the fact he was best buds with Klaus Kinski), Herzog must have seen and done some crazy stuff in his time, but here he softly requests the audio be turned off, there’s a long pause, then he says to the owner of the tape: ‘Julie… you must never listen to this’. DJ


Don’t Look Now (1973)

Dir Nicolas Roeg (Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie)

Hi-Ho, hi-ho, it’s off to death we go

Much of Roeg’s premonitory chiller is imbued with an air of impending doom. But there are two scenes that particularly jangle the nerves. The first is a moment any parent will find unbearable: the sight of a young girl in a red mac frolicking by the family lake (to the plaintive sound of a few single piano notes, no less) as her father (Sutherland) coincidentally inspects one of his picture slides bearing the strange image of a similarly dressed small person sitting in a church pew. The scene then cuts back to his daughter negotiating a slippery log over the water. Then back again to a glass of water spilling across the slide to reveal what looks like a rivulet of blood.

It’s a chilling portent of bad things to come… and they don’t come more terrifying than the film’s beautifully shot Venice-set closing scene where Sutherland confronts what his eyes believe is the figure of his late daughter wearing a similar red, hooded coat. The coat turns to expose a hideous gargoyle-like face, a long kitchen knife is briefly seen, and it’s all over. DA

The Exorcist The Exorcist

The Exorcist (1972)

Dir William Friedkin (Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller)

Rage against the machine

Obviously the threat of a sweary hell fiend taking over the body of your pre-teen daughter is nothing to scoff at. But then having to witness her involuntarily painting the wallpaper a nice shade of camo green with her vomit? Nasty stuff indeed. But the scariest moment in this scariest of movies actually derives from something more mundane, more close to home: something which many of us may have experienced ourselves. After the initial signs of behavioural abnormalities in her daughter Regan (Blair), cinema’s greatest concerned single mother, Chris MacNeil (Burstyn), duly takes her to see a doctor. One of the tests she receives is a brutal, horrifyingly convincing spinal tap, and the way in which Friedkin employs fast, jutting cuts and ear-splitting industrial noise really makes you feel for the little blighter. DJ


Barton Fink (1991)

Dir Joel and Ethan Coen (John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis)

‘You’re just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton. I live here!’

The Coen brothers have unleashed all manner of cinematic furies over the years, from the comic (the bounty hunter in ‘Raising Arizona’) to the oblique (the tornado in ‘A Serious Man’) to the seriously scary (‘No Country’s Anton Chigurh). None of them, however, runs quite the gamut of surreal nightmare anxiety as the moment Charlie Meadows – played by Goodman, then best known as the affable blue-collar dad in TV’s ‘Roseanne’ – finally lets the mask slip and goes utterly tonto through the corridors of the Hotel Earle.

The audience – and even the fatally blinkered Barton – has already started to wonder if there isn’t more to Charlie than the plain, folksy travelling façade he’s almost pathologically keen to encourage. And when dead bodies, decapitated heads and LA’s finest start showing up, Charlie’s inner demons come out to play in spectacular fashion. Exploding into an infernal rage that ignites the very air around him, Charlie (aka Karl ‘Madman’ Mundt; aka King Ralph) barrels through the flaming hotel with a shotgun, repeatedly bellowing ‘I’ll show you the life of the mind!’ before blowing away a couple of policemen. Chilling? It’s like watching your grandmother dancing naked. Or Santa Claus butchering a reindeer. ALD


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Dir Ken Hughes (Dick Van Dyke, Sally AnnHowes, Lionel Jeffries)

Remember kiddies: never trust a ballet dancer

'Here we are children, come and get your lollipops!’ No government-funded, public-service short film about the threat of kidnapping could rival the appearance of the Child Catcher in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (1968) as a way of warning kids about the danger of strangers. Robert Helpmann  – a world-renowned ballet dancer – played the hook-nosed creep and comes skipping into a deserted German square wearing clownish, colourful clothes and offering all sorts of goodies to any little cherubs who will come and get them. ‘Cherry pie! Cream tarts! Treacle tarts! Come along, kiddie winkies!’ Poor little Jemima (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy (Adrian Hall) Potts rise to the bait, rush to collect their sweeties and jump into the Child Catcher’s jolly-looking cart, which – bang! – reveals itself as a prison and they start shrieking horribly. It only increases the fear factor that the music keeps switching tones from jolly to perilous. ‘Children! Where are you?’ DC

Users say