50 terrifying movie moments
The scariest scenes from the best horror movies ever made
Fri Oct 24 2014
Here, as the dark cloud of Halloween descends, we showcase the horror movie scenes that have made us cower in our boots, dash for the exit sign and – in the case of ‘Guest House Paradiso’ – weep for the very future of humankind. Some of these terrifying moments are on here for personal reasons (‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘The Vanishing’), some constitute lesser-known gems (‘The profound Desire of the Gods’) and some are simply chilling horror classics which no list of this nature should be without (‘Jaws’, ‘The Exorcist’).
WARNING: The most terrifying scenes of these scary movies often tend to take place at the end. Some of the following entries contain major spoilers – we’ve flagged them up, but we urge readers to proceed with caution.
By Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins, Adam Lee Davies, Derek Adams
The 50 most terrifying movie moments: 50-41
Director: David Hand
Cast: (Animated feature)
If you can’t get even – get old
The Evil Queen in this Disney animation is none too pleased when the mirror on the wall breaks the bad news: Snow White is alive and still the fairest of them all. That does it: the Queen sets to work on a magic spell – ‘The Peddler’s Disguise’ – that will allow her to get into Snow White’s home and give her a deadly apple that will get rid of her for good.
The Queen knocks back a horrific potion and the room starts to spin round and round. Is she dying? Is the spell going wrong? But then her hands shrivel up and become boney. There’s lightning! There’s music! There’s a shadow of a hooded old shrew on the wall! Slowly, she reveals her face from beneath her cloak and it’s all so frightening that even a poor old crow leaps into an empty skull to hide from this terrible vision. – Dave Calhoun
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
The unkindest cut of all
He’s already lost his job, apartment, moral compass and most of his marbles. His larky little ‘Project Mayhem’ has mushroomed into a full-blown terrorist cell, his hipster doofus alter-ego has revolted and gone rogue and his girlfriend has just walked out on him. But now Edward Norton is about to lose the one thing that a man can never, ever hope to replace.
Held down by three burly policemen who have been instructed – by none other than his own other-self – to cut off his crown jewels as a symbol of martyrdom to the gods of fight club, he is locked into a Kafkaesque nightmare of his own making. Like 007 and the laser in ‘Goldfinger’, it seems there’s no way out, and Fincher strings the scene out until every male viewer has tied themselves into knots of alarm, passed out or left the room. – Adam Lee Davies
Director: Jim Henson
Cast: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Danny John-Jules
Cool as a cucumber
The Excitement of David Bowie!’ ran the trailer to Jim Henson’s genial puppet fantasy-musical. Given the eye-wateringly snug collection of jodhpurs, leggings and codpieces he’d shoehorned himself into, there must have been plenty of ’80s parents hoping the Thin White Duke didn’t get too excited whilst cavorting through Muppetland.
But even though he kept his genie fully jeaned, many were nevertheless scarred for life by the ‘Dance Magic Dance’ sequence in which Ziggy – sporting kinky boots, leather waistcoat, jodhpurs and a riding crop – gets hideously jiggy with a gaggle of belching Viking sock-puppets and a clearly terrified toddler. All this and Tin Machine round the corner! – Adam Lee Davies
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis
The way of the gun
‘Loopy’ Larry Cohen remains one of America’s sultans of schlock, but – like John Carpenter – his grungy genre work-outs carry incisive political barbs. ‘God Told Me to’ is a mad, hardboiled satire about extra-terrestrial religious cults in which a strange lizard-like creature takes hold of people’s minds and orders them to kill in the name of the Lord.
The film opens on a young sniper taking potshots at a busy street, but it’s a later scene where the startling reality of this act becomes clear. And it centres on an out-of-control policeman. Played by, um, Andy Kaufman. There’s a police parade, and he just whacks out his pistol and opens fire. The scene is heady and amazingly choreographed. It encapsulates the gritty, street-level, in-the-moment style that characterised such ’70s American classics as ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Mean Streets’. It forces you to look twice to make sure it’s not really happening. – David Jenkins
Director: Steve Miner
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams
The knife man cometh
Is twentieth- anniversary cash-in ‘Halloween: H20’ a patch on John Carpenter’s original? Hell, no. In comparison to that groundbreaking, genre-defining classic, ‘H20’ is a dithering minnow next to a ravenous pike. And yet… smack in the middle of the movie, after a fairly dull set-up establishing the new, witness-protected life of erstwhile Haddonfield resident Laurie Strode (Curtis) and before the film descends into screeching histrionics, there’s a five- or six-minute chase sequence through the halls and grounds of an abandoned school which is close to perfect in construction.
It helps that Miner’s cast includes superior teen stars like Williams and Adam Hann-Byrd, not to mention that he has Carpenter’s original score to riff on. The result is a textbook nail-gnawer, all the more so for arriving in the midst of such an average stalk ’n’ slasher. – Tom Huddleston
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jake Gyllenhall, Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo
Down the wooden hill he goes…
Come on, Jake! A freaky old projectionist invites you down into the fusty basement of a house so big and creepy and oppressively old-timey that even Norman Bates would find it a bit dank and unnerving, and down you go!?! The fear, malevolence and inky-eyed madness that course through Fincher’s dissection of a city under siege comes to a head in a scene that has its roots in the haunted-house horror tradition but ultimately has more in common with the fevered detective fiction of James Ellroy, wherein the fear in the dark is not of being hacked to pieces but of finding out something so terrible that you can never hope to un-know it. – Adam Lee Davies
Director: Claire Denis
Cast: Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle
Fangs for the memories
Years before ‘Let the Right One In’ had critics slathering about the fact a vampire movie had been set in the Real World, France’s Claire Denis had already scoped out that territory with this underrated, globe-trotting follow-up to her masterful ‘Beau Travail’. Gallo plays a scientist on his honeymoon in Paris, but he’s suffering from a strange condition which paralyses him with sexual desire. He happens across a women (Dalle) with an advance form of the ‘disease’, only she’s at a level where she can only be satisfied by gnawing her sexual partners to death.
The climax of the film yields numerous look-away-from-the-screen incidences of flesh chomping, but the one in which Dalle turns the inexperienced Nicolas Duvauchelle into a bloody mash – photographed in Denis’s customary super-fine and sensual detail – is certainly not one for the kiddies. – David Jenkins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
If you can’t stand the teeth, get out of the kitchen
Putting aside the unrealistic anthropomorphism of a prehistoric reptile with a tiny brain intelligently tapping its claw on a hard kitchen floor in an I-know-you’re in-here manner, Spielberg’s raptors-in-the-kitchen scene is terrifically tense. Part of the success of this sequence is down to the size of the dinosaurs, which are small enough to pursue little Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) between the stoves and shelves, yet strong and toothy enough to rip them both to shreds. The long shots also work well, giving us a wider perspective on the peril the youngsters are facing. – Derek Adams
Director: Robert Hanson
Cast: Rutger Hauer, C Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Chop-chop in the cop shop
We’ve all been there. A night out, a few misunderstandings and next thing you know you’re waking up in a jail cell. After being forced into a series of cat-and-mouse road-games with deranged Dutch hitchhiker Hauer, it comes as a blessed relief to little C Thomas Howell to find himself safely behind bars. But this race isn’t run just yet. A few hours’ kip and he wakes to find the cell door ajar. The film, once again, has turned on a sixpence. Heart in his mouth, he slowly creeps out of the cell and through the police station in a scene of building suspense that recalls the heart-wracking tension of John Carpenter’s finest hours. And what’s that police dog licking up from that sticky red pool? Looks like Uncle Rutger wasn’t too happy when he was told visiting hours were over… – Adam Lee Davies
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: William Petersen, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan
Feel the wrath of the Red Dragon
Michael Mann was the first to commit Thomas Harris’s crime thrillers to celluloid. His intelligent adaptation of ‘Red Dragon’ still stands as the best Hannibal Lecter film to date, not least for Noonan’s cleft-lipped serial killer, Francis Dollarhyde, who is still among the most terrifying of all screen butchers. The most memorable segment illustrating Dollarhyde’s calm, calculated methods is when he rips the blindfold off a smart-ass tabloid reporter he has tied to a wheelchair and lets him see his shocking, half stocking-covered visage. Then he calmly sets him alight. Do you see? – Derek Adams
Horror cinema is a monster. Mistreated, misunderstood and subjected to vicious critical attacks, somehow it keeps lumbering forward, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. For some, horror films are little better than pornography, focused purely on evoking a reaction. For others, they're just a bit of fun. Here are the 100 best horror films, as chosen by those who write in, direct, star in and celebrate the genre.
Saw the film years ago - the bit I will always remember is a young Jenny Agutter seducing one of the young lads. Was this her first film as an adult? One way or the other it was extremely erotic
I have to agree with the first comment. The last few minutes of [REC] are just terrifying. The film is just a build up for this end. It should have been near the top on this list.
Just thought of this scene and searched for a list that included it.... With the volume up while watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me I nearly had a heart attack from the screaming scene. I thought someone was crashing through my front door and jumped straight out of my chair. Good lord that scene scared and scarred me!
i guess this list is not confined to horror movies. some odd choices that 127 hours shouldnt be in there. but otherwise a good list. ringu would have been my number 1, followed by chest busting scene from Alien and final scene in Se7en.
In terms of creepiness, surely Salo or the 120 last days of Sodom should be here. The first time I watched, I had to walk away after 20 minutes. And then it only gets worse... And in terms of serious jolts, the moment the camera goes indoors in Lost Highway definitely did it for me...
Of course there's a difference between gross (Saw 1 to 23, Wolf Creek and countless films I'll never watch, except for the funny ones) and scary. And then there's the difference between "jump out of your seat scared" (the last scene of Carrie anyone?) and a growing, objectless unease (Innocence).
Scariest bit in this whole list is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, that whole film is twisted! - but as an adult I suppose it would be Fire Walk With Me. David Lynch is brilliant at scaring the wits out of me... I thought I was going to have a heart attack during Inland Empire. Bloody Hell.
The opening sequence in 28 Weeks Later when the cottage is besieged by rage victims and Robert Carlyle loses his nerve and escapes through the window abandoning his wife and the child to save himself, with the audience thinking to itself, 'yes, I would have done the same!'
Greg - 100% agree mate. Those were some truly terrifying minutes of my life. Also - Bowie in Labyrinth is all well and good - but if you want a really disturbing Henson movie, it;s The Dark Crystal every time. I was eight the first time I saw that, and the skeksis are still the most unsettling, grotesque creatures I have ever seen on film. Finally - for sheer nerve-tearing intensity - The Descent is hard to beat.
Interesting list with some surprises, however it just proves that what is regarded as terrifying is relative. Some classics included, however thousands omitted... The Shining, Them, Tale of Two Sisters to name just 3 quality skin-crawlers.
Audition is gross and disturbing, but not so scary. It sags under a pretentious, heavy handed dime store psychology revenge explanation. If one wants to be disturbed, why not just open a history book? Ringu... much more clever and original, dare I suggest bettered by the remake, even if it clearly owes something to Cronenberg's Videodrome. And where is Dead Ringers on your list?
Did NONE of you see [REC]?? A "Scariest Moments" list without the last minutes of [REC] is not a proper list, indeed...
More horror movie features
The best films now showing
- Rated as: 4/5
Fond and giddy, the film of Michael Bond's books is everything you want it to be
- Rated as: 5/5
A soulful, uplifting documentary following the occupants of a Nepalese cable car
- Rated as: 4/5
Jude Law reveals hidden depths in this tense, relentless submarine thriller