Good horror movies can be a very engaging experience: your ears react to the music and sound effects, your heart races, your mind races (Could that happen to me? What would I do if it did?), you may scream aloud and you may cover your eyes to save you from an image that will haunt you well after the movie is over. The best horror scenes are not necessarily the bloodiest, goriest, most disturbing, or the most shocking jump scares; they are often a mix of these concepts. A good scene is usually simple, realistic and evokes real feelings from its audience. The great thing about horror visual sequences is that they can still be effective even if the movie itself is not very good. In my horror travels, I have seen the artistic, the creepy, the realistic, the gory and the downright disturbing. Here are some visions that have stuck with me:
1.The Stairs Scene - Nosferatu:
Many people don't think that black and white silent films can stand up against the newer scary movies. I think that those who say that have not watched Nosferatu all the way through. Watching the shadow of the vampire on the stairs is creepy enough, but the thought of someone creeping around your house without your knowledge is as scary now as it was in 1922. The shadow is simple, and many times in horror, less is more. The music is the key element in the scene because there is no dialog. The simplicity is truly what makes this scene effective.
2. Glimpse of the Demon - Insidious:
The minimalism in this jump scare prevents it from being cheap. The audience is engrossed in Lorraine's story about her dream that the glimpse of the demon comes out of nowhere. There is no harsh, prolonged build-up that takes the viewer out of the story to emphatically warn him that the movie is about to yell "BOO!" Many times, jump scare lead-ups are deadly quiet, cuing the audience to brace themselves. This ultimately can take a viewer out of the moment, because now it is no longer about the plot; it's about physically preparing to hear the loud noise that will inevitably follow. Even when the jump occurs, all we are allowed is a glimpse of the demon behind Josh's head. This scare adds to the experience rather than takes away from it.
3. Slide Into Frame - Strangers:
Strangers is not the best horror movie ever made; people break into a couple's house then kill them. The masks are creepy, but it's not a new idea. However, one scene stands out: a man slides into view in the doorway, unnoticed by the protagonist, and then slides away without being seen or noticed. This is terrifying because it is realistic. People break into people's houses all the time, and it is easy not to notice things you should. The scene is quiet, and if you weren't paying attention you might miss it. Definitely chilling.
4. Staircase Scene- Ju-on:
Ju-On is the original Japanese version of The Grudge. This movie is very haunting throughout and is widely-regarded as a J-Horror classic. Ju-On leaves one of its best scenes for last, with the ghost girl crawling down the stairs. This scene is disturbing because it actually goes on for quite some time, allowing the audience to watch the twisted spirit to slowly crawl on. There is no looking away, and the creepy noise only adds to already scary image.
5. Intro Credits-Dawn of the Dead:
The Dawn of the Dead remake is unique because it is one of the rare examples of a good remake. It is far bloodier than the original, and even darkly comedic at some points. The scariest part of the movie actually occurs at the beginning of the movie as the audience watches the crumble of society through a series of clips. While found footage has become a horror cliche, the fact that these are news clips makes the whole scene feel more realistic, and the haunting Johnny Cash song adds seriousness and a shade of despair. The rest of the movie, while still good, is more blood, guts and jump scares, but does not quite carry on the terror conveyed during its opening credits.
6. The Book-The Babadook:
The Babadook came out of nowhere. Some may say it's overrated, but its lack of traditional jump scares and character development make for an interesting movie experience. When Amelia reads through a creepy old-looking children's popup book, she comes across images of her strangling her dog and her own child. The juxtaposition of the cryptic, creepy first part of the book with the graphic and violent second part is an effective blend of two different types of horror. The scene has no dialog, since the audience reads the book along with Amelia. The popup of her strangling the dog was shocking and disturbing to me, even though I have seen things much more violent. The fact that it's a children's book (though a dark and weird one) makes it especially jarring.
7. The TV Scene: The Ring/Ringu:
This is one of the penultimate scary movie scenes. The build is intense, but the build is also a part of the scene itself. In many modern horror movies, the build to a jump or a scare is a lot of tense music and sound effects, but very little actual action. Like in the stairs scene in Ju-On, the scene stretches on, leaving the audience to cringe. The scene is further stretched by the cuts to Rachel trying to call Noah and warn him. This allows the scene to be a little longer without adding in fluff, and also provides some dramatic irony to make the scene all the more horrifying. I will note that both the original Ringu TV scene and the American The Ring TV scenes are incredibly similar, almost shot-for-shot the same without the jump cuts. However, I like the dramatic irony provided by jumping back and forth between the scenes in the American version.
8. Zelda-Pet Sematary
To all you non-Stephen King fans, yes we know that Sematary is spelled wrong. Pet Sematary was quoted by Stephen King to be one of the only books he ever wrote to actually scare him (and that's saying something!). Pet Sematary is disturbing and tragic on many levels. One of the most notable scenes in the movie is Rachel's dream about her deceased sister Zelda, who died during childhood. Zelda was sickly and bedridden from meningitis, and died while her younger sister Rachel was taking care of her. Ever since, Rachel has feared Zelda's vengence on her for letting her die, and has nightmares about it. This is a horrifying concept all on its own, but the visual expression of it is even worse. Zelda's appearance is grotesque (she was played by Andrew Hubastek, because no female actress could achieve the sickly look the production team was looking for), and her warning to Rachel is chilling. To see her suddenly sit up in that single, paradoxical fluid jerk is unsettling. Her voice is distorted, and her threats to make Rachel suffer her same fate are both sad and detestable. To hear Zelda scream "YOU'LL NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN" evokes a different kind of fear altogether.
9. The Waving Man-Insidious 3
Let me start by saying that I do not like Insidious 3. I thought it was wholly unnecessary to the franchise and basically embodies everything I think is wrong with modern horror. I don't even remember what the protagonist girl's name is to be quite honest. However, there is one scene that did catch my attention, and it is so off the radar that I could not even find a picture of it online. Right before hero girl (if you can even really call her that) gets hit by the car, she sees a man in the distance slowly waving at her. She stares at him, leaving her to be hit by the car. The waving man is creepy because he is not over the top. He seems weird and out of place, which sets the viewer on edge. It is also very realistic; you never know what weirdos are out walking around at night. The minimalism in that one moment is powerful, and I only wish the movie would have been modeled off that scene rather than a bunch of heavy, empty tension and cheap jumps.
10. Put The Bat Down Wendy-The Shining
The Shining is one of those movies that has many great scenes. While "here's Johnny!" or "come and play with us Danny" may be more iconic, Jack and Wendy's showdown on the stairs is intense, and has a certain simplistic realism that evokes real dread. Over the course of the film, Jack becomes possessed by demons who convince him to murder his family. He becomes angry, and threatens to bash Wendy's brains in. Jack Nicholson's performance is really what makes this scene so intense. He is angry, but also cold and calculated. The possession is not as apparent as demonic possession as portrayed in other films; no black eyes or distorted voice. That makes the scene more real. The concept of the scene itself is also terrifying and upsetting. Wendy's husband, someone she loves, is threatening her. She is confused and upset. Although Shelley Duvall's Wendy is often criticized for being weak and pathetic, I think it works very well for this particular scene.
11. The Crucifix Scene-The Exorcist
The Exorcist is widely-regarded as one of the scariest movies of all time. It is extremely difficult to pick any one scene out of the many terrifying choices, but there's one in particular that stands out from the rest. There's no polite way to describe this scene; it's scary, jarring and one of the most obscene in horror history. Young Regan McNeil, while possessed by the demon Pazuzu, uses a crucifix to masturbate, screams obscenities and slaps her mother across the face. To top it off, her head spins all the way around. The scene doesn't make you jump, but its uncomfortable nature makes any view, believer or not, squirm.
12. Grandpa-Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
1970s horror movies are gore, horror and violence on a level that I find to be unmatched in modern cinema. Though we may have more realistic fake blood, there is something uncomfortably real and disturbing about 70s horror movies. One of the best representations of this raw cinematic brutality is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Ironically, there is less explicitly-shown violence than you may think at first: the only person seen to be cut by a chainsaw is Leatherface himself. It's the implications that really give the feeling of dread. One of the best/worst scenes in the movie is when Final Girl Debbie is presented to Grandpa to kill for dinner. Grandpa himself is hard to look at. He rarely moves and has a corpse-like appearance. First, they slit her finger and let Grandpa suck on the blood. This scene is disgusting and cringe-worthy. Then, they prepare to kill her. Not with a chainsaw; they kneel her down in front of a metal washtub and give grandpa a hammer. Sometimes you smile and cheer at a bloody headshot in a zombie movie or gape awestruck at the chainsaw-wielding maniac taking down the crowd. You can do nothing but grimace at the sight of a poor girl about to have her head bashed in like an animal. There is nothing awesome or epic about this type of brutality. This is definitely a scene that will stick around with the audience.
13. The Shower Scene-Psycho
The shower scene from Psycho is arguably the most iconic horror scene of all time. Marion Crane is stabbed to death in the shower by an unknown assailant. This scene may be considered tame by today's standards of violence and gore, but in 1960 a scene like this was unheard of. The sight of the moving shadow behind the curtain gives the audience just enough time to realize what is happening. The music is a cinematic classic. Sometimes it is hard to be scared by a scene like this because it's THAT famous; however, if you take the time to appreciate the panicked tempo of the music, the blood running down the drain and the frightened face of Marion as she lay at the bottom of the tub, the scene brings you into the moment like any good scary movie should.
So tell me, horror buffs, did I miss anything? What are your favorite scenes? I'm always up for recommendations from other horror pros out there!