Anatomy Of Fear

All Hallows is traditionally a time of fear. For children, it is a time to share scary stories about razor blades in candy before going to strangers to ask for candy. For parents, the knowledge that your child is seeing so many strangers in one night is a terrifying enough prospect without taking into account the fact that many of these strangers will be in disguise. For teens, the chance of moving up the bases (ironically down the body) is increased by fear so a night like this is perfect for them.

For me Halloween has always been a time to chill out and watch horror movies. I appreciate a good horror almost as much as I do a bad one (bad movies, especially in the horror genre, are usually more entertaining in how bad they are than good ones) on Halloween. I should specify that I’m talking actual scary movies here and not torture porn. There is a difference between subjecting yourself to gross out movies and enjoying the frights supplied by chillers and jump scares. Call me a connoisseur, if you will.

Anyway, what follows are five of my favourite scary movie scenes. They are either scary, shocking or plain old disturbing scenes that have stayed in my mind since I first saw them. Obviously some spoilers will be given for these movies, but most are quite old so you probably have seen these scenes anyway. We’ll be starting with…

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

A simple scene this, but oh so effective. We’re at the end of the movie and the aliens have taken over pretty much everyone in the world. As soon as they recognise that someone is still a pure human they let out a piercing, inhuman scream that all others around soon join in with.

Donald Sutherland has been playing the hero all the way through and has been separated from his friend, Veronica Cartwright (these are the names of actors from the olden days if you insist on being young). He makes his way through the city, feigning a lack of emotion as he has learned to do throughout the course of the film. At this point in the end Veronica sees him and approaches him, herself feigning a lack of any emotion. He turns to look at her and she smiles. At this point Donald’s face contorts and he points at her, a piercing and inhuman scream coming from his lips. Veronica starts to cry in terror and the credits roll, leaving the viewer stunned.

Alien (1979)

My fondness of the Alien series is well known as is my love of the first film. There are so many moments that I could pick from that film that stand out to me above so many other horror films. The chestburster scene is the easy one. Not only are the characters sat down and relaxing with the horror seemingly over when all hell breaks loose, but the actors didn’t even know what was coming in that famous scene. Every reaction there is real. Another stand out moment is when Captain Dallas goes into the ducts and the motion detector says the alien is right next to him. He looks one way and sees nothing, then turns the light the other way to find it sitting right next to him. It’s a jump scare but a perfectly executed one.

For me though, the standout scene of that movie is the death of Lambert (coincidentally again played by Veronica Cartwright). We see that she is trapped by the alien and the next few scenes are intercut with Ripley running through the self-destructing ship to the life pods. The hooked tail of the alien slips between its legs and curls slightly, aiming up – CUT TO RIPLEY RUNNING. The tail slowly rises between Lambert’s legs as she starts to cry – CUT TO RIPLEY RUNNING. We stay on Ripley now and she hears Lambert die over the radio, but this is no ordinary death scene. Listen to the sounds and you get a disturbing idea that seems more valid with each watch. The alien is using its tail to rape Lambert to death. At no point in the film is this said, nor is it mentioned in any of the other films or literature associated with the films. That doesn’t stop it being what is happening there though. Once you realise what is happening there you never forget that scene, as much as you may try.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project gets a lot of stick from people who watch it expecting it to be full of scares. This isn’t that type of movie and it has suffered for people expecting that of it. What it actually is to those who watch it unprepared is one of the best urban legends ever told. The conceit of the movie is that it is found footage (this movie actually started that genre of film) pieced together in an attempt to find out what happened to some film students who went missing. We start in Burkitsville, Maryland where interviews with the townsfolk reveal legends of the Blair Witch, a supernatural entity who brings bad juju to the surrounding woods. We hear stories about people who went missing, and a serial killer who makes children face the wall while he kills their friends with a hammer before moving onto them.

The film goes on and we see some weird things. The students have their tents rustled at night but can’t find who is doing it. Piles of stones are left outside their tents and dolls made of twisted twigs are found hanging in the trees. It’s a little creepy but not as scary as the students seem to find it. One of the students, Michael, disappears one night and isn’t seen again throughout the film, leaving the others to blame each other for his departure. Eventually they are chased by something unseen through the woods into an abandoned and ruined house filled with grafitti.

Heather, the student holding the camera heads down the stairs and into the basement where she finds Michael facing a wall. A bang is heard and the camera drops to the ground. The credits roll. Most people say what the hell at this moment and express their disappointment in the film. Those who followed the online campaign and remember the interviews at the start of the film marvel at how subtly the mislead about the witch was played out and tell people that they need to watch this brilliantly creepy film.

Ringu (1998)

No prizes for guessing which scene I’ll be picking here. The film itself is a pretty standard ghost story with some interesting ideas about psychic power thrown in for good measure. As is usual in such stories, during the course of the film we discover a haunting (and a pretty original one involving a cursed video tape), discover why the haunting is taking place and put the spirit to rest by finding and burying her body. All is well with the world. Except it’s not at all. In a twist on the genre, Sadako has no desire for her bones to be put to rest at all. She is hate personified and wants to continue her vengeance against the entire world. Only those who offer up another sacrifice to her will be saved. At the moment in question the viewer doesn’t know this though. We think evil has been vanquished and the film is about to end.

A television glitches and draws his attention. The well where Sadako’s body was found is shown on the screen. Slowly we see her ghost form climb out of the well and approach the screen. In a moment that makes almost everyone who sees it say “What the fuck?!!!”, Sadako reaches out of the screen and crawls out of the television and onto his floor. She comes towards him and we know this is far from over. It is one of the single most iconic scenes from any movie and unforgettable.

The Haunting (1963)

I personally think that The Haunting is one of the scariest films ever made. There are very few jump scares, but the sheer ambience of the film is unmistakable. This is a chiller in the middle of winter, a ghost story with the emphasis on ghost. Several people are gathered together to take part in an experiment into the existence of the supernatural. Some are scientists, some are psychics, some are invited by mysterious forces outside anyones control and expected to stay forever. You see, Professor McSuicidy has decided that this experiment should take place in the most haunted house that has ever existed. This is pre-Amityville so don’t expect bleeding walls and ghostly voices. There are very few visual effects in the movie, but even those are carried out with a level of technology you wouldn’t expect to be available in those days. What you do get is subtle and creeping terror in a film that stays with you long after the lights are back on.

This scene for example shows the two heroines of the film talking in one of their bedrooms. A bang is heard outside, one of the telltale sounds of the haunting that has been going on throughout their visit. Another bang is heard. Slowly, steadily the bangs move up the corridor, getting closer and closer to the door, and then they pass by. All seems well until the slow and regular banging (there is no clean way to put that) turns into a frantic hammering on the door and the girls are trapped within.

Honourable Mentions

There can never be only five moments in all film history for anyone. Other things that have stood out to me are Scanners (the head exploding scene and the final battle between Cameron and Revak), The Stepford Wives (when we find out what the hell is happening there), Cape Fear (DeNiro at his creepiest), Halloween (Michael cocks his head slightly to get a look at his most recent victim), Nightmare on Elm Street (the bath scene that drove a generation to take showers), The Shining (Nicholson at his craziest) and Child’s Play (“Wanna plaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?”).

To me the five I chose in the end are some of the standout moments from my Halloween scary movie nights. Each moment is one that has stayed with me for years since I first saw the films they were in, and far outshines many of the films that offer themselves up as horror. Together I believe they offer some of the scariest moments in film history.

What are your favourite scary moments?

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21 thoughts on “Anatomy Of Fear

    • We saw that a few years back. Spent most of the film complaining that the girl at the shop had been so overly concerned that it was subtitled, as if we couldn’t read and that would mean the film would be unintelligible. Then had to watch again to actually read the subtitles instead of complaining…

    • To be honest with you, I was quite underwhelmed by Cloverfield. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but I felt it lacked something. The foreboding given by the head flying down the street and the buildings being torn down was played well but never paid off. Rather than go into the mythos that so obviously inspired it, the film veered off and gave a street level threat with infections and mini-monsters. It felt overly produced to me, as if the studios had their hand too far into to.

          • It is a nice moment. There’s a similar one in another film (Skyline I think) that is ruined moments later by the traditional action film ending. Up to that point it had been an excellent film.

        • I know it’s supposed to be one of those movies with loads of background events that inform what you’re seeing. For example, the end scene where it’s months before and they’re on the fairground ride shows the monster falling into the ocean from the sky. Personally I haven’t the time to go sifting through a movie looking for the story in little freeze frames. It makes them better value for those who become culture fans but worse for those who don’t.

      • I agree. Cloverfield could have been a much better movie, if they had taken the story a bit further. I just remembered that scene when I saw you selection. I actually yelled ‘Yeah!’ when I watched it first time. Otherwise, Cloverfield is just another monster movie. i do like monster movies, though, and therefore I have Cloverfield on the shelf and also watch it sometimes. I like the Cloverfield monster for it’s weirdness and size, I prefer stories like The Host/Goemul, because I like when there’s a streak of homour in horrors, otherwise it get’s pretentious. Not much humour in Cloverfield.

        My all times favourite horror/monster flick is this one:

  1. I like creepy best. Jump scares, yes, okay, they make you jump. Some are quite good for jumpers, but that’s all they are. Gore is easy to shock. But creepy is artful and I appreciate it the most.
    Can’t think of something to hand, but that’s my brand of scare.

    • There’s a moment in Project Zero 2 that springs to mind immediately. For those who don’t know this is a japanese horror game franchise in which you play defenceless japanese girls against all manner of horrific ghosts. There are some tense moments but this one at the start is one of the ones that has stayed with me for years.

      Twin sisters approach an abandoned village and one of them is scared. The other, standing behind her, comforts her and tells her everything is going to be okay. She puts her hand on her sisters shoulder and the girl in front rests her cheek on the hand. It’s a sweet moment for exactly 3.7 seconds because, at 3.8 seconds her sister walks by her while the hand remains on her shoulder. The hand is swiftly withdrawn and she looks around to see nothing there.

      Truly creepy moment.

  2. Ending scene in Carrie (1976). It almost killed me, I swear. Whole movie was not scary at all, rather interesting but that ending was completely unexpected.

    I’ve seen all the movies you mentioned in this post and I do remember that ending scene from Body Snatchers. That’s how young I am 😀
    But in overall, Ringu is the scariest movie I have ever seen in my life.

    So far.

    • I always found that to be a cheap jumpscare. It’s supposed to show her powers coming into full bloom and “Look ghosts! Woo!” but makes no real sense. The book has a pretty good ending in that it goes on to scientific study of the case and the fact that so many similar cases are coming to light every day. It leaves it on that, letting you know that any of them could be another such incident.

      Another one that doesn’t translate to film well or simply the film makers can’t be bothered with the work it would take (see any conversation about I Am Legend).

      • A cheap or not, I thought my heart stopped and for same reason, next time I was watching it I nearly jumped again – because I knew it will happen 😀

        • I grew up through the 80s where every film had the killer come back for one last scare at the end (usually smashing through a window followed by a freeze frame). I’ve grown to loathe that sort of ending, even those that came before it was fashionable.

          Another example of things I hate that I grew up with is something that may end up being a British thing only. At the end of a lot of our sitcoms the cast would dance along to the music and/or wave at the camera as their name was shown (a similar thing is happening in the ending of the recent sitcom Miranda). It always felt cheap and nasty to me. Don’t think that happened in sitcoms from other countries. I do know American sitcoms back then thought all black families couldn’t stop singing when they got together for the holidays.

  3. I’m always so confused as to when Halloween really is, as it’s not “celebrated” here, and if it is, it’s different days in Norway and Sweden and probably the rest of the world too.

    So – I ended up watching Halloween 5. I sucked. Camel balls. But I suppose that shouldn’t surprise anybody, really…

    Although it was starring Nicole Kidman, I liked “The Others” because of the ambience. “The Devil’s Backbone” is another one I remember for its feeling.
    And probably tens more that I can’t think of right now.

    • I sucked. Camel balls. But I suppose that shouldn’t surprise anybody, really…

      Best typo ever!!! The Halloween movies are at their best when they don’t try to explain anything and give Michael a mythology. Rob Zombie screwed that up in the Halloween remake by focussing on the mythology that he had in mind and making him understandably human.

      Just seen The Devil’s Backbone for the first time today. Brilliant film with a hell of a lot of ambience. Can’t believe I’ve missed it up until now. I remember the adverts for it seeming like just another torture porn film at the time, although I may have mixed it up with a similar sounding film, so I ignored it. Mark Gatiss, a writer and actor here with a love of horror, recently did a programme about horror movies from Europe and that was featured on it enough that I wanted to give it another chance. Glad I did.

      Oh, and Halloween is October 31st. We don’t really celebrate it here. The clubs put up cheap decorations and students wear as slutty a dress as they can (the girls too). The few kids that go trick or treating wear hoodies and complain they were given candy instead of money, but that’s really about it, at least in my experience. Perhaps the upper classes from me do celebrate it a bit better.

      • HAHAHAHA! OMG! Why thank you 😀
        *makes a curtsey while blushing*

        In Sweden, it’s more common to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve which is always on a Saturday.
        Celebrate in the meaning, going to the graveyard and light candles.

        • We used to do the graveyard thing (that and supposedly haunted caves) if I wasn’t working. If I was I’d meet up with people after, still fully made-up as a zombie roadkill thing from work.

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