Frights come in all shapes and sizes, and what is scary to one may be child’s play to another and horror can be found even in films outside the genre in moments that linger and shock. To celebrate this spooky season some of our Screen Queens have chosen their favourite scary movie moments.
Mother! (2017) dir. Darren Aronofsky
The final act/ Cannibalising the baby
When a discussion revolving around cinema’s most terrifying moments, perhaps Darren Arronofsky’s ‘Mother!’ isn’t the first film that springs to mind. Many, I feel, would choose a scene from one of the horror classics, such as ‘The Shining’, or maybe ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, both of which are fantastic pieces of cinematic horror, and which both contain some of the most nerve-wracking scenes ever to grace the silver screen. In terms of sheer, anxiety-inducing terror, however, I feel that the final sequence of ‘Mother!’ must claim the crown. For days afterwards, I was left feeling shaken, unsettled and, in all honesty, totally horrified by all that I had seen during the film’s grand crescendo. Sure, it might not have made people leap out of their seats in horror, spurred on by the sudden appearance of some kind of demonic presence, or maybe a ghoul, but what it does feature is the very distinct snapping of an infant’s neck, which is then followed by group engagement in the cannibalism of said infant’s remains. ‘Paranormal Activity’ this isn’t. The final act of ‘Mother!’ is a deeply unsettling mixture of hyperviolence, abuse both physical and emotional, which comes in the form of a severe beating bestowed upon Jennifer Lawrence’s metaphorical Mother Nature, and genuine terror, sprung from the slaughter of an innocent. I have never quite felt discomfort and fear to the extent that I did while watching ‘Mother!’ and for that reason alone, it has to take its’ rightful place as the creator of the most terrifying scene I have ever witnessed in cinema. –HR
Suspiria (1977) dir. Dario Argento
Death by barbed wire
It was the spring of last year, when I was home alone and I decided to watch Suspiria. The scene that frightened me the most was when Sara tried to escape from the academy at night. Throughout the whole film, an aggressive and loud music follows our characters, but in this moment, everything goes quiet. You can hear the the tiniest breath. And then, all of a sudden, someone jumps out and attacks Sara, and the abrasive music is back, but just as fast as it came, it disappears yet again. The use of music is brilliant, it creeps me out so so much! Sara manages to go into a room, but the only way out seems to be a window. While she tries to climb up, the killer tries to get in by putting their knife inside the door. It’s chilling. Sara gets through the window and you get a sense of hope that there might be a chance of her making out alive, and it’s cleverly represented by a literally gleaming door on the other side of the room. But she has to jump. And she jumps into a pile of wires. She desperately tries to make it to the door, but she’s stopped by the killer who slits her throat. She was so close! This death scene is truly the most horrifying death I’ve ever seen on film. It stayed with me, and I know it will stay with me for many more years to come. It’s really, really devastating and brutal. -EJ
REC (2007) dir. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
As a lover of horror, I consider myself to have quite a high tolerance for scares, so I went into Balagueró and Plaza’s, REC confidently. The found-footage film follows ambitious reporter Angela and her cameraman Pablo, as they document the emergency services response to a house call, in which, an elderly woman, reports being trapped in her apartment. Once there, the reporters and firemen, find themselves in a quarantine, in which Angela and her cameraman investigate the outbreak of a disease, which is turning the residents into cannibals. Going in, I had already seen Quarantine, (the U.S remake) which I enjoyed, but didn’t consider overly scary, so my expectations for the Spanish original weren’t too high. I watched the film in a pitch-dark room on a small laptop screen, which in hindsight only added to the anxiety. Admittedly, I was a little bored during the first section of the film, as I’m not the biggest fan of zombie-horror, however the last ten minutes were enough to convince me, that I couldn’t handle any of the sequels. The final scene in which the reporters discover the origin of the virus, and encounter patient zero for the first time, combine my biggest fear, confined spaces with my favourite horror movie techniques, night vision and a shaky camera. Neither the trailer nor most of the film, prepare you for the true horror of its final scene, and it is one I suggest viewing with caution. I watched Angela’s fight to survive through my fingers, while repeatedly reminding myself to breathe, it’s the scariest scene I’ve ever seen in a film, and it’s not one I ever want to see again. –AF
Nosferatu (1922) dir. F.W Murnau
To be truly, frankly, disturbed by a moment in horror, I go back to the genre’s origins with F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). Specifically, Hutter’s carriage ride from the point of no return to Count Orlock’s castle. Depending on the edition you’re watching and its choice of musical accompaniment (versions range from revelatory to miserable), the scene can either be absurd or deeply unsettling (or both). Either way, it’s an uncanny depiction of a supernatural feeling – jump cuts jerking the cart violently upward, a carriage driver that we will encounter again, only as someone else (Orlock). The strange man cracks the whip, but it cuts before it ever hits. The carriage shakes violently. The score (the good ones) echo this terribly. And when they reach the top, with one slender arm and a wide open eye (the other under shadow of a strange feathered hat), the driver points to the ultimate destination. The shape of the tower is strange, the upward angle forcing a fear of its size, and that wonderfully special circular vignette – so particular to this period and style – recalls the most inherently scary aspect of every film from the silent era to now: the picture moves. The contents of a photo promises to be still and unchanging, but a movie offers no such reassurance. Who’s to say what may peer out of that castle’s window, when you least expect it? It’s a sequence of film where everything moves with an inhuman strangeness and a vibrating kineticism. While novelty might lend it a 21st century creepiness, it’s that uncanny rhythm and framing that really lets your fears take root. –AL
Zodiac (2007) dir. David Fincher
Lake Berrysea Murder
This scene from Zodiac continues to haunt me, lingering in my mind long since I’ve first seen the film. It opens with a picturesque American couple lolling on the banks of a California lake. As the girl lies on top of her resting boyfriend, she thinks she notices someone watching them in the distance, but his small figure is obscured by the golden foliage. As he walks briskly towards them, they realize he has a gun in his hand. The mysterious man is dressed head to toe in a bizarre medieval knight-esque costume. The juxtaposition of his inky color against the pastoral landscape of the vast blue sky, colossal canyons, and serene lake glittering in the background imbues the sequence with a harrowing surrealism, buoyed by his deep muffled voice and movements of near-superheroic celerity. Fincher’s use of intense close-ups and POV shots truly terrorizes the viewer; he arrests our hearts and minds by putting us in the place of the victims. The Zodiac Killer peers down, as if escaping the frame’s borders, to show the boyfriend—who now lies on his stomach with his hands tied to his feet—the bullets in his gun. In the next shot, from below the boy’s head, we view the killer swiftly unsheathe his knife and plummet it into the boy’s back. The sound design of the violent act is sharp and crisp. The only other sound is the girlfriend’s horrified and guttural primal scream. In a startling jump cut, the Zodiac Killer flips the girl onto her back and plunges the knife repeatedly into her stomach. There is a horrifying awe to how simple this action is, how smoothly the blade disappears into her flesh. Fincher’s unblinking and almost quotidian stylization of such violent actions in an idyllic setting is chilling. –CM
The Woman In Black (1989) dir. Herbert Wise
The Woman in Black on the Marshes
My chosen scene from the 1989 version of The Woman in Black manages to scare me just as much now as it did the first time I watched it when I was thirteen. Up until this moment we have only caught glimpses of the lady in question – as she torments the village she used to live in. Having been quickly driven to fear and paranoia by her mind games, lawyer “Arthur Kidd” goes outside to look for his dog after it suddenly runs off.
The desolate never ending marshland that surrounds “Arthur” in this scene emphasises the hopelessness of his situation – and makes it all the more eerie when a figure cloaked in black suddenly appears into view. The subtle change of camera angle reveals the woman to “Arthur” and us simultaneously, providing one of the only jump scares of the film.
It is however, the slow zoom in to her face as she stares unblinking at “Arthur” that makes this scene so frightening. The pure hatred and malice pours out of the screen as she continues to stare him down. It is the first time we see her face up close and it never fails to unsettle me – and the purple that surrounds her hate-filled eyes is such a contrast to the rest of her face, a ghostly pale hue, makes it impossible to look away.
As the scene concludes she slowly starts to move towards “Arthur”, never once breaking eye contact with him – sending him fleeing back to the house and dead bolting the door after him. Even now, having watched it several times it takes me a few hours to stop seeing her hate-filled face when I close my eyes. And I’m not ashamed to say that the night I first watched it, I did have to sleep with the light on – just to be extra safe. –MG
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
The Pale Man
The night after a soccer game back in 2006, all I wanted to do was watch a movie. The game had gone pretty badly (as most did for me, the only one on our team who never scored a goal and never would). After a long, annoying string of pretty please’s on the car ride home, my mom and I headed to our local video store where I could pick any movie I wanted to rent. In the front of the store were the newly released DVD’s. There sat many copies of the new hit movie, fresh-to-disc, Pan’s Labyrinth.
On the cover I saw a girl about my age framed by an enchanted forest, dark branches curling around her, silhouetted by a starry sky. When I took it to the counter, my mom made absolutely sure this was the movie I wanted. She had heard it was pretty scary.
Scary? I thought. Maybe for a second grader.
I was in fourth, so the choice was obvious.
What I did not expect was a movie so dark and terrifically unsettling that it would stick in my memory even until now. Director Guillermo Del Toro corrupts the classic fairy tale narrative with twisted artistry. Disturbing scenes replaced the whimsy that I had naively expected. The most eerie of these scenes, to me, was the pale man scene.
And when I say I was terrified of this scene, I mean nightmares-for-years, sleep-with-a-nightlight TERRIFIED. I think the intensity of my fear must stem from a mixture of my deep alignment with Ophelia, the film’s main character, and the uncanny valley effect of the sickening creature she’s chased by. His nails, skin, and shine all combine to make a completely horrific image. That said, I still highly recommend watching this movie; just make sure you’re prepared for your skin to crawl. -OK
Scream (1996) dir. Wes Craven
I was ten, and I was in love with Drew Barrymore. No, really–I was head-over-heels, kiss-my-Ever-After-poster-before-going-to-bed, soul-crushingly in love with Drew Barrymore. I still am, a little bit (we always keep a tiny place in our hearts reserved for our first crushes, right?), but this was 2000 or so, and I was in deep. My Halloweens then usually consisted of dressing up in whatever costume my mom and I decided on (usually one that required a hat–I was very much a hat kid), going trick-or-treating with my handful of cousins who lived in town, and falling asleep telling myself it was almost midnight and therefore Michael Myers would soon go back to wherever he goes when it isn’t Halloween. But I was getting older (cue “Landslide” playing faintly in the background), and I thought it would be cool to bribe my older brother to rent Scream from the local Blockbuster. I had no idea what I was in for. I don’t recommend it, watching your heart of hearts get taken out Ghostface-style. Honestly, I still can’t make Jiffy Pop without worrying some teenage shithead bogeyman with a grudge is going to pay me a visit. But hell, what an opening scene. I think the proximity gets me the most–horror in suburbia especially always terrifies me. Her parents were right there, for chrissake. But y’all have seen Scream, and you’re very likely familiar with the first thirteen minutes I’m referring to. Sound lends the scene a particularly jarring effect–both the exaggerated sound effects of the knife and the Marco Beltrami score. On subsequent viewings I’d make sure to skip to just around minute fourteen, but as I approached college I thought maybe I was imaging the impact the scene had on me, so decided to give it another go. Turns out I wasn’t imagining anything–it terrifies me, even still. –JF