Though the Halloween season ended a few weeks ago, upcoming slasher film Thanksgiving has kept the horror genre fresh in our minds. Before the holiday season ramps up, check out this list of the top 10 Scariest Horror Movie Moments You’ll Never Forget.
10. Psycho – Bates’ Basement
1960 Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Although Psycho may seem a bit tame in comparison to others on this list, it was quite a different story in 1960. Audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing violence on screen as often as we are today, pair that with the suspense driven mastery of Alfred Hitchcock and you know something unexpected is going to happen. Throughout the movie we know something is very off about Norman Bates, but we all assume that his mother is committing the crimes at the Bates Motel with Norman simply cleaning up her mess. So, when Sam and Lila discover the mummified corpse of Norma Bates in the basement of the house, you can imagine how shocking it was to viewers in the 1960’s, and still to many first time watchers today.
9. The Taking of Deborah Logan – Cave Scene
2014 Directed by Adam Robitel
The Taking of Deborah Logan is an interesting take on possession films. Assuming Deborah is suffering from Alzheimers, a group of students study her for a documentary project. As her condition further deteriorates, it’s clear something else is at work. As it turns out, Deborah is possessed by ritualistic killer Henri Desjardins. As a possessed Deborah travels to one of the locations where Desjardins had killed a victim, and discovers her resembling a snake and attempting to swallow the head of a child whole. I didn’t enjoy rewatching the scene for the making of this list, and if you have a fear of snakes (like me) it will make you especially uneasy.
8. An American Werewolf in London – Transformation
1981 Directed by John Landis
While the transformations in other werewolf movies are also iconic (The Howling, The Wolfman), An American Werewolf in London takes the cake. Largely a more comedic movie until this point, the transformation will catch you off guard. Using practical effects, we are treated to a drawn out sequence of body horror as David slowly transforms into the moonlight beast. Though there are humorous juxtapositions like relaxing music and comedic cutaways, painful growths and body contortions will make you avert your eyes at moments; David’s very convincing cries for help only worsen this. Though terrifying, delving into the ground breaking special effects is quite interesting. No other werewolf transformation put to screen has been able to capture the pain of the change quite as well as An American Werewolf in London, and I think it may be some time before we have a competitor.
7. Jaws – Skinny Dipping/Quint’s Death
1975 Directed by Steven Spielberg
I watched Jaws when I was only 7 or 8 and it has given me a somewhat permanent phobia of dark water. Unlike many other entries on our list, we pretty much know what is going to happen here, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying, and I had to make this a two for one entry because I just couldn’t pick one over the other. The first moment comes when two teens take off during a party to go skinny dipping, the shark of Amity Island decides to attack one and it’s brutal. Watching her helplessly thrash and beg for help in the water gives us as an audience a sense of guilt for some reason, and the fact that she can do next to nothing to escape makes the situation worse. The second entry is Quint’s death, where he slides down the bow of his ship into the shark’s mouth, subsequently being bitten in the mid section then dragged into the ocean. This is also worsened by the recent revelation that during his time in the military he survived a shark attack after his boat was sunk.
6. Hereditary – Car Ride
2018 Directed by Ari Aster
This heart stopping moment in Hereditary will surprise many with the fact that it doesn’t have any supernatural phenomenon taking center stage. After his little sister Charlie eats a cake containing walnuts (which she is deadly allergic to), Peter rushes her to his car and attempts to drive to the hospital. Suffocating, Charlie sticks her head out of the window to try to get more oxygen, and shortly after this Peter has to sharply swerve to avoid a deer. Sadly, a pole strikes Charlie in the head, decapitating her. This is a shocking moment, because we weren’t expecting a regular danger to kill one of the characters in this movie, let alone the character that was marketed the most prior to the film’s release. The reality of the moment sets in immediately for us as an audience, but a shocked Peter drives home and goes to sleep, leading to his parents finding Charlie’s corpse in the car the next morning, a reaction that feels all too real.
5. Terrifier 2 – Allie’s Mother Discovers Her
2022 Directed by Damien Leone
This is a bit more visceral than some of the other entries on this list, but it definitely deserves a spot. After returning after the events of Terrifier, Art the Clown sets out on another murderous rampage. Cornering Allie in her room, Art proceeds to brutally torture her. I don’t want to get into details about the lengths he goes to to hurt the poor girl (it is too gratuitous to even type out) but the torture goes on for quite some time. Though we see most of what Art does to Allie, the shock of Allie being discovered in her mutilated state by her mother is equally shocking to the audience as we’re still reeling from the prior scene. We can hope that Art eventually puts Allie out of her misery offscreen at some point. This one is a pretty tough watch, with multiple theater incidents reportedly caused by this scene. If you’re squeamish I really recommend you seriously think about whether or not you want to watch this movie.
4. The Blair Witch Project – Mike in the Basement
1999 Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
The Blair Witch Project spooked audiences in 1999 because they’d never seen something quite like it. Convinced that this was truly found footage, and that the missing characters were indeed real life people, audiences believed this was a real-life event captured on film. So during the finale, many people believed that we were seeing the last bits of Mike, Josh and Heather’s lives, and it’s effective. Shortly after Josh goes missing, Mike and Heather hear him calling to them and follow his voice to an abandoned house. Mike quickly vanishes, and shortly afterwards Heather finds him in the basement of the house, staring at the wall seemingly in a trance. An unseen force then attacks Heather, causing her to drop the camera where the film then abruptly ends. The grainy, handheld footage and convincing performances really lead you to believe this is real (even if you know the truth) with the abrupt ending only furthering the realism.
3. The Thing – Operating Room
1982 Directed by John Carpenter
The Thing has a few moments that could easily make this list. The discovery of the Thing in the dog kennel is a candidate, as is the infamous blood test scene. However, the scene in medbay where Copper attempts to defibrillate who seems to be Norris takes the cake. As Copper places the machine on an assimilated Norris’s chest, the chest cavity bursts open, revealing a disgusting mouthlike form, and tears off Copper’s wrists. As MacReady attempts to kill the Thing with his flamethrower, it detaches its head from its body, growing spider-like legs from the temples and attempts to crawl away. Yuck.
2. Alien – Chestburster
1979 Directed by Ridley Scott
One of the most iconic horror movies of all time, Alien offers many unforgettable moments, but the crowning one would be the chestburster sequence. After being cleared from quarantine by the crew’s doctor, Kane sits down with his crewmates for one last meal before re-entering cryosleep. All seems to be going well, and everyone is in good spirits until Kane begins writhing on the table in pain. A small alien bursts through his chest, showering the crew with blood and killing Kane, before scurrying off and growing into a fully sized Xenomorph to wreak further havoc on the crew. Though the cast knew what the scene entailed, their reactions were for the most part genuine, and this moment is sure to be iconic for years to come. Also, the parody of this scene in Spaceballs was fantastic.
1. The Exorcist – Head Spinning
1973 Directed by William Friedkin
Taking the top spot on our list is this iconic moment from The Exorcist. As Regan MacNeil succumbs more and more during her possession by the demon Pzuzu, her actions become increasingly more and more disturbing. She says vulgar things in a voice not her own, levitates, projectile vomits, with the most unsettling moment coming when her head completely spins around as Pzuzu resists his exorcism. Still terrifying today, this moment is iconic in film history and the convincing effects and makeup are sure to leave audiences unnerved for decades yet.
Now Watch a Hallmark Movie
As you can see, these moments will really stick with you for years to come. I myself have not watched many of these films in quite a long time, and I still can’t shake them from my memory. If you need to cleanse you palet from horror this Christmas season, I wouldn’t blame you if you kick back with a glass of eggnog and watch a cheesy Hallmark movie. For more on horror check out our list of Horror Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen Yet But Should.
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