13 Scariest Scenes in Non-Horror Movies
Because it’s so much worse when you don't see it coming…
This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
You know what you’re in for when you go and see a horror movie. Scary films usually have scary titles and scary posters so everyone knows that they’re going to get jumped, spooked or grossed-out for the next two hours. If you don’t like horror movies, it’s pretty easy to avoid them.
But that’s not always the case. It might be a kid’s movie, an indie drama, an action blockbuster or a sweet family comedy, but you’re never completely safe from horror when you go to the cinema. Here we round up the scariest scenes in films that generally weren’t meant to be scary – the unintentional horror moments that caught us off guard.
The baby on the ceiling
If you ever need a reason to not take drugs, watch Trainspotting (if that doesn’t work, watch Requiem For A Dream). It might have a cool Britpop soundtrack and a lot of stylish flourishes from Danny Boyle, but it also makes heroin addiction look like the real life horror it is – with Renton (Ewan McGreggor) only realizing that he’s (partially) responsible for killing a baby when he suffers a cold-turkey induced nightmare and sees the dead infant crawling along the ceiling, twisting its head around like an owl, and falling onto his face.
further reading: The Best Streaming Horror Movies
Granted, the baby looks like a bit of a rubbish animatronic when you watch it back now, but the first time you watch it, you never, ever, forget it.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Arnold Toht is one of the most reprehensible bad guys in cinema history – a writhing little Nazi who tortures people with pokers and carries an expanding coat hanger wherever he goes. But did he really deserve to have all the skin and muscle slowly melted off his face? Probably.
further reading: How Raiders of the Lost Ark Continues to Influence Pop Culture
Knowing what God put inside the Ark Of The Covenant probably turned a generation of kids into Catholics out of blind fear – although it has always seemed a bit weird that Indy knew how to avoid death just by keeping his eyes shut.
Michael Haneke is ridiculously good at unintentional horror. Proving that he knows exactly to freak an audience out with Funny Games, his gentler, artier films all contain scenes of jarring terror, even when they’re masquerading as dramas. Caché has that bit with the throat cutting, and the whole of The White Ribbon makes us uncomfortable, but his greatest coup comes in the middle of Amour.
further reading: The Best Horror Movies on Hulu
Mostly a very studied, painful story about an elderly couple learning to cope with loneliness, one seemingly normal scene suddenly reveals itself to be a nightmare when George (Jean-Louis Trintignant), has his face smothered by a pair of hands that silently emerge from behind his head.
Marathon Man (1976)
Is it safe?
If you’re having a root canal soon, you should probably avoid the likes of The Dentist, Little Shop Of Horrors, and, probably, Driller Killer. But you might think you’re safe with a Dustin Hoffman political thriller from the ’70s. You’re not safe. Or maybe you are safe. There is no right answer, apparently, as Dr. Szell (Laurence Olivier) slowly drills into the roots of Hoffman’s teeth until we can almost feel it in our own gums. Horrifying.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The haunted forest
Walt Disney wasn’t actually trying to make a kid’s film with Snow White, but the fact that it looks a lot like one has seen it go down in history of one of the first and most important family movies of all time. Disney went on to unintentionally shape the nightmares of generations of children (from the donkey bit in Pinocchio to the end of Toy Story 3), but there’s arguably nothing more frightening than the haunted forest in Snow White – coming off far more terrifying than anything in The Blair Witch Project. It might be a masterpiece of animation but it made the whole world frightened of trees.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
The Ceti eel
What do you expect from a Star Trek movie? Action? Adventure? A vaguely confusing time travel plot? A gross little worm burrowing into someone’s ear like something out of a David Cronenberg film?
further reading – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the History of that Horrifying Ear Scene
The Ceti eel scene came out of nowhere in 1982, and it still looks pretty appalling today. As if the idea of a worm crawling into your ear wasn’t bad enough, Kahn helpfully explains what it does when it gets in – piercing the eardrum, worming its way to your cerebral cortex and making you go insane.
Watership Down (1978)
The prophesy of death
Watership Down is rated “U” by the BBFC. On the website, the board includes a brief mention of a scene where Fiver the rabbit describes “how human construction workers destroyed his warren, causing some rabbits to panic and die.”
further reading: The Best Horror Movies on HBO Go
What they don’t say is that the scene is played out like a fever dream, with overlaid images of suffocating rabbits, fields running with blood and tormented spirits flying through the air. “Suitable for all”? Seriously?
The Dark Knight (2008)
Bat at the window
Christopher Nolan is great at jump shocks. Watch Insomnia with the volume up and you’ll come out a jittery wreck, but he also hits us with a surprise jolt in The Dark Knight – with of the Joker’s victims hitting a plate glass window, dressed as Batman.
further reading: Why The Dark Knight is Still the Best Superhero Movie
It’s the sound design that sells it – as well as the fact that we’re genuinely not expecting to jump out of our seat in a superhero movie – and it’s one of the most effective jump scares outside the horror genre.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
“Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing!
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing? Is the grisly Reaper mowing?
Yes! The danger must be growing, ‘cause the rowers keep on rowing
And they’re certainly not showing any sign that they are slowing!”
further reading: The Best Horror Movies on Netflix
Gene Wilder is screaming at the top of his lungs, the children are crying, and the screen is filling up with images of decapitated chickens, worms on a corpse and writhing cockroaches. How this made it past anyone in 1971 is still baffling.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
The Child Catcher
Ah, the Child Catcher. As if it wasn’t scary enough to have a character in a kid’s film that lured children into a van with lollipops, director Ken Hughes cast noted ballet dancer Robert Helpmann in the role – obviously knowing that his elongated, rubbery-limbed movements would add to his general creepiness. Popping up in windows and stalking children around a nightmarish Germanic town, The Child Catcher wouldn’t look out of place in a Conjuring movie.
The Revenant (2015)
The bear attack
Terrifying in its intensity, the bear attack in The Revenant looks horribly realistic – making for one of the most savage monster moments in any film. Swap Leonardo DiCaprio for a scream queen, and give the bear glowing red eyes, and it would give any horror movie a run for its money. For some dumb internet reason, the scene picked up a load of flack at the time because of a misinterpreted review about the “intimacy” of the mauling, but no amount of memes can make that scene look anything less than horrifying.
Return To Oz (1985)
Picking the scariest scene from Return To Oz is actually pretty tough. Walter Murch’s sequel definitely isn’t meant to be a horror film – even though pretty much all of it ended up being vaguely terrifying. Starting off with Dorothy having electroshock therapy in a mental asylum, and ending with an escape from a headless witch, the most disturbing scene turns up mid-way through, when the Wheelers turn up.
further reading: Best Modern Horror Movies
Looking like evil punk clowns with wheels for hands, the Wheelers skate around Dorothy like something out of a Nine Inch Nails video, and we still haven’t really gotten over it.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
There are plenty of reasons to be scared of Pee Wee Herman but most people will never forgive him for “Large Marge”, the scene that Tim Burton snuck into the candy-coloured fun of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, presumably to see if everyone in the audience was really paying attention. Hitching a ride with a stranger Pee Wee meets Marge, who tells him an odd ghost story before suddenly turning into a bug-eyed demon, and then suddenly turning back again. It’s the best jump scare in a kid’s film ever. And it’s why you shouldn’t hitchhike.
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