Haunting Horror Images That Still Scare Us Today
One haunting image is all it takes to unsettle you for the rest of that horror movie, book, or game.
Some images you just can’t unsee. Sometimes it is something out and out horrific, others it’s a shot so uncanny and wrong it makes your skin itch, and sometimes it’s the implications of what you’ve just witnessed that lives on with you.
The Den of Geek team has put their heads together to identify some of the most haunting single images in horror genre history so we can share them all with you! Moments, or pieces of artwork, that immediately make you go “nope!” The kind of image that’ll make you change the channel, throw out your DVD, hit reset on your console, or put down that book. You are welcome!
These are the images that still haunt the stuff, please share the demons of your own subconscious in the comments!
This. This is the worst thing ever. This image is from Lake Mungo and it’s impossible to explain what is so utterly awful about this image without spoilers. You don’t want spoilers for Lake Mungo – go away with you. But if you have watched the movie…
This shot is the answer, the terrible answer, to what scared Alice Palmer so very much on that trip to Lake Mungo. It’s her. It’s her own drowned corpse, yet to happen, but coming inexorably, slowly approaching her in the dark. By the time the viewer is exposed to it, very close to the end of the film, we already know what we are going to see. We know and it’s almost unbearable. Alice is already dead by drowning, and now we understand how utterly terrified and alone she was beforehand. Lake Mungo begins with these chilling words from Alice “I feel like something bad is going to happen to me. I feel like something bad has happened to me, it hasn’t reached me yet but it’s on its way. And it’s getting closer.” This image is the “something bad.” – Rosie Fletcher
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Let me start by saying that this turned out to be a FAR more lucrative prompt than I anticipated. Upon close reflection, I realized that there are dozens of terrifying images from my pop culture life that continue to haunt me. These include: Paulie’s Virgin Mary vision in The Sopranos, the “Big Foot” style alien video in Signs, the first appearance of The Bent-Neck Lady in The Haunting of Hill House, and so, so many more. In keeping with the spirit of the assignment, however, I can only choose one.
So I’m going with “The Bride,” one of illustrator Stephen Gammell’s macabre works from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. All of Gammell’s art in these ostensible children’s books is truly disturbing, but “The Bride” takes things up a notch. Kudos to the book publisher who saw the image of an emaciated woman’s corpse covered in cobwebs and thought “yeah, this’ll work for the kids.” – Alec Bojalad
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
I like to think of myself as someone who isn’t easily scared and can handle watching a horror movie without it giving me sleepless nights, but this one right here is my Kryptonite. Granted I watched this alone when I was very young and decided to be in a dark room for added impact, but it still gave me sleepless nights for the following four days. To this day, I can’t watch this movie again and it is particularly because of this image alone. This particular image is from the scene when Emily sleeps in her dorm room and her boyfriend is sleeping next to her and making sure she is okay. He wakes up in the middle of the night and notices she isn’t next to him and looks over at the floor where Emily is in this twisted position staring back at him with the most hollow look to her.
God Bless this man because instead of running for his life, he actually goes to her and calls her out to see if she is okay. What happens next is what you would expect from an exorcism flick, but 12-year-old me was caught off-guard and will remain traumatized by: she opens her mouth and screams in the most demonic voice I have ever heard. I spent the next four days scared that I’d see her on my bedroom floor, and stayed up till the sun came out because we all know, day-time is safe! – Maznah Shehzad
It shouldn’t be possible for so much dread to be contained in a daylight shot of a busy New York City street in June, but that’s what makes this image so haunting. A heavily pregnant and desperate Rosemary Woodhouse tries to escape a Satanic conspiracy by calling her doctor for help. She knows her captors will be coming for her at any moment. As she begs, she can’t see the man who appears outside the phone booth, but we can, and we know what he means. It’s over. She’s been caught. That the man turns out to be no threat but just a passer-by (and a cameo by Rosemary’s Baby producer William Castle) is a devilish trick and proof of the expert paranoia this film conjures. – Louisa Mellor
P.T. Silent Hills Demo
Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant “Playable Teaser” for the Silent Hills game they never got to make remains one of the scariest experiences in PlayStation history. Trapped in a looping corridor haunted by the memories of a series of grisly killings, you play as an unnamed character who doesn’t remember ever entering this house. All you know is that you want to leave…and fast. That’s the objective of the game: escape the corridor. But it’s not as easy as solving a few puzzles, finding a key, and opening the door at the end of the hallway.
You must also get past Lisa, the angry spirit of a woman who was murdered inside the house. At first, you’re not aware of her presence as you make your way through the corridor — once, twice, three times — solving the puzzles that will earn you your freedom, but if you go back and play the game again, you learn that she’s been stalking you the entire time, watching you from the upstairs railing or from the other side of a window.
The very first time you encounter Lisa in the flesh remains the most harrowing moment in the game, though. You turn a corner and she’s there, standing just a few feet away, under the light but still covered in shadow. The game dares you to walk towards her — there’s no other direction to go except forward — and you’re left to decide whether to keep playing or leave the protagonist to figure their own shit out. Only the bravest of players will move any closer… – John Saavedra
Twin Peaks, Season Two
It’s a sad irony that horror is most effective on children, who are too young to watch the best horror movies. By the time we reach adulthood and have our own Netflix and Shudder accounts, we can watch anything we like, but we pick up on the rules too quickly. For me, the horror moments that remain most effective are those that break the rules, refusing to play along with our understanding of proper storytelling: the ghost running in slow-motion in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, the non-sequitur ending of Pontypool, cut away shots to Bela Lugosi’s face in The Island of Lost Souls.
When it comes to breaking rules for disturbing effect, nobody tops David Lynch, who terrified audiences of Twin Peaks with a shot of just a ceiling fan. But the show’s most unnerving sequence involves BOB (Frank Silva), the manifestation of cosmic evil, in the Palmer’s living room. Laura Palmer’s doppelganger Maddie (Sheryl Lee) sees BOB walking into the living room and climbing over the furniture to get her, moving in center frame and staring directly into the camera as he advances. Lynch occasionally cuts back to expected reaction shots from Maddie, but BOB doesn’t stop. He continues to move closer, far past expectations, far past genre rules, far past even good taste. Your chest constricts as he nears the camera, telling yourself that he’ll cease any minute because you’ve seen this thing before and that’s how it always works. But he doesn’t stop, he sticks his face in the camera, blurring his features as he fills the frame. It’s actually a relief when the scene cuts back to a shrieking Maddie, something familiar and safe. – Joe George
It’s only on the screen for a brief, nearly subliminal flash (which is repeated later in the film), but this image of the face of — Who? Captain Howdy? Pazuzu? Some other entity inside the body of Regan MacNeil? — has been terrifying viewers of The Exorcist for nearly 50 years. The dream sequence in which it occurs is thoroughly unsettling to begin with, and this flickering glance at evil perfected and personified comes at just the right second to make one scream out loud. – Don Kaye
As a horror enthusiast who has always happily gobbled up everything considered even remotely gross or creepy, it takes a lot to really disturb me, but Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror classic Ring managed to get the job done, not just with its iconic scene of vengeful spirit Sadako climbing from her video well and then out of a TV, but more so with its final twist, one that occurs just minutes after that horrifying attack.
As the film reaches its climax, protagonist Reiko slumps in front of the TV and struggles to understand why her psychic ex-husband Ryuji didn’t manage to escape Sadako’s clutches. Why did Sadako let her live, but not Ryuji? After all, they both helped to find her old bones and finally lay them to rest!
Seeing a VHS tape lying on her coffee table and a vision of Ryuji pointing to her handbag, Reiko suddenly jumps up and fumbles for the tape inside. Nakata then cuts to a simple, near-static shot of the two tapes, with one clearly labelled “COPY”. Yes, the only way to avoid being scared to death by Sadako is to copy her curse video and pass it onto someone else, ensuring her reign of terror will never end. Shudder. – Kirsten Howard
Vampires have never been scarier on-screen than when Ralphie Glick floated outside of Danny Glick’s window in Tobe Hooper’s 1979 adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. As he later proved in Poltergeist, Hooper is the master of distilling all of our childhood fears into unforgettable images. – Matthew Byrd
There are many reasons not to watch Luther when you’re home alone, but this scene from the opening of series three is the absolute number one, and I’m still scarred by it a decade on. The eerie quiet of the first minute of the scene as we watch the unsuspecting victim get ready for bed is deadly effective in being completely ordinary and relatable while building unbearable tension, but it’s that moment, when she’s finally asleep and the head slides silently out from under the bed, that has an unwelcome rent-free spot in my brain forever.
The music builds to a terrifying peak as the killer slowly, expertly unfolds himself from his hiding place and stands over his victim, and the cherry on the horror cake is he actually waits for her to wake up and open her eyes before attacking her. We don’t see a second of violence, but it still chills me to the bone. It’s enough to make you sleep with the light on – but the worst part is, the victim did just that. – Laura Vickers-Green
Jonathan Creek, The Three Gamblers (Season 3, Episode 6)
When you think of the scariest thing you’ve ever seen, I am doubtful that many of you will think of Sunday night BBC mystery series Jonathan Creek; but to this wimp it truly gave me such a fright that it has bedded in my brain in the ‘try not to think about this ever again’ lobe.
For those not familiar with Jonathan Creek (anyone from outside the UK perhaps and those born after the year 2000) it involved magician Jonathan (Alan Davies) and a female companion (she changed a few times during the twelve year run) solving the unsolvable. In this episode the mystery was ‘how did a dead body crawl up the stairs?’. In my memory (I will not be watching this episode again for accuracy), someone wrongs someone, kills them, leaves the body in a cellar but when they go back to move the corpse the body is in a position crawling up the stairs. It scared the bejeezus out of me and I have been absolutely terrified of cellar/basements ever since. The reason why the body looked like it was crawling was solved by Jonathan and made sense but I have forgotten why – I just remember the terrifying bit (which when Googled is so obviously a mannequin in retrospect but in that moment was the worst thing I had ever seen). Told you I was a wimp! – Elizabeth Donoghue
What are the moments in horror fiction that still haunt you? Tell us in the comments!