The 11 scariest movie moments

Everyone could probably rattle off a list of movies that gave them nightmares when they were children. But what are the scariest moments in film of all time?

Sadako from Ring gives you the evil eye

Presented backwards, as is traditional:

11 – Silent Hill – burnt children, and the bathroom scene

While no computer game has ever made the translation to film perfectly (who can forget Street Fighter, Doom, Double Dragon and Mario…? Urgh) Christopher Gans’s attempt to translate the atmosphere of one of the best survival horror games ever to celluloid is actually pretty damn good.

While it loses it slightly towards the end of the film, it’s the first reel that really holds most of the scares. Playing mostly with the environment, the film’s claustrophobic feel comes from the fact that the lead character spends most of the first quarter of an hour exploring Silent Hill enshrouded in a mix of smoke and ash, meaning that we see very little – but the implication of something sinister is always there.

Ad – content continues below

With the anticipation building, and only sounds for you to guess at, the big reveal comes shambling through the smog in the shape of the small, sinister, deformed, burnt bodies of children. The set up has been done to perfection. While a little on the CGI side, these sinister beasties moan and scream their way into the list due to their grotesque squeals – and for being a commendable payoff to such a large investment of build-up time.

The horror ante is then upped just that little bit further when our heroine has to retrieve a key from a very nasty twisted monster that has for some reason popped to the toilet and accidentally slipped and wrapped himself in barbed wire (happens to me all the time). The terror of this scene really comes from the fact that you know full well something is going to happen and the blooming monstrosity is going to move – it’s just a case of when?

10 – Hellraiser – The Cenobites’ entrance

With a film that starts with a mutilated face on the floor being put together again like a jigsaw, horror fans knew they were in for something special. But in a film that had skinless serial killers, meat hooks aplenty and gore by the bucketload, the scariest part of all is the grand entrance of the Cenobites.

Or, more more specifically, their ‘leader’, Pinhead.

The fertile imagination of Clive Barker bought this modern day icon of horror to the actual screen, and gave S&M fans a new hero of pain to worship in the process. But it’s really Doug Bradley’s performance – as he utters “We have such sights to show you” from under a pile of prosthetics – that really makes the first appearance of these extra dimensional explorers of excess such a shocking and sinister piece of horror history.

Ad – content continues below

9 – Stephen King’s It – ‘B…B…B…Billy Boy’

Clowns are by their very nature sinister, but Pennywise (portrayed by Tim Curry, in what is probably his best role -next to Congo, of course) takes the idea of a sinister clown to the extreme.

More a mini-series than a film, and only really let down by the anti-climatic end, this masterpiece of childhood nightmares made real is a fantastic adaptation of the equally sinister book by Stephen King, and it’s probably the only film to fully capture the ideas and atmosphere that the author puts into his books.8 – Ghostbusters – ‘Get her!’

How do you start of one of the funniest and most popular genre films of the 1980? Why, with a massive scare of course!

Introducing Egon, Ray and Peter to an unsuspecting audience, the film starts in New York Library with a disturbance that sees books stacking themselves, an attack on a librarian and piles and piles of goo. When we encounter the ghost, fans are treated to a great visual effect of a transparent floating old lady innocently reading a book. However, it’s when the clueless team of paranormal investigators utter those classic words that what was once a floating old dear combusts in spectral flames to become a hideous hybrid corpse/monkey thing.

A terrifying, shocking and great intro to a film; and, if film myth is to be believed, the special effects guys were actually told to tone down the library ghost from their original idea, as their initial idea was much scarier than the one we saw on screen!7 – Event Horizon – the flash/horror/brain upload scene

Ad – content continues below

A Paul W.S. Anderson film in a list of top horror…shock!

However, before such efforts as AVP and Resident Evil, the most generic genre director ever actually made a nasty little film in the mid 90s starring Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne.

Most of the film seems to fit into a fairly generic Aliens-style space-based sci-fi horror template. However, towards the end of the film, Sam Neill grabs the final survivor and ‘downloads’ a vision of Hell straight into her brain.

Though this might not sound too scary, the actual imagery that blurs past at lightening speed on the screen is jam-packed with some of the most hideous and grim bits of special effects ever to hit the screen.

From medical experiments on the crew to razor blades in unmentionable places, the effects for this scene must have taken the team days to set up and create, even though all the images are only barely glanced. Which makes it all that much scarier, as all the while you are thinking ‘What did I just see?!’

Applying the power of DVD, fans were able to slow down this barrage of images to fully appreciate the sheer amount of gore and nastiness that’s packed in. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Ad – content continues below

6 – The Descent – an unfortunate incident with a climbing picks

Continued isolation and claustrophobia slowly builds tension between the characters in this film, not to mention a whole horde of near-blind bloodthirsty Neanderthals picking off the cast. The Descent is a great horror film on so many levels; the surroundings and themes of this cave-based nasty prove that monsters do not a horror film make, as the biggest scares come from the cast and their surroundings.

The primal fear of being lost, underground and alone with the walls closing in all add up, putting the characters on the edge of sanity, and in that sort of situation, accidents can happen. And happen they do; a little miscalculation mid-battle results in a rather bloody incident with a pick. A member of the cast’s neck makes Neil Marshall’s second horror outing edge just above Dog Soldiers as the best British horror film in years.5 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the pointy/screaming scene

The 1978 Philip Kaufman version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is technically a science fiction film rather than a horror, but the effects and tension of this remake can easily place it well in the horror genre. From the hybrid man/dog thing to the slow and gooey takeover of the general population by the pod people, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is really one of the first survival horror films ever to hit the screen.

Slightly unnerving throughout, the film’s terror comes from the sheer mass of opponents that Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy and co have to overcome. Matched with the fact that nobody really knows who to trust, and who’s been taken – as well as the superb use of sound for the reborn humans.

Even though everything seems to have gone the survivors’ way, the film’s ending leaves watchers with just one final nightmare: a lingering shot of Donald Sutherland, the supposed only other survivor, pointing and screaming at Veronica Cartwright… who’s realising that he, too, has been taken over, and that now she is the only survivor (and only human being) left.4 – The Thing – a chest of jaws

Ad – content continues below

Stuck in the Arctic with an alien shape-changer is not really the place you want to be. And in what’s probably John Carpenter’s finest hour, a game of blood-based Russian roulette with petre dishes and a hot poker is just the beginning of one of the most horrific and disturbing films in horror cinema.

This 1982 remake of The Thing From Outer Space plays on the concept that the alien could be anyone or anything. Kurt Russell and company begin to mistrust everyone, as the alien slowly but surely dismantles the crew and takes their place.

However, even with the all the tentacle-based terror and shape-changing shenanigans going on, there’s really one scene that shocked everyone.

When it seems that Norris is having a heart attack, a quick heart massage is in order. But once the paddles are placed to his chest, instead of everyone being ‘clear’, Norris’s chest opens up to become a gaping maw full of teeth that clamp shut, ripping the doctor’s arms right off at the elbow. The effect is fantastic, shocking and downright disgusting, and all credit must go to one of the kings of special effects, Rob Botin, for creating onc of the most memorable scream scenes (without the use of CGI, I might add) in film history.

3 – Jaws: Ben Gardner’s head

The shark may look fake, but a film that has stopped millions of people swimming in the sea must have more than just a good theme tune to scare people as much as this film does.

Ad – content continues below

Spielberg’s masterpiece borrows a great deal from Alfred Hitchcock, as nobody really sees the monster, and the gore is implied for the most part, rather than being shoved in your face. But the thing that’s emptied more than one bowel in its time is, of course, Ben Gardner’s head.

Snooping around a sunken ship to survey the damage the shark has done, everything seems fine for Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). The shark is nowhere in sight and all is so calm; nothing much can happen, can it?

How wrong they are. When he tries to prise out a shark’s tooth from a three-foot bitehole in the boat’s hull, a severed head without an eyeball suddenly lurches out of the shadows accompanied by a screech of music. Cue screams and fountains of jolted popcorn in cinemas throughout the planet.

Ben Gardner’s eyeless wink is possibly the greatest cinema shock in history.

2 – Ring – the TV

A slow-burner, this one, and the best example of J-horror that has ever appeared on DVD (or should I say video cassette?).

Ad – content continues below

The majority of the film is only mildly unnerving, with videos full of bizarre images and the iconic image of a water-sodden little girl. So far, so average cliched horror film. But the film’s pace and timing slowly builds up to a climatic scene that is the scariest scene in any film ever!

For those who have seen it you know exactly what I am talking about, and even though it was copied in the American remake to some credibility (as well as being parodied in Scary Movie 3) there’s no other scene more breathtakingly sinister than the slow, evil crawl of Sadako as she crawls through the TV to claim her victim.

1 – Poltergeist – all of it

What, an entire film as the winner? Well, yes.

Although Ring has, by far, the scariest film moment in horror with the telly scene, it is just pipped to the post by this 1982 classic. If you look at Poltergeist on paper, it’s hard to see what’s so scary about it – it’s not too sinister a concept, is it? With set pieces involving ghosts who come down stairs as a set of lights, a man pulling a rubber version of his face off in a bathroom, a house imploding on itself and a plastic tree trying to eat the boy Robbie, everything seems not too scary at all.

However, in the hands of Spielberg (I know the credits say Tobe Hooper directed, but who are they kidding?) these scenes, all set in a familiar American suburban setting, become the stuff of nightmares.

Ad – content continues below

A combination of perfect casting to the use of sound effects and the sense of wonder and disbelief by everyone involved heightens the film way above and beyond the generic slasher or monster-filled horror piece. While it’s over 20 years old, fans still see that going into the light with the help of an ex-munchkin is all they ever need for a near perfect horror movie.