I recently read this article from a pop-culture website I like where the various writers on the site wrote about their favorite scary scenes from movies. What really interested me about the idea of listing scary movie scenes, as opposed to scary movies in their entirety, was that it left things open for a much wider range of films. There are plenty of scary scenes in movies that themselves are not otherwise meant to be particularly scary. So, I decided to completely rip off that list I read online and create my own list of movie scenes that scare me, the only requirement being that none of these movies are actually horror movies themselves.
Gravity and The Grey (the entire movies)
A friend of mine described Gravity as being “Like The Grey, but in space.” It’s an apt comparison. Both films are survival stories of the most harrowing variety. These are two of the most relentlessly intense and suspenseful films I have ever seen. The Grey is more punishing to watch, due to its graphic violence, but Gravity takes one of my biggest fears and puts it right up there on the screen, front and center. And it’s right there on the poster I pictured above. Alone, floating through space, slowly running out of air, completely helpless…shudder. When I first saw the trailer for Gravity, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle it. But I did, and I’m glad I did. Neither one of these films is an easy watch, but both are very much worth the effort. You might even learn something about yourself. I’m pretty sure I did.
Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson Return to Their Roots
Before they started making blockbusters, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson cut their teeth making ultra-low-budget horror films. Raimi’s most famous was of course The Evil Dead, and Jackson’s was Brain Dead (or Dead Alive, whichever title you prefer). But neither filmmaker left their horror roots completely behind. In Spider-Man 2, there’s a scene in a hospital where Doctor Octopus’ robotic arms come to life and kill a roomful of doctors. It’s an intense, frightening scene, made all the more startling by its appearance in what is otherwise a pretty family-friendly movie. Raimi even throws in a reference to The Evil Dead and its sequels when one of the doctors picks up a chainsaw in an attempt to ward off the murderous appendages.
Peter Jackson, meanwhile, seems to have a thing for bugs.
Remember this scene? Of course you do. Who could forget the bug pit in King Kong? The completely unnecessary, thoroughly squirm-inducing bug pit scene? Where this poor sap gets his head chomped by a giant worm monster? That’s Andy Serkis by the way, he played Gollum and did the motion capture for King Kong himself. Peter Jackson repaid him for all his hard work by feeding him to a giant sharp-toothed slug-monster (true story). YouTube comments on this scene include such gems as “Oh my God, giant urethras devoured Smeagol holy shit” and “Christ this looks painful and disgusting.” Well said YouTube commenters.
And if anyone tells you they weren’t squirming through the entire Shelob scene in Return of the King, do not believe anything that person tells you ever again, because that person is a LIAR.
Heck, Jackson even co-founded Weta Digital, the special-effects company that worked on all three Lord of the Rings movies, King Kong, and a little movie you may have heard of called Avatar, also known as the number one highest-grossing movie of all time.
That lovely gentleman? That’s a weta, one of the world’s largest insects.
Look familiar now?
Drowning and Claustrophobia in The World is Not Enough
I wrote about this Bond flick last year at Christmas, and I bring it up here because the final showdown in this movie encompasses not one but two of my worst fears, said fears being drowning and really enclosed spaces. Generally I’m not that claustrophobic, but being trapped in a really confined space would freak me out to be sure. And drowning is just…well…gah. I don’t want to even think about it. Watch the scene in The Grey where the guy drowns and you’ll see what I mean.
Bond’s final showdown with the villain in The World is Not Enough takes place on board a sinking nuclear submarine. I have no desire to ever be on a submarine, combining really confined spaces with being underwater just does not sound like fun to me. In the movie, the sub is of course flooding, and Bond and Christmas Jones (there she is again, much as I try to forget about her) are in danger of drowning the entire time, while attempting to stop the villain from blowing up Istanbul. The scene freaked me the hell out when I saw the movie in theaters when I was around 11. It’s lost some of its impact for me since then, but it’s still a tense, effective sequence.
Of course, every scene that has her in it is also scary, but for entirely different reasons.
Beating of a Sensitive Area in Casino Royale
Yes, this scene. We all remember the one. You’re all squirming right now just thinking about it. I’ve traumatized you all just by mentioning it. Let’s just move on.
Every Time the Joker is Onscreen in The Dark Knight
Well, okay, this image won’t have you feeling any less traumatized I suppose. But seriously, I still almost can’t believe that’s Heath Ledger. He disappeared into that role so completely it’s just mind-boggling. Ledger’s Joker is one of those characters who’s so terrifying you almost can’t look at him, and yet Ledger’s performance is so magnetic he steals every scene he’s in, and you find yourself unable to look away. The Dark Knight is a modern masterpiece, a sprawling crime epic that deftly mixes social commentary and real-world relevance with the requisite genre elements required in superhero movies. Thanks to Ledger’s disturbingly mesmerizing Joker, it also mixes in quite a bit of white-knuckled terror.
Escape from the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin
Don’t judge me. This scared me when I was but a wee lad. I think I mentioned in my “I Miss the 90’s” post that seeing Aladdin in the theater when I was a kid is one of my earliest moviegoing memories. It was also one of my most traumatizing, since the scene where Aladdin escapes from the Cave of Wonders on the magic carpet with Abu and the lamp scared the heck out of me when I was like 4. There are plenty of other Disney movies with scenes that can scare little kids and I’m sure there were some that scared me too, but for whatever reason that one scene in Aladdin really got to me when I was little. I suppose that’s a little ironic, since I’m now an action-movie junkie.
So, there you have it. Proof that a movie doesn’t have to be in the horror section at the video store in order to still potentially traumatize you.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.