Scary Moments: A List

25 scariest moments in non-horror movies. A compiled list by a bunch of different writers.

Some really interesting and startling entries.

The infamous eye-slice from Un Chien Andalou, that I can’t even think about without shivering.

Alison Willmore writes:

Classics are classics for a reason. This 16-minute silent film meeting of surrealist minds, a collaboration between Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, may be 80 years old, but it kicks off with a shock that still has the power to make audiences recoil in their seats.


Jimmy Stewart’s breakdown in Vertigo. So unsettling – and I love how the writer suggests that it is even MORE unsettling because it is JIMMY STEWART, and all of the baggage we bring to such an actor. Yes. Classic Hitchcock: taking an iconic actor and up-ending his persona, messing with our expectations.

Alison Willmore, again, writes:

In the best of Hitchcock’s dream sequences, Scottie’s horror and guilt about what happened unfurl in flashes of color to the terrible clicking of castanets. Carlotta’s made flesh, and she’s there by the window at the inquest as Gavin Elster tells him “you and I know who killed Madeleine,” and there in the portrait come to life, smirking triumphantly at the camera as it closes in with thudding dread on the necklace that links “Vertigo”‘s women. It’s terrifically frightening, and it’s where the film turns — ghosts may be scary, but so are crumbling heroes. Jimmy, we hardly knew you.

And then, I was so glad to see the final scene of The Vanishing on there (the original, not the American remake) – a film so horrifying, and it just got worse after you left the theatre, as you kept thinking about it, and thinking about it … I actually had to have my boyfriend HOLD ME after that film, I was so freaked out about it.

Sam Adams writes:

Although he has all but given up hope of finding Saskia alive, Rex is obsessed with finding out what happened, to the point that he strikes a deal with her abductor: He will submit to everything Saskia experienced, from the abduction on. The answer he finally gets is so much worse than we could ever have imagined, and yet perfectly in tune with the movie’s logic of estrangement and reunion. It’s enough to make you fear letting your loved ones pass out of sight, even for an instant, and a reminder that some secrets may be better left buried.

I am thinking now of a specific scene from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, which is a movie that creeps me out to my core – when Gena Rowlands, sitting alone in her echoing apartment, glances up, with a look truly MAD – and sees her ghostly nemesis appear at the door. We can’t really see the ghost fully, just fragments, her furious gleaming eyes, her long hair, and we know, we know, that Gena Rowlands is seeing something that is not there. It’s terrifying. It’s Macbeth seeing the ghost of Banquo. Madness is the scariest thing of all.

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17 Responses to Scary Moments: A List

  1. Doc Horton says:

    Lots of scary, creepy moments there. My candidate is Peter Lorre in ‘M’ when as the murderer he gazes placidly into a shop window and then notices the reflection of a little girl playing behind him. The change of expression. 2 seconds. Chilling.

  2. george says:

    The last scenes of Claude Chabrol’s “Les Bonnes Femme” (1960), creeped me out. The lonely lives of young women and their oftentimes seemingly reckless trust in the men they meet climaxes in the brutal murder of one of them. Heartbreak, then Chabrol’s closing scene: another young woman, alone at a dance hall, approached by a man whose face we’re not allowed to see (perhaps the very same murderer of the woman we got to know during the story – but maybe not, maybe another man, maybe equally dangerous, maybe not at all dangerous). The young woman, dancing, looks up and stares right into the camera, at us. Does she acknowledge the danger, the possibility? Doesn’t she care? Is it so worth taking the chance to not be alone? Disturbing, to say the least and it’s been many years since I’d seen it.

  3. red says:

    Oh yes – that is an awesome moment. Also, the ball rolling out from the bushes in M. One of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen.

  4. red says:

    George – oops, my last comment was actually directed at Doc Horton, with his comments on ‘M’.

    Your detailed memory of Les Bonnes Femme – something I haven’t seen in years – makes me totally want to take a look at it again.

  5. red says:

    I’m not sure of Polanski’s Repulsion would count as a horror film – maybe it does, who knows – but I think the moment when the hand comes out of the wall to grab Catherine Deneuve is totally FREAKY and I jumped out of my seat, literally, the first time I saw it.

  6. Dave E. says:

    And guess what’s on TCM right now…Vertigo!

  7. debra t says:

    It’s not a horror movie but it haunts me.
    The bath tub /insane asylum scene in A Nun’s Story.

  8. nightfly says:

    When I saw this list I thought of your post about on the Shelley Winters/Robert Mitchum movie whose title escapes me now, and some of the chilling moments in that. Surprised that wasn’t in the list.

    For me the winner has always been Lampley on Pleasure Island. That freaked me out completely. “They never come back….. AS BOYS!” Eeeesh.

  9. red says:

    Nightfly – Night of the Hunter. That’s considered a horror film, though – and the list is “scary moments in NON-horror films”.

    It’s certainly one of the most frightening films I’ve ever seen.

    Mitchum at the top of the stairs: “Chiiiiiiiiiiildren!”

  10. Catherine says:

    There’s a moment in “Wait Until Dark” (a WONDERFUL movie that I never hear people talking about) where Alan Alda jumps out from another room and I swear, the first time I watched it, I spilled chicken curry all down myself. Terrifying!

  11. red says:

    Catherine – Wait Until Dark FREAKS ME OUT. How strange – just last week I read an essay on it! I can’t find it right now though. Give me a second.

  12. Catherine says:

    Sheila, that is deadly! And obviously I meant Alan ARKIN, bleurgh. Going to read that piece now.

  13. Catherine says:

    “One summer I did Shakespeare in the Park. I showed up for auditions and immediately they wanted to cast me as Tybalt. Such lazy type-casting. That really pissed me off, so I tried out for the part of Juliet’s nurse just to spite them. Got it, too. And I was terrific.”

    Hahahahaha. He does have a point, but in my case: I saw it first when I was about eleven and I was far too enamoured by the film as a whole to care about whether it was plausible or not. Even now, when I rewatch it with friends who’ve never seen it, I still gloss over those kinds of faults. Love it! I’m really not an Audrey Hepburn fan – Katharine all the way – but I really, really like her in this.

  14. nightfly says:

    I haven’t seen Night of the Hunter myself; from your description I thought of it more as a thriller than a horror film.

    Makes me wonder how to “classify” something like the original Manchurian Candidate, or even why anyone would bother. Angela Lansbury scared the holy hell out of me in that, and there’s that scene where the one soldier is killed while they’re talking about the various plant seeds… boy howdy.

    DISCLAIMER – author of this comment once confused ‘Shane’ and ‘Hud.’ For all we know, he thinks ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is a documentary.

  15. red says:

    Genre shmenre!!

    I guess I always thought of Deliverance (which is on the list as a NON-horror film) as a sort of horror film, but at a certain point, the genre does become irrelevant probably!!

    Night of the Hunter – yeah. A thriller? Yes! A gothic melodrama? I would agree with that as well. I also think of it as a monster-movie, frankly, with Mitchum’s awful character as the worst monster ever conceived of!!

  16. red says:

    Also, Shane, Hud – bah, what’s the difference?? :)

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