Ahhhhh!!! What was that? Oh, it was just us watching some our favorite/least favorite scary scenes. Tonight is Halloween and since we are too old to trick and/or treat, we have to think of age appropriate things to do. We already found you the perfect costume for any H-ween party (Crying Claire Danes!), so how about something to chill your bones? We here at Vulture tried to think of the scenes that didn’t just spook us but scarred us for life. (For you scaredy cats, don’t worry, many of your fave bloggers are wimps too.) Here is a rundown of the moments in movies that made us cover our eyes and forever turned us off to spider-walking.
When I was a kid, it did not take much to give me nightmares: My parents gave me a Haunted House board game for Hanukkah one year, and I needed them to take it out of my closet because its presence was terrifying me. Again: board game. In 1982, a friend and I went to see a matinee of Rocky III but it was sold out, so he convinced me to see Poltergeist instead. The scene of the ghost tracker tearing his own face off in the bathroom mirror so stunned and terrified me that I came home and watched four sitcoms in a row, hoping the silly marathon would displace the flesh-tearing image from my brain. It didn’t work; I just ended up dreaming of Fonzie tearing off his own skin. Now the scene, with its laughably fake head and the arms awkwardly feeling out for the face, looks horribly cheap and awkward — like those videos of people pretending their dogs have human arms — but to the 13-year-old me, it made the Haunted House game look like Candy Land.
Is there anything scarier than Piper Laurie as Margaret White? Put yourself in poor Carrie’s shoes. Mom’s consoling you and wanting to pray with you after a particularly bad prom, and you’re grateful and clinging to her soft, Victorian-style nightie. And then suddenly she’s stabbing you. And as you try to get away, she’s floating toward you with a big smile on her face and a knife raised because she thinks you’re Satan’s tool (she’s got a point there) and needs to kill you in the most violent way possible. Guaranteed nightmares.
I am traumatized by every scene of Pet Sematary with Zelda in it. For the unfamiliar, Zelda looks like this. She is the sick, starving, twisted-spine sister to Rachel (“Raaaachhel”), and although she has only a small part in the movie (she’s seen in flashback and hallucination), she is scarier than Dead Baby Gage and Road-Kill Victor Pascow — just a friendly ghost, really — combined. Also, my mother and brother would pretend to be Zelda in real life, sometimes while I was alone in my bedroom, trying to sleep. Scars.
Jesse David Fox
Even if you live a life actively trying to avoid scary movies, frightening scenes have a way of finding you, tossed in between more palatable fare. As a kid, I thought Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was going to be the manifestation of my dream of a land of candied everything, yet then there’s comes maniacal Gene Wilder chanting over shots of a bug crawling on a dead guy’s face. Or, I went to see Independence Day to hear Will Smith crack some jokes and welcome an alien to Earth, but then that welcomed alien frantically strangle a manic scientist. Both scared me so much because at the time I trusted movies not to scare me. Never again, movie jerks.
Movies can make us feel a lot of things — why do we tend to cry at movies so much more often than we do in real life? — but one thing they rarely evoke in me is fear. I’m not scared by an unbearably suspenseful scene; instead, I’m thrilled by it. And while I’m not wild about really gory moments, I tend to avert my eyes because I’m grossed out, not afraid. So the scariest scene I’ve seen in a recent movie isn’t in a film that set out to shock me using all those conventional horror tricks; instead, it’s the terrifying plane crash sequence that galvanizes the Liam Neeson wilderness flick The Grey. Holy shitballs, that freaked me out. I recently saw Flight, and while that (much longer) plane crash sequence is impressive, it just doesn’t compare to the rough, visceral horror of Neeson and those men falling from the sky. Director Joe Carnahan could have put a fifteen-minute intermission after that scene and my heart rate still would have been jacked.
Ugh, everything scares me. (I had to fast forward the haunted house scenes in New Girl last night.) But if we’re being specific … the movie Gremlins scared the shit out of me not because of the actual monster parts but rather because of the monologue about the dad in the chimney. What! Why??? Why did that happen? I think I was 8 or 9 when I saw the movie, and I super fixated on this shocking moment of human tragedy rather than on the gross gremliny stuff.
After I saw the re-release of The Exorcist, I thought my life would never go back to normal. I could not stop thinking about the scene where Regan backwards-spider-walks down the stairs, and had what psychologists might label “persistent unwanted thoughts” about it. I … became convinced that she was standing — well, backwards-spider- standing — outside my shower and had to say comforting things to myself, out loud, like “this is just a shower, you are totally safe, Regan from The Exorcist isn’t real!” (I learned that coping strategy from American Girl Magazine.) P.S. I was in college.
I’m not particularly interested in scary movies; I had a bad run-in with Scream around the age of 12 — shout-outs to the aunt and uncle who spent the rest of that night jumping out of the shadows at me — and don’t feel a need to experience more bad acting combined with pure terror. But I do remember happening upon Silence of the Lambs once as a small child, too small to pay full attention during the Hannibal Lecter scenes, but old enough to sense that something creepy was going on. It took me a while to figure out just how creepy (again, there was a lot of talking, and it’s not like I knew what Chianti was) but then suddenly people were hunting each other in basements and wearing dresses made out of skin and I ran out of the room. I’m told the end is pretty troubling. I don’t ever intend to find out why.
I cannot believe these writers of ours — saying they’re not interested in scary movies, or don’t get scared when watching horror films. Who are you guys? I’ve watched horror movies my entire life and I’m a grown man now and I still get scared shitless when watching the dream sequence from The Exorcist or the moment from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Leatherface rears up, hammers a dude in the head, and then very loudly slams a door. Of course, the circumstances under which you watch something mean a great deal, and seeing those scenes at home, alone, in the dark (I’ve never been convinced that good horror movies play better with an audience) make them even more effective.
But the grand fright of my life involves The Blair Witch Project, which I first saw as an 18-year-old the first week it came out. After a lifetime of living in the Bronx, I had just moved for a year to Mamaroneck, New York. Less urban, less people on the streets, more trees, an all around quieter place. I saw Blair Witch by myself on a hot summer day. The final shot happened, with the dude standing in the corner, back to the camera, and I walked out onto a bright city sidewalk, so disturbed by that last shot that I kept looking behind me for several blocks, I don’t know what for. I went home, to the house with the trees and the quiet, and found that every time I put the lights off, I kept seeing that guy in the corner. I was an 18-year-old man-boy and I slept with the lights on for the next two nights. I’ve since seen the movie maybe ten times, and those last five minutes still do it for me.
Not all 8-year-olds got TVs back in the late seventies, but as a child of divorce and a latchkey kid, I somehow managed to con my mom into letting me have an old set in my bedroom. Big mistake: One random evening, I stumbled upon this very creepy horror movie being shown on the local independent TV station. It was called Trilogy of Terror, and it was like three episodes of The Twilight Zone, but much more graphic (and with Karen Black somehow starring in every segment). The scene which has been burned in my mind ever since came near the end. Black was now playing some woman named Amelia, and she had just bought this creepy troll-like doll. It was scary enough as an inanimate object. And then the doll suddenly came to life and attacked Karen Black! With a friggin’ knife! (Just today, our TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz pointed it out as the scene that most scared him in any made-for-TV movie.) I honestly don’t remember what happened next, because at that point I bolted out of the room and headed straight for my mommy. I think she took the TV out of my room for a few weeks after that. Stupid Zuni doll.