Often alone, often undressed, it’s no surprise that bathroom scenes tend to be among the scariest horrors and thrillers have to offer. It has been said that the best movie victims are made of vulnerable, pretty, women. No doubt, bathroom settings are a breeding ground for just this character. However, they can be just as effective with men, or young boys, because viewers tend to expect it even less.
The many conventions of horror have left audiences alert to an attractive young woman stepping into a bathtub late at night, but even so, male or female, we still cringe when things get messy. With the number of effective bathroom scenes out there, it’s no surprise that bathtubs and bathroom mirrors have become images of suspense themselves. After a scary movie, the last place any of us want to be is alone in a dark, quiet, bathroom. And yet, we’ll have to head back in eventually — this is part of what makes them such good places to set a scary scene; the familiarity we all have with feeling defenseless the moment we step into a shower, or lock the door.
Here are 15 movie scenes that made so many viewers never want to close their eyes in a bathroom again.
15. Carrie: The Shower Freak-Out
A revenge narrative written by Stephen King as an act of feminism, Carrie has been remembered as a gory female-centric revenge narrative for ‘losers’ everywhere. The film is loaded with iconic images that have become an intrinsic part of both vintage pop-culture and horror-culture; one of which is the shower scene near the opening of the film.
After a typical and torturous gym class for the awkward Carrie White, she hits the showers in the locker room, only to find she bleeding profusely. She spots the blood washing away and screams out in terror. Running naked through the locker room she pleads for help, convinced she is dying. It’s terrifying. Until the girls begin to laugh. She has started her first menstrual cycle. Traumatized and confused, Carrie lies in ball on the floor crying, as girls taunt and throw tampons at her. Bullying immediately becomes the most violent act in this thriller.
14. Poltergeist: Face Decay
The cursed film, as it has become known due to a number of sudden cast-member deaths, features a surprisingly mellow level of gore for all the fear it has incited throughout the years. In it, a family’s life is turned upside down when strange happenings in their new home take a turn for the worst. When their youngest daughter gets sucked into another dimension, they must learn to accept that there house is haunted, and find a way to get their little one back.
After a series of minor ghost tricks, like stacking kitchen chairs upside down, one scene had all viewers on the edge of their seats, wanting to cover their eyes. A late night steak snack goes awry when the steak begins to slide across the counter, and ooze inexplicably. Grossed out, the midnight snacker rushes off to the bathroom to collect himself. Unfortunately, a quick glance in the mirror only makes it worse, as his face begins to peel before his eyes. A gruesome scene in an overall tame (but great) scary movie.
13. Amityville Horror: Bathroom Jump Scare
In the 2005 remake of the classic Amityville Horror, a family moves into a new home, for a price that’s too good to be true. Really. The house has a history of violence so to speak, and although this family thinks they’ve won the jackpot, and horror movie buff knows that houses with histories like this one are bad news! When the youngest Lutz awakes in the middle of the night and realizes he has to pee, he immediately knows something will go wrong. But what?
After cautiously making his way to the bathroom, and watching the doorway as he uses the toilet, the boy heads to the sink. The worse part is over, or so he thinks. When the taps won’t turn on (and as the suspenseful sound builds), the youngster bows his head in the hopes of seeing the problem. No luck. As he comes up, a loud screech in the soundtrack alerts the audience of trouble and, right there beside the boy’s head is a terrifying corpse. There is a good reason as to why most kids refuse to leave their beds in the night.
12. Halloween: Bathroom Attacks, Twofold
In 2007, Rob Zombie stepped into the director’s role to re-imagine the beloved slasher classic, Halloween. Laurie Strode, Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis came to life yet again, in an updated version that brought a new brand of scary to the story. This time around, viewers followed Michael’s story, rather than Laurie’s, and while this made him more sympathetic, it did not make him any less terrifying.
Whether you’re a tough guy in a stall, or a catatonic teenage girl in a tub — Michael always wins. Just after breaking out of the hospital, the killer approaches a trucker in a bathroom stall. It doesn’t end well for the trucker. Later on, Laurie hides from the attacker with the children in a bathroom, where they lock the door and cowardly huddle in the tub. When Laurie attempts to open the door for a police officer, her nightmare comes true. The officer is killed up against the door and Michael enters. He carries her off kicking and screaming, until she is in such a frenzy she simply passes out.
So what’s his deal with bathrooms? Early in the film we watch young Michael be bullied ruthlessly in a public school bathroom. Perhaps he’s… scarred.
11. Jurassic Park: Toilet Dinosaur Attack
While Jurassic Park is not a horror movie in any traditional sense, and while the toilet scene is almost funny, at the heart of it lies a truly terrifying moment. The major action-adventure hit follows a group of scientists who have found a way to bring back the dinosaurs. The only problem is that, dinosaurs and humans may not be able to live together very… peacefully. When things take a turn for the worst, it’s every man for himself — which proves to be a terrible time to take a bathroom break.
As an angry T-Rex storms the park, the man in the outhouse begins to quiver with fear. The T-Rex gets closer, and he’s trapped. The dinosaur smashes the walls and in that moment, the two are face-to-face. The T-Rex pauses, giving viewers a moment of relief in which they may even be tempted to giggle, but when the moment is up, so is the man’s life. The scene has certainly stuck with anyone who grew up with the movie.
10. The Fly: Face Peel
Like most old David Cronenberg movies, The Fly is all about what happens when science goes wrong, and the body-horrors that come with that. Here we have an obsessed physicist who has dedicated his adult life to the development of teleportation. But when he rushes the process in an attempt to impress a pretty journalist, his experiment in teleportation becomes one in transformation — and not in a good way.
Having now merged his DNA with that of a fly’s, Seth tries to hide his unfortunate fate. In a bathroom mirror, Seth watches in disbelief and agony as he falls to pieces, literally. His fingernails and nose peel off, but that’s okay, he has a storage plan. What are medicine cabinets for, anyways? It’s one of the most disturbing scenes in sci-fi history, but fairly typical for Cronenberg.
9. What Lies Beneath: Bathtub Drowning
This twisted ghost-thriller stars Michelle Pheiffer as a paranoid retired cellist who comes to believe her home is haunted. Why? She sees a woman’s face reflected in water, hears strange sounds, and is increasingly suspicious of her mysterious neighbours. To make matters worse, her cheating murderous husband is hiding a devastating secret. To keep her from remembering the truth, he gives her a paralyzing sedative and leaves her in a bathtub.
In the terrifyingly slow-building bathtub scene, Claire lies still as the water level rises. With very limited mobility, she uses a toe to attempt to unplug the tub. When that fails, she uses a finger to try to turn the tap. When that fails, the water covers her wide-eyes. The tension is incredible and one can’t help but root for Claire who is incredibly good at creative problem solving, even under all that pressure. The scene is the film’s most famous, and a tub is even featured on the official movie poster.
8. Candyman: The Call
Dubbed one of the scariest movies of all time, Candyman was the horror-hit of the 1990s. Everyone had seen it, and (better yet) everyone was tempted to call out his name in their bathrooms. But it was difficult to find the nerve after seeing how things had turned out for the brave Helen. A grad student researching the truth about urban myths and issues of race in her state, Helen had not thought twice about calling him out in her bathroom mirror.
Just watching her consider gets the adrenaline pumping. That his name had to be uttered five times helped build the tension, and by the fifth “Candyman”, you may even have your eyes covered. You see, five times will wake him, and he’ll be hungry for vengeance. A hook for a hand, a pair of crazy eyes, and centuries of oppression to react against — he’s not exactly friendly. Afterwards, every bathroom in the film will give you the chills.
7. Fatal Attraction: Bathroom Brawl
This is one of the most critically acclaimed thrillers of all time. After having a weekend long affair with his colleague, Dan thinks it’s best to get his life back on track with his wife and kids. Easier said than done when the woman you’ve slept with believes you owe her something. ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ has never been a truer saying.
By the end of the film, Dan is at the end of his wits with Alex’s sociopathic behavior. When she attacks his wife in that bathroom, with a butcher knife, next to a tub full of water, it’s finally time for the gloves to come off. To her credit, his wife fights back with everything she has, but when Dan hears her screams and runs to her rescue, he’s out for blood. Meanwhile, Alex is swinging the knife wildly and the bass heavy soundtrack only amplifies the intensity. Dan gets her head under water and it’s smooth sailing from there. Until she awakes again, but by then, Mrs. Gallagher has found herself gun.
6. Shivers: Bathtub Parasite
Also known as They Came From Within, this one is part of an unofficial body-horror trilogy by the master himself, David Cronenberg. Here, a suburban high-rise is tormented when a phallic parasite is set free in the building, turning those affected into mindless-sex-crazed zombies. The tagline read: “T-E-R-R-O-R beyond the power of priest or science to exorcise!”
When one unsuspecting resident makes the mistake of thinking a glass of wine in a bath might be a good way to end her evening, she gets a whole lot more than she bargained for. In a gruesome scene reminiscent of a sexual assault-scene, the parasite comes up from her tub drain and wriggles its way between her legs. The woman screams in agony, blood fills the tub, and viewers (probably) gasp.
At the time of its release, it caused major controversy. The journalist, Robert Fulford, raised arguments that tax-payers money should not be funding such filth. The backlash made it incredibly difficult for Cronenberg to get funding for his films thereafter, and even caused him to get kicked out of his Toronto apartment, for which the lease had a “morality clause.”
5. Scream 2: Stall Stabbing
After the runaway success of Scream, a parodic meta-horror that is both terrifying and clever, it only made sense to keep them coming. Wes Craven’s sinister comical writing-style which came through in his major 80s hit, A Nightmare On Elm Street, hit the mark again and again in a film that was made purely for the love of horror. With salutes and homages to old horror movies, and nods to all film buffs in the audience, Scream could do no wrong.
The sequel opened with a dialogue on race in horror, culminating in the apt deaths of the two black characters you might mistake for protagonists at first. In a creatively gory murder scene, Phil heads to the washrooms during the movie and never returns. Thinking he hears a couple fooling around in the next stall, he foolishly places his ear to the wall. The muffled sounds continue and just as anxiety begins to build in the viewer, a knife is shoved through poor Phil’s ear. Fear of using public restrooms became far more obvious after this one.
4. The Shining: Heeere’s Johnny!
This Stephen King adaptation is nothing short of a classic. The story follows the Torrence family as they settle into an old hotel for the winter. Jack has taken a job as the caretaker during the off-season, as a way to find some peace and quiet to finish his novel. Meanwhile, his wife and son spend their days trying not to get in his way. But things go from bad to worse when Jack becomes possessed (of course, the Grand Hotel is haunted).
Before long, Wendy and Danny find themselves in a fight for their lives against Jack, who seems to suddenly be out for blood. In a terrifying climax, Wendy tries her best to keep young Danny safe, but is rather inept. When you’re scared and out of options, hiding in the bathroom makes perfect sense. Unless, of course, your husband has access to an axe. “Heeere’s Johnny!” has now become one of the most quotable lines in pop culture.
3. The Grudge: Shampoo Helper
In the early 2000s, the Hollywood horror scene exploded with a stint of hugely successful J-horror remakes. Japan gained popularity for its morbid ghost stories for a new age, combining technologies and old legends to create some of the most gruesome narratives, and Hollywood quickly cashed in. One of the best, however, remains The Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. What makes this remake special is that it was directed by Takashi Shimuzi, the great director of the original Japanese versions.
Of all the jump-scares and disorienting ghost scenes, the one that stands out best is the shower scene. In it, Karen tries to de-stress with a relaxing shower. As she washes her hair, a distorted look comes over her face. Confused, viewers watch as Karen feels around on her head, only to find that there is a third hand in the matted hair. The hand is big, rotted, and terrifying! But, at least it was helping…
2. Psycho: Shower Scream
Often recalled as far gorier than it ever was, Psycho remains heralded as the first, and best, slasher film. Hitchcock, affectionately known as the master of suspense, designed with this film the ultimate twist by killing the leading lady, Marion, off within a half hour of the opening sequence. To make sure all of the audience members were present for the thrill he was offering, Hitchcock set a rule that became a precedent for cinema etiquette — Psycho became the first film to be shown in a theater that would not allow viewers to enter once it had commenced. So what was all the fuss about?
After running away with a suitcase full of stolen money, our protagonist Marion has a change of heart and decides to return it. First though, she opts for a nice shower and a good night’s rest. Unfortunately she triggered the psychotic break of the hotel owner, and while peacefully showering Marion is attacked. A mysterious shadow appears outside her curtain, a butcher knife is raised, and it’s all screams and blood from there. Not wanting to close one’s eyes in the shower after that is a common sentiment. It has also become the horror genre’s most iconic image.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street: Bathtub Claw
In 1984, after years of blood, sweat and tears had gone into finding financial support for his unique supernatural slasher, Wes Craven’s movie masterpiece was released. Freddy Kruger instantly became the most feared monster that ever existed in America’s collective imagination; he had claws for fingers, a tattered pied-the-piper sweater, and a disturbing lust for innocent, sleeping, children. “1,2 Freddy’s coming for you”, became the most haunting tune many of us will ever hear.
Knowing Freddy can only get you in your sleep meant the characters were forced to stay awake. But that can be difficult. When the young heroine, Nancy, makes an ill-advised decision to take a bubble bath, she can’t help but fall into a comforting comatose state. As her knees fall apart and she sinks into a dangerous sleep, Freddy’s claw appears between her legs. The image, which is arguably the most prominent of 1980s movie culture and the slasher genre itself, had actually been used to less effect in an earlier Craven thriller, Deadly Blessing. Gore-free, the image of a claw between a young girl’s legs is perhaps the creepiest this horror king has ever offered.