At some point in the last 30 years, the “critique” of film critics began to focus on negatives only. Film critics everywhere began digging for the worst in films, trying to discover all the questionable qualities, ridiculing what didn’t work while merely glossing over what does. In this new age of criticism, horror films seem to have suffered the brunt of the critical scorn. But there’s something we need to accept: the classic age of horror is long gone. Now that we’ve seen Janet Leigh stabbed in the shower and Regan spin her head around, we can’t go back. We can lament it, rewatching these old horrors, longing for a time that we can never get back, or we can accept that horror has changed and appreciate it for what it is today.
As directors attempt to build off of the greats that have come before them, trying to find new and creative ways to scare audiences, the audience changes as well, becoming accustomed to their new strategies and adapting. This is a cat and mouse game that never really ends. And, while critics have sneered and jeered at most of the horror films that have been released in this millennium, there have been some really memorable moments in the genre that could rival any of those from the past.
If you’re looking to get your blood pumping and discover the excitement that horror films can bring an audience, here are the 15 most horrifying movie moments of the new millennium.
15. Feeding – The Human Centipede
The torture porn genre is one built almost entirely on shock value, and near the top of the shock value list is The Human Centipede. Without much of any story, the film is meant to gross out audiences and challenge their desensitized eyes to withstand the most graphic scenes. Several moments in this movie are incredibly disgusting and worthy of being on this list, but the feeding scene, which I will not describe here because I myself just ate, is the worst of them. Ugh, just thinking of it makes me queasy.
14. Lawn Care – Sinister
Sinister has several really creepy sequences, especially those that take place in the horrific 8mm footage, a medium that lends itself well to horror. The movie also uses great sound effects to create heart-attack inducing jumps. The scariest scene of the bunch is probably the lawnmower scene, which combines 8mm footage and sounds effects to make for a shocking moment that will have your heart trying to escape your chest.
13. Samara In The TV – The Ring
When Samara climbs out of the black-and-white well and out of the TV in The Ring, crawling all jittery, flickery and wet towards the camera, I’m sure some audience members passed out from fear. Memories of the famous spider/crab walk from the re-released cut of The Exorcist comes crashing back to audiences like ‘Nam flashbacks during this horrifying scene. Something about the VHS quality of her image makes her super effective, allowing her to move in almost stop-motion. Spooky stuff.
12. Shaving – Cabin Fever
If you’ve seen the movie, you remember this scene. The horribly disgusting shaving scene is, by far, one of the most grotesque things I’ve seen on film. The gore of the movie, however revolting, is accompanied by humor, which lightens the mood and allows the audience to breathe in between moments of the absolute grossness. Despite some harsh reviews, the film accomplishes what it set out to do: create an atmosphere that keeps the audience in a near-constant state of uneasiness. The makeup and SFX teams deserve some major recognition on this one.
11. The Hammer Scene – Kill List
From director Ben Wheatley, Kill List blends several genres together to form a shocking, gory and horrific thriller-horror. While many of the scenes are scary, especially once the film descends into darkened horror near the end, there are several awfully graphic scenes that are really difficult to watch. One in particular, sometimes called the hammer scene, is likely the most challenging to get through. With surprisingly realistic practical effects and little build up, the audience is forced to witness an emotionless assault with a hammer that will cause even the most desensitized viewers to cringe. This one is not for the faint of heart.
10. The Attic – The Grudge
Whenever anyone lights a lighter to get a better look of what’s in the darkness in a horror film, you’re gonna have a fright. While the 2004 American remake of the Japanese horror classic Ju-On is not the greatest horror film overall, there certainly are some scenes that can make audiences jump out of their skin. The attic scene, where we get up close and personal with that creepy little kid, is one that makes your heart skip a few beats. The sound increasing in volume, the slow reveal, and the quick jump result in a memorably heart-stopping moment.
9. The Diner Scene – Mulholland Drive
David Lynch is the master of the psychological thriller. His most widely-seen film, Mulholland Drive, is a nice snapshot of what Lynch does best, build tension through cryptic dialogue, ominous musical undertones and strange scenarios. The diner scene in which Dan retells and relives his nightmare is one of the most jarring and psychologically tortuous scenes I can think of.
8. The Bedside Visitor – Paranormal Activity
It’s been a few years since found footage films have jumped the shark, but when Paranormal Activity first hit the big screen it was the only thing horror fans were talking about. By the end, there are several moments that will make you jump or twitch awkwardly, like the reflex drill at the doctor’s office. But the scariest scenes are probably the ones that simply build anxiety with no payoff. The one that stands out to me the most has Katie standing over Micah ominously for a crazy-long period of time. The subtlety of the scene, the eeriness of the setting and the tension of waiting sends shivers down my spine.
7. Knocking On The Wall – The Orphanage
In his movie The Orphanage, director Juan Antonio Bayona creates a simple, yet unnerving, horror film that is a treat for any fan of the genre. Bayona expertly builds tension in subtle and original ways, leading to a wholly satisfying ending, which is something often lost in many new-age horror films. The scene in which Laura plays a knock on the wall game with her guests is both horrifying and beautiful in its execution. An honorable mention goes out to the medium scene, which brings new flavor to a tiring scenario.
6. The Face – Inland Empire
The entire runtime of Inland Empire by David Lynch is a nightmarish maze that blends reality and fantasy. Reflecting the madness and confusion of a character onto the audience is a skill that none do better than Lynch. The scene in question here has Laura Dern stumbling/running towards the camera, and, as she approaches it, her face twists and contorts and takes up the entire lens. Okay, enough, this is my nightmare.
5. Baby Monitor – Insidious
The discordant slams of piano/organ and the eerie slow-build of music in James Wan’s horror hit Insidious really help to create a terribly scary atmosphere. Several perfectly timed jump-scares deserve to be on this list, but the most spine-chilling scene has Rose Byrne overhearing the creepy voice of a ghostly intruder through the baby monitor. A voice that begins unclear but grows to an eventual yell is enough to scare the pants off of many viewers, including yours truly. There’s something about a static-laced voice building up to a deep-throated yell that is terrifying.
4. Claustrophobia – The Descent
If you have a fear of tight spaces and this movie comes on, immediately run, run far, far away. The Descent from director Neil Marshall involves a group of adventure-seeking women who decide to go spelunking in a gaping hole in the earth and then crawl through spaces that small children would struggle to fit into. The horror and monster plot points aside, the panic-inducing cave crawling scenes are some of the scariest things I’ve ever witnessed. If you want to know whether you’re claustrophobic or not, give this baby a watch. Marshall so brilliantly captures the mood and hopelessness of panic that it is impossible not to feel involved.
3. Enter The Tall Man – It Follows
This stylish new horror film from writer and director David Robert Mitchell is original and effective. The early days of slasher films mastered the impact that the prowler or the stalker could have on audiences, but somewhere along the way it gave way to cheap scares and shock value. It Follows brings back the uneasy feeling of being followed in creative ways, with a strong concept and simple but outstanding technique. While so many of the scenes are terrifying, the arrival of the Tall Man is so completely and utterly unnerving that it will shake you to the core.
2. Double Trouble – Jack and Jill
It doesn’t always have to be a “horror film” to be horrifying. Gone are the glory days of Adam Sandler’s illustrious career, long gone. Over the past decade, the vast majority of his roles and films have been sorry attempts to recapture some of the lightning he caught in a bottle earlier. But in 2011, without any chance to prepare themselves, movie fans were shocked to find out that Sandler would be playing two, count ’em, two characters in Jack and Jill. Now what’s even more horrifying is that the wonderful Al Pacino is in this movie. Huh? Why, Al, why’d you do this?
1. Nightmare – The Babadook
This atmospheric masterpiece from writer and director Jennifer Kent is easily the best horror movie in years. It’s tough to gauge the longevity of a film’s impact, but if I was a betting man, I would say this will soon be considered an all-time classic, if it isn’t already. Its mix of hard cuts, eerie sounds and isolating scenes make it difficult for viewers to leave the film unaffected. Even if you’re watching it with lights on and plenty of people around, this movie requires a white-knuckled effort to get through. Grief and mental illness are very real and very terrifying fears of many, and this marvel captures one family’s struggle with them brilliantly. There is one nightmarish scene in particular that is so creepy that once it gets inside your head it will refuse to leave. Enjoy.