There are many horror movies that have you looking for the exit sign in the cinema more than actually watching the screen. Once you get sucked in by a good horror, it’s really hard to get up from your seat and just walk away, with your heart beating hard in your chest. Nobody wants to look like a coward. So this is where you have to be really brave, hands over eyes, peeking through fingers – you have to just watch and get on with it. If anything, you’re hoping it isn’t too dark a night when you’re finally out of there because you’ll be sure there’s a threat around every corner.
In Alien (1979) there was a big-shock moment when audiences got their first look at the chestburster. John Hurt’s character, Kane, is seen writhing around on the table in agony and then after just a moment’s pause; the creature bursts out of his stomach. When the film was first screened to audiences there were rumours flying around that cinema ushers were fainting on the spot. When a movie decides to shoot a moment that induces people to pass out; they know they are on to a winner and every horror director has set out since to gain the same dramatic reaction.
These are the twenty most awful moments of torture, murder, possession and self-inflicted agony that have gotten genre fans talking – and reluctant horror movie watchers screaming. Grab yourself a pillow, because these movies really know how to mess with people’s minds…
Spoiler Alert: As most horror movies save the worst until the end, many of the following entries contain major spoilers.
Trigger Warnings: This article also contains graphic depictions of violence, both visual and written, that may be unsettling.
20. Hostel – Eyeball Gouge
Hostel (2005) is a movie that allows torture for entertainment, you will need one tough stomach to get through the majority of these scenes; as the directors have really thought of the unthinkable. The movie leaves you feeling unsettled and anxious, which is precisely its aim.
Towards the end of the film, when college student Paxton finally manages to get free out of the torture factory but then he discovers Kana, played by Brit actress Jennifer Lim, being tortured by a blowtorch burning into her face. He manages to save Kana, but has to cut her eye which is now protruding from the socket and they both flee the site.
Unless you have some underlying issues; you will find this scene very discomforting to watch. Hostel became a worldwide franchise as a new torture movie that will leave you very shaken up.
19. Seven – Sloth
Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow are well known for being in one of the most horrifying, psychologically-traumatic movies ever made: Seven (1995). Each victim that falls at the hands of the serial killer are part of a seven deadly sins ritual; lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.
In the case of sloth; a drug-dealer has been tied up and drugged in his bed for a year. When Freeman and Pitt land on the scene, his corpse is clearly rotting away in the bed. Then the biggest shocker takes place as the victim is still alive, his gasp for air makes everyone jump right out their skins and it’s impossible to look at the screen now knowing that this guy is hanging on for life; more zombie than human.
The movie was directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room) and became a cult classic. On a production budget of $33 million it then went on to take $327 million at the box office; meaning a lot of people will recall that infamous head-in-the-box ending scene.
18. City of the Living Dead – Drilled to Death
Lucio Fulci is a true King of Horror after directing The Beyond (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982). Neither of these two had a scene quite so shocking as City of the Living Dead (1980), which is best known for this infamous drilling scene.
The Gates of Hell are now open, which allows the dead to rise from the grave; but even zombies are not anywhere near as frightening as a scorned parent. When a young man is discovered in a car with the daughter of The Angriest Dad in the World, he is slapped around a bit and then forced onto a moving power drill. He screams in agony as the drill powers right through his mind.
It is not easy viewing and many people will just remember hiding their own heads under a pillow during this scene. As for the daughter; she’ll think twice before she gets in any more vehicles with boys.
17. Silence of the Lambs – Hannibal Escapes
When Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs (1991), there was never a more feared psychopathic character. His hushed slow-voice, unblinking eyes and aggressive demeanour still incites fear in the hearts of many at even the mere mention of his name.
In Hannibal’s escape scene, the audience already fear him and the situation is tense as nobody wants to see this cannibal on the other side of the bars. He retrieves a pin which will allow him to pick at his hand cuffs, putting his plans into motion. A guard enters his cell (is he on a death-wish?!) and they are greeted with a sinister, “Good evening gentlemen.” He already knows the pain he is about to inflict on them.
The scene is so excruciating to watch as he uses his removed handcuffs to trap the guard up against the cell bars, he then bites right into his victims face and brutally tears the poor man’s features apart. The level of violence, attack on innocent victims and now new fear of his escape left audiences sweating in their seats.
16. Saw VI – Pound of Flesh
One of the ‘games’ Jigsaw plays in Saw VI is called ‘pound of flesh’. It is created to test two lenders who are in adjoining cells and each wakes to find they have been attached to head harnesses. Within these harnesses are screws which are ready to drill through their temples if they lose.
If they want to survive then they will have to use the sharp tools they have been given and begin to cut off their own flesh and toss it down the chute into the scales below. They have 60 seconds and whoever places the most weight on the scales won’t be killed by a drill to the head.
The overweight man, Eddie, begins by slicing off into his fat stomach while the lady, Simon, attempts to chop off her fingers. As Eddie begins heaving his fat into the chute, Simone begins to realise her precious time is running out. In absolute fear and panic she then takes a meat cleaver and hacks away at her upper arm, severs her own arm and throws this down the chute; which then tips the scales in her favour.
The drill is then activated and Eddie is killed. The Scream Awards in 2010 nominated the scene for Most Memorable Mutilation. For normal people, it was almost impossible to watch.
15. Day of the Dead – Feeding Frenzy
Day of the Dead (1985) was the third instalment in George A. Romero’s Living Dead series, he does not disappoint and delivers one of the most gruesome scenes in horror history; the death of Captain Rhodes.
Rhodes took on the role of good-guy-gone-bad. Once a fearless leader he then transitions into feared dictator. He will not hesitate in killing off anyone who gets in his way. If the dead were the first thing his crew should fear, secondly it would be himself as he begins to butcher those around him.
The Captain gets his comeuppance when many zombies ascend onto him and literally tear his body apart. The scene is not an easy one to watch as even Rhodes himself can view his own organs become torn away and feasted on.
14. Mist – Death By Spiders
Ready for your skin to really start crawling? In The Mist (2007) there are the Gray Widowers, an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare; they use the mist to camouflage their large, deadly webs which are not known to leave many survivors once you have become trapped.
The most disgusting scene in the whole movie is when they pick a new ‘host’ for their eggs. This is where they lay thousands of eggs under the skin so their new offspring can eventually hatch.
Dying in a web of baby spiders, with hundreds of eggs hatching all over your body has to be up there in the worst ways to go – ever.
13. American Psycho – Chainsaw on the Stairs
Serial killers have been portrayed in almost every possible way; it’s not a good horror unless there’s a mass murderer on the loose. In fact, it’s begun to get quite predictable. Then American Psycho (2000) was released upon the general public, slick and stylish business man Patrick Bateman got everyone talking.
He is the kind of guy you would find sat on the table next to you at a nice restaurant, and you wouldn’t have a clue about what goes inside his mind. Towards the end of American Psycho, when we have just about seen enough, he begins a chase (naked) as his next female victim makes an escape from him.
As she runs down the spiral staircase for her life, he dead drops a chainsaw five stories down. It’s the moment nobody can look at; is the chainsaw going to kill her? It unfortunately is a very good aim and slices her to death. Then we get a shot of Christian Bale, who plays Bateman, screaming down the staircase. Cold-blooded, murderous screams; securing his position as one of cinema’s biggest psychopaths.
12. Braindead – Lawnmower Massacre
Braindead (1992) at the time of its release was one of the most violent, bloody, intestine-splattered scenes that audiences had ever witnessed. The amount of organs seen in this one scene alone is enough to turn anyone away from the screen.
The hero enters a room of zombies and uses a lawnmower to slash them and mash them into a pulp. It’s certainly one way to end a fight, but then it does have slightly comical moments especially when he slips up on some entrails. Our protagonist clearly enjoys getting one over these flesh-eating monsters, as he fixes a manic grin to his face the whole time.
This is one gruesome, budget horror that is not for the weak hearted. Director Peter Jackson has now moved on to more pleasant things such as hobbits, elves and wizards; magical journeys and giant apes.
11. Misery – Hobbling
Kathy Bates made horror history when she starred in this Stephen King adaption of Misery (1990). Her character, Annie, takes in novelist Paul (who she is a huge fan of) after he is hurt in a road accident; things get a little heated when she begins to make demands that he burn his latest manuscript and start a re-write.
Paul then senses Annie might not be mentally stable and he attempts to sneak away from her, hoping to get back to some normal civilisation. When the crazed woman finds out about his plans for escape she seeks to keep him trapped by using an excruciating method called ‘hobbling’.
Hobbling is where both ankles are broken using a plank of wood and a hammer; that should be enough detail of the process. It was used in the 1800’s to stop prisoners from running away. When Annie performs hobbling on Paul, it truly is an unwatchable moment as the pain would just be unimaginable.
10. The Ring – Samara Crawls Out The TV
Samara is a name that can send shivers down the spines of many. She’s a dark-haired, tortured soul who is out to seek vengeance on just about anybody, her features strike instant fear in anyone who has watched The Ring (2002).
The young Samara was once an innocent victim herself, she wanted to share with the world her suffering so a video tape was created which could be passed around the world and her story would be shared. However, if you do watch the tape she will emerge and kill you within seven days.
She is brutal in her vengeance and any scene in which she appears can send people into hiding behind the sofa. The scene where she crawls, wet and grey, from the TV screen is well-known as one of the most unwatchable moments in horror history.
9. The Thing – Arms Torn-Off
If there’s one thing true horror fans love; it’s shape-shifters. John Carpenter directed The Thing (1982) which was a remake of the classic The Thing From Another World (1951). Although the special effects used do appear quite tame now, if you were in a movie theater thirty-three years ago you too would have been reduced to instant sickness.
The movie witnesses a crew, stranded at an American base camp, become picked off one by one. The doctor on board attempts to save a crew members life, however he is unaware that there is a ‘thing’ hiding in his chest and the poor doc’s arms are torn clean off. Then cue everyone’s favourite hero from the 80’s, Kurt Russell, as he attempts to kill it off with a flamethrower.
Film critics blasted the film for over-using gore and shock-tactics to get the world talking. It appears that there is such a thing as ‘too much horror’ even when it does come from the king of the horror genre himself; John Carpenter.
8. Saw II – Pit of Needles
Jigsaw makes a return in Saw II, he kidnaps drug dealer Xavier Chavez because he was “offering hope to the desperate for a price.” There is a trap laid out for him where a pit is filled with over 120,000 dirty needles and the key can be found somewhere amongst them. If the key is not found within four minutes, the door will be locked forever.
Xavier was meant to be in pit searching on borrowed time for a way out, however being the unsavoury character that he is; he picks up Amanda (an ongoing character in the series) and throws her into the pit of syringes. The scene is agonising for anyone watching as you can actually feel your skin pickling. If you do have a phobia of needles; this scene will most likely make you faint.
Although Amanda does find the key in time, Xavier was unable to unlock the door before time ran out. This trap, unlike many others, does not kill the victim but was meant to be a punishment.
7. Evil Dead – Tongue Slicing
In 2013, horror-classic Evil Dead went through a re-make and had one stomach churning scene that twisted everyone’s head away from the screen. Mia, played by Jane Levy, visits her parents’ cabin in the woods with a group of friends and here she attempts to play cold turkey by dumping her heroin supply down the toilet.
Then things start to get a little strange. They find bloodstains on the floor and in the cellar there are dead cats hanging from the ceiling. They also come across a Book of the Dead and a shotgun, which Mia has (surprisingly) bad feelings about. One of her friends ignores all warnings on the book of ‘don’t read aloud’ and reads the book aloud.
Mia begins to see a woman in a white dress but her friends are just under the impression that this is the withdrawal from drugs talking. Mia then becomes possessed by a demonic voice and threatens to kill off her friends, now would be a better time than any to discover this might be more than just a side effect of going cold turkey.
The worst part of the movie is when Mia takes a sharp knife to her own tongue, splitting it down the middle and attempts to engage in a lesbian kiss with her friend. It is one moment that is unbearable to watch, as the skin splits in graphic detail.
6. Zombie – Right in the Eye
There’s something about eyes that horror directors just love; as they know it can send fear into the hearts of millions and create a really gruesome scene. In Zombie (1979) the living dead are on the loose who are eating everything in sight; Paola (played by Olga Karlatos) feels she can keep safe locked away in a private room. (Yeah right).
These zombies aren’t too happy about not being able to get close to their prey, and one breaks through the door then begins to pull her face close to a jagged spike – you can just begin to imagine what is going to happen next.
In painfully slow motion the spike heads straight through Paola’s eye and we’re left with hands over our eyes and the sound of her screams as they fill the room. We have complete sympathy for the poor woman going through this unbelievable torture.
5. Poltergeist – Face Peel
A quiet family are living a pleasant life in a California, they have just moved into a planned community development called Cuesta Verde. Steven, the father, is a real estate developer and his wife Diane is a housewife who looks after the children; Dana, Robbie and Carol Anne. Life is good.
Until Carol Anne starts messing around with a TV one night and striking up conversation through the static transmission. A ghostly presence then jumps through the TV and the house begins to violently shake. Carol Anne then turns to her parents to let them know, “They’re here.”
One of the worst scenes in the Poltergeist (1982) is when everyone is trying to get some much needed sleep, Steven begins to notice that a chicken drumstick he has been eating is swarming with maggots. He then faces a mirror and hallucinates his entire face begin to deteriorate and clawing at his own skin, huge chunks of his flesh fall into the sink below until he reaches the bone. It makes for very uncomfortable viewing.
4. Ju-on: The Grudge: Crawling Down the Stairs
There has been a remake of Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) but nothing ever compares to the original. The story behind this creepy, spine-chilling horror is many years ago a wife, Takeo, was murdered by her husband after he uncovered she was having an affair. Takeo then seeks her revenge on cursing anyone who enters the house.
When the Tokunaga family move in, they soon feel the wrath of the curse. The ghost begins to kill the family and becomes an unstoppable, evil force in their lives. The one scene that stays with anyone who has witnessed this horror, is when Takeo can be seen moving down the stairs ready to kill again; her contorted body is petrifying and inhuman. These Japanese horrors really know what they are doing when it comes to scares.
3. Hellraiser – Ripped Apart By Chains
In 1987 there was the release of Hellraiser, just one look at the face of Pinhead can still send shudders down people’s spines. Although there have been many remakes of this original, none are quite the same.
Set in Morocco, Frank Cotton purchases a harmless puzzle box. He takes it home and settles down for a quiet night in, just one man enjoying his puzzle. On completion of the game he is sent to hell; not really the fairest reward. He is then raised back from hell and killed all over again as hooked chains emerge and tear apart his flesh; splattering his body around the room.
Around the time this film was released it was all a bit too much for movie goers and theaters received many complaints about the graphic content. You would think the title and main movie poster would be enough to warn people that is far from a fairytale.
2. The Blair Witch Project – In the Basement
The final scene of The Blair Witch Project (1999) is both ingeniously terrifying and psychologically traumatic. There are not many horrors that could have an ending quite as memorable as this. We view the entire film through footage found on a video camera, left behind by Heather and Mike; who madly decide a trip to a haunted woodland is a nice way to spend a weekend.
Before the film ends we see Heather running through the witch’s house and down into the basement, where she sees for herself; either Mike in the corner or the witch (or both). What she does see, we don’t know for certain as we only view the scene through her video camera. She screams and the camera drops to the floor but continues to record.
What makes this scene so unwatchable? The sheer mind-blowing, psychological trauma behind it all. There have been many fan theories about the film ending this way but the most likely explanation is the witch had commanded Mike wait in the corner, for his time to die. For the audience, who have been shocked and shaken throughout the entire film, it all becomes a bit too much.
1. The Exorcist – Crucifix Scene
Almost everyone can remember where they were when they first watched The Exorcist (1973) it is one of those movies that just stays with you. The main character, Regan Teresa MacNeil, is most commonly referred to as ‘that girl from The Exorcist’, just the mention of her makes people feel uncomfortable. She becomes possessed by a demon Pazuzu and begins to display strange, aggressive and erratic behaviour which encourages her mother to call in an exorcist.
Father Lankester Merrin makes a house call and discovers that the young girl is indeed fully possessed, in the most horrific and memorable scene in the entire movie; her entire head begins to turn 360 degrees on her shoulders. There is also a horrific moment involving a crucifix which doesn’t need any further detail.
Audiences in the early 1970’s either ran out the cinema screaming or fainted on the spot, nobody was prepared for such graphic horror on a big screen. The review in the New York Republic at the time read, “This is the scariest film I’ve seen in years—the only scary film I’ve seen in years … If you want to be shaken—and I found out, while the picture was going, that that’s what I wanted—then The Exorcist will scare the… s**t out of you.”
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