We’ve all experienced it in the cinema or while watching a movie at home: the almost unbearable sensation of fear that makes you question why you’re punishing yourself by watching a horror flick. And then there’s the after effect of being unable to sleep soundly because of one’s imagination running wild or due to the seemingly endless recurrence of nightmares. But what is it really that makes a horror movie scene so terrifying and haunting in the first place?
That’s a tough question to answer. Fear is so subjective that what may be scary for one may be boring for another. Nevertheless, the compilation of the following list of the scariest horror movie scenes of all time was attempted simply to celebrate the ability of these episodes to spook the wits out of an audience. Haunted viewing!
10. “Kanna?” from Ju-On: The Curse (2002)
Ju-on: The Curse is a film divided into six parts, all of which chronicle the experiences of various tenants in a cursed house. One of the installments begins with the investigation of a body found dismembered in a school, dead rabbits and a human jaw located near the body. The jaw, however, is not that of the corpse. At the cursed house, meanwhile, Noriko, the mother of the family, arrives. As she talks on the phone with someone looking for her son, Kanna comes home after rushing off to school to feed the rabbits.
What makes the scene particularly horrifying is that the audience sees what state Kanna is in when she comes home. Noriko though, doesn’t, due to her preoccupation with her phone conversation. As a result, when the clueless mother follows her daughter up the stairs, the poor viewers are forced to watch what they already know will soon unfold.
9. “The Tent Scene” from The Sixth Sense (1999)
Nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, The Sixth Sense is a unique horror film in that almost none of its frights come as a result of the viewer being jolted. However, its scary scenes are so effective that they’re likely to keep viewers up for several nights after watching the movie. Particularly hair-raising is the scene where clairvoyant Cole Sear, played brilliantly by Haley Joel Osment (nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), senses a strange presence and hides in a makeshift tent to get away from it. At first, the audience is terrified to see that the clips holding the tent together are being ripped off one by one. But it soon turns out that the viewer should actually fear not what’s outside the tent, but what’s within it.
8. “Demonic Faces” from The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Loosely based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is really more of a courtroom drama than a horror film. However, the scenes that recount the possession of Emily Rose are among the scariest in any exorcism-themed movie, and the frights it creates are notably achieved without the use of excessive gore.
One of among several horrifying episodes in the film takes place as the possession of Emily Rose becomes more and more evident. In the classroom, as she takes a test, Emily first notices a demonic face take form on a window. Worse, when she looks over at the student next to her, his face suddenly turns monstrous, causing Emily to run out of the school. The escape provides the poor girl no comfort, however, as the faces of everyone she encounters similarly turn demonic. Finally, drenched in rainwater, she reaches the protective confines of a church. But is a religious building really protection enough from demons?
7. “Where’s Everything?” from Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
It’s a daunting challenge to inject freshness into the found footage genre, especially in the third installment of such a franchise. However, Paranormal Activity 3 effectively does so with the introduction of the “fan cam,” an ordinary video camera that the father of the house, Daniel, installs on the motor of an oscillating fan. He does this to address a lack of cameras to take footage of the entire house; with the equipment on the fan’s motor, one camera is made capable of taking footage of the entire living room and kitchen as the motor’s motion enables the equipment to sweep the area.
In one hair-raising scene, the mother, Julie, is busy talking on the phone in the kitchen when she hears a knock on the door. It turns out that no one is there, so she heads back to the kitchen. That’s when she, along with the audience, discovers that all of the items in the kitchen are gone. Or are they really?
6. “Wardrobe Scene” from The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring is considered one of the scariest films, if not the scariest, in recent cinematic history, and the “wardrobe scene” certainly contributed its share of fright to the movie. As the supernatural activity continues to escalate in the Perron home, a sleepwalking Cindy enters Andrea’s room and proceeds to bang her own head on the wardrobe. Big sister Andrea then puts Cindy into her bed, but banging sounds creepily begin to emanate from the wardrobe. Bravely, Andrea confronts her fear and opens the wardrobe doors. Thankfully, there is nothing strange in it. But Cindy, who is watching from the bed, suddenly gasps. As the viewer’s heart races in anticipation of discovering what Cindy sees, the reason behind the haunting gasp is revealed.
5. “The TV Exit” from Ringu (1998)
Ringu, at the time of its release in Japan, became the highest-grossing horror film in the country, raking in 12 billion yen ($137.7 million). Its main draw was the creepiness of its main antagonist, Sadako, a young girl murdered brutally and thrown into a well by her father. Near the movie’s ending, Ryūji believes that he has successfully broken Sadako’s murderous curse by locating her body and appeasing her spirit. However, the next day, Ryūji’s television switches on by itself and shows the image of Sadako’s well. Creepily, Sadako slowly crawls out of the well’s hole. In fact, it’s not only the well that Sadako crawls out of.
4. “The Spider Walk” from The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen (2000)
Oscar-nominated Exorcist director William Friedkin decided to delete the “spider walk” scene from the original 1973 version of the movie for two reasons: (1) the wires holding contortionist Linda Hager were visible onscreen, making the scene ineffective and (2) Friedkin believed the scene appeared too early in the plot and created a double climax effect after the revelation that Burke Dennings had just died. Nevertheless, the scene was later edited through computer graphic imagery, and a non-bloody version was added to the 1998 digitally remastered version of the film. Meanwhile, the bloody version was inserted into the 2000 theatrically re-released version.
What makes the scenes so ghoulishly scary is the strangeness of the motion that Megan is portrayed to be performing as she descends the staircase. Even scarier is the non-bloody version of the scene where Megan is shown flicking her tongue like a snake and chasing after her terrified mother.
3. “Bed Scene” from Shutter (2004)
Bed scene? Yes. But there’s definitely nothing sexual in this episode from Shutter, the 2004 Thai horror film later remade in 2008. The movie revolves around the ghost of a woman haunting Tun’s group of friends after Tun and his girlfriend accidentally hit and intentionally desert a young woman on their way home from a drinking party. In one scene, Tun is in bed with his girlfriend when he notices that his blanket is strangely sliding away from him. The white-faced female ghost then appears at the foot of Tun’s bed and slowly crawls her way up towards him. Panicked, Tun attempts to wake up his girlfriend only to realize that the ghost has disappeared. Confused by what had just taken place, Tun checks under his bed but sees nothing. However, he only fails to find anything underneath his bed because that’s not where the ghost is.
2. “Mike in the Corner” from The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The unbelievable success of the The Blair Witch Project in 1999 officially began the flourishing of the “found footage” horror genre. One of the movie’s most memorable scenes is its ending, where Heather runs through the witch’s lair and sees her friend, Mike, standing in a corner with his face to the wall. Such an image shouldn’t really be so frightening, but for some reason, the episode works brilliantly to terrify the audience. Perhaps it’s because it forces the viewers’ minds to work overtime in trying to figure out what’s going on. Was Mike so paralyzed by fear due to something that he saw or experienced that he chose to look away? Or was he mutilated to the point that he was unwilling to show himself? It seems that the key is a story told at the beginning of the movie about a presumably Blair Witch-influenced child serial killer named Rustin Parr, who couldn’t stand being watched in the act of committing murder. His solution was to ask children to stand in the corner while he slaughtered one child at a time.
1. “The Twins” from The Shining (1980)
That a scene from the oldest movie in the list takes the top spot proves that creating paralyzing fear doesn’t require advanced special effects. The “twins scene” in The Shining is quite simple, but it’s so masterfully executed that it somehow makes the viewers’ insides scream out in fear.
In the buildup to the scene, Danny is riding a tricycle around the halls of the Overlook Hotel. He then comes across the Grady sisters eerily standing side by side at the end of one hallway. They temptingly whisper, “Hello, Daniel. Come on and play with us. Come and play with us, Daniel.” A closeup of Danny’s shocked face is then shown, but it’s soon replaced by flashing images of the sisters, bloodied and murdered, as they say, “Forever… and ever… and ever.”