There’s something about watching horror movies and being scared that some people just can’t get enough of. Whether it’s the adrenaline rush, or the simple curiosity and morbid fascination, fans of frights and scares clamor for quality horror films.
Classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist are expected to be frightening, and their most iconic scenes will consistently rank as among the scariest in film history.
But what about the movies that don’t fall into the horror genre, that offer some serious terror?
Fear and dread aren’t unique to horror movies; they can be found in every type of genre, from action movies and dramas to family films and Disney classics. It can even be said that these moments are often scarier than scenes from horror movies because they usually come out of nowhere and leave their mark on the viewer.
These are the eleven scariest moments in film history that didn’t occur in genre movies. Be warned: these scenes contain graphic and disturbing material and all-round scares that maximize the creep factor.
11. Joker the Terrorist – The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy offered some scares in addition to all the jaw-dropping action set-pieces and dramatic narrative. The Scarecrow provided a few terrors in Batman Begins while Bane’s monstrous presence in The Dark Knight Rises would scare anyone silly. The Joker, however, takes the cake for his disturbing video with a hostage in The Dark Knight.
In a scene that echoes real-life horrors of terrorists spewing threats through videos, the Joker has captured and tortured a Batman impersonator. Gotham TV broadcasts the tape which shows the Clown Prince of Crime taunting his hostage.
With the Joker instructing him to “LOOK AT ME”, viewers are filled with a sense of dread and unease as they witness this deranged individual threaten the lives of Gotham’s citizens. Chilling the audience further to their core is the fact that the Joker kills the impersonator and parades the dead body in front of the Mayor’s office window.
10. Making Him an Offer He Can’t Refuse – The Godfather
Widely considered the greatest movie of all time, the crime drama The Godfather makes it on the list for one of the more iconic yet frightening scenes in cinema.
After a studio head refused to give him the part he auditioned for, Johnny Fontane asks his Godfather for some help. Don Corleone obliges by making the studio head an offer he couldn’t refuse, giving the audience an unexpected scare in the process.
Cue the camera focusing on a mansion in the morning hours, heading inside the bedroom to find studio head Jack Woltz waking up to blood-covered pyjamas and bed sheets. Pulling aside the sheets revealed the severed head of his prized racing horse.
The mounting tension and eerie music add to the creep factor, sending chills up and down the viewer’s spine.
9. Pyle Loses His Mind – Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket works on many different levels, from psychological horror to dramatic war film, all wrapped up in a nice bow of dehumanization.
Privates Davis and Lawrence, respectively nicknamed Joker and Pyle, are two Marine recruits training at a boot camp under Sergeant Hartman, a tough, foul-mouthed drill instructor who berates and chastises his recruits, in particular the overweight, dim-witted Pyle.
Unable to motivate Pyle, Hartman chooses to punish all the recruits for Pyle’s failures. Instead of bringing everyone together, this move led to the soldiers beating up Pyle with bars of soaps inside pillow cases.
Ultimately, all this psychological and physical abuse led to Pyle losing his mind. On the final night of boot camp, despite Joker’s best efforts to stop him, Pyle loads his rifle with live ammunition and proceeds to kill Sergeant Hartman and himself.
This was a terrifying scene accentuated by actor Vincent D’Onofrio’s amazing talent, providing a gut-wrenching scare taken out of a movie that shows the real life terrors of war and its devastating psychological effects on soldiers.
8. Bilbo Possessed – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
In The Lord of the Rings, a humble Hobbit named Frodo and his Fellowship of eight companions set out to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.
In preparation for the journey, Frodo’s uncle Bilbo gifts his nephew a sword and armour made of mythril. As Frodo tries on his new equipment, Bilbo spots the One Ring hanging from a necklace around Frodo’s neck.
As the ring’s previous owner, all uncle Bilbo wanted was to hold the item one last time. When Frodo hesitates, something malicious manifests itself in the old man’s face, transforming him into some demonic creature, if only for a second.
This short scene scared the living daylights out of moviegoers who weren’t expecting such a terrifying jump scare in the middle of this fantasy epic. It truly demonstrates the power and the evil present in the One Ring.
7. Curb Stomp – American History X
The next moment on the list features an absolutely disgusting and gruesome act spurned by racism and hate.
In American History X, Edward Norton portrays a former neo-Nazi named Derek who is trying to prevent his brother from following in his discriminatory footsteps. In a flashback sequence shown entirely in black and white, Derek catches two African-American males attempting to steal his truck. With nothing on but boots, his boxers and a swastika tattooed on his chest, Derek shoots one of the two while getting his hands on the other.
What follows is an incredibly despicable act, as Derek forces the man to bite down on the curb before stomping on the back of his head. Norton’s disturbing performance as a methodical lunatic in addition to the slow-motion and haunting music would make anyone cringe.
A crime drama though and through, the movie presents a very harsh reality that sadly still persists today, which makes the scene all the more frightening.
6. T-Rex on the Loose – Jurassic Park
What happens when a theme park housing cloned dinosaurs behind electrified fences suffers a power outage? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
Dennis Nedry deactivates the park’s security system in order to steal dinosaur embryos. With the power out, the tour vehicles Dr. Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm and the kids have been riding stop moving, and the electrified fences protecting everyone from the deadly dinosaurs shut down.
In a blink of an eye, a wondrous adventure film for families and their kids becomes quite terrifying. With rain pouring down and a foreboding cup of water, a goat leg splatters against the immobile car while the rest of its body is being devoured by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Cables snap as the T-Rex escapes its enclosure and roars menacingly, proceeding to wreck the tour vehicle with the kids inside. With the help of Dr. Grant, the kids are eventually saved in this incredibly thrilling yet terrifying scene.
5. Twisted Baby – Trainspotting
Trainspotting is a film that delves deep into the mind of a drug addict trying to clean up his act. Ewan McGregor plays the role of Renton splendidly, especially in one of the most bone-chilling scenes in movie history.
Sitting in his childhood bedroom, Renton is suffering from heroin withdrawal after attempting to get off the drug cold turkey. He cringes and spazzes, eventually leading to hallucinations. He sees a giant baby in a diaper crawling towards him on the ceiling. The audio for this scene doesn’t help, as the dance music intertwined with the baby’s screaming and crying is absolutely unsettling.
As if all that wasn’t enough, when the baby makes it over Renton’s head, it turns its head 180 degrees before dropping on the screaming Renton. It’s almost comical in its presentation and exaggeration, but that’s what makes it so darn scary and disturbing.
4. Pleasure Island – Pinocchio
Disney films have had their fair share of scary moments, so much so that they can fill a list on their own. Arguably the most shocking and terrifying scene originates from Pinocchio.
The story of a wooden puppet who wants to become a real boy, Pinocchio is dragged away from school one day and heads to Pleasure Island. With his newly-made friend Lampwick, they start drinking beer and smoking cigars.
As if that wasn’t completely uncharacteristic of a family film, the island hides a dark secret: the kids turn into donkey slaves used for labor. Such is the chilling fate of poor Lampwick, who screams for his mom as he sprouts donkey ears and a tail.
Released in 1940, this scene serves as a cautionary tale for children to behave, go to school and say no to drugs. Given how traumatising the scene was, it probably worked.
3. Sloth – Se7en
David Fincher’s Se7en is a fantastic film that borrows from many genres such as drama, mystery and thriller. While not a horror movie by definition, this film offers one of the scarier and more grisly jump scare moments in film history.
While hunting a serial killer that uses the seven deadly sins as his M.O., Detectives Mills and Somerset discover the killer’s third victim in an apartment filled with air fresheners. Representing the sin of sloth, the rotten corpse is chained to a bed. Except it’s not a corpse.
The body springs to life, soiling the pants of many viewers in the process. Resembling a zombie, the person gasps for air as the audience is left trying to catch their own breath. Unexpected and unforgettable, this is a moment that gets the viewer every time.
2. The Boat Ride – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was intended to be a delightful little treat for kids everywhere, but instead it ended up providing plenty of weird moments that creeped out kids and adults alike. Starting at the top is Willy Wonka himself, a man-child who’s incredibly odd. The Oompa Loompas are creepy and turning into a giant blueberry is no fun at all. The scariest scene, however, involves a certain boat ride.
Willy Wonka and his visitors take a boat down the chocolate river. Something that should be delightfully serene takes a turn for the worst when they enter a tunnel. Lights, colours and surreal images start bombarding the passengers in this psychedelic acid trip.
Everyone is freaking out besides the weird Wonka, who recites a poem about growing dangers and the grisly reaper. This drug-fueled tunnel to hell is beyond horrific.
1. Face-Melting Nazis – Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones represents what the audience looks for in a film: suspension of disbelief reigns supreme as romance, comedy, suspense, action and even history come together to create an all-time classic. What people often forget, however, is the moment of sheer horror present at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Hired by the US Government to track down the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do, archaeologist Indiana Jones and his partner get captured near the end of the film as the Nazis prepare to open the Ark. Instead of immeasurable power, however, the Nazis find their doom.
This visually haunting climax comes out of nowhere, as skin peels away, blood pours from every orifice and heads explode. The spirits of the Ark kill all the baddies in gory fashion, something completely unheard of in an otherwise family-friendly film. Over 30 years later and this scene still makes people’s skin crawl – and hopefully not melt.
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