The horror movie is a shapeshifter. It can frighten with a pervasive sense of eerieness or with an overwhelming abundance of gratuitous gore. It can be suspenseful or creepy or a combination of all the above.
However, a scary movie of the “Boo” variety is a rare breed. Not for a lack of trying, but creating a truly jarring shock, the kind of adrenaline-inducing jolt of pure fear, isn’t an exact science. It is a magical, mystical alchemy that only a few cinematic sorcerers have perfected. These evil geniuses have filmed some of our favorite frighteners and soiled the britches of many a moviegoer.
The following countdown is a paean to their unholy brilliance, The Scariest Moments Ever Filmed Bar None.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven introduced us to a new kind of monster in Freddy Krueger, a hideous child molester that invades the dreams of teenagers from beyond the grave. Juxtaposing slasher shock and campy humor, Nightmare still manages to elicit several moments of terror, including the bizarre beat in which Nancy answers the phone expecting her boyfriend Glen, but instead gets Freddy’s nasty voice spitting, “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy.” This is followed by a mouthful of Krueger tongue…through the receiver! Not only is it way gross, it is way scary.
9. The Sixth Sense
An infallibly constructed detective story, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense provides more than ample chills made all the more eerie because of the building suspense that pays off in the most unexpected points. While the dead woman in the kitchen is enough to raise the gooseflesh, the sudden appearance of the boy with the bullet in his head will make you jump in your seat with fright.
I first saw this terrifying little gem from Don Coscarelli at the Flamingo Drive-In, it scared the bejesus out of me. In particular, there is a scene in which the teenage protagonist, Mike, makes a shocking discovery in the mortuary and begins to back away slowly, but unbeknownst to him -- and to the audience -- he is retreating right into the waiting clutches of The Tall Man. You will taste your heart in your throat.
7. The Howling
This werewolf flick directed by Joe Dante and written by John Sayles is grossly underrated and should be reconsidered if for Rob Bottin’s special effects alone. The transformation of serial rapist Eddie into his lycanthropic alter ego is not only a stunning bit of FX filmmaking, but scary as hell.
Steven Spielberg produces, Tobe Hooper directs and Carol Anne gets sucked into the spirit world vortex because of bad reception on the TV. Although Zelda Rubinstein is supposed to be on the side of the good guys, midget ladies are always scary. And so are clowns. But truly the most frightening moment in this film is Robbie being gobbled by an anthropomorphic oak tree.
A deceptive film, ostensibly billed as “science fiction,” the science is only used as a backdrop within which to set a Gothic haunted house thriller. Although there are many gruesome and bone-chilling moments in Ridley Scott’s magnum opus, when the Chest-Burster erupts from John Hurt’s torso, you will scream. (Sadly, in space, no one can hear you.)
4. The Shining
“Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” What more needs to be said about Kubrick’s classic creeper?
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Tobe Hooper’s low-budget serial killer thriller is disturbing, gory, violent and utterly terrifying. Long before Heather, Michael, Joshua, Shaggy and Scoob were haunted in the Maryland woods by an unseen terror, five teenagers were chased through the Texas woods by the cannibalistic, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface. While the dinner table finale is maybe the most memorable scene, the scariest moment occurs when Pam is inching her way through the house. The suspense builds and builds and builds, until BOOM, the door slams open and Leatherface is upon her, chasing her out the door and right onto a meathook. Soup’s on!
The movie that made Steven Spielberg a household name and an entire nation hydrophobic, Jaws is a masterpiece of suspense. We don’t even see the shark for almost an hour-and-a-half, but that doesn’t mean we don’t make pee-pee from fright. When Ben Gardner’s head pops out of the busted hull, there is always a collective shriek in any audience.
1. The Exorcist
William Friedkin’s classic demonic-possession flick is maybe the scariest movie of all time. Although it has become the most overused cliché in scary movies, I challenge you to find a scarier boo than when the cat jumps into frame as Father Karras is listening to the tape of Regan being all hexed.