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The horror, the horror
October 26, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

The 55 Scariest Scenes from Fantasy/SF/Horror movies by the jewel-in-the-crown-of-Gawker io9 features many clips guaranteed to freak you out. Along the same lines, and also from io9, is an excellent list of ten novels that are scarier than horror movies.
posted by blahblahblah (52 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or, A Comprehensive Guide to Spoiler Scenes.

I understand that io9 and similar Gawker sites love their lists, and their genre stuff, and they have to generate new content every day. But I don't enjoy spoilers. And I believe that this kind of thing desensitizes the audience, perpetuates torture porn, and makes it difficult for potentially good horror scripts to get made.
posted by asfuller at 10:57 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay, since this seems like the place for recommending a very, very scary story....."White",, a novella by Tim Lebbon, is probably the scariest thing I've ever read. Although I'd also say that certain parts of The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica are pretty scary too with less of a "terrible things will get you RIGHT NOW" feeling.

Oh, gosh, and "The Specialist's Hat" by Kelly Link. Jesus.

And honestly, as long as you don't look for gore in your scares, the kids' novel The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs still scares me pretty effectively even though it has been probably almost thirty years since I read it the first time.
posted by Frowner at 11:04 AM on October 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


Scariest moment: A giant cat creature stalks our heroine around a pool.

Every time I've seen "Cat People" in a theater, it's the bus scene (@2:17) that makes people jump.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:06 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everyone please read everything by Shirley Jackson.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:07 AM on October 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


But I don't enjoy spoilers.

One of the clips is from a 2010 release.
Two are from 2008 releases.
The rest are 2006 and earlier.

There's a statute of limitations on spoilers.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:12 AM on October 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I just found that The King in Yellow is free for the kindle.
posted by josher71 at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Or, A Comprehensive Guide to Spoiler Scenes.

I suppose the intended audience is people who have seen the flicks already and are looking to relive the jolt when such-and-such happens; as well (on preview, as DWRoelands points out), some of these movies came out before my senior citizen parents were born.

This is a fool's quest, as what makes this stuff work -- to the degree that it does work -- is usually the context. Being shocked by a sudden turn of events in a movie I have been immersed in for the last ninety minutes is great. Being shocked by the same moment as a 45-second-long youtube clip played on my laptop on my dining room table in mid-afternoon is impossible.

I don't have a big problem with the list conceptually, but, having seen about half of these movies, the writer is often missing the point rather grandly. In one in particular film (which in the interest of spoilerism will go unnamed), she cites the shocking first appearance of whatever, but in fact it is about the third or fourth appearance of the creepy thing; it has just not had any attention called to it. Careful viewers have already spotted it and wondered, "what the hell is that?"; vaguely attentive viewers mighty suddenly realize uneasily at the big reveal that they had already seen the thing; platform-agnostic teenagers watching it on their iPhone will figure it was SCARY OMG OMG.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:19 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here are some they missed.

Puppet Master 2, the final scene, just before the credits. I don't scare easily but there's something about the last line and the uncanny-valley inhumanity of the actress that gave me the super creeps as a tweenaged MONSTER. It's not a tour de force of a horror film otherwise but it's a good scene.

The Eye (the original one): this scene. If you haven't seen The Eye, you should, and you should not watch this clip until you have. If you have, you know exactly which scene I mean.

May - The first shot. It's the rare jump scare that doubles as incredibly horrifying even without the jump aspect, and it also sets a tone; whatever comes after this, you already know something important about where it's going to end up, which is a ballsy move, especially in a horror movie and one which relies on tension the way May does. It pays off beautifully - every moment of the movie is shot through with dread.

Probably others too I will think of later.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:19 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that the scariest scene in The Descent is before the monsters when the tunnel collapses and they're all almost buried alive. I don't mean this as a dig at the rest of the movie, which for my relatively loose horror standards is a serviceable enough creature feature, but I responded more viscerally to the cave-in than I did watching the characters being hunted down.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:21 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, gosh, and "The Specialist's Hat" by Kelly Link.

I liked the one, but I LOVED "Pretty Monsters." I'm pretty sure Link is the only YA author I've read that would have actually creeped me out as a teenager.

Personally, if I was making this list, and felt the need to include a long book by a non-horror author, about a supernatural predator, I would've gone with The Track of the Cat, but I really didn't care for "The Terror" that much.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:23 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find the booklist really questionable-- I mean, The Exorcist? I am a giant, giant baby when it comes to horror fiction and even I found it awfully trite and tired. I'm sure it wasn't when it was published, and of course it's had a great deal of cultural visibility, but I wouldn't put it on a "scariest" list. "Most influential," sure. Ditto Lovecraft, and Chambers, whom I adore but would not really put on a "scariest" list.

I read The Terror, on the other hand, in early December in northern Sweden, when daylight was a vague glow over the tops of the hills for about three hours in every twenty four. Walking to school in those four foot high snow drifts was not, let me tell you, a calming experience.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:23 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I believe that this kind of thing desensitizes the audience, perpetuates torture porn, and makes it difficult for potentially good horror scripts to get made."
You got this all from a list? Um, ok.
posted by govtdrone at 11:27 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


And honestly, as long as you don't look for gore in your scares, the kids' novel The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs still scares me pretty effectively even though it has been probably almost thirty years since I read it the first time.

As soon as you mentioned this, I immediately thought, "Wait, was the Spell of the Sorceror's Skull also by this guy?" It was, and I remember being very scared by that book back in grade school. THen again, Castlevania 2 scared me about as much back then, too. xD
posted by adamdschneider at 11:49 AM on October 26, 2012


Kelly Link is pretty amazing.

My problem with The Terror is that went it from being truly scary to hand-wavy-brown-foreigner-mysticism somewhere past the midway point.
posted by Kitteh at 11:53 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I believe that this kind of thing desensitizes the audience, perpetuates torture porn, and makes it difficult for potentially good horror scripts to get made."

I certainly can't speak for asfuller, but I inferred that (s)he meant that having a bunch of little tidbits available at all times may condition one to expect pay-off rather than plot or character development. Being conditioned for instant gratification hardly helps one to appreciate narrative art.
posted by mr. digits at 12:00 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess along the lines of the novels that are scarier than movies, I tend to be more freaked out by the psychological than the jump-scare, so something like the bleak conclusion of The Incredible Shrinking Man (the wikipedia spin is entirely too optimistic in my opinion) or the last minutes of The Descent bug me more than the creature effects. In Alien, the chest-burster scene is shocking, the final dialogue between Ripley and Ash is even more chilling. None of the murders in Christine quite match King's slow development of Arnie's obsession/possession.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:01 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


As soon as you mentioned this, I immediately thought, "Wait, was the Spell of the Sorceror's Skull also by this guy?" It was, and I remember being very scared by that book back in grade school. THen again, Castlevania 2 scared me about as much back then, too. xD

The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull is still creepy, IMO, but The Curse of the Blue Figurine (which I always read in my head as "The CURSE of the Blue Figureeeeeeeene" in a dramatic radio voice, as I think you are supposed to do) is much scarier both because the scariness is well integrated into Johnny's daily life and dreams and because basically the scariness is his fault, an externalization of his desire for power, revenge and misbehavior...I think he's a very realistically written kid. Bellairs basically wrote the best boy nerds. (Although his one attempt at a "girl" book is really sexist, even though it's obvious that he intends it to be exactly the opposite.)

Also, I have always assumed that Bellairs was gay but have no evidence whatsoever for this.

And lastly, you could never write a character like the professor today - a grown adult who is friends with a boy and travels with him but isn't even remotely inappropriate, pedophiliac or emotionally stunted.
posted by Frowner at 12:03 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every time I see something about The Cell I can't help but think that it's The Fountain's aesthetics + body horror.....Which sounds so promising but I hear nothing but awful things about it
posted by sendai sleep master at 12:07 PM on October 26, 2012


I rewatched The Exorcist recently, for the first time in ages, and I thought it cultivated a really beautiful sense of unease and dread. Then the actual exorcism started, and it pretty much lost me. On a technical level it's great. The effects are groundbreaking, of course. But all the tension that had been built up over the rest of the film just kind of deflated.

Also, this list is missing the ending of Don't Look Now.
posted by brundlefly at 12:08 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The book Naomi's Room is the scariest thing I've read in years.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:14 PM on October 26, 2012


I saw the re-release of The Exorcist in the theater. What impressed me so much was that the movie conditions you that "upstairs = evil and crazy", "downstairs = rational". So you go upstairs, all this crazy stuff happens, and then you come downstairs and it is just like thinking about last night's scary stories in the bright light of day. Weird things happen downstairs, but in that context, it's more like "call a doctor" than "kill it with fire".

AND THEN THE CRAZY COMES DOWN THE STAIRS. I, a grown man, screamed out loud at that part.

I agree with brundlefly that once they start exorcizing, the scariness factor goes way down, but it jumps back up at the end. It's the contrast that is scary: once you've come to accept that the supernatural is going on, you show that amazing human adaptation ability and it is all shotguns and chainsaw hands.
posted by BeeDo at 12:19 PM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the list was OK but not entirely hide-under-the-blanket stuff, though I am looking forward to The King in Yellow (thanks, josher!)

On a slight tangent, the best literature-induced scare I've had was listening to a reading of Poe's The Facts in the Case of M. Validmar, by Nelson Olmsted. The setting made it especially scary- a few of us were parked in an old Ford on top of a high, lonely hill overlooking Eugene, well off the BLM road we took to get up there. It was close to midnight on Halloween and the local indie FM (KZEL) was running this fright show with all kinds of eerie music and stories. We were toked to the gills and doing our best to scare each other when the radio program goes quiet and then the Olmsted narration starts. No one said a thing for the duration and when it was over, we just sat there for a few minutes to regain our composure. Something about Olmsted's voice- so matter-of-fact at the start, becoming more horrified sounding as the story progresses- was so unnerving (not to mention that the story itself is pure horror.)

Olmsted's scary story readings are worth checking out for some creepy fun. He did a couple of albums of scary stories, including several Poe tales. The usual sources have these albums if you're interested.
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 12:19 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm so glad they included the hallway scene from Exorcist III- it wasn't a very good movie, but that scene gave me the heebie-jeebies for years afterwards.

I wish they had included a scene from Prince of Darkness. Not an especially good movie, but one which understands that daylight can also be scary.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:19 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find the booklist really questionable-- I mean, The Exorcist?

I know this is subjective and all, but really? The Exorcist is pretty much universally acknowledged as one of the most frightening films ever made. Maybe you're thinking of Exorcist 2 with the guy in the fly suit?
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:27 PM on October 26, 2012


My problem with The Terror is that went it from being truly scary to hand-wavy-brown-foreigner-mysticism somewhere past the midway point.

That's it exactly. The Track of the Cat has all the same elements, but they're there from the beginning, you don't feel like you've read all this way (and half way through a Simmons book is a LONG WAY) only to find out MAGIC! Also, Mountain Lions are way scarier to me than bears.

(Something mildly resembling a spoiler warning)

That part in The Terror with the Masque of the Red Death themed party was pretty great though.
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:28 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kafkaesque: "I know this is subjective and all, but really? The Exorcist is pretty much universally acknowledged as one of the most frightening films ever made. Maybe you're thinking of Exorcist 2 with the guy in the fly suit?"

WidgetAlley was talking about the novel, not the film.
posted by brundlefly at 12:32 PM on October 26, 2012


Ah, my apologies. Still, the book scared the bejeezus out of me.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:34 PM on October 26, 2012


I just found that The King in Yellow is free for the kindle.

Kindle, pah. You kids. In my day we had to go house to house, sliding copies under people's doors, hiding them on dusty bookshelves, holding impromptu f'taghn-mob renditions of the stage show in the park until all the participants and audience were tearing each other apart in a fugue state frenzy. Now some jackass can just root your device and upload it from the comfort of his home desktop while perusing porn in another tab of his browser and eating cereal straight from the box. No craft to it, I tells ya.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:36 PM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Nothing from the fucking 30s or 40s is "scary." This is a shit list.

The modern choices are incredibly lazy.

And for the last time: The Shining is monstrously overrated. It's a fine MOVIE but I've shat out far scarier stuff. Today, even.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2012


This is a shit list.

What is a non shit list?
posted by josher71 at 12:46 PM on October 26, 2012


"shit list" not to be confused with "Shitlist" by 90's rock band L7
posted by sendai sleep master at 12:50 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or this band.
posted by josher71 at 12:54 PM on October 26, 2012


Was anyone else traumatized as a child by this scene from Salem's Lot? Took me a long time before I was able to look out my bedroom window at night.
posted by BurntHombre at 1:09 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nothing from the fucking 30s or 40s is "scary."

Quotation marks however, are frightening.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:15 PM on October 26, 2012


No, you're right. Nothing from the "fucking" 30s or 40s is "scary." What it is, however, is atmospheric, unnerving, interesting, and harvested from a time when "fucking" horror movie cliches weren't recycled over and over and over. It didn't come from a previous old film with the hopes of making it "edgier" and "gorier" for today's thick-as-mud audiences. It came mostly from books and folklore. But between endless Western iterations of superior Japanese movies and the dead-horse-flagellation of the Saw and Paranormal Activity films, I will take those "fucking" movies from the 30s and 40s.
posted by Kitteh at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I teach Victorian Gothic/horror on occasion (like, next semester...), and my go-to for Really Scary Victorian Short Story is always J. S. LeFanu's An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street (later drastically reworked as Mr. Justice Harbottle; Bram Stoker's The Judge's House is a very obvious shout-out). And for early twentieth-century shivers, E. F. Benson's The Room in the Tower, in which not much "happens" per se, makes great use of nightmare logic.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:25 PM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


ethnomethodologist: "Nothing from the fucking 30s or 40s is "scary.""

Jacques Tourneur would like a word. Cat People (as mentioned in the link) and The Leopard Man are legitimately scary to my modern eyes.
posted by brundlefly at 1:26 PM on October 26, 2012


By happenstance, the AV Club's AVQ&A this week is on "scariest reading experiences".
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:49 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


List needs more Prince of Darkness. That transmission-from-the-future business is creepy as all hell.

And the scene in Alien where Dallas goes after that motherfucker in the guts of the Nostromo, the crouching tunnels lit only by the flickering light of his flamethrower, is way more frightening than the chestburster sequence.

As far as the 1930s go, put Vampyr and Island of Lost Souls on the list, too. Nothing scary my ass.
posted by Mothlight at 1:52 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know about the book of "The Exorcist," but I would agree with Brundlefly that, re: the movie, the feeling of unease dissipated when the whole exorcism happened. It just seemed so silly I couldn't take it seriously. I tried to finish watching it, but I think I wandered out of the room after half an hour. As a semi-practicing Catholic, I've read about exorcisms for years, and the whole execution seemed pretty dumb and incredibly not frightening. I think I would have preferred it if they'd gone a more Hitchcockian route, and made the demonic possession more subtle and psychological, as opposed to the whole goofy makeup and head-spinning-around thing.

So yeah. IMO it hasn't aged that well. My (non-Catholic) roommate at the time swore up and down that when she saw that movie upon release in the '70s, she thought it was the scariest thing she'd ever seen. Well, I was pretty scared when I saw American remake of "The Ring" for the first time in theaters... I'm not sure how I would react now.

I would say that I think the movie of "The Shining" is scarier than the book. I remember liking the book, but I barely recall what it was like. The Kubrick film? I can still remember whole scenes vividly and I haven't seen it since 1998.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:09 PM on October 26, 2012


The Trick by Ramsey Campbell has that creature with "a face like a wrinkled monkey's, whose jaw drooped as if melting". Yikes. When I read that in high school, it was the first fictional character that gave me a nightmare since I'd been 5 when I had the dream about the bad guys pounding the fingers of Shaggy and me (I'm Scooby?) with a hammer.
posted by Hubajube at 2:12 PM on October 26, 2012


Vampyr and Island of Lost Souls on the list, too.

Parts of Vampyr stuck with me for a long time afterward - the short bit at 6:15-6:47 (much more luminous and eerie in the Criterion restoration) and Sybille Schmitz's vampiric smile at @36:57, especially. It requires a lot of patience, though.

Nothing from the fucking 30s or 40s is "scary."

Cat People is genuinely creepy - not because it's full of scream-out-loud moments or gore, but because it's assembled out of many small glimpses of common situations (e.g. the bus scene - walking alone at night) that make people frightened or uncomfortable.

Val Lewton understood - like Tobe Hooper - that really memorable horror steadily pushes people to the point where their biological fear responses kick in, and then keeps them there. And that the primal things that are critical to doing that aren't necessarily murder or monsters, but unsettling things from everyday life condensed in the confined space of a film.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:45 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or, A Comprehensive Guide to Spoiler Scenes.

RAPTORS IN THE KITCHEN? WHAAA?
posted by the noob at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I frequently see The Turn of the Screw on these kinds of scary fiction lists, and maybe I didn't fully grok it when I read it at 16 for a school project, but I didn't find it very frightening at all. I found it rather boring, actually, though I did think it successfully established an eerie atmosphere. Maybe I should revisit it, only this time with less focus on figuring out if the governess is crazy or not.

On reflection, I read a lot of horror as a kid, and I think I'm just bored by it now. I can't believe I basically burned myself out on horror fiction by, like, the age of 12. Everything I've read since then (other than House of Leaves) has completely failed to make an impression on me, other than maybe a couple of Gaiman's short stories.
posted by yasaman at 3:36 PM on October 26, 2012


Oh, also, I read so many horror short stories as a child that even now, I expect every short story I read to take some sudden turn into nightmarish horror, or to have some sort of twist ending that renders the whole story existentially terrifying. This made New Yorker short stories briefly very suspenseful before I realized that no, they were just boring and had no twist endings at all.
posted by yasaman at 3:42 PM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Turn of the Screw is very much a mood piece. It's all about waiting for something to happen, anything.

If the rest of Haunted is like "Guts," then...eh? I found "Guts" revolting, sure, but not frightening (I think at the time I compared it to being hit over the head with a sledgehammer, which I don't find the most effective way of writing horror).

The Haunting of Hill House definitely made my students a bit nervous, which is one of my favorite tests of successful horror...
posted by thomas j wise at 3:57 PM on October 26, 2012


Okay, so I've never seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so the first one on their list both made me understand where miss lynnster's avatar comes from, as well as that bit from the Glee episode of Community where Jeff just opens his mouth to start singing and overcomes the terrified Britta.

And that still photo from The Descent up top is enough to freak me out.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:27 PM on October 26, 2012


I saw Prince of Darkness in the theater with two friends. One was laughing at the over-the-top John Carpenter silliness, the other was fascinated by its mix of horror tropes and religiosity. Me, I was shitting myself in terror.
posted by stargell at 5:14 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]




I agree 100% with the inclusion of The Turn of the Screw on the novels list. It was extra shocking to me because up until that point, every assigned novel by Henry James had ended up being a total snoozefest. The Turn of the Screw scared the bejesus out of me. I was living alone at the time and it was a real mistake to read it at night. Seriously, I think I slept with the light on.

One short story I find particularly insidious is Shirley Jackson's "The Summer People." It is full of creeping dread. Those are the best stories, I think--the ones with creeping dread. Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" is another one like that. Well worth checking out if you've never read it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:22 PM on October 26, 2012


A roommate in college agreed with me that And Then There Were None was a fucking terrifying book; until then I thought I was just a special kind of wuss. I don't know what makes it so scary... except the threat of a sudden and totally unexpected death by the hand of a hovering, unseen figure, I guess. FUCK.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:40 PM on October 26, 2012


The Descent is one of the scariest (in a jumpy sense, though not in a bad way) movies I've ever seen. I watched it in the middle of the afternoon, and I still wanted to stop the DVD and talk a long walk in full sunshine.

Scary. Scary.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:24 AM on October 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


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