My earliest horror memories are not of being scared by the movies, but rather having a whole lot of fun watching them. I fell in love with Freddy Krueger at a pretty young age, perhaps younger than one should be at the time of delving into the genre, and I can count on one hand the number of times I ever felt genuinely scared while watching guys like him do their thing.
Nowadays, it’s almost impossible for horror movies to actually tick off that ‘holy shit I’m scared right now’ box, which I say not as a testament to my manliness – trust me, I’m anything but manly. Truth be told, I kind of hate that I don’t tend to get scared while watching horror movies, because being scared – within the safe confines of your own home – is pretty damn fun.
The way I see it, a horror movie’s potential to scare has as much to do with effective filmmaking as it does the conditions under which you watch that movie, as a scary movie watched while the sun’s out, or with the wrong audience, totally loses any and all power it potentially wields. But that same movie watched alone at night, with the sound up and all the lights off, can become an entirely different beast.
Under these perfect conditions, both as a kid and an adult, a handful of select horror movies over the years have indeed managed to achieve that goal of chilling me to my very core. I wanted to spotlight some more of those moments here on HL today, so as you read this list, keep in mind that it’s merely a list of scenes that scared ME, rather than a comprehensive rundown of horror’s most terrifying moments.
Let’s relive some of that nightmarish trauma, shall we?
4) It’s always hard for a movie to live up to massive amounts of hype, and I went into 2007’s [REC] armed with the hype that it was one of the most downright terrifying horror movies of modern times. I was thoroughly excited by the promise, and as usual I made sure that the conditions were just right: I was home alone, it was late at night, the lights were off and the volume was up.
[REC] is an awesome and supremely entertaining film the whole way through, but as I neared the end, I wondered why everyone was so sold on it being ‘THE SCARIEST MOVIE EVARR!!!!’ And then, it happened. Out of nowhere, and completely bathed in a night-vision glow, the so-called ‘Medeiros girl’ appeared, and quickly made me realize precisely what everyone was talking about.
Presumably taking inspiration from the oddball music video Rubber Johnny, as I discussed at length earlier in the year, the Medeiros girl is hands down one of the most terrifying horror movie monsters of all time, and I don’t think anyone will disagree with me on that. The fact that it was a real dude under the makeup is what really sold the impact of that moment.
Javier Botet also played the titular character in 2013’s Mama, though unfortunately his naturally creepy look was covered up with a bit too much CGI. Sigh.
5) Since he often took the stance that horror movies are the lowest form of cinematic expression, I frequently disagreed with the late Roger Ebert when it came to his horror movie reviews. But every once in a while, we found ourselves on the same page. In 2012 he wrote that Sinister was “an undeniably scary movie,” and he took the words right out of my mouth with that one.
Theatrically-released horror films often do little more than bore me and make me roll my eyes, but Sinister is one that hit all the right notes. Though it admittedly takes a turn for the silly in the latter portions, the majority of Sinister is effectively chilling, so much so that I had trouble sleeping on the night that I went to my local theater and saw it.
It was the ‘home movies’ that Ethan Hawke’s character watches that really got under my skin, which showed families being brutally murdered. A few of the tapes are shown throughout the first hour of the movie, and they’re all quite disturbing – in one, a family is strapped to lounge chairs and drowned in a pool, and in another a family’s throats are all slit as they sleep.
But it’s the infamous ‘lawnmower scene’ that really made the hairs on my neck stand up. In that particular video, an unseen figure is pushing a mower across a lawn, and though it’s not immediately clear what he’s doing with it, it’s soon revealed that he’s literally mowing over a human being. It’s a ‘jump scare’ sort of scene, with loud music blaring at just the right moment, but holy shit is it effective.
When I got home from seeing Sinister, my wife and I heard a loud bang in our basement, and needless to say sleep wasn’t on the menu that night. So thanks for that, Scott Derrickson.
6) One of my favorite horror films of last year was The Taking of Deborah Logan (read my review here on HL), which came out nowhere and managed to blend two of horror’s most tired sub-genres into a film that felt fresh, new and most impressively of all, genuinely nightmare-inducing.
Though there are a couple moments throughout Deborah Logan that are effectively chilling, there’s one standout scene that ranks among the scariest in horror history. If you’ve seen the movie you surely know which scene I’m referring to, but if you haven’t, allow me to explain – and of course, if you don’t want any spoilers, don’t read the next paragraph!
Towards the end of the film, the possessed Deborah Logan unhinges her jaw like a snake and completely swallows the head of a young girl, and it’s such a shocking moment that my mind initially couldn’t even comprehend what I was seeing. I had to rewind the movie just to make sure I saw what I thought I saw, and that image hasn’t left my mind since.
If you’re having reservations about The Taking of Deborah Logan, because you’re tired of found footage and/or possession movies, trust me when I say that you should toss those out the window and give it a chance. It’s one of the best examples of either sub-genre that has come along in recent years.
Stay tuned for Part 3, in the coming weeks!
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