And when I say creepy, I mean otherworldly, skin-crawling, hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up, pineal-gland-tingling creepy. Like great comedy, pace, subtext, and multiple layers is key to really frightening moments in horror.
I’m not going to make this a drawn out countdown to the #1 creepiest moment or anything like that, so I’ll just jump in with what inspired this piece:
Besides having all that going for it, this segment, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, which is a remake of one of the original Twilight Zone classic episodes, is just superbly done with many elements of tension-building, fear, surreality, danger, and intrigue.
I won’t dissect the entire segment, moment-by-moment (you should really see the whole segment and whole movie yourself if you haven’t already), but I will jump to the creepiest, most hair-raising moment, when this creature whimsically shakes its finger at Lithgow’s character (John Valentine) before flying away, the levels of horror in that gesture speak thousands of words of frightening subtext.
Mr. Valentine is already a highly sensitive, anxious and agitated type clearly afraid of flying. This only serves to detract further anyone’s willingness to believe him that something is wrong with the plane or certainly that there’s a man on the wing of it, despite his best efforts to prove what he’s saying is true.
Eventually, out of sheer terror, adrenaline, and frustration that no one will believe him as this creature is destroying the plane’s engine, essentially trying to take it down and kill everyone aboard, he smashes the window open, gun-in-hand to try and kill it. The creature runs over to confront him, destroying the gun with its teeth (showing us just how easily it could do something horrifying, like decapitating him with incredible ease).
As the creature was likely ready to kill Mr. Valentine, the plane’s landing gear began lowering and the plane dropping below the clouds, coming in for landing. At this point, the creature (who’s obviously intelligent and malicious) decides the risk (of being seen by others) is too great to stick around any longer to finish its work.
But, as it’s leaving, places its palm on Mr. Valentine’s face in possibly an act of dominance to show him his life was at its mercy. As it shakes its finger at him with a frightening grin, the flood of subtext is mouth-droppingly frightful.
He saw it, but shouldn’t have, almost like a glitch in reality or dimensions (seeing behind the curtain so to speak), this possibly unseen and unknown creature that we don’t know what it is (demon, gremlin, alien, monster, figment of his imagination?) or where it came from or how old, possibly centuries? And the creature letting him know “Uh uh uh, you weren’t suppose to see me…” is a truly spine-tingling moment in cinematic history.
At this point, I’ve dedicated so much thought to this one moment, in just this one film, I wonder if I should go ahead and rename this article to “The Creepiest Moment in Horror” making it singular, but I think I have a few more up my sleeve I’d like to share.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will likely forever remain the most frightening, authentic-feeling, gritty horror movie in film history, but the scene where Franklin (in a wheelchair) is brutally killed is beyond chilling and haunting.
E.T., E.T.? But, that’s not a horror movie… you say. Well, I find the movie as a whole to be quite terrifying actually and that’s good enough for me to be relevant to this list, so we’ll just have to fight about it in the comments, deal?
This scene clearly dove deep into my psyche because even today if I happen to throw a ball down a dark hallway or what have you, I pray, pray, that it doesn’t come rolling back because I just don’t think I could handle it.
IT, you must have known this one was coming. The combination of sadness and horror in this scene makes my stomach hurt. It’s simply unreal.
Communion, based on a “true” story (I’m sure you know to take that with a grain of salt), is perhaps the most frightening film I’ve ever seen. There’s also another very freaky scene where this toy comes flying at him abruptly.
Candyman is a very elegant, sad, and if I may say so, beautiful horror film. This scene in particular is the same kind of creepy as IT, the loss of an innocent to a monster, in a horrific manner.
Poltergeist, for those of you that have a fear of both clowns and killer dolls, this must have simply sent you over the edge.
Little Monsters, he just wanted to be “friends”.
The Amityville Horror, those eyes, those eyes!
I’m bogging down a bit here ladies and gentlemen. No list is ever complete and every list will always leave something to be desired from someone out there. So, I have just three final honorable mentions I’d like to make before wrapping this up. The Shining, Waxwork, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space are all absolutely chock-full of disturbing moments.
There are many, many, many other amazing scenes across plenty of great horror movies that would also fit into this list…
So, what did I miss?
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