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Five freaky horror movie scenes

AMC Fearfest ’09, I wish I could quit you.

See, for the past five days this wonderous channel has lured me into its lair of good, bad and wonderfully bad horror movie programming. It’s “The Shining” during lunchtime treadmill marches (does fear increase calorie loss?), “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster” and “Puppetmaster” before breakfast (and sunrise), an all-you-can-stand pre-bedtime “Halloween” buffet. There has to be a threshold between Reality Land and Horror Movie World, and I think I’m about to cross it. Or maybe I have already. Is that what it means when you start approaching every dimly lit corner of your house with your cell phone in your pocket, a cordless phone in one hand and an (admittedly pretty dull) bread knife in the other?

Oh, no — I can see a well-timed viewing of “13 Going on 30” or something similarly lobotomizing in its cheery, mindless optimism might be in order if I intend to communicate effectively with human beings post-Halloween and say anything other than “Did you check the closet? Did you CHECK the CLOSET?”

But until that time comes — and it can’t come until at least 10:30 p.m. on Halloween night, when the last showing of “Night of the Living Dead” kicks off — I’m going to enjoy this bloody, spooky mayhem, and possibly even revel shamelessly in it by recalling five of the freakiest horror movie scenes that still rattle about in my brain:

Meditation, therapy, drugs -- you can't unthink Reagan's uberfreaky spider crawl.

Herbs, meditation, therapy, prescription narcotics -- nothing can make you unsee Reagan's infamous spider crawl.

1. The spider crawl in “The Exorcist” — The revolving head, the pea soup projectile shower, a bucking Bronco bed, Reagan getting a little too friendly with a crucifix — is it any wonder “The Exorcist” has retained its status as an unchallenged horror classic? Frightening scenes abound, but the worst has to be the possessed Reagan’s skin-crawlingly awful crab/spider walk down the steps (visible in the film’s restored version). There simply aren’t words to describe the way this image burns your retinas.

2. Mike Myers’ disappearing act in “Halloween” — John Carpenter’s masterwork of scare is so jammed with shriek-inducing, nail-gnawing moments that it’s hard to proclaim one more frightening than all the others. The closet sequence? Genius. Myers’ face appearing slowly in a dark closet? I’m under the bed. But for me, the film’s best scene is the final one simply because it drives home an elemental fear: You can kill people, but you just can’t kill evil. Donald Pleasence’s grim reaction to Michael’s missing body gives me chills I can’t shake for days.

Could "The Shining" be responsible for the decline of typewriters? Hmm...

Could "The Shining" be responsible for the decline of typewriters? Hmm...

3. “All work and no play”: “The Shining” insanity chronicle — Frame for frame, I’m not sure I can name another horror movie that packs in as many chills and screams as Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly creepy take on a classic Stephen King novel. Every moment is about the atmosphere, about anticipation, and all that tension bubbles over when Wendy (Shelley Duvall, underrated here) discovers the true contents of her husband’s novel. That’s when we know in our bones that this family’s headed straight for hell in a big, flaming handbasket.

4. The hedgeclipper beheading in “The Exorcist III” — Was “Exorcist III” the best of the “Exorcist” films? Hell no. Did it feature one scene so bone-chillingly frightening and unthinkable that it made me walk backwards, then forward, then backwards again in my house for weeks (OK, fine, months)? Bank on it. This little clip is unassuming at best, a throwaway in the bizarre third entry in the “Exorcist” canon. But there’s something about a man in a sheet sneaking up on you with hedge clippers that’s profoundly disturbing.


"For sale" signs haven't looked the same since "Carrie," have they?

5. The hand that chokes the respectful mourner in “Carrie” — Stephen King’s gripping and original tales of fright don’t always translate to the big screen. (Don’t get me started on “Christine.”) But “Carrie” marks one of the very few times a film elevated King’s talent of turning our hearts to quivering blobs of jelly. No scene proves that better than Sue Snell’s visit to the gravesite-of-sorts of a most unusual teen who doesn’t let death stop her from holding a wicked grudge. It’s one of the few times a scene has moved me to tears, and I mean the kind you need your childhood Blankie to mop up. 

I realize now that my horror movie tastes are unforgivably modern and mainstream, so chime in, thoughtful readers, with your suggestions: What are some must-sees in the horror genre that are guaranteed to make me shake, shiver and just generally squeam whilst hiding in my closet gripping a coathanger?

13 Responses

  1. the one that got me good is another modern one…and another featuring a closet.
    in The Ring, when we flash back to a mother discovering her daughter in the closet, it slides open and we get a glimpse of Amber Tamblyn looking her absolute worst.
    i was not ready for that scene when i saw it in the theater. but it sure was fun, months later, watching it on dvd with friends who hadn’t seen it. i just watched their reactions instead. now that was entertaining.

    • I’m glad you mentioned that one — it was hard for me to open my closet for days after that! Also, the part where the girl crawled out of the TV screen … good GOD.

  2. The original version of Shutter. The only film since I was a child to scare the hell out of me and I just don’t scare anymore.

    I still the Evil Dead was scary. All the terrible noises and wacked out camera shots spin your head.

    Man, there’s just so many horror movies! I say watch them all, it’s easier that way.

    • The opening sequence in “Evil Dead” (the first one) is one of scariest I’ve ever seen — very menacing in its first-person appeal. And the indescribably weird tree branch sexual assault scene still gets me.

      Per your suggestion, I’ll start with “Shutter” and see where I go from there. Netflix has a way of sending one down a tailspin…

  3. when that guy’s face starts to fall off in Poltergeist..
    was that movie made just to put kids off watching tv?
    good list Get M Carter

    • If it was … it didn’t take. Not in my case, anyway, but sometimes I do LOOK at my TV funny.

  4. Another from The Shining: Danny is riding down the halls of the hotel and turns a corner and at the end are the twin girls taunting him to come play with them as it flashes to them bloodied and dead in the very same hall.

    I seriously can’t walk down a hotel hallway without getting freaked out. Every. Single. Time.

    • Any time Danny put his finger up to do the “redrum, redrum” routine I freaked out. And the music in that movie just kills me. If they took it away, I’m not sure “The Shining” would have half of its staying power!

  5. I’m now determined to get to the bottom of this Exorcist III scene! 🙂 This is the scene that I was referring to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zH8ynu0jRvY

    …and the end of Carrie is brilliant isn’t it…it still makes me jump even though I know it’s coming!

    • Yes! That’s the scene! But I’m having a hard time deciding if that’s a knife or that headcutteroffer they use in the morgue. I think I’ll have to watch the movie again to figure it out…

  6. I remember seeing “Carrie” when it was originally released in ’76. I had a front row balcony seat at the Ridglea in Fort Worth. I was not ready for the shock. I had already decided that Sue was going to find the crucifix from the Carrie White Closet Shrine among the rubble. Having been bothered by the open glowing eyes, I was expecting them to be closed. When the hand emerged, it did not register until the guy across the aisle screamed like he banshee. When my heart had slowed down to it’s normal pace, I decided that horror movies had changed. The ending was no longer going to be that sacred place where the survivors were safe and I, as a spectator could pick up my coat and exit assured that all was fine.

    That scene from Exorcist III IS very creepy. Violence is not necessary. That definitely was the morgue tool and we can know what was coming. Exorcist III is definitely the best among the sequels and prequels that were spawned by the original.

    In the category of Creepy, and all time favorite of mine is Dan Curtis’s “Burnt Offerings”. As Oliver Reed’s character begins to break down, he is plagued by visions from his childhood of an ominous hearse driver. As he sits at the bedside of his ailing aunt, he hears the labored chugging of an engine coming up the drive, that you know must be that damned hearse. The door flies open to show the hearse driver bearing the coffin that is meant for the aunt.
    That one had me freaked out for a few weeks.

  7. […] M.Carter has provided a spooky top five this week. Give a look to her calls for the Top Five Freakiest Scenes. […]

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