Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top 10 Scariest Scenes That Are NOT from Horror Films

One of the great pleasures of going to the movies is being frightened. There's a tantalising thrill that comes with being scared when you know the source of that fear is purely fictitious. Most of us seek such a thrill through horror films, but the horror genre does not have a monopoly on creeping audiences out. In fact, any film can contain at least one scary scene, and it doesn't have to be 'monsters in the dark' scary. It can be scary because it reminds us of an inconvenient truth, or reflects the ugliness in society. Here are ten scenes that scare me each time I watch them, and none of them come from horror films (none of these films have 'horror' listed as a genre on IMDb). So, time to begin the countdown...from least scary to scariest, and YES, there are some spoilers in here. You have been warned.

10. Matilda and Miss Honey trespass on Miss Trunchbull's property (Matilda, Danny DeVito, 1996) 

I'm guessing you're surprised this scraped in on the list. Matilda has a reputation for being one of the most intense family films, and it's not hard to see why with a character like Miss Trunchbull. Granted, this scene doesn't scare me as much if I watch it today, but I can't tell you how much this petrified me as a child. I've always thought that Miss Trunchbull is similar to a possessed Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist, in the sense it's scary just to look at her. Her imposing figure and those vengeful eyes make for one terrifying antagonist, considering the film's target audience. All I could think of as a child was how idiotic Matilda must be. Sure, she's well-read in Charles Dickens, but she's not smart enough to know that trespassing on your evil principal's property is a bad idea. (Note: the full scene is not on YouTube; the above clip is the best I could find).

9. Woody and the gang almost get incinerated (Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich, 2010)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Never before have I cared so strongly for hunks of plastic as I did while watching the Toy Story films. This was the scene that made me realise how excellent this franchise is. I love that the writers took the gamble on such a scene. I seriously thought they were going to perish, and in my head I was repeating "Not like this; not like this." Thankfully, they did not, and the ending is so touching it's beyond words. There was a moment in this scene where I had to remind myself I was watching an animated film. All the toys seemed like real people, staring down their own mortalities. I am just so glad they made it out alive.

8. "Feed me, Sara." (Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

Requiem for a Dream is one of the most disturbing films I have seen in my life, and it is Sara's (Ellen Burstyn's) story arc which is the saddest in the film. Here is a woman who lives alone and spends most of her day watching infomercials. When she receives an invitation to be a contestant on one of her favourite game shows, she is over the moon. In an attempt to look youthful and fit into an old favourite dress of hers, Sara begins taking weight-loss amphetamine pills. Despite her son's warning, the pills begin to dictate Sara's thoughts in a seriously dangerous way. In this scene, the lines between fantasy and reality have blurred. This is a hallucination where everyone and everything is loud and menacing. 

7. Curb stomp (American History X, Tony Kaye, 1998)

If I were making a list of the most disturbing scenes from films, this would probably make the top five. In terms of being scary, this scene is frightening due to the complete lack of remorse shown by Derek (Edward Norton). As a neo-Nazi, his compassion does not extend to anyone who isn't white. It's the scraping sound we hear at the five-second mark (in the clip) that sends a shiver down our spines. Teeth on the gutter, we know the fate that awaits Derek's victim. It is also very sad to see Derek's little brother (Edward Furlong) look on in despair. 

6. Pyle's murder-suicide (Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick, 1987)

(The scene begins at 1:00 in the clip, but you may want to watch the whole video for some context)

"Seven-six-two millimetre. Full...metal...jacket." And with those words, Private Pyle confirms that his rifle contains live rounds. We feel sorry for him. Of all the Vietnam War recruits in the Parris Island training camp, he is the most unfit; the most ridiculed. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) takes no prisoners, and he lets Pyle know this straight away. After receiving a humiliating beating from his comrades, Pyle becomes a model Marine, but it's too late. The psychological damage has been done. Pyle has lost his grip on the real world, and so he kills Hartman before killing himself. Tragic scene. 

5. Bill is followed by a mysterious man (Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick, 1999)


First of all, let me just say how beautiful the atmosphere is in this scene. New York City shows up beautifully at night, and Kubrick didn't waste the opportunity in his final film before his death. Being followed is an intrinsic human fear (unless we're talking about Twitter). No one wants it to happen to them. Although we, as viewers, are on the safe side of the camera, we still feel as though this man wants something from us. Something we cannot supply to him. It's just an expertly crafted scene, and the piano music (Ligeti's Musica ricercata) is absolutely haunting. 

4. Alex and his droogs invade Mr Alexander's home (A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick, 1971)


Yes, another Kubrick film. I guess he's just that good. This scene comes early in the film, so it's quickly established what we're meant to think of the protagonist. For Alex and his droogs (that's Nadsat for 'friends'), this is just a routine night of fun. They beat a writer to within an inch of his life, and they rape his wife. The powerlessness of Mr and Mrs Alexander makes this scene especially scary. They are completely inferior to their attackers, who are revelling in this enactment of gratuitous violence. 

3. Georg is struck with a golf club (Funny Games, Michael Haneke, 1997)

Haneke's original Funny Games is the most disturbing film I have ever seen. I've seen some twisted stuff (A Serbian Film, Salo, I Spit on Your Grave), but this trumps them all in terms of making me feel uncomfortable. It's just a really grim, unpleasant experience, and I think it is a film that only needs to be seen once. You certainly won't forget it. Anyway, this is the first scene where antagonists Peter and Paul really make their presence felt. Before this, Peter had played a mind-game with Anna (the late Susanne Lothar) involving eggs, but this scene is the first instance of violence. It is definitely not the most disturbing scene in the film (I can think of at least two others that are more sickening), but it is probably the scariest, because it marks the transition of Peter and Paul from annoying strangers to dangerous intruders.  

2. The Mystery Man appears at a party (Lost Highway, David Lynch, 1997)

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you would be familiar with the Mystery Man by now. You would also be familiar with this particular scene. Imagine meeting someone who tells you they are at your house as you are speaking to them in person. You can't be in two places at once, right? Well, the beauty of fiction is that reality can be tweaked. The genius of this scene is that it takes place at a party. The room is well-lit, and there are people socialising and music playing. We don't EXPECT anything eerie to happen, but in Lynch's world...anything goes. He has subverted the notion of danger lurking in the darkness.

1. Dan's nightmare materialises (Mulholland Dr., David Lynch, 2001)

First of all, let me stress that, for the scene to make sense, you must watch both of the above clips. I'm disappointed that Movie Clips divided the scene into two parts and cut out a short bit in between. If you'd like to watch the scene as it's meant to be (embedding was disabled), click here. Now, what makes this the scariest scene in a non-horror film (and potentially in any film)? Firstly, the suspense is wonderful. The walk from inside the diner to the wall behind it feels like five minutes. We want the characters to get there, but we're also scared about what is behind it. Secondly, it's about dreams, and no one really knows what dreams are. How many times has a friend told you about a nightmare they had, only for you to laugh about it? It's easy to laugh about our dreams because we generally accept they have no bearing on our waking hours, but rather the other way around. This scene presents dreams as something more significant; more real than hallucinations in our sleep. It's also unsettling because we have no idea what any of it means, and that is why I love David Lynch.

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