/Answers: The Scariest Movie Scenes Of All Time

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week's edition, tying in with the release of Alien: Covenant, asks "What is the single scariest scene you've ever watched in a movie?" As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team.

If you'd like to share your pick for the scariest movie scene, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our choices below!

Alex Riviello: An American Werewolf in London

I was 10 or 11 – far too young to be watching An American Werewolf in London. But that's the movie my dad had chosen to show me. I still don't know what prompted his decision, since he was never big on horror.

Regardless, it happened. After turning it on, my dad stuck to his usual M.O., which involved nodding off after about half an hour into a deep, snoring sleep. This was good in some way,s since it allowed me to avoid awkward conversations during the scene in the porno theater...but it also meant that I was alone...in the dark...with the wolf.

I was disgusted by Griffin Dunne's wiggly skin. I watched the transformation scene in horror. But the scene that rattled me the most is the simplest, the purest.

The Tube.

The worst horrors are the ones your own mind makes for you, and the film plays on that beautifully in this moment. You watch as the man gets more and more terrified of something off screen. He gets lost in the maze of the tunnels and begins to lose himself as well, as he reverts to the primal fear of survival that mimics what the audience is feeling right this moment.

I looked over at the other couch to see my dad sleeping. The house was dark, and quiet...and then the werewolf calmly walks into the top of the frame and I literally jumped off of the couch. What the hell was that?

Later on I recognized the film for its comedic genius but that night? It wasn't funny.

Ethan Anderton: Halloween

While I find myself startled and anxious by plenty of horror movies, I've never really felt a genuine sense of dread or even fright while watching one. Whenever friends tell me they can't watch horror movies because they'll have nightmares for days or they get too scared, it's not something that I understand. However, there is one particular scene from a classic horror movie that totally freaked me out, and while it's not necessarily as scary today, at the time I saw the scene in question, it made me feel as scared as a horror movie will probably ever make me feel.

When I first saw the original Halloween, I was probably a little too young to be watching that kind of horror movie, but that kind of thing is a rite of passage. By today's horror standards, John Carpenter's 1978 is fairly tame, but at the time, it was a groundbreaking piece of horror and it essentially launched the slasher genre. However, at the time that I saw it, I was already familiar with other horror movies that came after Halloween that didn't really terrify me much. I had already crossed paths with a couple Friday the 13th movies and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and while they were certainly suspenseful, I didn't find myself really scared by them. So why did Halloween frighten me?

Well, it's the particular sequence you see above when Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) walks home from school. Michael Myers stalks her, though he doesn't exactly pursue her. The difference between Halloween and the other horror movies I had seen at the time is that Michael Myers was appearing in broad daylight, where anyone could see him. For some reason, this was more terrifying to me than Jason Voorhees killing campers in the woods at night or Freddy Krueger haunting dreams. I think it was just the fact the daytime is when people often feel the most safe, but Michael Myers had no problem stalking Laurie Strode while the sun was still up, and that's pretty terrifying when you think about it.

Jacob Hall: The Innkeepers

Ti West's The Innkeepers is far from the scariest movie I've ever seen, but it remains the only horror movie to send me into such a state of panic that I actually spoke out loud in the theater. Okay, so I didn't speak. It was more like a ghastly combination of a whimper and a mutter. There was probably a four-letter word involved. For a moment, this movie reduced me to something primal. I was one with the characters on the screen and their fear became my own.

And that's the amazing trick of The Innkeepers – the two leads, the only two characters of significance in the entire movie, are played so affably and likably by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy that their descent into terror feels more real than in most horror movies. These two slacker hotel clerks, who spend their final days of work at a closing historic hotel attempting to communicate with the ghost that supposedly haunts the premises, are among the most relatable and human characters ever seen in the genre. It's a wonderful joke that the first half of the film is essentially a low-key workplace comedy, with these two bouncing off one another, trading bards, and scaring each other with amusing internet jump scares (the only cheap jolts in the whole movie). By the time the ghost actually shows up, by the time their mundane work day has become something truly dangerous, we've bought into the lives of Claire and Luke in a big way.

So let's focus on the one scene that got me to make audible noises in a movie theater. It's the one where Luke and Claire attempt to directly contact the ghost of Madeline (seen in the embed above). There are no big scares here. We don't see the ghost, even though we have already seen it by this point in the film. We are just alone in the dark room with two characters who like each other, characters we have grown to like as well, and they are afraid. They are petrified. They can barely deal with what is going on. Out of context, the scene doesn't offer much. But stuck in the middle of a movie that has lulled you into its web with wry comedy and character-building, it acts as a jolt to the system. A ghost is scary, but do you know what's really scary? A ghost that wants to harm people you love.

Jack Giroux: Jaws

I still vividly recall hearing Susan Backline's screams of terror for the first time as a kid. The opening of Steven Spielberg's masterpiece still unsettles me now as much as it did then. The feeling of helplessness, despair, and absolute pain terrifies me every time I watch Jaws. That screaming...the sounds of somebody confused and shocked, but knowing it's all over. The piercing silences, the beautiful sunrise, and the young man passed out on the beach makes it all the more horrific. Something grisly and godawful is happening and nobody knows. The character suffering all alone, experiencing only unimaginable pain and terror. It made for a valid reason not to want to go into the ocean anytime soon. Even before the great white arrives, the shot of Backline's leg going under the water makes me cringe in fear of what I already know is coming.

Josh Spiegel: Mulholland Drive

For me, the answer has to be Mulholland Drive, specifically the scene where a side character describes a recurring nightmare he's plagued by, only for that nightmare to essentially come to life. Few filmmakers are better at capturing palpable dread better than David Lynch, and the scene where Patrick Fischler's character walks behind the dumpster of a local diner to be attacked by the fearsome-looking mystery figure of his night terrors is the peak of such dread. That mystery figure and the dumpster show up later in the film to spook someone else, but that early sequence, made all the more tense because of how lengthy it feels, is terrifying to think about, let alone watch.

ringu tv scene

Hoai-Train Bui: Ringu

I've made it a point to avoid horror films ever since I accidentally happened upon a VHS of Leprechaun when I was a kid and grew up in constant fear of that leering goblin popping its head out behind every open window. If you want to know how much of a wimp I am, I had that recurring fear until I was well into my teens.

But alas, though I hated horror movies, my family did not. One day they dragged me into a family viewing of Ringu, the original Japanese version of The Ring. Though I was terrified of The Ring on principle, knowing in detail many of its most frightening scenes thanks to word of mouth, I'd heard that the Japanese version was a lot less visceral, and gave into this round of family bonding. In retrospect, the movie is a master class in suspense filmmaking, with each scene imbued with a sense of foreboding through simple musical cues or claustrophobic camera angles. It's an amazingly well-made film, but I thought I was going to pass out for most of it from holding my breath with the expectation that something terrible waited around each corner. That's where the ingenuity of the movie lay, in building up the expectation of horror tropes, but never paying them off.

By the time I thought the movie was over and the evil was laid to rest — after a nerve-wracking scene in which Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) descended into the well where Sadako's (Rie Ino) body was trapped, supposedly breaking the curse — I finally let out that breath that I'd been holding for the majority of the movie. But it was all a lie. I was lured into complacency! Because just when I thought Ringu was over, Sadako crawled of the TV set and killing a horrified Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), the camera zooming in on his wide, panicked eyes. Many thoughts ran through my head as the scene took place: I was betrayed by this movie; I couldn't believe that I'd forgotten the most famous scene hadn't actually appeared yet; this is what I get for watching a horror movie. Funnily enough, as these thoughts went on, I actually missed most of the scene because I fell off the couch.

And that's how horror movies gave me trust issues.

Christopher Stipp: 'Salem's Lot

Even thinking back to the earlier days of my youth I was more enamored with the vicious killers I watched on screen (I bought a Freddy Krueger poster that I was never allowed to put up and remember fondly of picking up the Friday the 1th Part VI novelization in a supermarket as I was such of a fan of that movie even at  age of 11) than I was of their ability to strike fear in the hearts of those who watched them. For me, it was fun and fantasy. However, there is a dark flipside to all of this. The one movie that can still trigger chills, and still manages to do it without fail, is 1979's Salem's Lot.

Screw that 2004 version with Rob Lowe – nothing can compare to the genuine hideousness that is the one from '79 and the one scene that is filled with downright evil. Google the words "Salem's Lot, window scene" and that's all you need to do in order to get my anxiety going. The idea of two brothers who were separated in the woods, one being captured by gnarly vampire and turned into one, while the other was able to make it all the way home is depressing enough. But, to have that one surviving brother be visited by his dead younger sibling with what I consider the best vampire look ever to be put to celluloid is frightening. The light scratches on the window, the breathy words the younger one uses to convince his older bro to unlatch it, the way he floats in, the music, the embrace, the rawness of the direction...it's all way too much for me even now. I love this scene for how it can be terrifying, dramatic, and sinister all in one go.

Vanessa Bogart: Signs

I was never a stranger to horror, but as kid, most of my experience with the genre was campy slasher films from the '80s, which offer more fun than fear. In 2002, my young self thought that I had looked fear in the face and won, I was unscarable...and then the alien stepped out of the bushes in Signs. Oh. My. God.

A simple set up: Merrill Hess (Joaquin Phoenix) is watching the news alone in the closet, and a report begins: it is introducing the first look anyone has had of the aliens that are planning to invade Earth. "What you're about to see may disturb you." Joaquin Phoenix leans in, the footage begins, your heart starts to race. You know whats coming. The scene manages to build up equal parts excitement and fear. It makes you want the big reveal, but at the same time, your heart is racing and you are getting prepared to shut your eyes, because you just don't know what you are about to be faced with. The alien steps out, still green from camouflage, a dark demon against the bright background.

It was such a simple, and seemingly mundane way to reveal the alien, but that's what makes Signs so terrifying. It isn't a big movie: it is about a quiet family, in their quiet home, totally unprepared for anything even remotely like this. To this day, when that high-pitched score starts to build, and that news footage starts to roll, what I see, does disturb me.

Rob Hunter: Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin made my list of 2014's best horror movies, and it's thanks in part to two scenes. I'll save the film's uniquely horrific final ten minutes for another time and instead focus here on the pure, wind-whipped terror found in the harrowing, nightmare-inducing beach scene. We watch helplessly as nature's powerful indifference claims the lives of loved ones in brutal succession and then see the horror intensify as the tragedy's only other witness, an emotionless figure feigning a human disguise, coldly dispatches a man already defeated by his failure to save them. As she drags him off-screen to an even more disturbing fate, we're left watching the now devastated family's youngest member, a baby, left with neither a protector nor the slimmest chance of survival. He cries for his mother and father, saviors we know aren't coming, but his wails are drowned out by the apathetic waves and wind. It is horrifying.


What do you think of our picks? What is the scariest movie scene you've ever seen? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (a paragraph or more) to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com with the subject title "Scariest Movie Scenes." Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

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