CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 OF “THE SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS”
CLICK HERE FOR PART 3 OF “THE SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS”
CLICK HERE FOR PART 3 OF “THE SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS”
Invading aliens, angry monsters, vengeful spirits and nature gone berserk. A chance encounter with any one of these terrors is probably going to ruin an otherwise lovely day. Keep watching the skies as we dive into part two of “Scariest Movie Moments.”
NOTE: This post contains plot details and, in some cases, spoilers. In each installment of this three part series, films are listed alphabetically. Rather than cluttering the post with tons of video players, a link to a clip of each scariest movie moment is included. Some of these clips are particularly graphic. You have been warned.
SCARIEST MOMENT: DINNER WITH A SIDE OF CHEST BURSTER
When I saw ALIEN back in 1979, I was just shy of my 13th birthday. With my dad in tow (again), we strolled into the movie theatre blithely unaware of what we were about to experience. R-rating aside, there was no internet or social media spoilers in those days. I hadn’t yet read any coverage of the film in Starlog and the now classic trailer deliberately left just about everything to the imagination. That first screening of the Ridley Scott classic scared the bejeezus out of me.
Everything about ALIEN was new and it took audiences completely by surprise. Suddenly, the “lived in look” of outer space (pioneered in STAR WARS) had become a nightmare world. It was gritty, ugly and every character on screen was in a state of constant danger. Scott took all of the trappings of a classic gothic horror movie, dropped them into a far flung corner of the universe and created one of the best science fiction films ever made.
Picking the scariest scene in ALIEN is a tough one. I flirted with that doozy of an ending in the escape shuttle and the intense sequence that ends with the death of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) but settled on the iconic “chest burster” demise of Kane (John Hurt). Out of nowhere, a perfectly mundane crew dinner turns into a blood bath. The scene is brightly lit and there is no music. Didn’t matter. When that metal mouthed nasty tears through Kane’s midsection, I jumped and lost half a bag of peanut M&Ms. It’s the moment in the film when you know the stakes are real and there is no turning back.
THE BIRDS (1963)
SCARIEST MOMENT: DEAD-EYE DAN
Alfred Hitchcock followed the box-office sensation PSYCHO with THE BIRDS, his last truly great film. It’s as much a traditional horror movie as it as another attempt by Hitchcock to upend a tired genre. He pulls the whole thing off in grand style. THE BIRDS has no traditional musical score and ends on a downbeat, wholly ambiguous note. The entire plot turns on nature run amok but never offers a clear explanation for the full-tilt flip out by anything with feathers and wings.
Even more delicious, just about every one of Hitchcock’s female-focused hang ups is on prominent display. Mommy issues? There’s Lydia (Jessica Tandy), the brittle and clingy mother. Bizarre bias against brunettes? Husky-voiced Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) has you covered. Fascination with unattainable, icy blondes? Watch a flock freak out poor Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren).
For me, the scariest moment in THE BIRDS is the one that always pops into my head first: the discovery of Dan Fawcett’s body by Lydia. Those brief, jump cut shots of his pecked out eyes stay with you for life. The lack of any musical cues and Tandy’s spot-on reaction of silent shock makes the entire scene viscerally terrifying. It seems almost real…which is exactly as Hitch wanted it.
SCARIEST MOMENT: SUBWAY TUNNEL FROM HELL
I love CLOVERFIELD. From the brilliant pre=release marketing to the spectacularly shot production itself, it’s a wild and scary ride that packs a punch. The film breathed much needed creative life into the “found footage” genre; which had been beaten close to death in the years since THE BLAIR WITH PROJECT.
From a production perspective, there are more than a few similarities with THE BIRDS. Because everything we are seeing is supposedly video from a camcorder, there is no traditional musical score. CLOVERFIELD doesn’t have a particularly upbeat ending (one of the final deaths almost took “scariest moment” here) and we are never given a definitive reason for the monster arriving on the scene.. These atypical, non-Hollywood flourishes made the entire film much more effective and frightening.
The scariest moment happens after the huge monster has made its presence known. Four of the main characters are on the run and make the mistake of ducking into a subway station. What follows is a claustrophobic and chaotic trek through darkened tunnels that ends with a terrifying attack by a nasty horde of “parasite” beasties. They are vicious and relentless. When scores of fleeing rats aren’t the problem, you know things are pretty bad. This is also about the time you realize you probably shouldn’t get too attached to anyone on screen.
THE FOG (1980)
SCARIEST MOMENT: LAST VOYAGE OF THE SEAGRASS
My sister and I first saw THE FOG at a drive-in. It was on a double bill with PHANTASM (which will be featured in the final installment of this series). To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite B-horror films. I also like to pretend the dreadful 2005 re-make was just a bad dream.
High on atmospherics and very low on budget, director John Carpenter still managed to craft a tight little ghost story and stock it full of chills and “bump in the night” jolts. The top-shelf cast includes the first on-screen pairing of mother/daughter Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, along with Hal Holbrook, John Houseman, Tom Atkins and (my favorite) Adrienne Barbeau.
THE FOG is set in the quaint seaside hamlet of Antonio Bay on the eve of the town’s centennial celebration. The basic plot involves a group of ticked off ghosts on a mission to avenge their deaths at the hands of six duplicitous town founders. Our first sighting of these spectral sailors happens on board The Seagrass, a small fishing trawler. The three man crew never makes it back to port. They are skewered and gutted in a spooky scene that sets the stage for the action that follows. There’s very little gore in this particular sequence but effective use of sound and lighting make it a scary standout nonetheless.
SCARIEST MOMENT: TAKEN DOWN BY THE KILLER CLOWN
NO, Steven Spielberg did not direct POLTERGEIST. That urban legend has been laid to rest by Tobe Hooper, the guy who did helm the modern horror classic. You can decide for yourself if you believe there is any truth to the “Poltergeist Curse.” (which I think is a bunch of hooey). None of that matters because this is a damn good fright film and it holds up remarkably well.
Sure, there are scares a plenty and the “…it is The Beast” line (courtesy of Tangina, played to perfection by Zelda Rubenstein) still sends chills down my spine but you can’t talk about POLTERGEIST and not have someone confess to still being creeped out by the infamous clown scene. It plucks just about every childhood nightmare nerve in your body (and any fear of clowns you carry with you into adulthood). The minute you see that evil looking stuffed doll, you know the thing is going to cause problems…you just don’t know when.
THE THING (1982)
SCARIEST MOMENT: REALLY BAD BLOOD
John Carpenter directed this superb remake of an equally fine classic. Both THE THING and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, the 1951 black and white original directed by Christian Nyby (or Howard Hawks, depending on who you talk to), are based on the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr. Though initially a critical and box office dud, thanks in large part to a bleak ending and the massive attention being heaped on ET: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (which had opened two weeks prior), Carpenter’s film became a cult favorite. and has since received a positive reassessment by critics.
While the Nyby/Hawks version is a straightforward “creature on the loose” tale, Carpenter ratchets up the terror (and paranoia) by hewing more closely to the central conceit of the source material: the alien “thing” can assimilate and duplicate any life form it comes in contact with. One by one, the crew of an Arctic expedition becomes monster meat…literally. The groundbreaking, pre-CGI make-up effects were created by a then 23-year-old Rob Bottin. Kids, everything you see on screen was created by hand without the aid of digital pixels.
There’s a ton of over-the-top gore in THE THING but the scene that always gets me is the blood test. Leading the battle for survival is helicopter pilot RJ MacReady (Kurt Russell). After witnessing several spectacular deaths, he reasons correctly that any part of this alien life form will fight back when threatened…even a small blood sample. The scene oozes with mounting tension, classic misdirection and “holy shit” brutality. For the love of god, MacReady, light that damn flamethrower!
The third and final chapter in this trio of terror is coming soon. While you’re waiting, step into my parlor and allow Mr. Hitchcock to sell you some of his most precious birds.