While a horror or thriller film can certainly have a handful of wonderfully crafted scenes and still fail to hit home, more often than not there’s a positive correlation between scene brilliance and overall quality. If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you perhaps already have a few scenes in mind, which have stayed with you throughout the years, even though you may have forgotten chunks of the plot and/or characters. These scenes have even scared you in a unique and memorable way, not in a cheap and forgettable manner – yes, I’m having another go at the trendy jump scares we have today. Alternatively, these scenes haven’t as much scared you as they left a long-term impression. Here are some of my personal favourites – and since the list is so long, we’ll have at least one follow-up article in the near future.
1. Shower scene, Psycho (1960)
Probably one of the most iconic scenes of all time, one which has been studied countless times in film school and is sure to remain a mainstay for years to come. This scene is extraordinary not only because of its startling, shocking nature, but also due to the place where it falls within the film – much earlier than anybody watching Hitchcock’s classic for the first time would have expected. And, without the accompanying music, which was initially not planned, it would have perhaps not reached the same heights that it actually did.
2. Approaching the cabin, The Evil Dead (1981)
Not many people will talk about this one, but it remains one of my absolute favourites. The camera follows the car’s approach through the woods, and the increasingly louder monotonous beat of wood on wood echoes in the background. Sure, it takes place in broad daylight, and yes, it’s part of an 80s lowe-budget, over-the-top horror film which might not have aged that well and might even seem comedic nowadays, but that scene still terrifies the hell out of me. It’s a tension-buildup kind of thing, also improved by the camera angle at which the wooden swing is initially portrayed from, and for me at least, it’s a hell of a scene.
3. Pantry door scene, Signs (2002)
Signs was probably the first horror film I watched as a kid, taking advantage of a moment when my parents were not at home and tuning in on HBO. And while the entire film left a lasting impression – and since I was a kid, I was completely forgiving with the questionable decisions made in the second half – this one scene stayed with me. I seem to have been a fan of a tense atmosphere bulidup even back when I was 11 or 12, and the sudden apparition of the alien hand, coupled with the resulting scream, was something I will never forget.
4. Bathtub scene, The Shining (1980)
Another one of the super famous horror scenes in the entire history of the genre. I couldn’t enjoy it to the fullest, because I had just finished Stephen King’s book, and I knew exactly what was going to happen once Jack walked in that particular hotel room. Still, the execution was brilliant, and although I will never be a huge fan of the adaptation (despite the fact that it stems from one of my favourite books and it’s done by one of my favourite directors), I have to give credit where credit’s due.
5. Defibrillation scene, The Thing (1982)
This one was a sort of jumpscare before jumpscares were cool. The grotesque events which ensue are made so terrifying thanks to the outstanding CGI work, but also due to the unexpected nature of what happens once the defibrillator touches the chest of the patient. The film expertly takes what is already a tense situation, and then escalates it into a wholly different level of tension.
6. Nigh-vision scene, REC (2007)
REC probably doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves in the found-footage genre, but this Spanish low-budget horror flick has some utterly terrifying scenes. And none more so than the night-vision scene right at the very end. The danger is so imminent, the situation is so hopeless, and the nature of it is so messed up, that everything results into a highly memorable avalanche of suspense and emotion which is hard to forget.
7. Rabbit scene, The Witch (2015)
I think I’ve waxed lyrically plenty of times before about The Witch and how it restored my hope in the horror genre, but I’m about to do it again. From the disappearance of the baby onward, the film indulges into an almost constant buildup of suspense and tension, almost relentlessly bombarding us with unnerving scenes which climax in an interesting manner for each character. While everything about Black Philip was utterly terrifying in a slow-burn sort of way, another really memorable scene was for me the one where one of the characters wakes up, only to see a rabbit fixing her with its wide eyes. What might in almost any other contexts be a really cute scene was anything but cute in The Witch.