The Louisville Cardinal

Top five scariest scenes in movies history

By Lee Cole–

For cinema lovers everywhere, the month of October means one thing: scary movies. Each year around Halloween, television channels and local movie theaters are inundated with horror flicks and suspense films, many of them classics many have come to know well. But some of these films are remembered because of clichés and hackneyed plot devices (think of the helpless female protagonist poised hesitantly at a closed door, preparing to investigate some mysterious sound that emanated from the room). How does one tease apart the good from the bad, separating the horrifying from the hokey? The Louisville Cardinal is here to help identify the top five scariest scenes in movie history.

5. Frank reveals his identity in “Donnie Darko” – When it comes to underrated Halloween-themed movies, “Donnie Darko” may top the list. While it’s less of a horror film and more of a psychological thriller, the story of troubled youth Donnie Darko and his hallucinated imaginary friend named Frank, dressed in a creepy bunny suit, comes to a head in a movie theater a few days before Halloween. Frank appears to Donnie to inform him that the world will end on Halloween night, and when he appears once more at the theater with the mysterious event fast approaching, Donnie builds up the courage to ask Frank the now infamous question: “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?” Calmly and coolly, Frank turns to him and responds, in his low, guttural voice, “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” Frank then removes his mask and reveals his true identity, foreshadowing Donnie’s ultimate fate.

4. Buffalo Bill stalks Agent Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” – Ok, so “Silence of the Lambs” isn’t exactly a horror film either. Horror purists may take issue with its inclusion in a Halloween movie list, but the scene in which Buffalo Bill stalks Agent Starling in the darkness of his basement/torture chamber is undeniably terrifying. Having already seen Bill dance creepily to “Goodbye Horses” and heard him torment his victims with shouts of “Put the lotion in the basket!” moviegoers don’t know quite what to expect from the film’s primary antagonist. When he shuts off the power and silently hunts Starling with his night vision goggles, the suspense is unbearable. It doesn’t help that his entire home is filled with giant moths flitting and fluttering about and his basement contains a well in which he traps his unwitting victims. Who can forget the nearly completed suit made of pieces of human flesh poorly sewn together by Bill himself? Whether or not you agree with its inclusion on this list, you have to admit that Buffalo Bill is a tad bit horrifying.

3. “The Ring” claims its first victim – It’s no exaggeration to say that “The Ring” ruined my 7th grade life for seven days. The combination of classic horror devices, such as the standard creepy little girl, along with more modern horror devices, like a haunted videotape, made for an unforgettably frightening experience. One scene in particular sets the disturbing tone for the rest of the movie. The film begins with the death of Katie Embry, a high school aged girl who meets her demise as a result of watching a mysterious tape at a cabin with her friends. We do not see how she dies initially, but at her funeral when her aunt Rachel Embry asks her mother about the circumstances surrounding her death, we see a horrifying glimpse of her corpse in the closet of her room. It’s at this point in the film that most viewers make the decision to watch the rest through their fingers. In terms of length, the scene is very short. But it certainly ranks among the most disturbing moments in horror and suspense film history.

2. Rosemary sees her child for the first time in “Rosemary’s Baby” – “Rosemary’s Baby” begins with a happy newlywed couple – Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse – renting a new apartment. The increasingly eccentric neighbors turn out to be a coven of witches, and Rosemary comes to believe that her recent pregnancy may be caused by their witchcraft. She begins to suspect that her neighbors, her doctor and her husband are all colluding to take, or perhaps harm, her baby. The truth is much more horrifying, and when Rosemary finally sees the baby in the final scene, the coven explains to her that the child was conceived by Satan himself. The scene’s shocking revelation and the unforgettable chanting of “Hail Satan” leaves an enduring impression.

1. Jack discovers what’s in room 237 in “The Shining” – The most cliché scene included in these kinds of lists is probably the scene in which Jack Torrance hacks through the bathroom door in “The Shining.” While I agree that the scariest scene of all time does in fact come from “The Shining,” I don’t think that Jack’s “Here’s Johnny” moment is the most frightening. Clearly the scene in which Jack finally enters room 237 is the most disturbing, outrageously suspenseful scene in film history. The buildup to Jack’s eventual investigation of the room creates the deep sense of foreboding and anxiety one feels as a viewer when he finally pushes open the door. The incredible soundtrack and cinematography contribute to the suspense, and Nicholson’s acting is excellent, conveying his emotions and his sense of panic well without a single line of dialogue. The audience sees the events unfold as Jack does, often from his perspective. When the mysterious person occupying room 237 turns out to be a beautiful woman in the bathtub, the suspense is only abated briefly until Jack discovers, after embracing her, that she was in fact the animated corpse of an old woman, who then chases him from the room. Whether she is a ghost or merely Jack’s hallucination, the scene endures as one of the scariest ever filmed, and the movie itself has become a monumentally influential part of popular culture.

lcole@louisvillecardinal.com