What’s the Scariest Horror Movie Scene? 0 545


I know it’s a big question to ask, given just how many great ones the genre has offered up over the years, with new ones being added to the list all the time. A head spinning around, a crazed man chopping down a door, an alien bursting through a chest… There are many that stick in the mind and chill us to the bone.

As tough of a question as it is to answer, the folks at HMV.com have given it their best shot. Using OnePoll.com, they surveyed 2,000 people to find out what the British public considers the scariest horror movie scene ever, as well as giving us some cool info about what makes a good horror movie and how people soothe themselves of the spooks once they finish watching.

Before we look in detail, I’ll just give the full top 10 list below in full. NOTE: There will be spoilers for some of the films so I’ve given the title first so you can skip past if you like:

10. The Woman In Black – the rocking chair

9. Saw – man cutting off foot

8. The Silence of the Lambs – night-vision scene

7. The Birds – children being attacked

6. The Shining – Grady Twins in the corridor

5. Alien – chest burst scene

4. The Ring (2002 remake) – girl coming out of the TV

3. Carrie – hand grabbing the arm at grave

2. Psycho – the shower scene

1. The Exorcist – the head spin

As you can see, it’s a pretty mainstream list featuring some of the best known horrors of all time. But I think that speaks to which horrors have reached the most people through pop culture, ease of access etc. than it does a purposeful lack of viewing diversity. That and the fact that they’re damn scary and therefore deserve a place in people’s chilled hearts. It’s also interested to note that the 1970s came out on top as the scariest decade, accounting for more than a quarter of all votes.

Of those listed, The Shining scene is the one that gets me the most. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece could not differ more from Stephen King’s source material if it tried but it’s an entirely different, wholly cinematic beast. The corridor sequence is just one of the many, many terrifying moments to be found within the walls of the Overlook Hotel – the Room 237/woman emerging from the bath scene and of course the breaking down of the door scenes are a couple of notable others – as the innocent but spiritually gifted little Danny cycles his way around the corridors until he reaches the dreaded twins. No matter how many times I see it, the sound of them saying “Come play with us, Danny!” while shots of them hacked to pieces is intercut with them standing still gets under my skin.

As for the #1 spot, it’s amazing how much William Friedkin’s demonic religious horror has stood the test of time with people. I’m not old enough to remember the hoopla surrounding its initial release but the reports of people fainting and proclaiming the film was actually possessed are legendary. The “spider-walk” sequence that was reinserted for a the Extended and Directors Cut still freaks me out the most but the legendary head turn is undoubtedly deeply unsettling. It’s not hard to see how it got the most votes.

Out with the actual scariest scenes themselves, the HMV poll also looked at what people think makes a great, scary horror movie. Major things mentioned include a strong story, a well-crafted soundtrack – here’s a little experiment; watch a scene you consider scary with the sound muted and more likely than not it’ll neuter the tension – and shocks to keep you guessing and out of your comfort zone. Above all people look for a film that creates a palpable feeling of suspense.

Finally, the poll explored how people calm down after a good scary movie. I think we can all relate to many of the results: coming out on top with more than 45% was switching all the lights on, 41% said watch a comedy TV show, 18% replied going to bed right away, another 18% said reading a book helps and finally 17% said watch another, presumably wildly different film.

Ian Hunter, Professor of Film Studies at De Montfort University, offered some insight on how the genre has evolved:

“Traditionally horror films were either about supernatural and primal fears or monsters that transgress what seem to be natural boundaries (the dead who live, humans who are also animals, and so on). Today, while such films still exist, the most frightening are perhaps about the terrors of everyday life and the worst monsters are versions of ordinary people – psychopaths, serial killers – who threaten our sense of rationality.”

Richard Hand, Professor of Media Practice at the University of East Anglia, also offered his thoughts on the inner-workings of great horror cinema:

“A masterpiece like Psycho may be (in)famous for its shower scene, but the genius of the film is established long before that scene happens, in the slow tightening of its suspense, gradually unnerving the viewer with a simple but compelling narrative, a genuine ‘composition’ of excellent performances, editing, design and, perhaps most importantly of all, soundtrack. Indeed, it is often the sound of horror that can haunt us most thoroughly, worming its way deep beneath our skin and haunting our nightmares even when we turn away or cover our eyes.”

As a little bonus, HMV have provided a fun little horror movie quiz. Think you know the genre? Prove it and have a go!

Head over to the next page for my personal scariest horror scenes…

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 534

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 559

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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