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We are currently in the heart of the horror movie season, with movie lovers using the Halloween holiday as an excuse to sort through the world’s film library to find titles that will scare the pants off of them. But while many will look to classic standards like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead or Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, let’s not forget that the horror genre isn’t the only place to find genuine terror in cinema. In fact, some of the scariest moments ever put to film have been wrapped in films more accurately described as dramas, action movies, and even family-friendly adventures.
Don’t believe me? Read on, watch the clips, and prepare to be scared!
Trainspotting – The Baby on the CeilingDanny Boyle’s Trainspotting would give anyone second thoughts about trying heroin. But while the entire film is absolutely brilliant, there’s only one sequence a person really need watch in order to understand this message. In the story, Renton (Ewan McGregor) has nearly suffered an overdose, so his parents take him back home, lock him in his childhood room, and force him to go cold turkey. The representations of Renton’s withdrawal and his hallucinations are downright terrifying, from visions of his AIDS-afflicted friend to creepily appropriate game show clips, but far and away the scariest bit is the image of his friend’s dead baby crawling across the ceiling. Don’t do drugs, kids.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – Opening of the ArkFor a grand action adventure, there sure is a lot to get freaked out by in Raiders of the Lost Ark, from the booby-trap filled opening scene, to the pit of snakes that Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood find themselves trapped in. But those sequences have nothing on the grand finale where the Nazis decide to open up the Ark of the Covenant. Rather than being greeted with God’s gifts, however, the entire crowd either gets blasted through by an energy beam or has their face melted off. Even though the movie is now 33 years old, the special effects hold up pretty damn well, and it remains a fantastic bit of horror in what is otherwise a family-friendly adventure story.
Casino – The Death of Nicky SantoroIt’s strange how a voice-over narration can be comforting for an audience. If a particular character is narrating the story, surely they must make it to the end of the story, right? Well, that wasn’t the case for Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro in Martin Scorsese’s gangster drama Casino. Instead, his VO is cut short thanks to a nice whack from a baseball bat, and what follows is one of the most brutal scenes ever put to film. Both the audience and Nicky are forced to watch as his brother Dominick is beaten to death, and then Nicky himself gets the same treatment. "Hard to watch" is an understatement.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – The TunnelMel Stuart’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is one of the best Roald Dahl adaptations out there and a wonderful film for audiences of all ages – though there is one particular scene that will forever cause both kids and adults to cover their eyes in terror. I am, of course, referring to the nusto boat trip through the psychedelic tunnel of hell. The contest winners are freaking out, the boat begins moving faster and faster, strange images start popping up all around, and Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka just quietly sings a song about diving headfirst into mystery. It’s maddening, strange, and all around terrifying.
American History X – The Curb StompMovie-goers have seen characters die in all kinds of awful and strange ways in horror films, but one of the most brutal demonstrations of violence is actually featured in director Tony Kaye’s 1998 crime drama American History X. It all begins when neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is disturbed one night by the sound of thieves trying to steal his truck. While one of the burglars is merely shot and killed, it’s the second that experiences a far worse fate. Shot in the leg by Derek, he is forced to kneel down on the street and bite the curb (the sound of his teeth on the pavement still sends chills down my spine). While it’s not actually fully shown on screen, Derek stomping on the back of the man’s head is truly disturbing, and a very lasting image.