5 Awesome Moments of Horror in Unexpected Places

Horror fans have one quality that is both an advantage and disadvantage over other readers and viewers: we want to be scared. This is good news when we’re watching something that’s supposed to frighten us, because we’re willing to go along for the ride. Often people who hate being scared are the same people to declare a movie “not scary,” and I think sometimes that has to do with choosing to laugh or ridicule rather than let the fear sink in. So I guess those people think of wanting to be scared as a disadvantage, but I think of it as an advantage. I receive great enjoyment out of getting the creeps.

That being said, there’s a huge difference between going into a book or movie wanting and even hoping to be scared and going into one with that farthest from our minds. When beautifully done moments of horror pop up in unexpected places, none of us has the opportunity to put up our guard. Often these scenes pack all the more punch for their surprise. No bracing, no mocking, no build-up… Today I’m going to discuss 5 scenes that scared the shit out of me when I was least expecting it. Just for funsies.

[Note: There are mild spoilers involved in all of these. You’ve been warned.]

1. The Tunnel Scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory


I’ll start with a classic. In the 1971 movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, there’s a scene that’s been terrifying children for decades now: the tunnel scene. I think 80% of you just shuddered at the mention of it; I know I did.

This is a kid’s movie. They’re in a fantastical candy factory with an eccentric dude who plans to give one of them a lifetime supply of sweets. Nothing sinister going on here, right? Except if you know Roald Dahl, you know that there are always dark happenings under the surface. And boy do they get dark fast.

Now why the crap would a boat on a chocolate river go through a tunnel of terror depicting gruesome and grotesque images on the walls? (I remember centipedes crawling on a woman’s face, but I’m too scared to go back and check.) And why, dear God why, would Mr. Wonka be singing the creepiest song ever as everyone panics? Beats me. But I’m pretty sure that if I get an autopsy when I die and they dissect my brain, the small lobe labeled “scarred by childhood” will consist primarily of this scene playing endlessly on loop.

2. The Well Scene from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

photo by Kanou Hiroki

Okay, let’s do a less-known one. A friend loaned me this novel by Haruki Murakami. It’s the epitome of literary surrealism, which has never been quite my cup of tea, but there was much to appreciate. And by far, my favorite scene was the scariest one in the book: the well. The dried up well on a neighboring property serves as a recurring setting for the main character, Toru Okada, an apathetic young Japanese man slowly losing grip on reality. Essentially because he’s cray-cray and fighting inner demons, he decides to go down there and sit in the dark.

Catch: he’s very afraid. He lowers a rope ladder tied firmly to a tree and descends, but he’s afraid to let go of the rope once he’s down. It’s his security net, almost literally, and the tension is palpable. He finally weans himself from it, but he has no light and the well is so deep none reaches from above ground, so every few minutes he goes back to feel for the rope, just to prove to himself that it’s still there. He stays in the well for days, hallucinating and checking the rope, and his only grasp on sanity is the half-circle of sky he can see when he looks up. And then one time… the rope’s not there.

Now if you didn’t just get a little ping of chills, I must not be telling it right, because trust me: it’s damn scary. But it gets worse. The strange, loveable yet morbid teenage girl across the street comes over and looks down the well, talking to Toru. She was the one to pull up the rope. She then proceeds to question him about fear and death, and when his answers aren’t satisfactory, she shuts the other half of the well cover and leaves. It was one of those magical moments when reading something gave my entire body live chills.

3. The Singing Lady in Earaserhead


Some people would argue that Earaserhead is a horror movie, but I would disagree. Terrifying, yes. Intentional, no. I think it’s a surrealist art film about industrialism and passivity that uses strange and grotesque body imagery as a metaphor. That just happens to be some highly, highly disturbing stuff. Oh, and did I mention how disturbing this film is? It’s disturbing. The most deeply disturbing thing I’ve ever watched in my life. Like take a shower and scrub until your skin is raw disturbing – and not even in a good way.

There was one scene in this movie that actually made me scream. Like an out-loud, I’m-in-terror scream. There’s this creepy-ass deformed lady on a stage by herself who smiles sadly and sings Peter Ivers’s song “In Heaven.” Watching it makes my body react physically – like all of my instincts are telling me seriously to get away as fast as possible. And then, of course, it gets worse.

These things begin falling from the ceiling. Slimy, intestine-looking blobs. But creepy lady just keeps on smiling, and she looks so earnest and hopeful, like she’s giggling without sound, and she keeps looking at the camera like she wants your approval. And then – I can barely even bring myself to say it – she begins stomping on them. Happily. Yeah, I can’t even talk about this. I love you guys, but not enough to relive this horrific scene. If you’re just that twisted, you’ll have to watch for yourself (which I don’t recommend), because I’m out.

4. The Wolf in Lon Po Po


This is much safer territory. Lon Po Po is an absolutely gorgeous picture book by Ed Young. It’s essentially a Chinese retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. While this one’s tame compared to Earaserhead, you have to remember that 1) it is quite literally for children, and 2) unlike Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and such, it’s not marketed as horror. So if you can imagine a little kid sitting down to this story not knowing they’re about to have the poop scared out of them, it puts it into perspective.

In this one, the wolf does indeed dress up as these three children’s grandmother (whom their mother has gone to see). He tricks them into opening the door, and the first thing he does – and the scariest, in my mind – is blow out their single candle. Woowee that one got me every time.

Not to mention that the illustrations are breathtakingly creepy and sinister. Truly a classic; highly recommend.

5. The Final Scene of The Door in the Floor


This one has the biggest spoiler. I debated as to whether or not to tell the end, and I think I’m going to choose not to, because this is a really fantastic movie and I want you all to see it. And since it really isn’t a horror movie, I think many of you would enjoy it. It’s a drama, I guess, but it’s also one of the darkest comedies I’ve ever seen.

Jeff Bridges does a superb job playing a children’s book author living with his troubled and heartbroken family. I won’t tell you any more than that besides the fact that in my mind, the final scene of the movie belongs on this list.


So there you have it. Five scenes that snuck up behind me when I thought I was safe. What’s your favorite moment of horror in an unexpected place?

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  • I totally agree with the Willy Wonka scene. Even as an adult it gives me chills. I’m not one of those people that dislikes horror, but I don’t watch or read the genre much anymore. I was always the one in the movie theater that laughed when everyone else screamed. That’s more of a self-defense mechanism than anything else. Yes. Fear makes me laugh. Yes. I’ve been called weird. I remember reading “The Amityville Horror” many years ago and it totally freaked me out, and not entirely because of the subject matter. In the book (not the movies) the little girl was named Missy and she talked to the pig in her rocking chair. At least that’s the way I remember it. It was tough for me to get pass the little girl having my name. As for moments of horror in unexpected places…the ending of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” horrifies me, though the movie packs more of a punch than the book.

    • I certainly understand uncomfortable laughter. I’ve noticed that guys especially tend to mock and jeer at scary movies in the theatre, probably because our society implies that it’s okay for women to be scared but not men. Super stupid and unfair if you ask me. But we all care what others think and we all have our defense mechanisms.

      I also think age and circumstances have a lot to do with what scares us. I listened to an audio tape of The Amityville Horror just this past year, and as an adult I found it greatly lacking. But the name thing plus being a kid… I can definitely see how that’d be very traumatizing!

      I’ve never heard of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas; I’ll look it up!

      • You should definitely see the movie version of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The book is really good, powerful at times, but it’s written from the pov of a young boy and at times it was tedious. The movie really fleshed out the characters and the circumstances.

        • Okay; I’ll see if I can get ahold of that one. Looks very interesting. Thanks Missy!

  • Regina Richards

    Yup, the Willy Wonka scene was very frightening. Gene Wilder was awesome!

    • He really was! I love Johnny Depp, but that remake couldn’t hold a candle to the original film.

  • Peggy

    This is great fun! Your descriptions simultaneously fascinated me and scared the bejeebers out of me!!! After reading them, you couldn’t pay me to watch Eraserhead or The Windup Bird Chronicle:)

    • Thanks! Eraserhead is disturbing through and through, but The Wind-Up Bird was actually not scary anywhere else. (I don’t think you would like it anyway, though, so no big loss.)

  • I’m always surprised by how horrifying The Christmas Carol really is, I think because I tend to lump it under “feel good holiday things” and then forget that the premise is actually a ghost story. Plus we’re bombarded with so many sanitized versions, especially the kids ones, that leave out some of the more gruesome bits (like when Jacob Marley’s ghost unwraps the cloth around his head and his jaw falls down onto his chest! Yikes!).

    And yes, the tunnel scene in Willy Wonka. I think the most terrifying thing about it is that it just happens, no explanations given. Wonka just delights in scaring the crap out of his guests.

    I’ve never heard of Earaserhead but that picture you included is terrifying enough; I think I might give it a pass. But I do want to check out The Door in the Floor — it sounds intriguing.

    • I have to admit to never actually having read or seen any version of The Christmas Carol. How crazy is that? I know a little about it strictly due to constant cultural references, but it’s just never been on my radar to actually pursue. (It might be now though.)

      Totally agree; Wonka’s sadism there is all the creepier. Let me know if you like The Door in the Floor!

      • The full original title is actually “The Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story,” and I wish modern adaptations wouldn’t drop that emphasis on the spookiness. I like it, though it can be nauseatingly sentimental whenever Tiny Tim appears. But it’s also unexpectedly funny and frightening. My favorite movie adaptations are the one with Patrick Stewart (which is the most faithful to the book) and, of course, The Muppet Christmas Carol.

        • Hm, I’m honestly not sure if I’ll like that or not. Maybe this Christmas I’ll give it a read. I love the idea of a seasonal ghost story, and it’s always good to be familiar with classics — if nothing else then just for understanding all the references.

  • Tina

    The Door in the Floor left me feeling alienated. The last scene was depressing and horrific because it reminded me that I was playing my game of life all by myself with no partner, and then slam! it would all be over. I would go through the floor and none of it mattered anyway, even though the story seemed so significant before that.
    Willy Wonka, Alice in Wonderland, Cat in the Hat… completely freak me out. Can’t watch Eraserhead or Earaserhead, whatever it is called.

    • Yes, alienated makes sense. It left me feeling touched, horrified, and depressed. And I have to admit, I didn’t look up how to spell Eraserhead — probably should have. Alice in Wonderland is a good one! I can see Cat in the Hat being creepy too.

  • jclementwall

    Excellent list. I’m always re-surprised by how scary the tunnel seen is in Willy Wanka. I HATED (and I can’t stress that word enough) Eraserhead. You did an excellent job of describing the well scene. I was hanging on your every word, and may read the book even though literary surrealism isn’t my thing either. I’m going to look for Lon Po Po in the library, and I’m absolutely going to watch The Door In The Floor. (Thank you for not telling me the ending.)

    • Thanks j! It’s funny, because The Wind-Up Bird isn’t a book I’d especially recommend. In spite of there being much to appreciated, I actually had several pretty big problems with it. So read at your own risk! 😉 But definitely let me know if you like The Door in the Floor and Lon Po Po or not! And for what’s it’s worth… I hated Eraserhead too. Like, a lot.

  • I don’t really remember the old WiIly Wonka. I wasn’t impressed with the remake though. Your other examples I haven’t seen/read either. My patience for surreal films like Felini and Bunuel ended after film school! lol You’re a better woman than I for digesting such literary-type things. Actually, what scared me unexpectedly is when I turned on the TV and found “Attack the Block.” It seemed interesting, the accents were very hard to understand, and I was hiding behind a pillow by the time it was halfway over! I NEVER hide behind pillows! Anyhow, this is an awesome movie. See it if you haven’t yet. 🙂

    • Lexa the old one is so good! Well worth a watch; don’t let the new one turn you off. I’m with you on limited patience for surreal, but I love love love me some literary fiction! I’ve never seen Attack of the Block. I’ll have to check that out!

  • A. B. Davis

    I really enjoyed this post (the only one I can wholeheartedly agree with is the Willy Wonka one). I now HAVE to read Lon Po Po and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And I will be watching Eraserhead and The Door in the Floor tonight. These moments of unexpected horror are always my favorite. I wish I could think of one that really got me, unexpectedly. Thanks for the recommendations by way of sharing your horrifying reactions! lol