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
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?Share this: