Indiewire presents The 20 Scariest Movie Scenes of the 21st Century. Using just their choices here are my top three with some comments following…
8. “The Descent” — Meet the Crawlers
Note: We couldn’t find this particular scene, but the one in the clip above is the next best thing.
For much of Neil Marshall’s “The Descent,” the movie is just a survival story about a group of adventurous women who find themselves a little deeper than desired while exploring a network of caves beneath the Appalachian Mountains. And it’s not like that isn’t terrifying enough unto itself — it’s funny how you start to feel every breath as soon as these characters lose sight of the surface. And then, just when it seems that suffocation might be imminent, Marshall gleefully wrings his hands around our necks. It’s impressive how pale crawlers (as they’re referred to in the credits) are still horrifying even towards the end of the film, when dozens of the pale people-eaters flood the screen, but they’re never scarier than during the scene where one of them is first spotted in the beam of a headlamp. It’s not a jump-scare, just the sudden realization that this is one of those very rare instances where the truth is even worse than whatever we imagined was hiding in the darkness. -David Ehrlich
5. “28 Days Later” — Flat Tire
Fast zombies. Fast. Zombies. What an idea. Maybe it’s something we should have thought of sooner, or maybe such a boldly revisionist approach to classic horror imagery was only made possible because of the fundamental paradigm shift at the heart of Danny Boyle’s enraged masterpiece. The year was 2002, and while digital cameras had already begun to make their mark on the movies through the low-budget likes of the Dogme 95 experiments, “28 Days Later” was the first large-scale film to seize on the speed and versatility of the new technology. Those qualities dripped into the soul of Boyle’s story, coagulating into a horrifyingly immediate nightmare in which the walking (or running?) dead are as quick and as capable as the glorified camcorders used to capture them.
The film is absolutely full of scenes that find Boyle mining frantic new scares from his approach, from the hopelessness of its first act chases to the heavily gendered free-for-all of its unsparing grand finale. But it’s a simple — even knowingly staid — episode in the middle of the movie that best crystallizes the heart-stopping urgency that “28 Days Later” brought to its sub-genre. There’s never a good time to have a flat tire, but there are definitely better times to have one than when you’re driving through an endless tunnel during the zombie apocalypse. First, the rats scurry by. Then we see the shadows on the wall. It’s the stuff of suspense 101, but never before had brainless hordes induced such panic. Watching the shadowy figures sprint towards that car, it was — and remains — clear that we’d entered a world where horror comes at us faster than we can prepare for it. -DE
7. “The Strangers” — An Uninvited Guest
Bryan Bertino’s directorial debut is one of the smaller-scaled films on this list, but its simplicity is also its greatest virtue. The premise is so unnerving because — unlike a zombie apocalypse or a homicidal children’s book — it could happen to anyone. And in “The Strangers” it does. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a very ordinary couple whose very ordinary relationship drama is interrupted by a knock at the door. Three masked villains, empowered by nothing but some knives and their sadistic desires, have dropped by for some dark fun. The build is slow, but for Bertino (and his bad guys), the journey is a lot more important than the destination; anyone can stab a couple of suburbanites to death, but it takes some truly twisted minds to scare them halfway there before drawing a single drop of blood.
Appropriately, the film’s most unsettling scene is defined by its complete lack of violence. Liv Tyler stands in her shadowy kitchen, her Spidey senses twitching, and calls out to her husband. She’s oblivious to what’s happening in the darkness behind her, where a hooded man silently steps into the frame, taunting his next victim for his own sick pleasure (and ours, by extension). In a time where commercial horror movies are often just an endless parade of jump-scares, Bertino throws us a wide shot so quiet that you can hear the insects chirping outside. That stillness — that sense that every cranny of your own home could be hiding something awful — is impossible to wash off your skin. It’s a scary moment while you’re watching the movie, and it festers into a terrifying one when it’s over. -DE
What I like about the three scenes above is that each presents a different kind of scare. The Descent has the “jump scare” – the tension has built and suddenly – bang! – the creature is there.
28 days later features mounting tension which just amps up the scare factor. They know what’s coming and as the zombies rush closer and closer our survivors try to get the flat fixed. Will they make it?
The final scare, from The Strangers, is the most subtle scare. We are aware of the danger as the character moves oblivious to it.
The best horror movies combine all of these types of scenes to keep us on the edge of our seats and coming back for more. Click over to The 20 Scariest Movie Scenes of the 21st Century and you can see videos for all of their choices!