We all love to be scared. Even those people who refuse to watch horror movies because they get too scared still have the urge to peek at their TV screens behind the security of their couch pillows. Horror, more often than not, works so well because it taps into our senses, presenting us with an eschewed representation of the world we live in – whether you choose to embrace it or not.
As kids, I’m pretty sure we were all terrified of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or the dreaded Wheelers in Return to Oz (unfortunately, these two moments won’t be making this list). But what about those moments in non-horror movies that genuinely disturbed and horrified audiences around the world?
With Halloween steadily approaching, it seems appropriate to show some love to horror but not in the way we all expect. In no particular order, here are ten spine-chilling scenes from non-horror movies that shook us to the very core and had us reaching for the pause button in disbelief. Be warned, spoilers are ahead, so skim over those flicks you haven’t seen, and be sure to check them out in their entirety; they deserve it.
Blood Simple (1984) – The finale
The Coen Brothers debut is a masterpiece of genre cinema (even if the Coen Brothers don’t agree). A western noir that provided mind games, double-crosses and thrilling showdowns. But the finale of Blood Simple is one of the greatest odes to slasher cinema in mainstream film. The finale is soaked in atmosphere and dread; M. Emmet Walsh’s sinister Visser echoes the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees perfectly. Visser’s relentless cries of agony are enough to haunt dreams, but his intense bloodlust for Frances McDormand’s Abby verges on demonic. As Abby fights for her survival against a truly disturbed killer, the ominous soundtrack of Maria Luisa Buchino’s Anahi turns this western noir into a fully-fledged slasher finale, and it’s spectacular to behold.
Trainspotting (1996) – The baby on the ceiling
Trainspotting is tough viewing, and rightfully so, given it follows the lives of a number of drug addicts. But no one could have prepared us for what occurs about halfway through. With horrible addiction comes pain and death, which, in turn, becomes nightmare fuel for Ewan McGregor’s Renton as he is haunted by a neglected baby. It is the type of nightmare fuel ripped straight from a supernatural horror movie, and a moment that truly disturbed audiences around the world.
Zodiac (2007) – The basement scene
David Fincher is no stranger to horror, with the likes of Se7en blurring the lines between thriller and horror; but 2007’s Zodiac contains one of Fincher’s greatest odes to horror cinema. When Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith is invited down into the dingy basement of an individual connected to the Zodiac Killer case, Robert soon learns that all may not be what it seems. A creepy journey to the basement and the sound of footsteps above leads to Robert getting out while the going is good and never looking back – kind of like what we would all do in that god forsaken moment of terror. It is an unnerving scene that comes out of nowhere, and truly unsettles with its almost nonchalant delivery.
Nocturnal Animals (2016) – “Why didn’t you stop then?”
With Nocturnal Animals, Jake Gyllenhaal makes another appearance on this list, giving us yet another creepy outing that unsettled audiences back in 2016. Gyllenhaal’s Tony Hastings and his lovable family become the targets of three delinquents on a dark, lifeless highway far from civilization. A pulse-pounding chase ends in kidnapping, and propels Tony’s relentless efforts to get his family back. It is a completely unexpected moment that grips you, and feels like something ripped straight out of The Last House On The Left. An unexpected but brilliant moment that hooks its audience in for the rest of this strange but fascinating ride.
Fire In The Sky (1993) – The alien experiment scene
For the most part, Robert Lieberman’s Fire In The Sky is an intriguing drama focused on a number of men believing they have been forever changed by an alien encounter. It plays out almost like some sort of biography flick, but, when Fire In The Sky decides to reveal its sinister invaders, the outcome is truly disturbing. Feeling like a celluloid nightmare if ever there was one, Fire In The Sky’s most infamous scene is probably the most profound horror moment on this list. This interpretation of an alien abduction has yet to be bested, and none have ever been as terrifying.
No Country For Old Men (2007) – Chigurh closes in
I swear this isn’t a Coen Brothers or Jake Gyllenhaal worship list, but credit needs to be shown once again to this superb Coen Brothers flick. No Country For Old Men was a movie I didn’t initially dig, but after another viewing, it hit hard. Yet another western noir, No Country For Old Men is renowned for its tense psychological tendencies, and none are more chilling than when Javier Bardem’s Chigurh finally tracks down Josh Brolin’s Moss. This truly nerve-racking scene defines the term ‘being glued to your seat’ as Chigurh’s slasher-like presence haunts Moss’ every move. There’s a reason it is dubbed ‘the most intense scene ever’ by many.
Mulholland Drive (2001) – The diner scene
David Lynch is no stranger to horror; the director has made a career from scaring audiences senseless when given the opportunity. Mulholland Drive, though a non-horror movie, contains arguably one of his most chilling moments in cinema. A diner monologue between two male characters discussing dreams leads to a backyard encounter that comes completely out of nowhere and genuinely disturbs. Mulholland Drive is filled with strange scenes that unsettle, but this scene is ripped straight from a horror movie. The intention is to terrify – which, I can gladly admit, it does.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) – The knife scene
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is probably the last movie people would expect on this list, but one scene in particular is the stuff of nightmares. During a chaotic skirmish with enemy forces, an American soldier becomes entangled in a close quarters duel that ends in one of the most disturbing and horrifying scenes to ever grace cinema. The cries to stop and the unrelenting desire of the German attacker to murder while whispering calmly, shushing his foe into the afterlife, leads to cinematic despair. By the end of this scene, you will be saddened, horrified, and wishing a slow death upon the gutless American compatriot that didn’t have the balls to do anything about it.
Sunshine (2007) – Pinbacker reveals himself
What makes Sunshine’s infamous twist so interesting is the lead up to the chilling reveal. As the crew of Icarus II finally believe they have enough oxygen to survive this critical endeavor, the ship’s AI informs them that there are too many crew members onboard. Confused, our hero, Capa, investigates only to find that a surviving crew member from the Icarus I has boarded the Icarus II, and he isn’t here to make friends. It is a reveal that defines unexpected, and Pinbacker himself is a mass murderer intent on derailing Earth’s last chance of survival. It is a creepy moment that is followed by some great slasher-esque execution, which sets Sunshine apart from similarly styled movies, like Interstellar or Armageddon.
Requiem For A Dream (2000) – The finale
Yet another film dedicated to exploring the hellish lifestyles of drug addicts, Requiem For A Dream is, generally speaking, disturbing. But the finale is what has haunted viewers for over two decades. A crescendo of disturbing content commands the screen as our characters are subjected to sexual humiliation and abuse, neural lobotomies, racial abuse and amputation. It is a finale that chills to the bone and will leave even the most hardened of cinemagoers feeling repulsed and horrified. Horror isn’t meant to be nice, and this film is a defiant example of that. There is simply no doubting that Requiem For A Dream is superb filmmaking, but boy, does it leave a terrifying mark on its viewers.