The Quick Report

The 10 Scariest Movie Scenes Ever

What makes a movie scene frightening? It isn’t always blood and guts and monsters. Terror has many nuances, and these masterfully crafted scenes of horror are the stuff of nightmares you won’t soon forget. You might be surprised that not all of the films are “horror” films. As you’ll discover, a film doesn’t need crazed serial killers or monsters to be scary. Here is our list of the 10 scariest movie scenes ever.

11. (Honorable Mention) The Shining (1980): Here’s Johnny

Warner Brothers

We’ll ease you in gently with this Honorable Mention that expertly blends a bit of humor with horror. Not only is this a classic scene, but it’s become a classic line. It’s a sarcastic quip mimicking the introduction of host Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” 

There are no blood or guts or otherworldly monsters creating fear in this scene. The dread comes as Jack Torrance (played masterfully by Jack Nicholson) has descended into madness. He wields an ax and chops a hole through the bathroom door just enough to peek his face through. His psychotic rage and the maniacal glint in his eyes are an extreme counterpoint to his otherwise humorous TV slogan quote that’s blood-chilling and horrifying.

10. The Blair Witch Project (1999): The Corner Scene

Artisan Entertainment

Part of what makes this film so scary is the initial marketing that made audiences believe it was a real story using “found footage.” In reality, the story is totally fictional but believable at the same time and that’s what fuels the fear. This film set off the “found footage” craze. The trend has been so heavily imitated that it no longer holds the impact this film had upon its release. Three people go into the woods to search for and document the Blair witch.

The scariest moment in this low-budget thriller comes at the end when the two survivors come to the witch’s house and encounter the (unseen) witch. Heather has become separated from Mike and she hears screams. There are children’s bloody hand prints on the walls. She finds Mike standing in the corner facing a wall, unresponsive. It ends and the audience fills in the blanks that Mike is a goner. So is Heather. In the beginning, we learned this tale was being told after the three had vanished and this was discovered through the “found footage.”

9. The Conjuring 2 (2016): The Nun Comes to Life

Warner Bros. Pictures

This frightening scene unfolds concerning a painting of a very scary-looking Catholic nun. The nun looks somewhere between Marilyn Manson and Tobias Forge the lead singer from the Swedish rock band Ghost wearing a nun’s habit. A shadow suddenly appears and moves along the walls. It eventually positions itself behind the painting. Then the nun comes to life and steps out of the picture.

The nun was so frightening that director James Wan spun the character off into its own film. Unfortunately, the frightening visage of the nun was kind of a one-trick pony without a solid story to back it up into a worthwhile franchise of its own. 

8. Deliverance (1972): Attack in the Woods
Warner Brothers

This is a scene, in fact, a film, that can make you never want to go camping again. Four businessmen from Atlanta decide to canoe down a river in the Georgia wilderness. But things take a horrifying turn.

A group of shotgun-wielding inbred rednecks capture one of the men and tie him to a tree. They tell another man to “drop them pants.” They then torture the man and tell him to “squeal like a pig.”

7. The Descent (2005): Monsters Revealed

Pathé Distribution

This film makes great use of a twist to tell us we are watching an entirely different film than we thought we were. At first, it appears we are watching a film of six thrill-seeking women trapped in a cave system. After a collapse, they struggle to find their way out.

The story takes a different turn when they spot a humanoid creature drinking at a pool before it scampers away. They find a den of animal bones. One of the creatures (a crawler) attacks. It then turns into a horrifying struggle to avoid the creatures and escape the cave. It’s an extremely well-crafted film that is one of the scariest in two decades.

6. The Exorcist (1973): The 360° Head Spin

Warner Brother

Many people still view this film as the scariest of all time. Most cite the fact that it’s based on a true-life event as why it’s so terrifying.

Of course, the scene people find the most frightening would likely kill, if not paralyze, the possessed if it actually happened in real life. In the film, Regan, the girl under the possession of the demon Pazuzu, has her head spin nearly 360 degrees, while she continues to speak and taunt. The unexpected aspect of the scene is what makes it a real shocker.

5. Psycho (1960): The Shower Scene

Paramount Pictures

Through the first part of Alfred Hitchcock’s film based on the 1959 Robert Bloch novel of the same name, it feels like typical film noir fare. A woman has embezzled money from her Arizona work so she and her deep-in-debt boyfriend in California can get married. Along the way, she stops for the night at a motel.

But the midpoint twist with her getting slashed to death in the motel shower catches the viewer by surprise and they realize it has become a different movie entirely. The suspense only ramps up more and more from there. Unique in many ways, the scene and the film are classic.

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4. The Shining: The Bathtub Scene in Room 237

Warner Brothers

Perhaps one of the scariest ghost scenes in any film. Jack Torrance has been told that his son, Danny, saw a crazy woman in room 237, and a hotel they are caretaking that is supposed to be empty.

When Jack enters the room, he finds a beautiful woman bathing in the tub. Yet his eyes are seeing a ghostly image. Her appearance changes and she’s suddenly the rotting corpse of an old woman.

3. Alien (1979): The Chest Burst Scene

20th Century-Fox

Two things make this scene a real fright. First, is the unexpected nature of the event. The film itself is kind of a slow burn at first, with the fear of space and the unknown slowly building. Then this shocker comes out of nowhere.

As Kane is recovering from an incident, and enjoying a meal with the crew, we think he’s doing alright. Then, without warning, Kane begins to choke and convulse on the table. An eyeless, worm-like creature bursts out of Kane’s chest. It has almost piranha-like teeth, except they’re metal, a gleaming chrome. The creature launches out of Kane’s chest and spastically slithers away, ramping up the dread even further.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): The Dinner Scene

Bryanston Distributing Company

Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a gruesome scream-fest. What made it more horrifying was that it was marketed as being based on true events. In truth, it film had only minor inspired details from the murderer and suspected serial killer/body snatcher Ed Gein. 

Sally sits tied up while she watches Leatherface and his two family members eat a meal of human flesh. Sally screams in terror to no avail as the cannibalistic psychotic family simply screams back at her. She pleads and they mock her back. It’s a savage level of gut-wrenching terror never before seen on film at the time.

1. The Exorcist (1973): The Staircase Spider Walk

Warner Brothers

This scene was deleted from the film’s original theatrical release because it was deemed too scary to be included. This was much to the opposition of writer Blatty. It’s definitely a frightening scene. Reagan comes spider-walking down the stairs completely contorted. She’s upside down with her chest facing the ceiling and her back arched over walking on her hands and feet.

But there was also another reason. Director William Friedkin felt that it was a very big special effect that was occurring too early in the story.  However, the scene was later restored in the extended director’s cut originally subtitled “The version you’ve never seen.” CGI was used to erase the wires.