It’s that time of year again. Shorter days, longer nights. Sweater weather. Pumpkin Spice everything. Apple picking. Getting pants-pissingly terrified. October is that magical month when monsters rub shoulders with autumnal clichés as we all count down to Halloween.
Based on the number of horror movie marathons on TV and fresh scary movies in theaters, it’s obvious that we as a people get off on fear. Or even if we don’t, we’re willing to tolerate a few jump-scares for one month out of the year. But “fear” isn’t universal, and what keeps one person up at night wouldn’t even phase somebody else. For that matter — what keeps one person up at night might not even be from a horror movie! As a kid, I couldn’t sit through The Wizard Of Oz because the MGM Lion was too scary — I knew just enough about the plot to think he was the actual Cowardly Lion, only with that roar he didn’t sound very cowardly, he sounded like he’d take a bite out of Toto.
So let’s go through some of the weirdest, scariest, most nightmare-inducing moments that still make us cringe, shall we?
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
I’m kicking things off with two Freddy clips, because these movies are my guilty pleasure. First, there’s the iconic and thoroughly disturbing bathtub scene, which ruined tubs and adolescence.
But if that was too understated and dignified, how about the scene with the syringe-fingers and creepy, hungry little track mark mouths from the third Elm Street movie, Dream Warriors?
- The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror
Of course The Simpsons is funny, but its long-running series of Halloween specials also manage to hit a surprisingly spooky sweet spot. Just take this particular tale, “Terror at 5 1/2 Feet” — sure, it’s inspired by a classic Twilight Zone story. But for anyone who isn’t familiar with the Shatner-starring original, this version is still scary enough to do a number on you.
- The Brave Little Toaster
Sure, the song is about B-movies. The subject matter gets you in the mood for fright. But that’s not actually why this scene is scary. Nope. That’s almost entirely thanks to the super creepy Peter Lorre-inspired lamp, which NO CHILD WOULD EVEN UNDERSTAND.
- Old-ass Phantom of the Opera Broadway Commercials
Different strokes for different folks. Some of us ignore advertisements entirely, and others develop a life-long aversion to the Phantom of the Opera based entirely on 30-second commercials for the Broadway show. That face. THAT MUSIC. It is kinda haunting, isn’t it?
Sure, this isn’t that surprising. Dario Argento’s 1977 film is constantly listed as one of the eeriest, most beautiful horror films ever made. But the scene that made me pause it and walk away wasn’t scary because it was beautiful. It was scary because it was logically infuriating! A girl is being chased by a mysterious being, wielding a switchblade (just so you have razors on the mind). She crawls out of a window to freedom… only to fall into a haphazardly-strewn pile of razor wire! WHO LEAVES A GIANT PILE OF RAZOR WIRE JUST LYING THE FUCK AROUND? AT A SCHOOL, NO LESS? And she doesn’t just die, oh no — she struggles. She flails. I feel itchy just thinking about it.
- Requiem for a Dream
This is a cheat. The whole damn movie is emotionally and mentally scarring. But I think it triggers people differently, and personally? The scenes with Ellen Burstyn’s Sara are the ones that cut me the deepest. “FEED ME, SARA!”
- Cow in the river, City Slickers
Look, I was a weird kid, and I did NOT take it well if an animal was in danger in a movie. So the scene that fucked me up the most when I was younger was the one where Billy Crystal had to save that baby cow named Norman from the raging river. I couldn’t find that scene, of course — either because nobody else was haunted by it, or nobody else still gives a shit about City Slickers, so I’m including the trailer for the sequel that features a bit of that footage. Just know that the full sequence had me on the edge of my seat.
- Drunk-ass Dumbo, Dumbo
I remember almost nothing about this film — I think I blocked it out because it made me so uncomfortable as a child. Still, I know the scene where Dumbo gets wasted and hallucinates some crazy shit was a big part of the problem for me. The scene just went on for sooooo loooooong, and I was worried he’d get in trouble. Don’t you judge me.
- Needle pit, Saw 2
The first Saw film was a tense, disturbing surprise. The second one… had this scene. Fuck this scene sideways. Hot damn. NOT OKAY.
- Pickaxe through the eye, My Bloody Valentine 3D
Some people saw Avatar. My first 3D movie was My Bloody Valentine 3D, a Jensen Ackles-starring remake of an 80s b-movie about miners. There is nothing about this movie that is really any more disturbing than any other shitty, schlocky, gory horror flick. But in 3D, that opening impaling was MAGNIFICENT. I’m not scarred, really. I’m in awe, still, after all these years. The way that eyeball seemed to hang from the tip of that pickaxe, dripping on your lap… just glorious.
- The 40 Year Old Virgin
I’m not good with social awkwardness. I watched most of this movie through my fingers.
And finally… you didn’t think poor Ellen Burstyn would only make the list once, did you? For my money, this is the most fucked up scene from The Exorcist, which I saw at a completely inappropriate age and never quite recovered from. Everyone remembers the pea soup and the head twisting, but nobody wants to talk about the cross-fucking. To this day I can’t sleep in a room with a crucifix on the wall.
What nightmare-inducing shit have we missed? We’ve got all month to relive our own personal terrors, so feel free to share yours below!