Published on October 30th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant


The Scariest Scenes from Non-Horror Movies

Halloween is upon us once more, and I’ve written or talked about the ‘Best Scary Movie for Halloween’ about 1700 times in my life.  Blah blah blah, The Exorcist, blah blah blah, The Shining.  Someone in my office came up with a great idea — the scariest scenes from non-horror movies!

Here are the ground rules.  I ignored the movie if it was primarily a thriller, like say, Se7en (some might argue it’s a dark police procedural, but fuck you, I make the rules here).  I also wanted full on scenes, not just moments that were freaky, like Private Pyle flipping to psychopath in Full Metal Jacket.  And I wasn’t looking specifically for ‘gruesome’ like the curb stomping in American History X or the gross eyeball slashing in Un Chien Andalou.  Lastly, some of these are scary for an adult, but some were scary when you were a kid — I didn’t make a big distinction there.  They should just be scary scenes that jumped out of an otherwise not scary movie, burning themselves into your memory forever.

Inland Empire

I’d consider a movie like Blue Velvet more of a thriller, but Inland Empire has to be the scariest non-horror movie ever made.  You could call this a thriller, I suppose, but that’s not really the main theme of the movie, and again, I’m making the rules here, even if they contradict themselves.  Anyway, there are a couple of key scenes, but especially the one where Laura Dern lurches toward the camera, starting small, but suddenly getting all nightmarish and up in your grill.  I’d also accept the Mystery Man telephone call/party chat between Robert Blake and Bill Pullman in Lost Highway.  Also, Bob hiding behind the dresser in Fire Walk With Me was pretty freaky. Hell, you could have probably made a whole list of these just featuring the work of David Lynch.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

I didn’t remember anything being too freaky about this, but when the person trying to convince me it should be on the list made me re-watch the tunnel scene, I actually peed my pants a little.  And now it seems like the ‘poster scene’ for this piece.  They go into the tunnel all nicey-nice, and then Wonka gets wonky, and shit gets real, real fast.  He chants crazy stuff while nightmarish imagery is projected on the walls and you feel like you just ate a bunch of acid-grade mushrooms.


Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

Though it’s a comedy, director Tim Burton shows his penchant for weirdness and creates some kooky tension as Pee Wee gets in the rig for a ride with Large Marge.  Dead-eyed, she tells him her strange story, which culminates in some great claymation horror, and of course, the diner revelation that follows — Large Marge died years ago.


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 

The scene where Thuggee high priest Mola Ram rips the heart right from a guy’s chest.  The drums beat, chants fill the cavern, time seems to slow, and we can only watch as the man’s chest opens up and Mola Ram pulls out a beating heart.  “Mola Ram Sola Ram, Mola Ram Sola Ram, Mola Ram Sola Ram!”  Yikes.  Some might also mention Colonel Toht’s face melting and the opening of the Ark at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I always thought that was more cool than scary.  Not to say it didn’t make me poop my pants as a kid, though, so take your pick of these two scenes.


Superman III

It’s a laughably awesome bad movie that makes no sense if you think too hard about a great deal of the logic in the film (and How Did This Get Made? did an amazing podcast about it), but the scene where the supercomputer grabs Vera and turns her into a techno-zombie still sends chills up my spine.



In Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel, Renton is trapped under the boulder of heroin, so he locks himself away to go cold turkey, and starts having withdrawal hallucinations.  The baby that died earlier in the film returns to haunt him, crawling across the roof and slowly spinning its head around.  That scene is just not right.

Trainspotting (1996)

Fanny and Alexander

Who wants to get crammed into a cubbyhole to hear the voice of God calling you out while making some horrifying looking puppets rattle as if they’re coming to life?  Not me.  Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander is a drama about a crappy family situation, but it has a couple of scary scenes, most notably, when the Bishop is trying to punish Alexander for being dishonest about dissing him.



There are a couple of scenes in Terry Gilliam’s dark comedy that could strike terror into the hearts of men (and women — we don’t want to be sexist here).  There’s the scene where Sam is captured and held in the silo and Jack comes at him in a pig mask.  There’s also the scene with Jack and his daughter.  He’s been torturing people in the next room, and he carries his daughter around wearing the bloody smock while talking to Sam as if it’s business as usual.  It’s not a jump out and scare you scene, or a creepy one like the pig mask scene — it’s more about the unsettling everyday horror of evil.  Like Nazi Germany.


Um…Kid’s Movies.  What’s up with Those Things?

A lot of ‘kids movies’ could probably also fill out a whole other piece on this subject, but let’s just lazily cram them into one category.  There are classics, like the flying monkeys and some of the imagery in The Wizard of Oz or the lone gunshot scene in Bambi.  There’s the scene in Pinocchio where Pinocchio and Lampwick are turned into donkeys, mostly made scary by the way you see it in silhouette.  And probably one of the movies that freaked me out most when I was a kid was Watership Down.  There are some crazy fight scenes, and Hazel’s death takes a cake or two.  It said, death will come for you too.  It’s unsettling when Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom is exposed as a Toon in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, high-pitched voice and crazy-eyes popping out all over.  And how about the scene in E.T. when the spacesuits come a knockin’?


Lastly, there’s the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3.  I glanced around the dark theatre, watching kids’ eyes open wide in horror.  Even as a rational adult, they made me wonder for a split second — are they really gonna melt off all these toys?  Thanks, cartoons, for making me see the absolute terror of my own mortality.


Tags: , ,

About the Author

is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

2 Responses to The Scariest Scenes from Non-Horror Movies

Back to Top ↑