Top 10 Scary Scenes in Non-Horror Movies
Blood and guts, monsters, and slashers aren't the only frightening things in film ...
So, this Halloween you've decided to give the usual monster, ghost and slasher films a rest, and watch a nice western, or a classic gangster film instead? Maybe an adapted literary classic, or how about a British kitchen sink drama? Why not an all singing, all dancing musical? How scary can they be? In this, my first lens, I have made a top 10 list of some movie scenes that have scared me throughout my film watching career. It is interesting to note that the scenes I found frightening as a child have lost none of their scare power several decades later - they still give me the creeps.
This is a personal top 10 list - it is not meant to be definitive, so I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions for scenes I have not included. (Remember this is for non-horror films - they are scary by definition or they are just not doing their job!) I hope you will enjoy the countdown and the You Tube clips.
10.The Adventures of Huck Finn (Stephen Sommers, 1993)
Pap Finn kidnaps Huck
When Ron Perlman made his first appearance as Pap Finn in Stephen Sommers' 1993 adaptation of Mark Twain's great novel, the theatre I was in erupted with the sound of screaming, crying children. It was a truly terrifying performance - a closeup of Perlman filled the screen and even the adults recoiled from this snarling, drunken animal. Elijah Wood (as Huck) has always been a fine actor, even as a small child, but the poor little thing probably wasn't acting when Pap kidnaps him and drags him off to his log cabin. I hope he was well paid for this role.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn DVDs and Books
Enjoyable adaptation of Twain's great novel, featuring a cute and appealing (if somewhat miscast) Elijah Wood as the title character.
Mainly based on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this 1995 film features the late, great Brad Renfro in the best ever portrayal of Huckleberry Finn. Dirty, scruffy, and self sufficient, it is no wonder Tom Sawyer (Jonathon Taylor Thomas) is forbidden to speak to him. This is the Huckleberry Finn Twain intended.
This a great novel, the classic boys' adventure story. It has terrfic characters, scary and funny situations, and some genuinely moving scenes. Particularly good to read aloud for children aged 5-10. It is a good idea to read this before tackling the more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding Huckleberry Finn, as it introduces the setting and milieu, as well as several of the characters of the later work.
One of the great American novels, this follow up to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a more mature and sophisticated work that will appeal to the older child - perhaps 12 years plus - as well as adults, of course. The novel deals with themes of honour and loyalty, and also - somewhat controversially - slavery and racism. Highly recommended.
9. Raining Stones (Ken Loach, 1993)
The debt collector calls
"When you're a worker, it rains stones 7 days a week." And when the debt collector comes to call, it rains rocks. Another masterpiece of scathing social criticism from the great Ken Loach, Raining Stones tells the story of an unemployed father, played by Bruce Jones (Les Battersby from Coronation St) who will do whatever it takes to raise the money to buy a first communion dress for his daughter. In true Loach fashion his attempts range from the farcical - attempting to steal, butcher, and sell a sheep, to the bizarre - stealing a lawn, to the downright desperate - and this is where the debt collector comes in. A frightening scene because of the casual way this awful man enters the house: "Mrs Williams? Nice to meet you, Love", and turns nasty in an instant: "Fuckin' shut it! You've got a dickhead for a husband, and he owes me money". Tansey buys bad debts and then collects them from desperate people by any means necessary. A true parasite, he is made more hateful by the knowledge that he is based on the real experiences of poor people everywhere.
Raining Stones Trailer
More films by Ken Loach
Winner of the Jury Prize at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, "Raining Stones" is classic Ken Loach. A study of the lives of unemployed working class people in northern England in the early nineties, it blends laugh out loud comedy with the drama inherent in the lives of desperate people. Audiences can identify strongly with the protagonists in recognisable situations, and take great satisfaction in the come-uppance of the all too common types who make miserable lives even worse for their own profit. This is a fascinating blend of topical, hard hitting social comment with the great comedy we have come to expect from British film makers, and Loach in particular.
A beautiful, if somewhat bleak film, "Kes" tells the story of a working class schoolboy in a Yorkshire mining community who discovers that the limitations of his life can be transcended when he captures and trains a wild kestrel. Rated at number 7 in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British Films, "Kes" is considered by many to be Loach's masterpiece, and is a must see for any film lover.
Winner of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival's highest award - The Palme D'Or - this story of two Irish brothers who fight against the British 'Black and Tans' in the 1920 war of independence is not for the faint hearted. A harrowing look at some of the atrocities committed by the British against the Irish, and heart wrenching in its depiction of the tensions between loyalty to a cause and to one's family, this is in the great tradition of entertaining films with a hard hitting message that we have come to expect from Ken Loach. One of his best.
A recovering alcoholic in the slumlike housing estates of modern Glasgow begins a romantic relationship with a community worker, and becomes involved in trying to help a young drug addict to conquer his addiction and the ruthless suppliers he owes money to. Another blend of great comedy and brutal social realism from Ken Loach, this 1998 film is notable for a Cannes Film Festival award winning performance by Peter Mullan.
A study of Ken Loach's film making history must be considered alongside a study of his political beliefs, and Anthony Hayward's comprehensive biography of this major socialist artist covers all facets of this remarkable man's life. Highly recommended for all film lovers, this book is also notable for its inclusion of material garnered directly from its subject.
8. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
Ethan Edwards shoots out the eyes of a dead Commanche
This scene is scary for its depiction of a deep hatred with an undercurrent of violent racism. Ethan Edwards, played by John Wayne in his finest performance (whatever The Academy thinks) is on the trail of his kidnapped niece, taken by Commanches after a raid which killed the rest of his brother's family. When the posse finds the body of one of the raiding party buried in the desert, Ethan takes out his six gun and fires two shots - one in each of the dead man's eyes. His explanation:
"...by what that Commanche believes, ain't got no eyes, he can't enter the spirit land, has to wander forever between the winds".
To hate a race so much that he condemns a man to hell is frightening enough, but when Ethan finds his beloved niece after many years of searching, only to discover that she has become "one of them", he has to be prevented from killing her. This is an uncompromising performance by John Wayne of one of the greatest - if somewhat flawed - heroes of the western genre.
The Searchers on Amazon
Now recognised as one of the greatest westerns ever made, John Ford's magnificent film features career best performances from several cast members, notable among them John Wayne, but was totally ignored by the academy when first released. Great acting, masterful direction, breathtaking scenery, and a hauntingly beautiful score by Max Steiner are only some of the elements that combine to put this film on many 'best of' lists. Acknowledged as a major influence by many of todays leading film makers, The Searchers is essential viewing for any film lover and is highly recommended.
Excellent collection of some of John Wayne's best westerns (although "The Cowboys" could hardly be counted among the best it is still an enjoyable piece).
The novel by Alan LeMay upon which the film was based.
A study of The Searchers and its making, by noted authority on the genre, Edward Buscombe.
7. A Room for Romeo Brass (Shane Meadows, 1999)
Morell Threatens Knock Knock
Morell is a bit odd. He is 25 years old and has befriended 12 year old Gavin ('Knock Knock') and his best mate Romeo Brass, with the primary aim of getting access to Romeo's older sister Ladine. Problem is, Morell is socially inept, a bit weird, and according to Ladine, "he's just a bloody gizoid". She's right, he is. At first his bizarre antics are just funny, but before long things start to "get really dark". Gavin sets Morell up to make a fool of himself with Ladine and thinks it's just a bit of a laugh, but Morell remembers. Later in the film when he gets Gavin alone on a day trip to the seaside, he shows a frightening side to his already disturbing character. He grabs the physically handicapped Gavin by the throat: "...Well it wasn't funny. I don't think ya know what it's like to mess with people's feelings d'ya. What have I ever done to you? F... all".
The unexpected threat frightens the daylights out of both Gavin and the viewer, but on reflection we, like the boy, realise that there was always something menacing about the goofy, unpredictable Morell, and that this outburst is a turning point in a continuum of unease. This engrossing story heads toward a frightening climax that reveals strength of character and courage from an unexpected source.
A Room For Romeo Brass
More films by Shane Meadows
Continuing the social realist tradition of legendary British film makers Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows is fast becoming a legend himself, with a rapidly growing and loyal fan base for his 7 (and counting) feature films. Meadows has won numerous awards, including the 2008 BAFTA for best British film for "This is England", and has recently expanded his horizons to include a low budget feature shot in 5 days - "Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee" - as a first instalment of his new '5 Day Features' project. Next up is a horror film, "Beware the Devil", and if this sounds like Meadows is moving away from the kitchen sink naturalism of his work to date, I wouldn't bet on it yet - the film is based on the true story of a man who becomes possessed after mucking around with a ouija board. If anyone can make a social realist horror film, it is he. Check out the links below to some of this great director's earlier work.
Shane Meadows' first feature, 24/7 was shot in black and white. This adds a nostalgic air to the film, which is set in the urban decay of modern working class England, and tells in flashback the story of a man (Bob Hoskins) who offers hope to disaffected and alienated youth by setting up a boxing gym and running a tournament. This was the film that set fans of Meadows on a lifetime of waiting impatiently for his next work. We welcome the 5 Day Feature project.
Funny, frightening, and ultimately redemptive, Meadows' second feature is his first with Paddy Considine. It continues the theme of absent or ineffectual fathers that he introduced in 24/7 and which threads its way through his ouevre. Warmly recommended.
A violent, frightening, yet strangely beautiful revenge film, this melancholic masterpiece features regular Meadows collaborator the great (and unremittingly scary) Paddy Considine. A favourite of many fans.
The story of a fatherless 12 year old boy who falls under the influence of a local skinhead group in 1980's small town England, this film is based on the experiences of director Shane Meadows, and was winner of the 2008 BAFTA award for Best British Film.
Box set containing "Twenty-Four Seven", "A Room for Romeo Brass", "Dead Man's Shoes", and "This is England".
6. No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007)
Javier Bardem's portrayal of Anton Chigurrh is one of film history's all time great psycopaths. With his dead eyes and innovative murder methods, this sicko is so scary that there is no point singling out one scene - every appearance he makes sends shivers down your spine - and into your very soul.
No Country for Old Men
Anton Chigurrh's very existence is scary, so rather than show one scene of him, here is the trailer for the film. An added bonus is that you can get a taste of several other brilliant performances from the likes of Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Tommy Lee Jones.
No Country for Old Men on Amazon
One of the Coen Brothers' finest movies, notable for Javier Bardem's chilling portrayal of psycopathic killer Anton Chigurrh, the film is a faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel.
The Coen brothers are said to have paid considerable attention to making as faithful an adaptation as possible of this novel.
5. Oliver! (Carol Reed, 1968)
The first appearance of Bill Sikes.
With the exception of William Shakespeare, no author has been adapted for the screen more than Charles Dickens. One of the reasons for this popularity is the huge range of colourful characters he created, many of whom are now iconic. They provide great opportunities for actors, especially villains like Fagin, Noah Claypole, Ebenezer Scrooge, Wackford Squeers, and Uriah Heep. One of Dickens' most popular works for adaptation is Oliver Twist, a novel that introduces his two most well known and feared villains: Fagin and Bill Sikes. Sikes is an especially frightening character - Fagin being more often played as a comic villain - and has been portrayed to chilling effect by many well known actors - Robert Newton, Andy Serkis, Tom Hardy, and Tim Curry among them - but it is the late Oliver Reed's depiction of this brooding, murderous thug that most accurately manifests Dickens' original nightmarish vision. His first appearance in this surprisingly faithful musical adaptation is a masterpiece of menace. Sikes' appearance from a dark alleyway is preceded by the shadow of his dog Bullseye, then the dog itself, followed by Sikes' own silhouette against the grimy brick wall. When Sikes himself appears, it is as though a shadow has taken human form. His eyes are dead, his unshaven face expressionless, and for the entire 2 minutes 11 seconds of his transaction with Fagin, he speaks not a single word. The master thief communicates with Fagin (his fence) with one sharp click of his fingers. This scene would have to rate as one of the best entrances ever - it scared the hell out of me as a child, and still does today.
Oliver Twist DVD and books on Amazon
1968 Oscar winner for best film, this musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous novel is great entertainment and a surprisingly good illustration of many of the well known scenes from the book. Terrific acting from a top notch cast including Harry Secombe, Oliver Reed, Shari Lewis and Jack Wild, great sets and costumes, and above all an outstanding soundtrack. Highly recommended.
David Lean's 1948 version of the Dickens novel is the standard all others aspire to and have never met. Outstanding performances by Alec Guiness as Fagin, and Robert Newton as Bill Sikes, this noirish masterpiece also features a young Anthony Newley as the definitive Artful Dodger. Listed at no. 46 on the British Film Institute's List of top 100 British films of the 20th Century, this is a must have for the Dickens scholar, anyone interested in screen treatments of Dickens, or just lovers of great film.
Dickens' second novel, first published in 1937 when he was aged just 25, this has become his best known work largely due to the number of film and television versions. A flawed work which is sometimes excessively sentimental, this is nonetheless a great work of literature and is at times exciting and frightening in equal measure.
Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito kill Billy Batts
Warm and lovable, dark and terrifying - as an actor, Robert DeNiro covers the whole range, although it must be said that he has primarily made his name as a screen legend by playing characters on the darker side of life. Whether it's Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver", Rupert Pupkin in "The King of Comedy", or Al Capone in "The Untouchables", it is difficult to pick one performance or scene as his scariest, as DeNiro at his fiercest is one of the most menacing actors ever. In Martin Scorcese's gangster epic "Goodfellas", DeNiro plays gangster Jimmy Conway, whose best mate Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci - see number 3 in this list) is a dangerously volatile psychopath. Tommy runs into an old acaquaintance - Billy Batts - in a bar and the encounter turns nasty when Billy disses Tommy. Eventually Tommy loses it and attacks Billy, and without prompting, DeNiro's character Jimmy joins the horrific onslaught of violence. Watch the scene on the You Tube link below, and pay particular attention to DeNiro's face as he kicks and stomps Billy's head. The man is not acting - he is really killing something. I would hate to be the sack of potatoes - or whatever the props department gave him to kick. A truly scary performance - and a masterclass in acting.
Goodfellas - The Billy Batts scene
Robert DeNiro on Amazon
In a career spanning five decades, the legendary Robert DeNiro has become one of the finest and most popular film actors of his - or any - generation.
It was Scorcese's "Mean Streets" (1973) that established his ongoing film collaboration with Robert DeNiro, but it was "Taxi Driver" that cemented this partnership in the minds of the filmgoing public. DeNiro - already an Oscar winner for "The Godfather Part II - gave his most brilliant and intense performance yet as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet turned taxi driver/vigilante in this 1976 tour de force. From here on he was etched into film history as one of its greatest artists, and developed an iconic screen persona that he would build and evolve through a succession of brilliant performances in a series of landmark films, and would eventually parody more than 20 years later in a series of comedy roles. Featuring the oft quoted "You talkin' to me?" scene, and early career performances from Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Cybill Shepherd, this film is essential viewing for any fan of DeNiro or Scorcese, and is a key work in the artistic development of both.
DeNiro won the 1981 best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of boxer Jake LaMotta in this powerful film that many thought should have garnered the best director award for Martin Scorsese and also best film. Shot in black and white, the film is a no punches pulled look at the life of LaMotta and his fiery relationship with his brother Joey - played by the great Joe Pesci in an Oscar nominated performance. The boxing scenes are among the very best ever committed to film, and the highly skilled editing earned an Oscar for long time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker. Considered by many to be Scorcese's best work, "Raging Bull" is now rated at #4 in the AFI top 100 (and ironically enough, "Ordinary People" which won that year's best picture Oscar, is not on the list at all!) Strongly recommended.
A brilliant - if somewhat cartoonish - depiction of the FBI's war on organised crime in 1930's Chicago, Brian De Palma's film was notable for Sean Connery's Oscar winning performance as an Irish cop (with a Scottish accent?), and an outstanding cameo performance by Robert DeNiro as Al Capone. In one hideous explosion of violence DeNiro captured the essence of the seemingly unstoppable and ruthless crime boss. Even though the film deals with how Capone was eventually brought down by tax evasion, this hugely entertaining film is certainly not short on the gunfights and general violence associated with the genre. One of DePalma's best, this film stands up to repeated viewing.
Working with Scorsese again in this lesser known film, DeNiro plays Rupert Pupkin - another in his repertoire of dangerously obsessive characters. Pupkin is a comedian who harasses talk show host Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) into giving him a break on his show. As DeNiro's characters often do, Pupkin takes things a little too far and kidnaps Langford. A drama rather than a comedy, this is an interesting film with some surprising comedy moments in it.
One of the best comedy films of the past 10 years, "Analyse This" manages to parody the conventions of the gangster genre as well as the screen persona of one of its greatest actors. DeNiro has never been funnier than when taking himself off, but still retains an air of menace. He bounces brilliantly off Billy Crystal who is himself lampooning his own neurotic Jewish schtick as the unfortunate psychiatrist who finds himself forced to treat a mob boss suffering from anxiety disorder. This film works really well both as a genre gangster movie and a comedy. Great fun.
3. Goodfellas (Martin Scorcese, 1990)
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito - "Funny How?"
One of the most tense scenes in any film. Tommy has just told a funny story about himself, and Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) laughs louder and longer than the other sycophants around the table. "You're a funny guy" he tells Tommy. "Funny how?" replies Tommy, and the scene turns dark and scary as Henry tries to explain himself to this knife edge psycopath. The viewer squirms with Henry as we wait for Tommy to explode in one of his well known violent frenzies, and are then as relieved as Henry when it turns out that Tommy is just 'breaking his balls'. The fear is palpable and leaves a sense of unease that permeates the rest of the film, especially in any scene involving Tommy - an Oscar winning performance by Joe Pesci.
Goodfellas DVD, Blu-Ray and books
Martin Scorcese's masterpiece, based on the life of Mob informer Henry Hill. One of the great gangster films, this is often spoken of in the same breath as The Godfather. With career best performances from several cast members, and some innovative camera and editing work, this is the film that many thought should have earned the best picture Oscar for Scorcese. This film stands up to repeated viewing and is one to own.
An interesting collection which includes of some of Scorcese's lesser known work, this set features Goodfellas as the standout film and also its precursor - Mean Streets. Good to see the lovely Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore included.
The book that tells the story of Henry Hill and upon which Goodfellas was based.
2. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ken Hughes, 1968)
The Child Catcher
"There are children here somewhere. I can smell them." Dressed like a Victorian undertaker, and wielding a long handled hook and net, this is surely the scariest character ever in a children's film. The child catcher populates more youthful nightmares than Freddy Krueger. Although reinterpreted many times in countless stage productions, this horrid man was never creepier or more loathsome than when played by Sir Robert Helpmann in this film which was, not surprisingly, scripted by Roald Dahl.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Amazon
One of the best children's films ever, this film has everything - great songs, spectacular scenery, bizarre and colourful characters, exciting chases, a cool flying car, and of course the creepiest villain ever.
Ian Fleming's novel on which the film is based.
1. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
Horse's Head in the Bed.
The most famous scene in arguably the greatest gangster film ever made, this scene is scary on so many different levels. It epitomises the power and ruthlessness of the mob like no other scene in the history of the gangster genre.
Film producer Jack Woltz has refused Don Corleone's "offer that he can't refuse." When he wakes up in the morning, Corleone's boys have left a little gentle persuasion in his bed.
The Godfather on Amazon
All three Godfather films in one set - a must have for any film fan.
Mario Puzo's novel that Coppola made into the legendary film.
Top 10 Scary Scenes in Non-Horror Films
Vote my selections up or down, or even off the list altogether if you have a better one!
There are a variety of definitions of what is scary in a movie - it might be a character, an action, an idea, or a philosophy. Whatever the case, this is a purely personal response, as is my list. I would love to hear your feedback on these scenes and enter into discussion, debate, or even argument as to their placing on the list. I hope to hear of scenes I have either not thought of, or not seen, and am quite happy to adjust my top 10 to include scarier scenes at your suggestion. Have fun being scared!