Paranormal Activity 2 is out in theaters just in time for Halloween—hard to believe it was about a year ago that the first one scared up $193 million in worldwide box office on a slight budget of $15,000—and Star Costumes would like to take a moment to commemorate the event with a look back on the last 10 years of horror movies and, in particular, scary or disturbing scenes. These do not have to be jump out of your seat moments, though they can be. The number one criterion is this: did they haunt you long after the closing credits?
What scares us is about as subjective as what makes us laugh, so read on with a skeptic’s eye and some consideration about the last time you raced down a darkened hallway hoping that something would not jump out of the shadows and eat your soul.
For us, the scariest scenes of the last 10 years are:
10. Deadgirl (2008)
What It’s About: Deadgirl was a surprisingly well-received horror flick from 2008, and while it’s hard to find any repeat viewing value in the story about a group of boys who stumble upon an imprisoned woman incapable of dying within the bowels of a basement, there are some very disturbing moments. When the boys discover that the nude woman is impervious to murder, these seemingly normal kids start to experiment with the depravity inside themselves, figuring she mustn’t be human so why treat her as one?
The Scare: With each act of victimization, we know that whatever evil put her there for the boys to find will pollute their entire lives. The first scene where one of the boys starts to have hallucinations about the woman turning the tables on him, so to speak, is a hint of things to come and benefits from some quick cutting and very unnerving camera work.
9. Rogue (2007)
What It’s About: Tourists in the Australian outback must contend with an oversized crocodile looking to inflict grievous bodily harm. This little gem of a movie was a pleasant surprise and a throwback to monster-movie making sensibilities of yore, when the director understood that the less you see of the monster the better. With multiple character arcs woven seamlessly into the plotline and a strong cast, which includes Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington, and John Jarratt, this shocker builds to a riveting finale.
The Scare: While the film is riddled with uneasiness and a few popcorn-flinging shots, the best comes at its climax when hero Vartan finds himself discovered in the beast’s lair. The extended fight sequence with a convincingly rendered croc will have you tensed up, filled with dread, and holding on to your fingers for dear life. (You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.)
8. Wolf Creek (2005)
What It’s About: Three backpackers are stalked and hunted by a rugged serial killer. Wolf Creek boasts that it is “based on a true story,” which means it plays rather loosely with the murder of British tourist Peter Falconio and the assault of girlfriend Joanne Lees. The attack occurred in July of 2001. Bradley John Murdoch was the accused assailant, and was still on trial when the film came out. He was eventually convicted of murder, deprivation of liberty, and aggravated unlawful assault.
The Scare: Liz (Cassandra Magrath), one of the unlucky three, is rummaging through her stalker’s garage, looking for a way to freedom. She finds a set of keys and crawls behind the wheel of a car. What happens next isn’t that original, but it is handled with expert craftsmanship by actor John Jarratt and writer-director Greg Mclean.
7. The House of the Devil (2009)
What It’s About: A college student, presumably in the 1980’s, struggles with money until she finds a job babysitting for a strange couple (Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov). When Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) arrives at the house, she discovers that she won’t be babysitting a child but a reclusive old woman. Things really start to get freaky after that. Writer-director Ti West has a perfect grip on classic 80’s horror, and his entry would fit in well among the best, leaving the many posers and pretenders of that decade in the dust.
The Scare: Megan (Greta Gerwig) comes across a stranger on the way home from dropping off Samantha at her gig. Things get ugly pretty fast.
6. The Last House on the Left (2009)
What It’s About: Wes Craven’s amateurish original received a much-needed update from director Dennis Iliadis, who benefited from a stronger cast, more polished camera work, and better filmmaking skills than a 1972 Wes Craven possessed (or 2010 Craven for that matter—have you seen My Soul to Take). The story, which was a remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring to begin with, is still a powerful tale of revenge that forces you to identify with some people who do some pretty horrible things in the name of vengeance. Given what the Collingwood family goes through in this film’s 110 minutes (114 for unrated), you can’t really blame them for sticking a man’s head in a microwave and blowing it up.
The Scare: The Last House on the Left’s scares come not from a “jump out at you” fixation and bludgeoning musical cues, but from forcing the audience to witness two girls helplessly victimized by a group of thugs. The rape scene, while not the most disturbing ever filmed, still packs a wallop, and the prolonged torment that the teenagers must go through makes you feel uneasy about yourself and what you’d be capable of if forced to deal with the attack of someone close to you. After watching The Last House on the Left remake, vigilante justice seems perfectly understandable. Coming to that realization as a supposedly “civilized” person is enough to really shake you.
5. The Descent (2005)
What It’s About: Forget the over-the-top sequel; the original directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) is about a grieving wife and mother, who escapes with her daredevil friends to go caving. As darkness enfolds the explorers, a slimy, grisly group of predators stalk them through the claustrophobic surroundings, using their sense of smell to feed on fear.
The Scare: Even though some pretty creepy and gruesome stuff happens down in the caves, the scariest parts of The Descent are the ones leading up to the bloodbath. Multiple viewings can’t quite prepare you for the death of Sarah’s (Shauna Macdonald) husband and child. Marshall gets you during the accident, and he doubles back to hit you with a hallucination a bit later in the film. Both scenes use sound and unexpected timing to perfection.
4. Inside (2007)
What It’s About: It’s Christmas Eve and Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is alone. A car accident claimed the life of her husband leaving her well along in her pregnancy and facing motherhood without help and without hope. That evening, a visitor comes knocking on Sarah’s door. The woman, dressed in black, claims car troubles, but there is something unsettling about her. Sarah doesn’t trust her, and with good reason. Soon, she will be killing everyone Sarah knows and loves with a pair of scissors and anything else she can get her hands on. Her target: the baby growing inside of Sarah’s stomach.
The Scare: Many great Grand Guignol scenes highlight this twisted hybrid of slasher and Night of the Living Dead. No, the woman isn’t a cannibal or zombie, but that same theme of isolation and fear dominates a superb effort from directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. The scariest scene for me was when Sarah’s mother drops in to check on her daughter and discovers that she is locked away in a bathroom for her own protection. You probably have a good idea of what happens next.
3. Session 9 (2001)
What It’s About: Brad Anderson directs this moody psychological horror movie about an asbestos removal team, who take on a job cleaning out an old abandoned mental hospital. The cast is one of the strongest you’ll find in a horror film with David Caruso—no really, he’s good in this—Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, and Peter Mullan. The great thing about Session 9 is that you can go back to it time and time again and engage in rather healthy film school chatter with your friends as to what’s really going on with it long after the final frame.
The Scare: Actor Josh Lucas plays Hank in the film, and there is a scene where Hank is exploring the mental hospital alone at night that will have you on the edge of your seat. Even so, the nod for scariest moment would have to come at the end where you start to piece together the subtle mysteries of the film to the soundtrack of a demented voice, who recounts the night she murdered a family member. It’s the perfect overlap to a bloody climax, and the kind of scary that ignores cheap jumps to leave the audience with a hair-standing sensation.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
What It’s About: Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) gets picked on a lot by the boys in his school. He’s smaller and more susceptible to violence. Eli (Lina Leandersson) is the girl next door, but she’s not really a girl at all. As their relationship grows, Oskar finds friendship and acceptance in the eyes of Eli, who is in reality more than 100 years old. She’s a vampire, who only appears to be a 12-year old. And the closer the two get, the more she’s willing to use her “gift” for Oskar’s benefit.
The Scare: Let the Right One In owes much to the performances of its child actors and director Tomas Alfredson. For most of the 115 minutes, the children are the main focus of the film, yet the audience seems to forget their youth, getting immersed in the story as it moves along. Watching Eli dispatch her victims is bad enough, but when you factor in an odd and disturbing moment where Eli enters Oskar’s home uninvited, you’ve got a horror flick that sticks with you. Probably the most disturbing thing about Let the Right One In is its crowd-pleasing finale, which makes the audience cheer something so heinous. While The Last House on the Left forces us into the violent revenge fantasy of killing rapists, drug addicts, and murderers, Let the Right One In will have you cheering aloud the deaths of what are essentially children. And you may never look at school swimming pools the same way again.
1. The Girl Next Door (2007)
What It’s About: Based on the crime-fiction novel by Jack Ketchum, which explores in quite vivid detail a real-life case of child abuse and murder, The Girl Next Door is scary because it pretty much did really happen, though the names have been changed. While the film itself doesn’t hide under the true story banner as many do, it is shot like a film rather than a seedy exploitation romp. Nevertheless, there are some horrible scenes of abuse that will stick with you long after you’re done watching it. Another film, which starred Catherine Keener and came out around the same time (An American Crime), wasn’t nearly as effective or graphic as this haunting assault on audiences everywhere.
The Scare: Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker) is a horrible woman. She strips young Meg Loughlin (Blythe Auffarth) of every last piece of humanity that the child has, and makes her neighborhood playmates take part in the torture. Meg hangs by her wrists in Ruth’s basement and is basically crucified for the entirety of the film with one of the last shocking jolts coming as Ruth takes a blowtorch to Meg. It’s a horrible scene, and no matter how prepared you are for it, you can’t help but be affected.
What scares you? What will be on your Halloween watch list? If we left any out, please feel free to let us know in the comments section.