Seattle Cinema Survey :Scariest Non-Horror Movie Scenes

Hello all and welcome to the Seattle Cinema Survey, home of the area’s critics, bloggers and nerds responding to my weekly queries.

With Halloween around the corner, I’m making October all-things-spoooooooooky. We’re kicking that theme off with: What’s your favorite scary scene in a non-horror movie?

In my eyes, it almost has to be a Disney scene, for they remain the source of countless terrified children, especially in their earlier films. As much as people moan about modern kid’s pics growing uncomfortably adult in their displays, I can’t help but thinking of the pure creepiness of Pinocchio, in particular the moment where our titular wooden boy chugs beers and smokes cigars with his newfound buddies on their way to Treasure Island.

As Pinocchio and pals await new joys, we have the evil Coachman tricking these desperate youths and making them slave labor, as the freshly inbided beverages transform the kids into literal donkeys. The eeeeeps kick in as the recently turned, still wearing their clothes, bellow in fear, with a few strays that can still speak being hauled together to scream in pain as one. Seconds later Pinocchio realizes what’s happening as his best mate’s mug molds long-ears and fingers crumple into hooves. The remaining evolution is shown via shadows and even louder howls of confusion and panic. It is unnerving to this day.

Adam Gehrke of Fox 13/Cinema Squabble/Most Things Seattle @AdamGehrke
While I’m not sure this qualifies as my favorite all-time horror scene in a non-horror pic, I think the first one I fell in love with was the Large Marge sequence in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, it’s something that gives us a glimpse of what Tim Burton had in store for us just a few short years later, and it continues to scare the pants off of unsuspecting kids to this day. Good times!

Tim Hall of The People’s Critic @peoplescrtic
It has to be my favorite scene from 2002’s Signs. When people aren’t sure if there are really aliens or not, Merrill is watching a found footage clip from a kids birthday party and you can see the alien.

The scene works because they delay showing the alien that’s camouflaged in the bushes. After the reveal it’s a shot of Merril’s reaction and he looks frightened. Then for good measure they show the alien again but this time in slow motion. It’s a fantastic scene.

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @Filmjabber
This is a tough one to think about without doing more research than I’m willing to invest–I’m sure there are much scarier moments out there–but a few scenes come to mind:

– That random moment in The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo, desperate for the ring, momentarily turns into a monster. The transformation really makes no sense when you think about it, but it certainly makes me jump.
– In Se7en, I still hold my breathe when the police pull back the sheet to reveal the nearly dead but not quite victim who has been locked in his apartment for months, chained to his bed.
– That drug trip scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Mr. Wonka takes his guests on the boat ride from hell. I hated that scene as a kid, and hate it to this day.
– Baby. Ceiling. Trainspotting.

But if I think about a scene that would freak out my non-existent child, it would be that face-melting scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yummy.

Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
The psychedelic boat scene in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is straight up nightmare fuel; the entire withdrawal scene in Trainspotting wrecks me every time, especially the ceiling baby; Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure still makes me jump; John Goodman losing his shit and screaming, “Look upon me, I’ll show you the life of the mind,” against a hell-scape backdrop in Barton Fink; the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3; opening the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the beating heart scene in Temple of Doom (at seven-years-old that messed me up to the point where I got a tattoo of it); and any scene where someone gets buried alive. They may not be horror in the strictest sense, but every single one of these moments brings me to my knees.

But my scariest scene in a non-horror movie has to be Joe Pesci’s entire, “I’m funny how? I mean funny like a clown? I amuse you?” speech from Goodfellas. Maybe I’ve known too many unhinged folks who can turn on a dime like that, who can go from laughing and having a good time to shitting-my-pants terrifying in a blink. But the transition from fun to awkward to uncomfortable to sheer terror is so damn visceral and real. He plays it off, but that’s the moment we get a peek at Tommy’s true psycho tendencies, and the glimpse is horrifying.

Jason Roestel of HarshRealm.Us @filmbastard

Scariest scene in a non-horror movie? Lots to choose from, but I’m going to go with the card game in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day. Ethan Hawke’s rookie, Officer Hoyt, sits down for a truce game of cards between factions – law and disorder. Disorder being represented by a gang shotcaller named ‘Smiley’ (Cliff Curtis in one of his best roles) and his crew of tat’d up soldiers. Still caught between being the wolf his boss, Detective Alonzo Harris, (Denzel Washinton, who won the academy award that year for this film) wants him to be to tackle the streets of East Los Angeles, and the sheep he’s trying to grow out of, he abruptly finds himself without his shepherd, as Harris tells his underling he needs to use the bathroom and to hold tight. He then disappears for an extremely long, agonizingly tense stretch of time. As the gangsters and the single cop play poker it becomes apparent that these killers have no respect for Hoyt, or his office, their comments go from passive aggressive to straight up aggressive. At one point they ask to see Hoyt’s gun, and as much as we want to scream to the kid not to surrender his firearm in this environment, he gives it over. Our one comfort left is the faith that any second Alonzo, criminal cop heavyweight, will step back into the scene and save the rookie from this quagmire. It’s just then that it dawns on us. Harris, always nine steps ahead of the game, has set his partner up. He’s not going to swoop in and save the doomed rookie. A rookie who’s now unarmed and hopelessly outnumbered in a fortress of gangbangers and killers. That sickening feeling we’ve been feeling for the last five minutes in our stomachs suddenly becomes a kick to the guts.

Sara Michelle Fetters of MovieFreak/Seattle Gay News @moviefreaksara
There were many moments in a number of films I can think of when I ponder this question, but only one came to me in the immediate seconds after it was asked. To save her son Timmy, Mrs. Brisby must go seek out The Great Owl to learn how to make sure her home isn’t destroyed by the farmer’s ploy. Into his nest she must go, a small, meek little mouse, and in looking this fearsome predator in the eye, hopefully discover the courage to make sure her family doesn’t meet with unfathomable devastation.
There is something about Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH, an adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien award-winning novel, that has allowed it to slowly but surely withstand the test of time and become something of a moderate animated classic. This 1982 marvel is filled with visual delights, honest emotions and thrilling sequences of action and adventure. But it also tackles some fairly adult themes, not the least of which is this terrifying journey inside The Great Owl’s homestead. It’s a stirring sequence, one that sent shivers down my spine as a child and continues to fascinate me now as an adult. In a story filled with more than its fair share of thrills and chills, this one, to me, stands out above just about any other, and as such is a deliriously giddy fright the kid in me has loved revisiting again and again in the almost 35 years since the film’s original release.


One comment

  1. Lovu Moore · October 6, 2016

    Of course Erik is after my heart attack. Good job guys.

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