Welcome to the second installment of an ongoing series where we explore some of the most chilling shots/images that the horror genre has to offer (click here to check out part one)!
Horror movies are meant to instill fear in us, but some are more effective than others. The very best horror movies haunt us long after the credits roll. A lot of the time we can trace that lasting impression back to a single shot from the film, an image that gets under our skin so deep that it forces us to reexamine the otherwise banal people, place and things from our daily lives.
Horror movie history is paved with such shots, so I thought it’d be fun to revisit some of the most chilling shots ever put to a screen. Fortunately, there are so many to choose from that this will definitely justify multiple posts. Grab your favorite blanket, flip on the nightlight and join me on this odyssey of anxiety!
**CAUTION: THIS POST CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS FOR DIFFERENT MOVIES. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.**
Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
Sometimes the simplest stuff is the scariest. For proof of this, you need look no further than this terrifying get-up from Alfred Sole’s evil child slasher Alice Sweet Alice. A simple yellow raincoat bunched around a doll mask. What’s more chilling is that you can’t help but get the impression that she’s starring through the screen and directly into your soul.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Following in the footsteps of simple scares comes perhaps one of the most iconic shots in cinematic history. It’s also the infamous introduction of one of cinema’s most notorious villains, Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. As Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling approaches Lecter’s cell for the very first time, the film cuts to her POV where we find a perfectly still Anthony Hopkins ready and waiting. Though the good doctor is smiling pleasantly enough, his preparedness catches us off guard and in fact comes off as inhuman, cuing us into the fact that something’s not quite right with him.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Drag Me to Hell tells the story of a mostly innocent woman who, on a bad day, says the wrong thing to the wrong lady and winds up damned to Hell, literally. The entire movie sees her doing everything she can to lift the curse before it’s too late, which you think she does, only for the demons of the underworld to claim her anyways during the last harrowing minutes of the film. Chilling context for an already chilling image.
The Exorcist (1973)
This shot from the much-beloved The Exorcist is a bit different than any we’ve talked about so far in this series. It isn’t a direct front-and-center shot that calls easy attention to itself; instead, the demon Pazuzu shows up subliminally; blink and you’ll miss it. It’s quick enough that appreciating its terror can be tough. Isolate the shot and you’ve got enough nightmare fuel to last weeks.
Alfred Hitchcock teasingly lingers on Janet Leigh in the shower, the emptiness to left suggesting something’s about to happen. The dread builds as the emptiness is slowly swallowed up by a dark, mysterious figure. The darkness grows until the curtain is forcefully pulled back, leading into one of the most horrifying and iconic moments in all of cinema.
Dude, look behind you! Another running theme amongst many of the most chilling shots in horror is sheer ignorance; people not knowing what horrors lie directly behind them. One glance and you know Dr. Decker is up to no good. You might automatically put yourself in that poor guy’s soon to be blood-stained shoes, which only further upsets the stomach.
Raw is a two-hour chill factory. Admittedly, body horror makes me extra squeamish, which only made my experience with this already disgusting film all the more unsettling. This gruesome image particularly sums up Raw‘s vile nature as Garance Marillier’s character bites into her own arm during a sex to satisfy her obsessive desire for human flesh. I think I’m gonna be sick…
Hellraiser is a case study in how to achieve ghastly results with gory practical effects. No shot better encapsulates this fact better than this one, which puts all the gut-wrenchingly realistic detail on full display. It gets worse when you find out that this guys is still alive! This film truly earns the “Hell” of its namesake.
It Follows (2014)
It Follows is an allegory for how sexually transmitted diseases go with you wherever you go and infect those you have sex with and as everyone knows, the only thing scarier than an STD is an demonic form-altering STD. None of those forms get any scarier than the Tall Man. With his eyes seemingly gouged out and a deliberate lumber that says “I’m gonna get ya!,” he’s about the most frightening thing that could come at you from a dark hallway.
The Exorcist (1973)
One look at this unsettling image will send shivers down your spine and goosebumps up your arm. Everything is wrong, from how the head is unnaturally spun all the way around to the wicked smile on her face to the blood-stained dress; even the disheveled state of the bedroom. It all screams one diabolical thing: GTFO!
There you have it! Those are my second round of picks for the most chilling images from horror movie history! There’s plenty more to come in this odyssey, but jump down to the comments below and let me know what you think of my first ten! I’d love to hear your thoughts!