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13 Scariest Horror Movie Scenes of All Time

Proceed with caution.

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  • Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

“Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places,” H. P. Lovecraft wrote in “The Picture in the House.” For modern horror fans, that search often takes the shape of hunting down the scariest scenes in the creepiest movies they can get their hands on. When it comes to unforgettable film scenes, true horror can mean something different to everyone: There are the reliable jump scares of movies like The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity, and the visceral body horror fears of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel. Then there are quieter, more existential terrors.

For this list, we’re focusing on all of the above. Covering all sorts of haunting subject matter, with films ranging from 1945 to just a few years ago and spanning several continents, these unforgettable horror movie scenes are guaranteed to give you a few sleepless nights…

13. The Taking of Deborah Logan

"Open Wide"

There are plenty of eerie scenes in Adam Robitel’s found footage horror debut, but one of them is so startling that it was turned into a gif that became a viral sensation. And even in that condensed form, it’s strikingly creepy. The story concerns a documentary crew that’s filming a project on Alzheimer’s patients, and encounters something far more sinister instead. The scene in question comes near the end of the movie, when the crew has pursued the seemingly possessed Deborah Logan into a mine. What comes next has to be seen to be believed…

Related: 13 Possession Horror Movies That Will Get Under Your Skin 

12. Burnt Offerings

"The Chauffeur"

For much of its running time, Burnt Offerings—directed by Dark Shadows’ own Dan Curtis—is a slow-burn that feels like it could easily have been made-for-TV. There is one scene, though, that stands out from the crowd: a nightmare sequence in which Ben (Oliver Reed) remembers a funeral he attended as a child. Specifically, he recalls a chauffeur whose smile is far more haunting than any special effect could achieve. 

11. Dead of Night

"Final Nightmare"

Speaking of creepy chauffeurs, E. F. Benson’s short story “The Bus-Conductor” inspired one of the segments in this classic British anthology horror film. While the film’s most famous segment is the ventriloquist dummy tale, the most terrifying moment in the entire picture comes at the end, as all of the stories crash together in a nightmare set piece that has the unique distinction of having inspired astronomer Fred Hoyle’s “steady state” model of the universe.

10. A Nightmare on Elm Street

"Tina’s Death"

The first kill in Wes Craven’s original Nightmare on Elm Street may also be the scariest. What begins as an almost laughable scene—Tina’s body clocks her boyfriend in the head as an unseen Freddy swings her around—quickly turns bloody and horrifying as a screaming, crying Tina is dragged up the wall and across the ceiling, leaving a gory streak behind.

Related: 33 Horror Movie Quotes Every Horror Fan Needs to Know 

9. Psycho

"The Shower Scene"

Scare scenes don’t get much more classic than the infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Sure, the fake blood and implied nudity that shocked audiences in 1960 may be no great shakes today, but the piercing Bernard Hermann score and the rapid cuts that chop the scene into suggestive pieces all still work to startle more than half a century later.

8. The Conjuring

"Hide and Clap"

Being in the dark is never fun—but it’s much scarier when you suspect you’re not alone. That’s what happens to Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) in this instant classic scene from James Wan’s The Conjuring. She desperately strikes matches to chase the darkness away, only to find that a presence is waiting where she least expects it…

Related: All the Conjuring Universe Movies, Ranked 

7. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

"The Red Room"

There are so many unsettling scenes to choose from in Tobe Hooper’s sun-drenched horror masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The dinner table scene alone is a masterclass in discomfort. But for sheer scares, the most disturbing moment comes when Kirk is exploring the Sawyer house. Drawn to what sounds like a pig squealing, he walks to the doorway of a red room, the walls hung with animal skulls. No sooner does he enter, however, than Leatherface appears, clobbering him with a hammer and leaving his body twitching on the ramp, like a cow in a slaughterhouse. But the real icing on the cake is when Leatherface reaches up and pulls the room’s sliding metal door shut…

6. Get Out

"The Sunken Place"

There are a lot of layers of fear operating in Jordan Peele’s Academy Award-winning horror debut, but the creepiest scene might be the one where Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend’s mom (Catherine Keener) are chatting in the family den one night. Whether it’s Kaluuya’s growing discomfort and fear, Keener’s gradual tightening of the screws while maintaining a facade of friendliness, or the fact that this is the first time we see that there’s something really wrong at the Armitage house, this scene, which introduces us to the “Sunken Place,” is an instant classic in a genre known for skin-crawling set pieces.

Related: 13 Essential Black Horror Movies 

5. The Eye 2

“What Time Is It?”

Hong Kong shocker The Eye—a horror movie about a blind girl who can see ghosts after receiving a cornea transplant—got remade in the States with Jessica Alba in 2008. The most shocking scene, though, actually shows up in the 2004 sequel to the original. Shu Qi plays a pregnant woman who gains the ability to see ghosts after a failed suicide attempt. While waiting at a bus stop, she hears a seemingly disembodied voice ask, “What time is it?” Then the body of a young boy suddenly drops from the sky to splat on the pavement, followed shortly by his mother. That’s scary enough, but what makes the scene even creepier is how the boy continues to plead, “Miss, don’t tell her the time.”

4. The Haunting

“Whose Hand Was I Holding?”

Sometimes, what you don’t see is scarier, and that’s seldom been truer than in this classic scene from Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. With strange voices in the night and a suggestive pattern on the wallpaper, this dynamite sequence saves its best scare for after the lights are on and the danger seems to be over.

Related: 13 Terrifying Horror Shows to Watch After You've Finished The Haunting of Bly Manor 

3. The Exorcist III

"Headless Statue"

William Friedkin’s The Exorcist enjoys a well-earned reputation as one of the scariest movies ever made, but the most terrifying scene in the entire series actually takes place in the franchise’s third installment. A nurse is working quietly at her hospital station, while people move to and fro in the background. As she leaves to check on a patient, a figure dressed all in white appears from out of the door she just left, brandishing a pair of scissors at neck height. The next image we see is a shot of a decapitated statue of Jesus, which suggests a lot without showing much.

2. The Changeling

"The Red Ball"

It’s a scene that has been emulated, homaged, and outright ripped off countless times in the years since The Changeling hit screens in 1980, but never as well as in the original. Here, the red ball bouncing down the stairs is more than just a creepy image—it is a reminder of the deaths of the wife and daughter of John Russell (George C. Scott). When he returns home after throwing the ball off a bridge, only to find it once more bouncing down the stairs toward him, John realizes that the haunting he is experiencing is much bigger and more inescapable than he had previously realized.

Related: 13 Scariest TV Shows Ever Made 

1. Audition

"The Bag"

Anyone who has ever seen Takashi Miike’s infamous film will know immediately what scene I’m talking about when I say “that bag.” The scenes of horror and torture in Audition are undeniably gruesome, yet it’s one of the film’s least visceral scares that sticks in the mind the most. Asami sits quietly in a dingy room, waiting for the phone to ring. In the background lies a large, ominous bag. And when that phone finally does ring? It’s a doozy.

Featured still from "Get Out" via Universal Pictures