5 Films That Frightened Me

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

You might laugh at what frightens me. Everyone is built different; one person's fear is another's source of amusement. One evening a friend came over just as I was starting to watch The Shining on TV. My friend laughed as the foreboding music began to play, even before the titles appeared, and then he kept laughing during the opening credit sequence. It was annoying; I asked him what was so funny. "I laugh when I'm really, really scared," were his parting words as he hastily departed.

So consider this list a cinematic confessional: five films that, when I first watched them, shook me to my core, sometimes for reasons that I'm still reluctant to explore. Listed in reverse chronological order of first viewing:

5. Ringu (1998; d. Nakata Hideo)
After hearing about the movie for months, I bought an import DVD and watched it late one night, by myself, in my father's house. It was a traumatic period of time in my life, but I'd been watching a lot of Asian horror films and only one had really affected me. (See below.) I thought I was sufficiently hardened to ridicule anyone who might be scared by such a silly concept, and then I got wrapped up in the story and it started playing on my nerves and I became aware of the empty spaces in the house and I began hugging a pillow and rocking back and forth on the sofa. Later, I laughed at how the opening night audience reacted to the American remake.

kairo-pulse-photo-01.jpg4. Kairo (AKA Pulse) (2001; d. Kurosawa Kiyoshi)
Before I moved from Dallas back to Los Angeles temporarily to help my father, my addiction to Asian movies had taken hold and I was watching everything I could. As I recall, Kairo was only available on VCD at the time, so I bought it and slipped the first disc into the player. Near the end of it, there's a particular moment of silence, followed by a gasped word, then silence, then a gasped word, and that combination made the hair on the back of my neck stand up -- like it is as I type this -- and it took me quite a while that night to summon the nerve to watch the rest of the movie. Why did it unnerve me so? I have no idea.

dawn-of-the-dead-1978-photo-01.jpg3. Dawn of the Dead (1978; d. George Romero)
I can't even recall if I had seen Night of the Living Dead at this point, early in my solo theatrical moviegoing experience, but the local alternative weeklies in Los Angeles were raving about the movie and so I ventured to a cavernous older theater (most likely the long-closed Four Star Theatre) and was totally freaked out when a zombie takes a huge bloody bite out of somebody's shoulder. (Not as big as I remembered, but still ...) It wasn't a nibble, it was a chomp, and a chunk of flesh came off, and I flashed back to seeing a big open wound in my uncle's arm after he fell through a glass door, and I sat glued to my chair, my stomach churning, barely breathing throughout the movie. I've been afraid of an impending zombie attack ever since.

jaws-photo-01.jpg2. Jaws (1975; d. Steven Spielberg)
Having seen Duel on TV, I was doubly eager to see the hot new summer thriller. The sight of the bitten-off leg early on made me jump, just like everyone else in the packed theater, but it was the heroic final battle of Robert Shaw vs. the shark that frightened me the most, the idea that you could be a big strong man -- I was a weak slender teen -- and still get eaten alive, not just eaten alive, but bitten and chomped and ... oh, I was upset for weeks. The movie was the perfect storm of fears: my fear of the water (unreasonable for a Southern Californian) and my fear of being eaten alive by an animal. All that summer, I kept imagining that a shark would burst out from the bathroom sink and eat me.

darby-ogill-little-people-photo-01.jpg1. Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959; d. Robert Stevenson)
As a wee lad, my mother took me to see this inoffensive children's movie from Walt Disney. In my parents' view, the only safe and decent movies for a child had to have the Disney imprimateur, so when this movie (starring Sean Connery, pre-James Bond) was re-released, off we went. In one scene, a much-talked-about banshee finally appears, and its ethereal appearnce and spooky cry frightened me terribly; I'd never seen anything like it. And then I went home to the safety of my bedroom, where my parents left the window open on a hot night, and warm gusts of wind keep pushing the thin curtains hither and yon, looking for all the world like the horrible banshee, and I didn't sleep well for days.

Below I've embedded the opening credit sequence from The Shining; see if you can watch all three minutes without a shiver crawling down your spine. And feel free to share your own frightening experiences, if any, at the movies.

Around the Internet:
  • Paul C. Shugrue

    Darby O'Gill had the same effect on me as a child. I was 8 when I saw it. I was also tickled that the town bully's name was Shugrue.

  • pony33

    I was about 12 when I saw the 1968 black and white night of the living dead with my oldest sister and brother in law. I slept on their bedroom floor that night. Needless to say that movie f**k me up!!!

  • ted lotring

    lol, am gad i'm not the only one the Banshee scared shitless :)

  • CobaltRaine

    What is it about Asian horror that helps you through tough times? I got hooked on it after a bad break-up.

  • BrotherhoodOfSteel

    Sinister is the only truly scary movie I have ever seen.

  • jasonjrf

    The opening scene to the Labrinth scared the crap out of me as a kid also. And of course the Excorcist.

  • László Gebei

    Oh my god man!!! One of my most terrifying childhood experience of "scary movie" is Darby O'Gill and the Little People!!
    I didnt know it just till now cause I had no idea of the title. I remember sleeping with lights on for weeks just cause of the banshee at the end!

  • Emily Kubiak

    I seriously love horror films but The Grudge still freaks me out and I'm 26. My parents took my brother and me to see it when it came out in theaters and I don't think I have ever watched a horror movie that left a lasting impact on me except for this one. I had to sleep with the lights on and I'm not allowed to watch it because it gives me nightmares. I'm actually ashamed to admit it but Darkness Falls scared me almost as bad as the Grudge.(i have a intense fear of the dark)

  • mace

    my first japanese horror was THE GRUDGE it played on my mind for weeks,my girlfreind would make that throat noise .....grrrr the other two movies had nothn on the original, scary as theres alot of truth in those types of hauntings,the japs have a huge suicide rate and violent murders where the houses need to be clensed and blessed straight away as the spirits return and depress the house.

  • Peter

    Session 9 is a very creepy film, very unsettling (stays with you if you know what I mean) as does Exorcist 3 the only film I can recall - as an adult - giving me a full on nightmare after watching (via a false awakening which made it feel much worse) . If you have seen the film you may recall a scene where there is written in blood on a
    wall ‘It’s a wonderful life’, well I went to bed and ‘woke up’ and saw the same
    written in blood on the wall behind me, I then really woke and unsurprisingly stayed
    that way! Pure heebie jeebies.

  • korval

    Pretty much all of The Thing from the 80's. Also the heart torture scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was around 8 or 9 when these films came out.

  • Duck1897

    I saw The Exorcist when I was 7 with my mom. Don't think I slept for three months.

  • Gus

    As a kid the original The Blob scared the hell out of me, not the creature itself but the idea of something so silent that it can attack without warning! Like it did to the poor mechanic working under a car. SUDDENLY The Blob comes rolling around the corner of the garage entrance and under the vehicle into the camera! We hear the poor guy scream but all we see is his legs thrashing around! Now THATS real horror!!

  • Brandy Bisson

    the three minute clip did not scare me. What I cant handle is realistic gore. Tried to watch the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween and where he murders the bully with the 2x4 made me physically sick to my stomach. For the same reason, I cant watch Saw or T.Cs.M

  • julie_1967

    "Trilogy of Terror" and "The Shuttered Room" both scared me as a kid!

  • Brandy McNamee

    Huh. Nothing else, just huh. *scratches head* *wonders where the scary is*

  • Duffnick

    Have not seen Kairo, but Noroi: The Curse I did not find scary. My scariest movies are The Exorcist, Event Horizon and The Brood. I went to see the Exorcist when I was about 16; I didn't sleep well for a year or more after that.

  • Rage72

    Yes the Brood was pretty scary! those kids in hoods!

  • T-rex Sixohthree

    Event horizon awesome movie been trying to get my fiance to watch it for weeks now!

  • Riven Daniel

    Are you serious? --_--

    I've seen the original Ringu and Pulse movies and neither them or their horrible American remakes are terrifying.

    Watch the original Ju-On: The Grudge, thats fuckin scary shit.

  • Jeanette Bower Bollinger

    I watched The Exorcist when I was about 12 or so. I was spending the night at a friend's house and we sat in the dark and watched the entire movie...I had horrible nightmares for months afterwards about my bed shaking! There are still parts of the movie that I can't watch (like when the priest's mother is coming up the subway stairs)...shudder!

  • overit

    The Shining the movie was appalling. Actually funny. Nothing scary about it. Terribly cast, horribly overacted all round. King hated it too. Instead of a looming, ominous Tony character in the boy's mind we have a funny little finger wagging and a stupid voice. We have the mother's hysterical over acting and the father's even more tragic over acting. Nicholson is obviously great, but completely wrong for this role. It was a dreadful movie. Read the book if you want to be scared.

  • james ozzy

    When I was young i was creeped out by the Tales from the Darkside intro. My mom who was a nurse had a mini me nurse statue that i would get scared about because her face, the mini sculpture eye was looking in its eyelids. In other words looking up with out the chin face up. There were days when i was alone and i would look down the hallway in our house waiting for it to jump off the table and start walking too me.

  • Dominique Heffley

    In fourth grade, our substitute teacher brought in "Poltergeist" for the class (long story). Anyhow, besides being traumatized for life, there was an old tree right outside my window that looked just like the one who ate the little boy. Thanks buddy.

  • cj

    OMG the movie the orphanage, great movie, the ending was so twisted, I literally cried for a day, it was so unexpected,lol. Scary or spine tingling movies don't normally make me cry but OMG this one did

  • Steve

    Scariest movie ever is Matilda! Just watch this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

  • T-rex Sixohthree

    Was that a joke?

  • alfredo gallegos lópez

    All of you need to watch "Ju-rei" and "Noroi: The curse", and be sure to do it with lights out...

  • owen

    i saw the ring and audition back to back on the old tartan dvd's back in 99
    when i was 13 long before the hype needless to say i was friggin traumatised

  • Penchman

    The Banshee scared me for years. I would be up for hours, unable to sleep at night, just thinking about that f*cking green ghost thing with long nails. That terrible noise... it just gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

  • scs55

    the original "The Fog", with Adrianne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Jamie Lee Curtis. Watched it alone, late one foggy night.....years later, a heavy fog still makes me think of leprous corpses with gaff hooks. also the remake of "The Thing", with Kurt Russell .....hard to believe those were both before CGI, everything was modeled, stop motioned, etc.

  • ponchopanda

    Might I recommend the (youtube) series "Marble Hornets"

  • Mike

    Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen.

  • FrankenPC .

    I thought Pulse was brilliant. There were scenes in that movie that still haunt me.

  • oh and that creepy noise poltergeist makes as carolanne walks down the stairs in the first few minutes

  • I'm not afriad of clowns mind you but the 2 scariest clowns ever have to be pennywise from it and (i will tell you I still to this day fast forward through this scene) that maniacal clown from poltergeist. The ring came out when I was 25 my boy friend and I were living together and he was ot of town I went to see it with a friend...I begged her to stay the night. she couldn't I slept with every light on in the house that night.

  • princessri

    Devil was pretty scary had me nervous to take elevators again ever

  • Alan Knight

    The Ring did not "terrify" me at all

  • Scott Wendt

    I will confess, the first time I saw Blade, the amount of blood in the opening Slaughterhouse Club scene caught me completely off guard and made me very queasy. The sudden change in from Dusk til Dawn also caught me completely by surprise. Not in a jerking out of my chair sort of way, but more of a WTF sort of way. In both cases, I had never heard of the films before a friend showed them to me. Pat, you got me good! Now I have been so desensitized to Mega-gore that I don't even bother with films like Saw, but I still, to this day have no desire to ever watch Deep Water. Of course, having been in the Navy that deep and hidden fear of being alone in the ocean stays with you.

  • Thing is, I love horror movies. However, the only way I can truly get into them, is if I watch them for the first time, when i'm alone. That way I truly get into the action; even though I don't truly get scared. One scene that did get me going (I actually got goosebumps) is the scene where the girl gets dragged down the stairs and into the basement in Paranormal Activity. Kudos to that franchise. I love it.

  • mustdisqus

    anything with Jack Nicholson in it. HE PLAYS HIMSELF

  • Croc

    Watch the Japanese movie series "gunie pig" then talk about fear....(shudder)....

  • Amina M.

    I think you are just a big baby :) None of the movies above were frightening to me. I think to me the highest credit I will ever give is to Exorcist (The original). Everything else falls short of it. Ring and all those movies are more funny. Especially the concept of the person coming out of a TV. First of all the thing displays water (a concept of if you have liquid seeping out of something electrical that could follow with a fire) which is what i was hoping would happen every time that funny looking girl stepped out of the tv. I kept on looking at my Television that sits high on top of my cupboard wondering if she came out of here, how badly would she fall and hurt herself and then combust into flames just with water coming out of my tv :) I would be laughing before i kicked it out of my window or hit it with the bat sitting next to my bed for intruders :) so in all cases i find those movies more funny than scary. I mean really???

  • LOLworried

    Maybe you missed the first paragraph.

  • allen

    the insidious the best!!

  • LLPR

    Greenskeeper http://www.imdb.com/name/nm114... frightenly funny Grace Baine the new green recycled green heroine

  • Nick Carton

    Disagree with this article except for Darby O Gill which actually is terrifying for a few minutes

  • lizzyfizzy

    The shining hasn't and never will scare me or creep me out. It's one of my favorite movies and doesn't scare me one bit. I love referencing it.

  • mom3critters

    That wasn't so bad. The movie that got me the most was Cujo. The perfect blend of sound & cinematography. When up late feeding baby, had to finally turn sound off to finish watching it to the end. Needless to say I don't watch movies made from King's books. Another movie was a made for TV called Gargoyles. I think it might have been the first movie with gargoyles as the monster. Anyway the looks & abilities were so different it scared the heck out of 6 high school girls. True horror films not the slasher-blood & guts that pass for horror now. Love to watch the old B movies. My favorite, always good for a laugh; Eight Legged Freaks.

  • xianikka melx

    THE SHUTTER, a Thai movie in 2004 is the most frightening for me. Made me stop watching asian horror movies for a while.

  • Jonnie123

    Yeah Shutter is up there. Also, Lake Mungo is good.

  • Rush

    Alright, Im going to straight up admit it - I was one of the idiots who believed Blair Witch Project was basically a snuff film. The promotion was so convincing (that damn documentary, especially!) that I believed every moment the first three times I saw it. The tent scene w the kids and the final 10 minutes still scare the bejebus out of me.

  • Sammy Lane

    Of course it did then and now because this movie subscribes to the idea of less is more.What we the audience do not get to see (if much at all),we got to imagine in our heads as far worse.

  • uıɐH ɯɐS

    Same! Thought I was 13 at the time, why would the adverts lie about it being real if it wasn't!? Wondered for years why people thought it was rubbish, I thought it was great (if you bought in)

  • Razkul

    I saw both the movie The Exorcist and Stephen Kings IT at a really young age.The Exorcist scared me bad. Seeing another kid about my age haunted me. IT played on my already existing fear on clowns. It doesn't scare me today (how ironic pennywise could only prey on children) but the exorcist is a movie I still have to gain courage to revisit

  • Jupiter

    Well, the Shining intro didn't really scare me, but I felt really uneasy watching it. One thing that scared me was a few years ago my parents were watching a movie that I don't recall the name of. At one point someone was standing with a dog beside them and holding their own guts, telling someone to run. That terrified me.

  • Moses

    It's amazing how much music can affect your perception of a film. Someone re-cut a trailer for the Shining with happier music, with a brilliant effect. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • marianna

    tailes of two sisters its a korean movie, Kairo of course!, rose red ( saw it when i was younger creeped me out!) and ringu!!

  • wing

    the original 1963, black and white "the haunting"! i had a hard time walking to my bedroom in the dark after watching it, even though you see almost *nothing* horror-wise, relying more on subtle light and not-so-subtle audio effects to twist you into a cowering ball of nerves. fantastic!

  • rtorso

    I have still never recovered from the man with the sheep's body in O LUCKY MAN.

  • I saw Darby O'Gill in the theatre when I was 10. That banshee has haunted me ever since. I'll have to watch it again, just to see how stupid it was. I hope.

  • Great article, Peter: My own confessional about JAWS is here (http://twitchfilm.com/2012/08/... ). I quite literally was afraid of any water for weeks, convinced that the Shark was somehow going to come out of the showerhead.

    What can I say, I had an active imagination.

    By the time I saw THE SHINING it didn't spook me out as much as enthrall me, just as JAWS now does. It was the first, and probably last film that completely shook me due to abject fear - it's why I didn't spend the 80s watching slasher horror movies, I was convinced (at the time) that they'd mess me up even more.

    I've not seen RINGU or KAIRO yet, nor even heard of DARBY O'GILL, so some fun things there to explore indeed!

  • i was afraid that it would come up through the drain in the tub.
    i remember the terror i felt! thankfully they made those other ones that were ridiculous,it lessened the effect the first one had on me!

    and Halloween and The Oman,i will not watch those movies as an adult!

  • When the Shining first came out, I couldn't even watch the commercials for it! The beginning music was enough to send me runiing from the room. Now it's one of my favorite scary movies to watch...

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Maleficent scared the crap out of me as a lttle kid when mommy took me to see Sleeping Beauty, especially when she turned into the dragon. Now I can't wait to see the upcoming Angelina Jolie live action film. Maleficent has always fascinated me.

  • Brandy Bisson

    Go see it. It was killer and explained what Sleeping Beauty didnt

  • When I first saw Pet Semetary in the theater...the scenes with the sister with spinal meningitis are the only scenes ever that made me look away or cover my eyes.

  • jasonjrf

    Zelda I think was her name. She scared a lot of people it was a bit disturbing to me but I had a friend at the age of 18 or so and he would just be freaked out by it big time he had seen it years earlier but anytime you would bring it up to him or yell Rachel at him he would freak out.

  • Rage72

    YES!! It's hard for me to watch that scene to this day!!

  • Stephanie Marsh

    My grandma had a room that no one went into (it was full of junk at the time) and I was terrified of it because of that scene. I was convinced she was living in there! But it was still our favorite movie growing up!

  • Those were genuinely disturbing.

  • Phillip Harris

    Wow I thought I was the only one!!! I fukcing cried

  • T-rex Sixohthree

    Oh god that scene terrifies me every time!

  • Sammy Lane

    That same scene still makes me and others so unnerved.

  • tang

    i never watch horror films (because i am easily frightened and besides i prefer other kind of sensations), i just ran accross your page and what i liked is ... your way of writing, really enjoyed it :)

  • Destination A Go-Go

    Two Disney films stand out in traumatizing me as a kid.
    - The "Heaven/Hell" ending sequence in "THE BLACK HOLE"
    - All of "SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES"

  • Another Japanese horror film that really manages to achieve unease:

    'Noroi: The Curse'

  • Sammy Lane

    Ever seen The Audition??That has nerve.

  • FrankenPC .

    I do not see that anywhere on Netflix. You sure the name is correct?

  • BJPennTheProdidyTheProgidy

    You sure Netflix has some obscure Japanese horror film?

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