Here are the scariest movie moments of 2015
Be advised: there are some plot spoilers in the following article and accompanying video. Proceed with caution.
It was a scary year at the movies, wasn't it? And gross, too. Very, very gross. The scalping scene in "Bone Tomahawk," to cite just one example, ranks as one of the most horrendous displays of human cruelty and degradation I have ever seen on film.
I'm conflicted about that disturbing moment in S. Craig Zahler's very good Western, which also sees the character in question being split in two as he screams in agony. While it doesn't particularly lend itself to satisfied squeals of glee from gorehounds in the way that, say, one of the "Saw" movies would, something feels unnecessary about the way Zahler lingers over the savage act. Conversely, by presenting the moment without frills -- no eerie soundtrack cues, no gratuitous closeups of torn flesh (so as to provide a showcase for the special effects makeup team) -- at the very least he doesn't glorify what's happening or make it seem cool.
I was a little shocked when I watched the rough cut of the accompanying clip our fabulous video team put together, because I'd forgotten that so many of the "scariest" moments I had listed were also some of the goriest. Another scene, from Eli Roth's controversial cannibal film "The Green Inferno," shows a man having his eye gouged out -- also alive -- before the eye is voraciously consumed by a tribe elder.
Like "Bone Tomahawk," I'm also of two minds about "The Green Inferno," which is simultaneously smarter and more knowing than many have given it credit for (ditto Roth's two "Hostel" films) and occasionally cringeworthy in its homage to the cannibal films of the 1980s, which presented native people as nothing more than savage brutes intent on consuming every square inch of human flesh they could get their teeth on.
I would similarly take issue with Roth's casting of an actual Peruvian tribe, whose total lack of pop culture knowledge (they had never seen a television before) inevitably rendered them ignorant of the way their likenesses would be used to, in some ways, further negative stereotypes of indigenous peoples across the globe. Roth may be taking satirical aim at the blind, often self-serving political activism that takes place in the Western world, but there are many impressionable minds out there who will fail to get the joke.
The gruesomest moment from Ciaran Foy's "Sinister 2" also made my list, and here's the thing: I didn't even particularly like the movie, which suffers from the same problem as "Inferno" in that it's a smarter-than-expected film that ultimately undermines its own thematic aims by catering in gross exploitation.
I note all of this only to point out that while I wasn't a fan of every movie on this list, each featured a moment that shook, shocked, unnerved and perturbed me in spite of my misgivings about the work as a whole. If I were making a traditional "Top 10" horror movie list most of these films -- excepting "It Follows," "Goodnight Mommy" and "The Boy" -- most likely wouldn't have made the cut.
Now, without further qualification and in no particular order, here are my 9 scariest movie moments from 2015 (with one special mention):
"Bone Tomahawk": Ending sequence in the cavePhoto Credit: RLJ Entertainment
I also chose this sequence for HitFix's recent "WTF Moments" list, because at one point (as described above) it literally shows a man being split in half while he's still alive. While Zahler's mostly-excellent film features moments of gruesomeness prior to this, the film's final third -- which takes place in a dank cave inhabited by cannibalistic Native Americans -- is grotesque, disturbing, bleak and impossible to forget.
"The Boy": Pool scenePhoto Credit: Chiller Films
Guess what? There's another horror movie called "The Boy" coming out in January that stars "The Walking Dead's" Lauren Cohan. I haven't seen it, but I doubt it'll be as creepily good as Craig Macneill's slow-boiling gem, which focuses on the rise of a child sociopath. In the film's most unnerving scene, young Ted (an excellent Jared Breeze) holds a new playmate underwater for an unreasonable amount of time; the score by Hauschka sounds like rattling bones. Unlike Ted, Macneill gives the moment room to breathe, in a moment of sustained, unbearable tension.
"The Gift": The final giftPhoto Credit: STX Entertainment
Joel Edgerton's excellent directorial debut isn't a horror film per se, but it features a few genuinely macabre bits. The most unnerving moment comes during a finale that sees Simon (Jason Bateman, brilliantly upending his smug-guy persona) watching in horror as Edgerton's emotionally disturbed Gordo dons a bizarre monkey mask in a gut-churning homemade video. It's a sick twist in a thematically rich film that ranks as one of the year's biggest sleeper success stories.
"Goodnight Mommy": Mommy transformsPhoto Credit: Radius-TWC
This moment represented something of a cheat in the viral "Goodnight Mommy" trailer, suggesting a supernatural component when there was none in the film. Still, it did give us the nightmarish image of the titular matriarch transforming into the one of the white-faced demons from "Jacob's Ladder." Yes, it was literally a nightmare, but a properly chilling one nonetheless. (Hint: things only get worse from here.)
"The Green Inferno": Jonah sacrificedPhoto Credit: Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Tilt
As noted above, Roth's cannibal-movie throwback generated controversy for its retrograde depiction of indigenous Peruvians, and it's no wonder! In this scene, Jonah is sacrificed on an altar by bloodthirsty natives, who literally slice his body to pieces while he's still alive and squirming. Love him or hate him, Roth hasn't lost his knack for staging truly perverse set pieces, and this is arguably the film's most disturbing.
"The Hallow": Eye infectionPhoto Credit: Entertainment One
"I'm kind of obsessed with eyes, because they're the most individual part of our human anatomy...the gateway to emotion comes through our eyes," "The Hallow" director Corin Hardy told me recently. He's not kidding. In the director's intense, strikingly humane (if not entirely successful) Irish horror film, there are in fact two memorable moments involving eyes; in one, Claire (Bojana Novakovic) comes perilously close to being stabbed through one of her wide peepers with a long nail. In the other, we're left wincing as Adam (Joseph Mawle) discovers that his own eye has been grossly infected by humanoid creatures. Ready for that Lasik surgery? Both are squirm-worthy bits, but the second in particular gave me the oogies.
"It Follows": The tall man appearsPhoto Credit: Radius-TWC/Dimension
"It Follows" isn't a film that relies heavily on jump scares, though this moment comes close: as Jay, now in full acknowledgment of her curse, cowers in her bedroom from the unstoppable, inexplicable force of the title, a giant man materializes out of the dark behind her bewildered friend with startling quickness. The electronic swell of Disasterpeace's instantly-iconic score cues us in on the reveal just before it happens, adding a split-second beat of dread before shattering our nerves completely.
"Krampus": Krampus makes his first appearancePhoto Credit: Universal Pictures
I actually wanted more of Krampus in Michael Dougherty's box-office sleeper -- but then again, the titular beast's brief, shadowy first appearance is actually his most frightening moment on screen. In a scene that utilizes CGI to subtle and stunning effect, teenage Beth spies the horned demon jumping from rooftop to rooftop through her blizzard-bound neighborhood. With the aid of some impeccable sound design, it's a blood-curdling moment that works by virtue of what it doesn't show as much by what it does.
"Sinister 2": Death by rodentPhoto Credit: Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures
"Sinister 2" may be inferior to its predecessor, but it still works up a few genuine moments of horror thanks to its featured "kill films," which depict increasingly gruesome snuff-movie scenarios. The most horrific of these is the very last, which sees a family being nailed to the floor of a church before they're tortured using a method that involves hot coals and panicky rats. The grainy footage is brutal, stomach-churning and unnecessary. It's also very, very effective.
SPECIAL MENTION - "The Walk": Wire walkPhoto Credit: Sony Pictures
Out of every scary thing I've seen at the movies this year, the climactic sequence of Robert Zemeckis's otherwise so-so Philippe Petit biopic easily ranks as the most unnerving of all. Those with vertigo need not apply: the dramatization of Petit's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) death-defying walk between the twin towers is very, very long and very, very visceral. With the aid of IMAX and 3-D, you truly feel like you're up on that wire with him -- and for an acrophobic like me, that is truly a nightmare.