These days, it’s sad to say that horror has lost a few nuances in subtlety. While there are a few outliers, mostly those of the independent realm that still manage to terrify with atmosphere and story, the jump scare has no doubt taken the place of genuine creativity and effort to scare us. It is indeed a shame; while jump scares are nothing new, and when used appropriately they can be effective, it is but one tool, not the ONLY tool by any means. This over-reliance on the exhausted trope may have even left the average moviegoer numb and impatient to any sort of suspense building element a film might have to offer. So, I am here to remind you of, and hopefully share something new, the chill in your spine. That feeling that makes you check the windows twice at night, and make you second guess looking into the dark again. This is by no means a complete list, only a collection of some of my favorites. So, without further ado…
5: FRIDAY THE 13TH VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan
Arguably, the most questionable addition to this list hence why it comes in at number 5, Jason Takes Manhattan is regarded as one of the more discombobulated installments of the franchise, and for good reason. Taking Jason away from Crystal Lake might not have been the best of choices, but this deep into the story there might not have been much left to explore. So, why not give him a “proper” sendoff and bring Jason to the Big Apple? New York has always been the go to for any film/character in good standing.
Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to the title. Spending only 36 minutes of an hour and forty run time in the big city, it was kind of a letdown, I think most would agree. It is well known that a number of scenes were cut, but it was not without its moments. One I think everyone remembers is Julius’s death – Jason’s one-punch knockout! But that was just a WOW moment, really.
I’d like to talk about one of the many times we see Jason as a boy, in this case, his ghost, played by Tim Murkovich. It is one of the many times boy-Jason makes an appearance, probably the most in any film, however, he hold a certain level of eeriness to him. Waterlogged, and soggy, Jason appears as a harbinger of doom of sorts, preceding Jason’s actual presence. Kind of like his force-ghost, if I can get away with that! But the moment that stands out is one that is thrust onto us nearly without warning. As our survivors (what’s left of them) drive madly down the alley trying to escape Jason, they, or rather our heroine Rennie, is confronted by the boy-ghost. It is not so much his presence, nor the scene, but rather the camera work/editing that sells this one.
The scene begins at a high pace as they drive off in a commandeered police cruiser after having narrowly escaped Jason’s grasp. Your heart is pumping and continues to increase as everyone in the car is screaming, panicking, lost in their own madness and terror, when suddenly Rennie barrels down the alley toward a waiting apparition, one that only she can see. The scene instantly cuts to her perspective; void of any sound except for the abusive drums as she grows closer. It then borrows a modified soundbite from Psycho, bringing us uncomfortably close to the boy’s deformed, patient stare. For that moment, he is looking at you – I mean YOU! And you can feel it. It only lasts a split second, blink and you’ll mercifully miss it, but for those who don’t, it is one of the few times you can actually feel his presence next to you. This is, of course, my experience. What’s yours?
4: CREEPSHOW II – The Hitchhiker
Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, there’s nothing quite like it, is there? You don’t really see too much of the horror miniseries these days, but these tales are still worth their weight in blood. If you’re not familiar, I highly recommend them.
SPOILER WARNING just in case. In this particular story, our adulterous woman is in a hurry to get home to her husband, unaware of the lonely man thumbing for a ride on the side of the road; not that she’d have picked him up anyway. Her night takes a turn for the worse when she accidentally runs him down and leaves him for dead. It is here the horror truly begins, opening up what may very well be one of my worst nightmares.
While calming her nerves, she continues on, soon coming to a stop to further calm herself down. Here she notices a figure approaching; a broken stagger of a man, bloody, but alive? – it can’t be… It may have been her own eyes playing tricks on her, until the same hitchhiker then appears in her window, his mangled body leaning desperately in the car as he thanks her for the “ride”.
These films were definitely played up for exaggeration, being derived from the comics of the respective names, but it’s in this short’s persistence and focus that the horror works. The unrelenting vengeful force that just won’t die no matter what you do. No gun, or tactic, or car, in this case, will help you, as the hitchhiker is run over again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and… it goes on! Truly brutal, and in his frantic, almost spell-binding mantra we are taken for a horrifically graphic trip in its own cartoony, over the top way. Goes without saying, thanks for the ride, lady!
3: PUMPKINHEAD – Ed Harley meets Haggis the Witch
Haunting; if I had to put this scene in a word, it’s that. When Ed Harley’s boy is killed by some obnoxious teenagers, he seeks retribution through a local witch known for such malevolent things. We don’t know very much about Haggis (the witch), only that the locals are somewhat uneasy about her presence. They know that she’s capable of some terrifying acts; everyone has stories, some have even seen things, such as Ed Harley has when he was younger. It was the memory that had stuck with him, and the same that had brought him here.
The setting hits all the beats for what one might think of when picturing a witch’s home, minus the bubbling caldron. A lone decrepit house lost in the woods, off the grid, severely weathered. Inside, Haggis sits in front of a fire, looking as though she hasn’t moved in decades. Candles are lit all around, and numerous creatures populate the area; rats, spiders, snakes, even an owl, all of which are keeping a close eye on anyone who might enter.
The witch’s makeup and presence are one of the best I’ve ever seen on screen. It doesn’t try to reinvent the mythos; Haggis looks like any old-timey witch, but it’s the effort put into the roll that sells it so perfectly. Florence Schauffler was 68 years old at the time, but her appearance looked as though she were 680. We don’t know as her backstory is mostly left to the audience’s imagination. It is one of the few times where I clamor for a prequel. Who is this woman? Where did she come from? So many questions raised by this brief encounter.
It is a perfect depiction of the consequences when the need for revenge consumes you completely. Presenting itself almost as a fable parents might tell their kids; a cautionary tale on anger and vengeance. It is a hauntingly atmospheric scene, quiet and unnerving in the way it draws the air out of your lungs as even you are afraid to move, worried that Haggis might see.
2: PET SEMETARY – Zelda
This was a tough call, as this scene/character has bothered me my whole life. Anyone who has seen this movie and remembers the disturbing performance by Andrew Hubatsek who portrayed Rachel’s sister Zelda. Among many elements, I feel that the fact that Zelda was played by a man only added to the disturbing nature of the character, and the scenes she was in. Though not a monster, or demon of sorts, she is a ghoulish entity which the MicMac grounds use against Rachel, and it is terrifying!
Even to this day, I get chills when I so much as hear her (well, his) voice in my head. It’s one of two movies I have a hard time watching in the dark alone, and that’s saying something. Like many great scenes, it’s a perfect storm of performance, set up, atmosphere, and cinematography that make it work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can never forget that twisted look; Zelda’s deformed frame writhing on the bed, misshapen and tortured by fate. Unfortunately for her, she was stricken with spinal meningitis which, in the film is exaggerated of course, but is cringing nonetheless.
Zelda is nothing but Rachel’s haunting memory of her departed sister, so she bares no harm other than what Rachel’s guilty conscious weighs on her. Once again, we as the viewer are brought uncomfortably close to her twisted form as Zelda continuously taunts Rachel with a promise of sorts. In a way, it seems like she’s hoping Rachel will suffer the same fate one day as penance for letting her die. The words are repeated again, and again – yelled in fact, like… I don’t even know what to compare it to! All I know is to this day; it still terrifies me to open a door to a bedroom I’m not familiar with. What’s in there? Is Zelda dead yet? Wondering if she’s going to run up to me screaming, “NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN! NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!”
1: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – Sally and Franklin
After Leatherface’s jarring debut on screen, having just killed three of Sally’s friends, she and her brother franklin are left to wait, and wonder what’s become of them. This final entry wins not for its monster, or blood and gore, but it’s prolonged suspense. The clip below is the best I could find, but the scene is another few minutes longer with Sally and Franklin desperately calling out for their friend Jerry before venturing into the darkened woods.
I go back to Alfred Hitchcock and his definition of suspense. There’s a difference between a bomb going off, and knowing the bomb will go off. Which is more suspenseful? It is the same here; we have already witnessed the horrors that befell Sally’s friends, and what awaits her and Franklin. We know they won’t escape, we know everyone’s dead, we know what is waiting in the dark – WE know! And that is the key element here. We, as the audience know what is to come, we just don’t know when, or how, and I think that is more terrifying than anything. The scare, or the pop if you will, is the catharsis of the moment, and the longer the suspense is, the more it is dragged out, the bigger the pay off. This scene accomplishes this very well!
From the beginning, we learn of Franklin’s condition. A helpless, scared invalid; burden, really, on the group that we struggle to feel sorry for. That is until we get a feel for his point of view. He feels sorry for himself, and it kind of sad to watch. Over time, you do feel bad and begin to empathize with him. Though not entirely idolized as a character, it is his fear you feel resonating from the screen. You can tell how scared he is, how desperately he just wants his friends to come back, and it only gets worse when he realizes the keys are gone, and that they can’t leave even if they wanted to.
The scene is beautifully scored with an ominous droning aura that sounds like it belongs in a cave. But it is looming horror, the pending nightmare that patiently, oh so patiently awaits them. Honk the horn all you like, scream your head off, wait until daylight if you make it that long. Hell, another thing this film does well, is it takes away the security of the light, as most of the horror happens during the day, so you don’t even have that to fall back on.
So many great moments and it bears repeating that I feel it’s a lost art. Subtlety has been forgotten in cinema, unfortunately. The sad thing is, a jump scare will always get a reaction no matter how prepared you think you are, but it’s only as scary as me screaming BOO in your ear when you’re not expecting it. Great for a laugh, but not for a scare, and certainly won’t stay with you as these scenes have done for me. What do you think? Share some of your favorites I may have overlooked! Thanks for reading!
This is The Horror Seeker