Cinema's Most Claustrophobic Moments

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Set entirely within the architecture of a coffin, high-concept thriller Buried is definitely not one for the faint of heart. It’s 95 clammy-palmed minutes with, for company, only Ryan Reynolds, a mobile phone, a Zippo and just about enough air to blow up a children’s party balloon. That tight spot got us thinking about other movie moments that have had us moping our brows and blowing into brown bags. While we couldn’t work out which bit of Das Boot to include (all of it?), here are a few others shuddery scenes to keep you awake at night and tempt you out into the great outdoors.

The leaking, cramped bowels of the Nostromo aren’t the sort of place you’d want to be stuck with a fluffy puppy, let alone a slathering, razor-toothed xenomorph with a big appetite and metal-melting acid for blood. And unfortunately for the six surviving crew members, it’s definitely not a fluffy puppy that bursts from John Hurt’s chest. The alien, sneaking to a secluded corner of the ship to enjoy a swift childhood and adolescence before careering into full bat-mental monsterhood, returns in fully developed and completely anti-social frame of mind. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), balls dwarfing his brains, decides to go after it with a flameflower. Down an air shaft. As you most definitely don’t. If you’re afraid of tight spaces, remorseless space monsters or a diced Tom Skerritt, you might want to look away at this point.

For Andy Dufresne, behind Raquel Welch’s silver-screened visage lies the sweet breath of freedom. Only problem is that between the two lies a 100 yards of stinky sewage that’s been quietly stewing since the dawn of time. For anyone who ever went to Richmond Water Slides, what happens next won’t even raise an eyebrow. If you haven’t, it’s a cinematic first: a excruciating poop pipe crawl that lasts, seemingly, forever. By the time he reaches the end, Dufresne’s so thrilled to be out of the ordure he decides to pull his iconic face-to-the-heavens Celine Dion impression out the bag. Poor Andy has biding his time in prison for years waiting for this moment and he’ll need at least that much time again just to wash it all off.

Pot-holing with Neil Marshall has to be near the top of any list of outdoor hobbies most likely to end in gory death (other entries: canoeing with Burt Reynolds, rabbit-hunting with John Cleese, any lake-based watersports in small-town America). Pot-holing without Neil Marshall is scary enough. Seriously, what’s so good about being underground that wouldn’t be massively improved by being above it? Chuck in a few voracious subterranean critters and you’ve got all the ingredients for an unpleasant day. Marshall’s best film offers a seriously icky, sweat-drenched subterranean moment when Shauna Macdonald finds herself trapped in the narrowest of gaps by a sudden rockfall, surrounded by bedrock and all manner of psycho ghoulishness. And you don’t have to be a Chilean miner to find that prospect pretty disturbing.

Desperate to dodge the crossfire in a Death Star phaser fight, Han, Chewy, Leia and Skywalker throw themselves into the nearest available vault. Unfortunately, they’ve picked a garbage dump – Garbage Compactor 3263827 if you happen to have the Death Star blueprints – filled with obsolete Imperial furniture, chicken bits and old newspapers. It’s basically a swimming pool made of bin juice. Worse, it’s inhabited by a dianoga, a disgusting rectal octopus creature that usually feeds on space vermin, but won’t say no to a spot of Jedi every now and then. Even worse, the walls start to close in as the whole kit’n’kaboodle hits ‘crush’ mode. Still, they could have jumped into the Imperial recycle bin and ended up as plastic bottles.

[Warning: spoilers ahead] While the Vanishing was remade and arguably downgraded as a jollier Hollywood thriller five years later, the original Belgian/French version is guaranteed to give your collys a serious wobbling. After an obsessive hunt to discover the fate of his long-missing fiancée, a mission that’s become his entire raison d’être, our hero Rex takes a sip from the spiked coffee offered him by borderline over-the-borderline nutjob Raymond. While it’s Rex’s only route to discovering her fate, the warning signs are there. Come on, this is an abandoned motorway lay-by, he’s with a complete stranger and that sure as hell doesn’t look like a milky latte. And, presto, it’s not a milky latte. With shades of Buried, the risky gambit sees the screen fade. Blackness. Heavy breathing. A faint scratching sound. Then a lighter sparks. Yup, he’s in a coffin. Oh lord…

Possibly the least politically correct henchmen since movies began, the ultra-camp Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are nothing if not tricksy, what with their cruise-ship disguises and scorpion wrangling antics. Their near-masterstroke, though, is to lock 007 in a crematorium coffin and, without so much as a poignant eulogy or fire extinguisher, hit the “on” switch and send him to a fiery doom. As usual with these things, they leave without checking to make sure British Intelligence’s finest has been fully crisped, but we’re still left stuck in a eight-foot casket with the burners firing up. It’s a seriously clammy, sweat-browed moment. Luckily we’re in there with Sean Connery and he’s always the man to stick with in a tight corner. Okay, not so much in The Untouchables.

By the time he’s crawled into the Nakatomi Plaza’s airvents, John McClane has already made himself seriously unpopular with Hans Gruber and his small but heavily-armed band of sartorial German techno-nutters. He’s killed Heinrich, nicked all the detonators and is wearing a tatty string vest deeply frowned upon in sartorial German techno-nutter circles. So, squeezed into a cramped aluminium tunnel where every movement will give his position away, McClane is in something of a bind, especially with the enraged Karl somewhere below. The terrorist, suspicions aroused, prods the vent mere inches from NYPD’s finest. McClane holds his breath. So do we…

Lois Lane’s (Margot Kidder) death is a gruelling landmark in superhero history. Stuck in the middle of a ‘quake, she finds herself trapped in her car and sucked into a chasm. With sand pouring in from above and boulders making escape impossible, she’s gradually covered in earth and left to claw desperately for air. It’s tough to watch and, according to Richard Donner, was pretty tough for Kidder to film. Fortunately for all concerned, while Cher may have wanted to turn back time, Supes actually can and Lane is saved from this gravelly death at the second time of asking.