As we celebrate our 25th anniversary year, we're taking a long look back over the last quarter century of cinema. We already looked at the greatest opening scenes, greatest romantic gestures, greatest battles, game-changing moments and the greatest money shots, but this month we look at the terrifying cinematic moments that have kept us awake for the past two-and-a-half decades.
Be warned: spoilers ahead.
25 "I LIKE YOU" (V/H/S, 2012)
Sometimes a scare can be a laugh too, as evidenced in David Bruckner's segment of this anthology. A guy picks up a girl in a bar, and we're already spooked by the way this elfin cutie only ever says, "I like you." Then, back at the hotel room as the sex begins, she transforms into a ferocious bat-woman.
24 THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (THE CONJURING, 2013)
The shocks come thick and fast in James Wan's exhausting frightfest, but this is the one that sticks. The ghost of witch Bathsheba exudes malevolence even before we see her, making this reveal of her skulking atop the bedroom wardrobe all the more heartstopping.
23 THE THING IN THE ATTIC ([•REC], 2007)
This saves its most disturbing image for the finale. Reaching the penthouse of the infected tower block, Ángela (Manuela Velasco) encounters La Niña (Javier Botet): illuminated by night vision, prowling blindly around the decayed space in which she was experimented on. She's carrying a hammer. It doesn't end well.
22 GETTING THE SACK (AUDITION, 1999)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the needles, the ankle-sawing... But the moment in Takashi Miike's extraordinary ordeal comes earlier, when we learn that auditionee Eihi Shiina lives in an empty fl at with just a large sack and a phone, by which she's been waiting for days. As it rings, the sack moves. There is someone in it. Shudder.
21 GUM VIOLENCE (DRAG ME TO HELL, 2009)
Because it sees an old hand at big shocks proving he still has the scare skills after years in the mainstream. Sam Raimi pulls off a juggling act of horror and gross-out comedy as the gypsy witch gets on the wrong side of Alison Lohman's staple gun, loses her false teeth and attempts to gum Lohman to death.
20 PAIN IN THE NECK (SHUTTER, 2004)
It's a superb sting in the tale for this sharp Thai mystery thriller. The source of hit-and-run perpetrator Ananda Everingham's persistent neck pain and weird weight gain is finally revealed when he develops a photograph of himself: the ghoul of his victim has been sitting on his shoulders all along.
19 THE HOBBLING (MISERY, 1990)
When "number one fan" Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) punishes novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) for his escape attempt, it's by breaking his ankles with a sledgehammer. Which jolts us from tense psycho-horror right into something more immediately visceral.
18 ONE LITTLE THING (CORALINE, 2009)
Here's proof that even kids' animation can chill to the bone, as Coraline's (Dakota Fanning) buttoneyed Other Parents say she can stay in their world, but on one condition — then she's presented with a sewing kit.
17 MR. ARNOLD LENDS A HAND (JURASSIC PARK, 1993)
It's a brilliant hark-back to Steven Spielberg's Jaws shocks. The hand of Samuel L. Jackson's Ray Arnold falls on Ellie's (Laura Dern) shoulder. Except it's his severed arm!
16 MOONLIGHT SHADOW (KILL LIST, 2011)
Amid all the extreme violence of Ben Wheatley's Kill List, the most chilling moment is low-key: when the mysterious Fiona (Emma Fryer) is seen simply standing, waving silently in the moonlight outside the hotel.
15 SADAKO'S EYE (RING, 1998)
It's the most disturbing, extreme eye close-up since Un Chien Andalou, as seen in Hideo Nakata's defi ning J-horror: bloodshot, staring down madly. If looks could kill...
14 THE CALL HOME (LOST HIGHWAY, 1997)
David Lynch's dream-logic turns nightmarish when Fred (Bill Pullman) is menaced by a man (Robert Blake) who tells him they've met before at Fred's home, insisting — even as he stands before him — that he's there right now. He tells Fred to call home. Fred does, and the man's voice answers down the line, "I told you I was here."
13 THE KITCHEN (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, 2010)
By this point in the series, we'd been taught that we could relax in the daylight… Or so we thought, until the peace of a quiet morning in the kitchen reading the paper is shattered by every door and cupboard simultaneously crashing open.
12 MEET THE CRAWLERS (THE DESCENT, 2005)
It's a perfect example of delayed gratification. After an hour of tension-ramping via the dark, claustrophobic all-girl potholing excursion, director Neil Marshall finally illuminates the monsters deep within: pale, leering and very hungry for human flesh.
11 DR. WEIR'S VISITOR (EVENT HORIZON, 1997)
Because director Paul W.S. Anderson delivers a three-pronged audience assault: the tension of the darkness as the lights go out during Dr. Weir's (Sam Neill) repair job; the jolt of his dead wife's appearance; and the final grisly revelation that her eyes are missing. That ocular motif will return later in the film...
5 THE ANSWER (THE VANISHING / SPOORLOOS, 1990)
Be careful what you wish for is the moral here. Following the disappearance of his girlfriend, distraught Rex (Gene Bervoets) embarks on a quest to find her. Sociopath Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) has the answer, and a very specific set of circumstances in which he'll reveal it. Opting to drink the drugged coffee, Rex eventually awakens to learn the horrifying truth that he's been interred alive.
4 THE GIRL IN THE TENT (THE SIXTH SENSE, 1999)
Cole (Haley Joel Osment) sees dead people, and the trouble with that affliction is that hiding doesn't really work. One of director M. Night Shyamalan's most effective sequences is a triumph of misdirection. Cole holes up in his flimsy makeshift fortress, and the camera initially travels upwards to show pegs unclipping as if something is trying to get in. It's only then that we learn she's already right next to him...
3 BILBO GOES GOLLLUM (THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, 2001)
Peter Jackson's horror proclivities tested the PG/12 ratings more than once during the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but the biggest jolt came not from orcs or Black Riders but this quiet moment in Rivendell. A kindly Bilbo (Ian Holm) bestows his Elven sword and Mithril mail on his young nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood), then rather spoils the moment with a monstrous freak-out at the sight of his precious "old ring" on a chain around Frodo's neck.
2 TRAMP BEHIND THE DINER (MULHOLLAND DRIVE, 2001)
Nobody does nightmare better than Lynch, as exemplified by Patrick Fischler and Michael Cooke's experience at Winkie's. Lynch builds a palpable sense of dread from the story of Fischler's dream, which then bleeds into 'reality' as the pair head outside. Unusually for Lynch, the pay-off is a simple jump scare — but a truly frightening one.
1 SLOTH (SEVEN, 1995)
The genius of this moment is an abrupt genre lurch. Seven is a gritty cop/serial killer thriller: we might expect darkness and tension but we're given no grounds to predict that a decaying corpse on a bed will suddenly spring to choking life. Sloth also performs a creepy narrative function in giving us an early glimpse of the extent of John Doe's fastidious mania: the creature strapped to the mattress has been kept there on the edge of death for a full year. There are Polaroids from every week to prove it.
10 ZELDA'S SCREAM (PET SEMATARY, 1989)
Mary Lambert's Stephen King adaptation is largely underwhelming, but nobody ever forgets the flashbacks to twisted-spined Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek). One woozy trip to her sickbed finds it empty, only for the camera to whip to her scuttling up to the lens and screaming at us for far longer than is comfortable.
9 THE NURSE'S STATION ( THE EXORCIST III, 1990)
William Peter Blatty's Exorcist sequel had its moments, not least this hospital-set killing. It homages Arbogast's death in Psycho with a sudden zoom up a corridor as a white-robed fi gure strides into shot with a pair of shears.
8 RED FACE (INSIDIOUS, 2011)
The stand-out scare in James Wan's lunatic horror is the sudden appearance of the ghastly red-faced demon. It's a horrible image accompanied by a loud noise — arguably a cheap shot, but by the gods, it's effective.
7 LOOK BEHIND YOU! (SCREAM, 1996)
The strength of Scream is a cast of likable characters, none of whom we wanted to see offed. We perhaps like Jamie Kennedy's horror-geek Randy most of all, so this scene is particularly stressful. And typically meta: he's watching Halloween, exhorting Jamie Lee Curtis to look behind her, unaware that Ghostface is right behind him.
6 MIKE IN THE CORNER (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999)
Because it's proof that even a quick glimpse can resonate hard. Heather (Donahue) and Mike (Williams) follow cries from Josh (Leonard) to an abandoned, dilapidated house. The ensuing commotion ends with a brief, gut-wrenching shot of Mike in a basement corner, facing the wall in the manner of killer Rustin Parr's child victims. Then Heather drops the camera. The rest is silence.