A Halloween dose of opinion -- The five scariest movie scenes ever

Thursday , October 30, 2014 - 2:45 PM

By DOUG GIBSON, Standard-Examiner Opinion Editor

The late-great Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying, “People pay money to be scared.” In honor of this Halloween season, your opinion editor, who also blogs at a cult movies site called Plan9Crunch (here), offers his take on the five scariest scenes in film history. If you want more commentary on scary movies scenes, read my blog colleague Steve D. Stones, art professor at Weber State University, offer his five most chilling scenes here.

Without procrastination, let’s get to scariest movie scene 1: It’s the final 10 minutes of “Suspiria,” a 1977 Italian horror flick directed by Dario Argento. It stars Jessica Harper as a U.S. dance student who discovers her European dance academy is run by a coven of witches. The final ultimate scary scene involves a possessed colleague of young Ms Harper who goes on the attack at the film’s climax. Argento’s skills have deteriorated in recent decades but “Suspiria” remains a contender for the scariest film ever made.

Scariest scene No. 2: Ever heard of “The Haunting,” the 1963 chiller helmed by Robert Wise? Forget the dreadful 1999 remake, this movie has no gore but it scares the hell out of you. It’s just a pitch perfect haunted house flick with great pacing. In my favorite scene, co-stars Julie Harris and Claire Bloom are getting ready to sleep when they start hearing bumps in the night, knocks on the door, and other strange sounds. The film is based on Shirley Jackson’s classic tale, “the Haunting of Hill House.” This movie is scary, period.

Scariest scene No. 3: Another ghost and haunted movie is 1973’s “The Legend of Hell House.” Roddy McDowell, Pamela Franklin and a few others are a group of ghost hunters/debunkers who enter a house long empty. Of the last group of researchers who tested Hell House, all died except for McDowell. There are legions of scary scenes but my favorite is the climax scene, where the entity who has haunted the house so long is discovered in his lead-lined secret hideout. The film was written by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the novel.

Scariest scene No. 4: Filmed mostly in Salt Lake City, including Salt Air, “Carnival of Souls,” from 1962, was an ultra-low budget film that was mostly ignored on its initial release. “Re-discovered” by Roger Ebert about 25 years ago, it’s become a cult classic. Directed by Herk Harvey, it involves a woman, Candace Hilligoss, who inexplicably survives a car wreck into a lake. She moves to Salt Lake City and keeps seeing a very strange an with a greenish hue. She’s also drawn to the Salt Air. There are many chills in this little gem, but my favorite is when Hilligoss’ character, drawn to seeing a doctor for his visions, turns toward him and discovers he’s become the macabre greenish man.

Scariest scene No. 5: The climatic scene from director Wise’s earlier, 1945 film “The Body Snatcher,” in which Dr. “Toddy” McFarlane (Henry Daniell) believes that body snatcher Cabman John Gray, whom Toddy killed earlier, is in coach wagon with him, dead but resurrected and wanting revenge. Gray’s not there. It’s actually a dead old woman who Toddy had snatched to use in his medical school. But his fear of, and eventual murder of Karloff’s character has driven the doctor over the mental edge. The scene in the coach, in torrid rain, with Toddy fighting off a dead arm he believes to be Gray’s, is terrifying and sticks in your mind. Bela Lugosi also has a role in this Val Lewton-produced film.

Gibson is the Standard-Examiner’s opinion editor. Editor’s note: Both “The Haunting” and “Legend of Hell House” are on Turner Classic Movies tonight, Oct. 30 (here).

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