The Last Five Times I Was Actually Scared in the Theater

At this point in my life, I’ve watched hundreds of horror films to the point where I’m all but immune to them. What scares most audiences will only make a few of my hairs stand on end, and what has people screaming might cause me to tilt my head slightly.

But I am not completely impervious to tense moments in films, and there have been a few examples of times where I’ve been legitimately scared in a movie. Not many, but a few, and I thought I’d share them with you. They’re movies I saw in the theater, as I don’t think the experience translates as well at home, and I’ve chosen the moment in particular that really got my goose. Is that the right phrase? Goat maybe?

One thing to note is that the movies that have actually been the scariest for me aren’t the gore soaked kill-fests that most horror films try to be now, rather they’re tense and methodical and just all around eerie. They know how to actually create tension, not just make loud noises and flash blood and chainsaws on the screen to FORCE you to react.

Spoilers to follow for the films mentioned.

Insidious – The Ghost Realm

I’m going to start from the most recent and go in reverse order. Overall I thought Insidious was just OK, a haunted house movie that featured a plot that had been done before (by another movie in this list no less) and had its share of other issues.

Pieces of it, however, I thought were extremely well done, including a sequence where Patrick Wilson crosses over to the spirit realm to rescue the soul of his comatose son. it’s a version of his house, but one lurking with all sorts of demonry. The mood is undeniably tense, as anything, and I mean anything could pop out of nowhere at a given moment.

Perhaps his spookiest encounter is the one you see above, a daughter who has murdered her family, now living on in the afterlife with eerie expressions on their faces. They are creepy enough when he finds them, but when they suddenly appear moments later out of nowhere, it’s downright terrifying.

The Orphanage – Red Light, Green Light

The Orphanage stands as my favorite horror film to date, not because it was crazily scary, but because it was so smartly written with fantastic acting and a well-woven plot that will have you thinking about it for weeks and months later.

There are many tense moments throughout the film, but I can point to one in particular that had me holding my breath. In a last ditch effort to find her son (common theme here) his mother relives an old childhood game she used to play with her friends at the orphanage, friends who are now dead and theirs spirits are running amok.

It’s a Spanish version of red light, green light, where as a child, she tapped a tree three times and turned around. Kids could walk toward her until then, but had to stop when she turned. As an adult, she tries it as a last ditch effort to lure the spirits out. As she taps the wall, the camera pans when she turns, and nothing is there, but after a few takes the kids get closer and closer, their faces hidden in shadow, until one finally puts their hand on her shoulder. A fantastic and breath stealing scene.

Paranormal Activity – Shotput

I liked Paranormal Activity the first time I saw it. If you had the right crowd with you, it was a shared experience of terror, and though some can’t stand the film for reasons unknown, I was pretty tense throughout, especially during the routine night scenes where  a hush came over the unsettled audience.

There were a few jump moments in these scenes, as the camerawork and nightvision made every moment pretty tense, but one stood out above the rest, and I have to admit that it’s the most I’ve jumped in a movie in history.

At the end, the man off camera confronts his possessed wife and an audible scuffle ensues. There’s silence until you hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Nothing happens for five seconds, then, then fifteen, then WHAM. The man’s body comes flying at the camera knocking it over and we see the bloody woman standing there. I almost had a heart attack.

Fun story, there are actually two endings to this film. The original has no flying body, and the woman merely creeping upstairs and waiting for the police to come. She wakes up, but is holding a knife and is shot by police when she runs at them. I’m told Steven Spielberg actually told them to create the other ending for the film’s wide release.

The Ring – The Well

Judge me all you want, but I love The Ring. Furthermore, I think it far surpasses its Japanese predecessor, which touches on barely any of the intricate plot points found in the American film. The US version is far more of a mystery to be uncovered, and the tape directly corresponds with events that happen to those who have watched it. This is far less prominent in the original.

Anyway, there are many scary parts in the film, and it certainly didn’t help that when I saw it in theaters I was in the front row. Two scenes to note in particular are unexpected flashes of the victims when the seven days are up. They come without warning and with no musical cue, and are screamworthy in their own right.

But my moment was during the final when she falls into the well that houses the dead body of Samara, that entire scene is rife with tension, and as she see the fingernail scrapings on the wall, and digs around through the murky water, I was on the edge of my seat. Then she’s grabbed and everyone loses it.

Jurassic Park – Raptors in the Kitchen

Hah, not what you were expecting, was it? I thought long and hard, and I genuinely couldn’t think of any more actual horror movies that had me scared in the theater. Perhaps I’m missing a few, but if I can’t recall them they couldn’t have been that memorable, could they?

So now I have to go back to my childhood where Jurassic Park was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw. I loved dinosaurs as a kid, but to see vicious Velociraptors stalking kids in a kitchen was just about the most terrifying thing I could witness as a seven year old.

My other pick for this random slot was probably Beauty and the Beast when the Beast gets angry and fights off all the wolves in the woods. That shit was terrifying when I was like four, OK?

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  1. Awesome picks! I remember being terrified when I saw Event Horizon in theatres when I was like 14 with my Dad. Not so scary now, but when I first saw it, I was squirming in my seat.

  2. Actually didn’t care to much for Paranormal Activity.. I feel it required too much from the audience to get into.

    There are 3 endings by the way.. I won’t spoil it here but just look it up 🙂

  3. great picks. i really liked the ring and paranormal activity (even the second one). but insidious was awesome. supercreepy, and the plot and acting even managed to be funny/trashy with the movie still being ubercreepy 😉
    Event Horizon definitely was my fav horror movie before i saw insidious.
    And apart from that i still think of The Silence of the Lambs when asked for scary scenes/movies.

  4. I always though I preferred the American version of the Ring, because I saw it first. I’m not sure if that’s the case with you, too, but my friends all swear by the Japanese version. I remember being all tensed up when she goes into the barn and starts climbing up the ladder to where Samara’s room was.

    Also, bonus points for the part with the girl in the closet; that scared the hell out of me. Like you said, it comes from out of nowhere, they’re just talking while doing dishes, and BOOM!

    @Gill Good call about Event Horizon. I saw it under the same circumstances as you. I remember when Sam Neill was crawling around in the green ducts and keeps hearing his wife’s voice. I just knew something was gonna happen, it was pretty rough for a young’un.

    Also, I totally agree with Paul on the his take on the Orphanage. It’s also my favorite horror film, for the exact reasons he said. The plot was incredibly well written. It also helps that you have some connection to the characters, so you actually care when sh*t start to get real.

  5. The one that got me most recently is Rec. When, very close to the end, you finally get a look at the girl. I was home alone, no lights on, and almost jumped off the couch and was creeped the hell out.

  6. I’m just going to say it, Blair Witch Project. I’ve heard allot of people who don’t like it, but it’s the last movie that scared the shit out of me. Though I have to say I haven’t seen any scary movies for a long time. Rec and Orfanato are still collecting dust.

  7. The only horror film to have ever genuinely frightend me was “Alien” (the first one) and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. I saw both when I was about 14-15 I belive? not sure. What I do remeber was not being able to sleep for weeks after wacthing both.

  8. I agree with Jurassic Park AND Beauty and the Beast. I remember I had to cover my ears and shove my face into the seat a couple times in Beauty and the Beast (I was also around 4), especially when the Beast was being all loud and terrifying. And i used to thinmk I was the only kid who was scared in that Jurassic Park kitchen scene. Good to know I’m not alone in being scared those times.

  9. The Ring really scared me, I went to saw it on a Saturday morning Matinee (10am) so the theater was empty only me, man the part with the girl in the closet….good thing no one heard me scream…lol

  10. Only two movies have ever scared me. One was a creepout that kept me awake at night as a kid for a couple of days, the other was a jump. Neither are particularly good movies.

    The first was Pet Semetary. It wasn’t the dead cat, or zombie kid. It was the sister dying of spinal meningitis. FREAKED ME THE FUCK OUT as a kid.

    The second was a jump or two in Signs. I happened to watch it at the movies, with a packed cinema of young folks that really added to the atmosphere. There were a couple of times – the birthday party footage, the hand coming out of the grate in the basement – when the whole cinema jumped, and me along with them.

  11. I saw Sixth Sense in theaters as a young teen, and the scene where you think it’s his mother in the kitchen but then it’s some crazy, yelling suicidal woman…that creeped the hell out of me.

    Saw the ring with a large group of people in theaters on Halloween. Definitely scary at the time, but my most memorable moment was laughing when the horse jumped off the boat.

  12. The original Japanese Ring was great because of its minimalist direction that heightened the sense of dread. The American adaption relied more on sudden, cheap scares (the horse) and had this need to explain too much of the plot.

    Also, being Asian, I find a shambling long haired woman a zillion times scarier than an angry little girl.

  13. Deep rising. It’s a cheesy B-Movie, but it is full of horrific moments. More gory than scary, but I remember one scene where I had to actually leave the room. Now I can watch it whilst eating dinner, but it scared me at the time.

  14. I’m obviously older than you, but nothing is as scary as seeing Jaws in a big theater. Swimming was never the same. I’m usually the guy laughing when others in the theater are screaming.

  15. I was 9 years old when I first saw Jurassic Park in theaters. I was 12 before I watched the whole kitchen scene without looking away. Great pick, that scene stands out in my mind as one of the most hair raising movie experiences for me.

  16. I definitely have to agree with The Orphanage; another one that got me was The Strangers.

    P.S. I laughed almost the entire way through The Grudge and The Ring.

  17. OMG! You are so right about he Jurassic Park one! I saw it as a kid (1st or 2nd movie I ever saw in the theater) and will never forget how scared I was when they were hiding from raptors in the kitchen! 🙂 TENSE!

  18. The final scene in the Blair Witch Project still gets me. The scene with Heather rushing down the stairs of the abandoned house only to find her friend (Josh?) facing the corner of the basement. Heather’s final screams are simply blood curdling.

  19. All time scare and still can draw it to my memory is the scene in the original exorcist when the girl walks down the stairs backawards on all fours. That freaked me out and still does.

  20. Anyone who thinks Insidious is scary should steer clear of Scooby Doo. Seriously.
    Same goes for all the Paranormal Activity films. And the “shotput” – was no scarier than a standard action film where a car speeds towards you.

  21. I really like all your picks and my list is nearly the same. Jurrasic Park scene in the kitchen was definitely tense and I was young but it didn’t have that edge of terror or scaryness that other movies have. I’ll concur on Blair Witch, mainly because I was about 16 or so and saw it under the premise it actually WAS a documentary. With that said I was truely scared in that movie. There was a part after the one guy dissapeared and they pulled teeth I think? Or the other part where theyre in the tent and hearing shit in the distance and then it leads into the tent shaking furiously. Made me never want to go camping ever again after that. There’s just something about being in a rural area, lost and in the midst of unknown. I’ll have to tip my hat to Event Horizon as well because that is one of my alltime favorites that scared the hell out of me. The scene where the pale woman appears, eyeballs gone, saying she’ll show him wonderful things creeped me the F out.

  22. Great list although I am yet to see Insidious or The Orphanage.

    Someone mentioned The Stangers, that has to be on my list as at the movies that is up there for freakin scary films for me. Event Horizon also did a damn good job when watched in a cinema.

    As an early teenager I still remember seeing a scene from the original Chainsaw Masacre film with leatherface and that freaked me right out!

    Exorcist defintely as a younger viewer of the original and Poltergeist also freaked me out back in the day.

    Some may laugh but even the most recent Amityville horror film didn’t do too bad a job of giving the odd fright either I thought.

  23. How could you leave out SIGNS?! That scene at the kid’s birthday party where you’re squinting to see whats happening then BAM The bloody alien/demon pops up!

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