Images of Horror

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October of 2009.

There surely have been enough lists in the blogosphere about the best horror movies ever made. Rather than revisit those frightening flicks that we all love so much, I decided to focus solely on a series of indelible images that to this day make filmgoers’ skin crawl. The following 15 stills represent the most chilling moments ever captured on the Silver Screen. How many have you seen?


Alien (1979)
The emergence of the alien with its fearsome teeth and bloodcurdling shriek in the chestburster scene shocked audiences. Even the actors (except for John Hurt) were left in the dark as to what specifically would happen to John’s character. Writer Dan O’Bannon had read about ichneumon wasps which lay their eggs in host insects that result in quite real ghastly hatch-outs. That image gave him nightmares…and the idea for this scene.



The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Because audiences felt duped by the sly internet disinformation as well as its cinéma vérité techniques, it didn’t take long before a spiteful backlash towards this “found footage” film began. Regardless of what the haters and cynics say now, the film is truly frightening…especially so if one goes in with the perception that it may be real (the genius of the marketing campaign). With that in mind, the image of Mike facing the corner is devastating.



The Exorcist (1973)
Used for the poster and DVD box art is the scene where Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) steps out of a taxi at the front of the MacNeil home. His frame is silhouetted by a ghostly light emanating from Regan’s room on the second floor. Inspiration for this image was supposedly taken from René Magritte’s famous “Empire of Light” series of paintings. Now, instead of Magritte’s original works, it is this image that is iconic.



Halloween (1978)
While certainly not the first use of a supposedly deceased villain coming back to life, this scene plays out as one of the best. Pictured in the doorway is Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), sobbing in relief that Michael Myers is dead. Filmgoers thought that as well until the prone Michael, in almost mechanical (inhuman) fashion, sat upright and then turned his head toward his prey. Cue the audience screams for Laurie to get up and get out!



Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Loosely based on real serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, Michael Rooker stayed in character for the entire filming, prompting his wife to wait until the movie wrapped before telling him she was pregnant. The disturbing image above, which also adorns the poster and DVD box, is a modern take on Peter Lorre’s M, who similarly glares into a mirror trying to confront and comprehend his evil nature.



Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Director Philip Kaufman knew how he wanted his film to end but told almost no one—even studio honchos had to wait until its first screening to find out. Sutherland was informed the morning of the shoot and agreed that it was an appropriate conclusion. For the stunning final scene, co-star Veronica Cartwright acted suitably aghast because, until Sutherland’s famous screech, she did not know the bleak ending either.



Jaws (1975)
Fully an hour and twenty minutes into Jaws is when audiences first see “Bruce” full-on. The scene is a doozy. While complaining to his shipmates about his nauseating task of chumming Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) turns just in time to come face-to-face with the shark. Jumping quickly away, the stunned and horrified Brody utters the immortal line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!” Scheider’s line was not in the script but improvised.



A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The above scene is where Freddy Krueger makes his first appearance. In Tina’s nightmare she stumbles into an alley where she sees the silhouette of Freddy coming into view. As he comes closer we see his arms are elongated in true nightmarish fashion, to the point where he is scraping both sides of the alleyway with his signature talons. Filmmakers marionetted his arms to achieve the appropriate disconcerting effect on viewers.



The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
As usual Lon Chaney did not disappoint when creating his own make-up as Erik (the Phantom). The kidnapped opera singer Christine is told by the Phantom that she may come and go as she please, but is never to look behind his mask. Naturally her curiosity gets the best of her, which results in her ripping off Erik’s mask, revealing a hideous visage that caused many theatergoers at the time to faint dead away!



Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock kept audiences constantly off balance regarding Norman Bates’s mother. We hear her talk to Norman and see fleeting glimpses of her, but later are told that Mother had died years ago. That sets up the scene in the basement when Mother is finally revealed…in more ways than one. Mother gave set costumer Rita Riggs such chills that she admitted to dressing the dummy from behind to avoid her ghoulish gaze!



Salem’s Lot (1979)
After George Romero backed out of the project feeling he could not adequately deliver the goods for a made-for-television production, producers selected Tobe Hooper to direct the horror mini-series. For the spectral scene of the undead Glick boy floating outside the window, Tobe made the inventive decision to film it backwards, further imbuing it with supernatural spookiness. Still makes me shudder.



Seven (1995)
All of serial killer John Doe’s murders are grisly. The most appalling one, however, had to be Sloth. After police enter the apartment of the victim they quickly discover that Doe had just barely kept him alive for a year, taking daily pictures of the drug dealing pederast as he slowly, inexorably wasted away. But a sudden, shocking convulsion reveals that he is not yet dead! (FYI: Sloth was not an animatronic dummy, but a skinny actor.)



The Shining (1980)
In 1941’s Suspicion, Hitchcock made a glass of milk seem scary. Stanley Kubrick trumped him, though, four decades later with the simple frame of two little girls standing at the end of a long hallway—one of the most frightening images ever put to film. As young Danny Torrance drives his trike through the Overlook his eventual meeting with the Grady twins is a horrifying experience as they ask him to “play with us for ever…and ever.” Yikes!



The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Sparse and grotesque visual imagery combined with an equally unnerving musique concréte score enhanced the diabolical goings-on in Tobe Hooper’s ultra-realistic horror masterwork. This was none more evident than in the final scene where Sally makes her escape at daybreak, leaving Leatherface to perform his chainsaw dance macabre (which was not lensed in dawn’s early light but actually later the same day at sundown).



The Thing (1982)
The Thing’s gruesome appearance during an autopsy scene was not unlike the chestburster scene in Alien. But the filmmakers upped the ante when the deceased’s head fell off  the table and proceeded to sprout eyes and legs akin to a spider. As the monstrosity crawls along the floor towards the Arctic researchers they all stare in disbelief. Finally, one of them deadpans “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Well said.