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Top 10 Horrifying Moments in Film History

by Flamehorse
fact checked by Alex Hanton

WARNING: This list contains disturbing videos and some nudity. It also contains spoilers. Any such list is bound to leave something out, so feel free to suggest your choices. This list attempted to leave off scenes already covered by Listverse, and some are not currently available via YouTube.


The Black Cat
The Black Cat (1934) 6/6

Horrifying Moment: Bela Lugosi Skins Boris Karloff

One of the finest horror movies ever made, this one from 1934 was quite controversial at the time for its atrocious acts of violence. The first of Lugosi and Karloff’s six pairings tells the story of two innocent tourists in Europe who get caught up in Lugosi’s plan of revenge against his old enemy, Karloff. 18 years before, Lugosi left his wife to go to WWI, and was caught and put in a Russian prison camp for 15 years. Karloff stole Lugosi’s wife during this time, and now, intends to sacrifice one of the tourists in a Satanic ritual. Lugosi catches up to him, puts him in chains and peels his skin off with a scalpel, the same way one would dress a deer. The tourists escape while Karloff howls in agony. Add to this scene Lugosi’s wonderful Hungarian (Dracula) accent, and you’ve got a winner. He then blows up the entire building, with himself and Karloff in it.


127 Hours


Horrifying Moment: The Amputation Scene

James Franco’s tour de force as Aron Ralston, and based on the true story of the man who cut his own arm off with a dull multitool, after 5 days trapped under a boulder in Blue John Canyon, Utah. No one knew he had gone mountain climbing, so no one would come looking for him. Even for those who went to the film knowing what it was about, the scene of his self-surgery is the climax, and the tension mounts and mounts up to it until it’s unbearable, and the whole scene is a pure nail-biter.


Schindler’s List

Schindlers List U Red Dress

Horrifying Moment: Liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto

The screenplay for this scene is only 1 page long, because there are no detailed, written Nazi accounts of what happened. There was no need for such an account, since the order was simply to ship the Jews off to concentration and death camps. SS Major Amon Goeth was in charge of the final events of March 13 and 14. Any Jew deemed fit for labor was sent to a labor camp. Anyone deemed otherwise was simply shot dead in the streets, carted off to a mass grave and dumped. They were later dug up and burned to dispose of evidence.

“Deemed fit for labor” gave Goeth, a notoriously vicious, sadistic psychopath even by SS standards, all the opportunity he needed to kill anyone he pleased, provided that a reasonable number of Jews reached labor camps. About 2,000 men, women and children were executed on those two days. The scene was filmed according to eyewitness testimonies provided to Spielberg by actual survivors of the event. He managed to stretch out the single page of screenplay into the defining climax of the film.


The Passion of the Christ
The Passion of the Christ 2004 || The Scourging of Jesus ( Jesus is Scourged )

Horrifying Moment: The Scourging of Christ

Let’s face it, this movie is 2 hours of a Jew getting the crap kicked out of him. If you knew what you were getting into when you first saw it, then it might not have been quite as horrifying, but it still got an R rating without a single bad word or sex scene. And fools all over the world took their children to see it, because they thought it would be just another G-rated “Jesus flick”, like King of Kings or The Greatest Story Ever Told.

But, if you’ve ever seen a Mel Gibson movie, you know he has a penchant for torture. Even the Lethal Weapon films include it, and it’s usually Gibson getting tortured. This time it’s the most famous torture story ever told, and he should be given credit for making it extremely accurate. After Jesus is punched and beaten by the Sanhedrin, Pilate condemns him to scourging, or flogging with a Roman flails. These are wood clubs with leather strips fastened to one end, and tied into the ends of these strips are barbell-shaped chunks of iron. In the film, the chunks are razor sharp and jagged, like a blacksmith’s scraps.

After he is caned with “fagia musica,” “musical sticks,” the two Roman soldiers put the flails to him, and blood and chunks of flesh go everywhere. It spatters on the faces of the onlookers. Mary, his mother, listens in agony, but does not watch. They scourge his back, then turn him over and scourge his front. 39 lashes for each side. By the time they’re done, he’s an unrecognizable slab of meat. Is it gratuitous? In this case, no. This is how the Romans did it. The crucifixion is not entirely accurate, however. The nail did not go through the tops of the feet, with a block under them for him to stand on. This would defeat the purpose of the nail. The victim had to rest his weight on the nails alone, and would have ripped right off the cross unless the nails went through solid bone. The nails were always driven through the sides of the heels, into the sides of the cross. The hand nails would have gone through the palms, where there are huge nerves that cause exquisite, horrible misery when pierced, and the arms were then tied to prevent the hands from ripping through.


Hard Candy


Horrifying Moment: The Castration Scene

When this lister first saw this film, on an uncensored channel, no less, he squirmed in his seat from beginning to end, as, surely, did every man in the world who saw it. Patrick Wilson portrays an Internet sexual predator, whose crime Ellen Page has discovered. Her character is 14 in the film. He is 32. She intends to get even with him, and so befriends him online, then meets him at his house and has a few drinks with him. He then wakes up tied to a table with a bag of ice on his genitals. She drugged him, and intends to castrate him surgically to teach him a lesson. He screams for help, begs, pleads, cries like a little girl, and offers her absolutely everything he can think of, but to no avail. The masterful performances are what make this one work so well. Them, and the fact that the scene is taken as far as it is. For those who haven’t seen it, no spoilers here. It’s not particularly gruesome, but it is extraordinarily intense.


The Exorcist


Horrifying Moment: The Crucifix Scene

This clip can’t be embedded but you can view the scene here. Regan MacNeil is possessed by a demon. The audience knows it, but her mother, Chris MacNeil, can’t be sure if it isn’t just a severe mental disorder. Her doctors finally exhaust all their expertise (something medical doctors never admit to doing) and suggest she take her daughter to some Catholic priests: if Regan believes in her insanity that she is possessed, she likewise believes in the power of exorcism to set her free. Thus, it still may all be in her head. Chris finally gives in to the idea of “a witch doctor” when she hears her daughter make sounds as might come from a rabid wolf, runs into her room, and witnesses her viciously shoving a crucifix into her groin with such force that she is bleeding profusely. Her face is savagely hideous and she barks in a ravenously snarling, male British accent. The dialogue is disgusting and offensive. Her mother tries to stop her, but she overpowers her, forces her face into her groin, then slaps her so hard her feet leave the floor and she lands flat on her back. Then Regan’s head spins 180 degrees and she sneers, wild-eyed and repugnant, in that maniacal voice.


The Wicker Man

Thewickerman Lordsummerisle

Horrifying Moment: Sumer is Icumen In

The clip can be viewed here. A scene that will make you watch, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. At the end of the film, Sergeant Howie, who has been called to the island to investigate a missing girl, discovers that the girl is not missing. He was duped into coming, so that the islanders, a pagan cult that worships the sun, can sacrifice him, a Christian, to the Sun for a successful harvest. This is based on Julius Caesar’s history of the Celts. He writes that they sacrifice human victims in giant effigies made of wicker or wood. Howie is locked in against his will, and screams Psalm 23 at the top of his voice in horror as the islanders set the wicker man on fire, and the flames engulf him and all the animals inside. The islanders, led by Sir Christopher Lee in his scariest performance, join hands and sway back and forth playing instruments and singing the Middle English folk song “Sumer Is Icumen In,” to ensure a good harvest.


Training Day

Horrifying Moment: The Bathtub Scene

Narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris can no longer trust his new partner, Jake Hoyt, who refuses to break the law and be a crooked cop. Hoyt seriously disapproves of Harris’s execution of a known drug lord. So, Harris decides to get rid of him by using a few shady Mexican friends. At their house Harris excuses himself, and ditches Hoyt to his fate. Part of the drug lord’s stolen drug money goes to the Mexicans, who then overpower and drag Hoyt to the bathtub, preparing to execute him with a shotgun blast to the face.

He begs for his life, but they shout more abuse at him, until one of them robs him and discovers one of the Mexicans’ cousin’s wallet in Hoyt’s pocket. He demands to know where Hoyt got it, and Hoyt explains that he saved the girl’s life earlier from two homeless crackheads. The Mexican, named Smiley, is enraged at this obvious lie and calls his cousin to find out. She repeats the same story and the Mexicans decide to let Hoyt go for helping Smiley’s cousin. This is a very powerful scene showing the seedy underside of life in L. A. and how close and easily a policeman can come to death in the line of duty.


Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs (1/12) Movie CLIP – Closer! (1991) HD

Horrifying Moment: Dr. Lecter Escapes

Hannibal Lecter is an icon of cinematic history, Hopkins’s finest hour (or 16 minutes), and one of the scariest bad guys in film. He is a monster, a pure psychopath who does not care that murder is wrong. He only kills those who offend him in some way, but he breaks this rule when he escapes from his now merely maximum security cell in Memphis, Tenn. He lures the guards in with his calm demeanor, while he picks his cuffs (all to Bach’s Goldberg Variations), then cuffs one, bites, bashes and maces the other, and clubs the first to death with his own nightstick.

Now covered in blood, he escapes into the divine music for a while, then cuts off the face of the other guard, puts it over his own, changes clothes, and gets wheeled right out as the guard in disguise. Once he’s out, he kills the paramedics and a tourist for some money, and disappears into society. The truly horrifying moment comes when the police bust into the cell room and find one guard crucified at the top of the cell with his belly sliced open and his liver on his head.


DELIVERANCE Clips + Trailer (1972) Burt Reynolds

Horrifying Moment: Squeal Like a Pig

WARNING: the above scene contains some nudity. This movie will forever be remembered for two scenes. First, the inbred boy who is a master of the banjo duels with one of the city boys. The other scene is later, after the city boys have canoed down the river. Two mountainmen ambush two of them, Ned Beatty and Jon Voight, and force Voight at gunpoint to watch as one of them, Bill McKinney in real life, tells Ned Beatty he looks “just like a hawg,” then rapes him while forcing him to “squeal like a pig.” It is absolutely horrifying. The sound of his voice squealing like a pig, and then Beatty moaning as the sodomy begins. The other mountainman is played by Herbert Coward, who then tries to force Voight into performing fellatio, saying, “He got a real purty mouth, ain’t he?”

Burt Reynolds shows up and shoots McKinney through the back with a bow and arrow. Coward’s character escapes for the time being. When John Boorman told Coward he would be raping someone in the film, he said, “I’ve done worse.”

This scene has been parodied, remade, ripped off and talked about ever since 1972 when it hit theaters. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more disgusting, repugnant, realistic or appalling moment of pure terror in the history of film.

fact checked by Alex Hanton