Archives for category: Scary scenes from film and television

It’s odd that I’ve chosen scary scenes from film and TV as my first blogging topic because, despite my near lifelong love of the horror genre, I am also the biggest, windiest pudding who ever watched a film. Anything scares me.  As a child I was terrified of this advert for Denim aftershave.  Once I remember banging on the toilet door to alert my Mum, who was trying to pass motion in peace, that it was on the telly and that I needed rescue. It never occurred to me to just change the channel. To this day I still find myself wide-eyed and awake in the middle of the night, recalling something frightening I’d seen earlier, wishing the hours of dawn would hurry along….wishing  I’d never watched whatever the bloody thing was in the first place. So it’s quite strange that this much talked about scene from ITV’s 1989 adaptation of Susan Hill’s “The Woman in Black” has so little effect on me. When trawling through IMDB talkboards years ago, where the subject was scariest scenes, this one was mentioned time and time again. I recall the anecdote of someone’s father being so afrighted by it that they threw their dinner plate in the air during its shock moment. Watched in isolation it’s hard to see how it could ever have that effect, but maybe I need to watch the programme in its entirety for the scene to fulfill  its maxmimum sphincter quivering potential.  The famous stage adaptation certainly did terrify me. Perhaps the problem is simply that I have a sneaky fancy for the Woman in Black herself. I’ve often watched Pauline Moran’s character Miss Lemon in Agatha Christie’s Poirot and thought “I bet you were a bit of all right when you were younger” and having looked into the matter further (ie – Googled it) it seems my suspicions were correct. Therefore I’m sorry Miss Woman in Black but I suspect you were far too attractive in your youth to be scary to me now.


My earliest Doctor Who memory is of the ludicrous Movellans, a race of all-conquering androids who could be defeated by simply removing the batteries they conveniently carried around on their belts. My next encounter, watching Julian Glover remove an unconvincing mask to reveal an unconvincing tentacled, cycloptic mush in City of Death, didn’t so much send me behind the sofa as it did running down the stairs yelping in terror at what I’d just seen. It no longer has that effect on me, I’m pleased to say, but a Who scene I do find rather unnerving comes from the Patrick Troughton story “Fury from the Deep”.  Not much of this tale remains, thanks to the BBC’s one-time policy of destroying programmes they’d made because they couldn’t be bothered to archive them. There is this compilation of scenes however, and it’s the second surviving scene that gives fright. The creepy men are Oak and Quill. They subdue their victims by pulling  awful faces and breathing noxious onion breath over them. It would be quite ridiculous were it not so unpleasant. The ghoulish expression of the taller man (Quill) is bad enough but the extended close-ups of their mouths and filthy teeth, incredibly suggestive for what was tea-time viewing, is memorably sordid and not in a good way. The Alpha Monster of this story is actually a bubble-bath loving seaweed entity, laughable when compared to the menace of Oak and Quill and a good example of how Doctor Who works better when it doesn’t try and achieve Hollywood effects on a budget of £14 and instead realises the effectiveness of small things. I hope the modern series, which so far has nearly destroyed the world, the universe, all matter and all of time, will one day understand this.

Blacula is a better film than any film called Blacula has a right to be. It somehow walks a line between dignified seriousness and utter, utter absurdity. William Marshall’s sympathetic performance keeps the whole thing together, and any film which can suddenly break for a live performance by the mighty Hues Corporation has got a lot going for it. It also has its fair share of scares, the one that sticks mostly in my mind being this nightmarish moment. I need to watch it again before giving it a more in-depth review. I do recall being slightly disappointed with the sequel “Scream Blacula Scream”, although it is generally considered the superior film. This is the film that introduced the lore that vampires instantly grow bushy sideburns on their cheekbones when they reveal themselves.

I’m firmly in the “I like Superman III” camp, opposing the much larger “I’d rather clean my teeth with caustic soda than watch Superman III again” group. It lacks its predecessors’ epic scope but it’s very entertaining, has a terrific trademark Richard Lester opening scene (which I remember being greeted with tremendous  appreciation at the cinema) and it offers something truly surprising and twisted in the scene where the pure and decent Clark Kent combats his polluted and hostile alter-ego in a scrapyard. The other surprise Superman III had in store for its audience, particularly the younger members, was this moment. Do not under-estimate the effect the woman’s cries, the abrupt halt in the music and especially the huge silver eyes staring out of the screen had on us youngsters. It absolutely horrified me, as it did my young friend who accompanied me to see it. We still occasionally laugh about it today. It’s great when films ostensibly made for children have moments of real horror.

The public reaction to Ghostwatch spooked the BBC so much it effectively buried the programme for a decade. It has been described as the British equivalent of the Orson Welles ‘The War of the Worlds’ American radio broadcast in 1938, generating significant panic in its audience and even a possible suicide. The programme was actually never presented as anything but fiction, forming part of the BBC’s Screen One drama season, but the live broadcast device and the use of well-known presenters, in the main associated with factual rather than dramatic broadcast, convinced millions of viewers that the events unfolding before their eyes were real – the world’s first mass-witnessed haunting. The BBC was flooded with complaints. Terrified viewers rang in to ask after the welfare of those presenters they’d just seen terrorised. It’s claimed that one woman even sent in a dry cleaning bill for her husband’s soiled trousers. An audience of 11 million Brits had been rattled like they’d never been before or since. If the makers of the show had gone ahead with their original plan, to transmit a sound beyond the range of human hearing but pitched to annoy the hell out of pet dogs and cats, there could have been anarchy. One can never replicate the power of Ghostwatch’s initial broadcast. We know for certain we are watching a dramatisation and anyway the acting is variable. It’s still tremendous fun however. There are spot the ghost moments (he appears numerous times throughout the programme, some times less obviously than others), screeching cats, video messages from genuine members of the public relating their own paranormal experienes, a possessed girl, later a possessed host and an apocalyptic ending that implies the whole of Britain is now under paranormal attack via the medium of television. It’s clever stuff, predated The Blair Witch Project by 7 years and still makes for unnerving late-night viewing. I can’t find many individual scenes on YouTube, so here’s the BBC dealing with the public reaction instead.

One of the hardest blokes I know is terrified of Children of the Corn. A man who thinks nothing of playing mental Irish sports Hurling and Gaelic football turns to jelly at the thought of these fanatical children with bad hair, massacring their parents. For the most part I can’t say it’s ever had that great an effect on me. There’s a brief jump moment early on and the prematurely aged Isaac is odd and unsettling, but the young Linda Hamilton is diverting and the film is silly and fun but not terribly scary. That is apart from one moment near the end, when a demonic Isaac returns from the dead to claim his revenge on former deputy Malachi. Isaac’s shriek from off-camera is pant-flooding. So much so that I’m not even going to link to it on YouTube, as I have no wish to hear it again. Here’s pre-demonic but still jolly creepy Isaac instead.

What chances a programme like Sapphire & Steel being made today? A programme that doesn’t seek to please any demographic or audience sector, or explain itself or come to any comfortable resolution. A programme that was presented as a children’s programme but which was far too complex, baffling even, for an adult audience. A programme that went out at a family viewing slot and yet which contained scenes that would give children (and I was one of them) nightmares for days.  A modern producer would probably make the unfailingly serious Steel softer, or worse (as they did with the awful David Tennant’s Doctor) a ‘character’. Sapphire would probably become ethnic, pretty and extraordinarily dull where Joanna Lumley was empathetic, wry and more than a little flirtatious. Storylines would be shortened, simplified, lightened. Some it might even make sense. It would be rubbish. This is one of my favourite scary scenes, from the episode where Steel sacrifices a kind old gentleman to appease a malevolent power that feeds off the resentment of the dead. You don’t get storylines like that, or lines like “It could take my eyes” anymore.