The Year in Horror: The Scariest Moments of 2013
2013 was a banner year for horror, with successes on both the critical and commercial fronts from early winter right up until now, as horror season prepares to rev up once more. Amongst these films were some truly scary moments, some of which will rarely leave this author’s memory anytime soon. So as for a little bit of fun, here are this writer’s picks for the top ten scariest moments, from 2013’s most chilling cinematic offerings.
Warning: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. There be spoilers
HM: “The Gathering” – DARK TOUCH
While disappointing overall, there are several sequences in DARK TOUCH that are absolutely, relentlessly horrifying. The film’s strongest moment of breathtaking fright comes towards the end, after a series of jaw-dropping acts of telekinetic brutality have set the stage for a standoff rooted in existential disorder. Having known the horror that Niahm (Missy Keating) can unleash at a moment’s notice, the orchestration of her magnum opus comes relatively quietly on a night following a particularly nasty moment at a birthday party. Knowing the influence she can pull over other children, she assembles the entire child population of the town, possibly to stand-off against the adults Niahm has become alienated from and hostile towards. However, as with the abuses that Niahm has seen and experienced time and time again, the reality of her actions is much, much worse, tearing the audience’s presumptions asunder and delivering an incredibly shocking moment that the film never truly recovers from.
10. “Aunt Ginny’s Phone Call” – STOKER
The scares of STOKER, much like the work of its director Chan-wook Park, are unconventionally composed, even if the sense of dread builds the same way a classic horror story may. And that’s what makes the few scenes of shock so effective in the first place: an unfamiliar presentation of a familiar fright. It’s fairly quickly that the audience realizes that something is wrong with Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), especially when his appearance coincides with certain people going missing, yet when Aunt Ginny (Jacki Weaver) shows up with a palpable sense of urgency, the tension ramps up like a ticking clock. As Ginny departs from the house after a coy dinner conversation with the family, her behavior becomes more erratic and deceptive, all under the watchful eye of Charlie. And when Ginny eventually realizes the literal and metaphorical box she’s cornered herself into, Park throws a bigger curveball than his past would insinuate: he pulls back, allowing the true horror of the moment to unfold in our imagination.
9. “Safe Haven” – V/H/S/2
There are more than a few reasons you’ve heard so much about ‘Safe Haven’ over the other segments of V/H/S/2, which all remain rather strong entries into the horror anthology lexicon in their own rights. Most of them lack the utter chest-restricting fear that flows throughout ‘Safe Haven’, cohesively drawn through an impressive dramatic plot and some great moments of dark levity. However, when ‘Safe Haven’ finally reveals its nature, through four equally terrifying moments told through a simultaneous narrative, the scares come furiously and without remorse. On one hand, we have a traditional spookhouse reveal of a mutilated body that isn’t what it seems. Simultaneously, one crew member’s objections are met with a violent encounter with a cult leader. Meanwhile, the sole female crew member is kidnapped by a legion of smiling female aides in doctor scrubs to ominous and foreboding praise. Lastly, the final member of the crew makes his way into the house, walking right into a mass suicide like none other portrayed on film. Directors Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto tie up every previous possible terror, presented off-hand or otherwise, and wrap up their segment with such tenacious madness that it’s hard to comprehend every gruesome event in just one sitting.
8. “What’s Behind My Back?” – INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 is a strange beast, one that’s effectively creepy when it wants to be but silly on so many more levels than the original was, which led to a conflicting sense of continuity and a grievous tonal imbalance. However, it was still satisfying on a sensory level, definitely provided strong scares and still fared better than most horror sequels. Most memorably, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 provided one of the scariest moments of the year with a simple appropriation of ‘The Waiting Game.’ When presented with the opportunity to subdue the possessed Josh (Patrick Wilson) via sedative injection, Carl (Steve Coulter) unwittingly puts himself in the metaphorical lion’s den, as a grinning Josh returns from the kitchen with an arm behind his back. As Josh demands Carl roll his psychic dice to learn what he’s hiding, the crawl towards the inevitable is a painful, gut-wrenching experience that will have you squirming in your seat. In a movie that prides itself on its surreal ventures into Gothic-inspired fantasy horror, this moment of minimalism outshines even the weirdest imposition.
7. “Preparing Dinner” – WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE has a few unforgettable moments of drama-laced tension throughout, particularly in the climatic and savage dinner table scene. Nevertheless, the scariest moment of the film comes around the midway mark, as the audience is taken down to the more gruesome areas of the Parker family lifestyle. Cavernous halls, pained moans and the frightful hesitance of the characters in question lead to a location that’d only been hinted at, but when revealed, finally places the reality of the situation that could have been dismissed, if kept hidden. To further punctuate the fright factor is the emotional resonance of the scene, with both Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner delivering fantastic and inspired performances as they go forward with their unspeakable action. It’s a harrowing, affecting moment and truly sets WE ARE WHAT WE ARE as a genre film of an exceptional pedigree.
6. “Looking for the Magic” – YOU’RE NEXT
YOU’RE NEXT is undoubtedly a scary film, but much of its appeal comes from the fun that the movie inspires, allowing it to jump from those scary moments to exhilarating action, dark comedy and unpredictable moments of grue. YOU’RE NEXT becomes a guessing game as the bodies pile up and the kills become more and more inventive. However, the most resonating kill happens at the peak of the film’s second act, as one of the family members’ spouses makes a run for it after coming face-to-face with one of the masked murderers. Unfortunately, one of the other killers catches her trail and the hunt is on, leading to an all-too-familiar location with the film’s unlikely anthem repeating on and on. The result ends up being one of the most brutal one-two punches of the year, one that requires a small bit of patience in order to get the most unnerving reaction and the sadistic final image of the scene sits to burn into your brain. If anything, this moment also proves that the murderers are far from tactful killers that work in the shadows: they’re cold-blooded, calculating and are clearly enjoying the thrill.
5. “Parking Lot Surprise” – MANIAC (2013)
As a horror junkie, there’s a certain fortitude that you pride yourself on after years and years of on-screen gore. Still, every now and then, a film comes along that contains maybe one moment where you can’t help but instinctively turn away. In 2011, that film was Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN (in which Angela Bettis gets an impromptu facelift), and in 2012, it was Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST (in which a kitchen serves as a therapeutic torture chamber). 2013’s was Franck Khalfoun’s MANIAC. In particular, one sequence in which we see a traditional stalk from the eyes of the killer (Elijah Wood), stationary in a parking lot until a viscerally terrifying turn that will leave your jaw open and your fingers pressed to your eyes as the scene plays out in a brutal, out-of-body fashion. In one way, you’ll be uneasy simply because the area of the body that’s attacked is rarely shown on film, especially in such off-putting aural detail. At the same time, the moment subverts years upon years of horror film conditioning, as we see it all unfurl through the eyes of the slasher rather than the victim. The jolts of discovery and stall tactics are far, far more intense.
4. “Lucas’s Secret Card” – WOULD YOU RATHER
Well-conceived and written while also delivering creepy thrills in spades. WOULD YOU RATHER was one of 2013’s most pleasant genre surprises. In fact, the film is also one that goes even better with a group viewing, as seeing it with an audience or friends to gage reactions turns WOULD YOU RATHER into an interactive experience. But no moment of disturbing voyeurism elicited chatter, whispers and screams as much as the moment when Lucas (Enver Gjokaj), the de facto male protagonist, opens up a secret card that gives him a punishment far worse than his previous option. Instead of taking two minutes underwater, Lucas is forced to slash out his own eye with a straight razor, but the rapidly escalating dread of the scene is underlined by just exactly how tempting a bullet to the brain is as opposed to just that. It’s an unthinkable task, one that many would gladly accept death in its stead, and director David Guy Levy knows it, holding us on Lucas for as long as we possibly can. It’s no UN CHIEN ANDALOU, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
3. “The Bathroom” – EVIL DEAD
I’m sure I’m not the only one who audio components and sound design don’t get a fair shake in criticism. Most of the time, notes towards the effects and the acting take precedence over the hard work of the sound designer, who’s often integral to the effectiveness of the film as a whole. And while some films revel in the aural pleasure of abstract visuals and concise sounds (such as this year’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO), other films pull off the opposite with the same effect, such as EVIL DEAD’s most effective sequence. As Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes to find the missing Olivia (Jessica Lucas), the utter silence of his movements are interrupted by the sound of something being sawed away, but just the inevitable places that our imagination knows we’ll end up causes hair to raise. And as an audience, I don’t think any of us were fully prepared for the goosebump-inducing and pupil-contracting horror that lie behind the bathroom door. I think audiences are so used to disembodied limbs and heads as opposed to smaller victories of pain and torment (such as nails ripped off, broken bones, etc) that when a movie such as EVIL DEAD is focused on delivering pain, that depiction relies on specificity, and that is what the Bathroom scene delivers in the worst (and best) way.
2. “Detangling” – GRAVITY
There’s much debate amongst fans as to whether or not GRAVITY counts as a legitimate horror film. It is, through and through, as no film invoked as much anxiety, panic and fear on such a deep level as much as GRAVITY. While the first person scenes were undeniably frightening, the scariest moment of the film comes in its most perilous and impressively concocted sequence. When Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) realizes she must detangle the rescue parachute that was accidentally deployed from the International Space Station, as orbiting debris field running at a terrifyingly high speed hits the station in full force. As the audience sees the destruction and devastation unfold while Stone does her best to protect herself, the soundless vacuum of space further serves as a subtle horror consuming the audience’s worst fears, leaving us with the sounds of Stone’s borderline hyperventilation—as unsettling as any ghost story or slasher feature.
1. “LOOK WHAT SHE MADE ME DO!” – THE CONJURING
[Ed Note: Unfortunately, we just could not find a proper photo of this great little moment.] On a greedy day, I could find five or six moments from THE CONJURING to make this list. Unfortunately, fair is fair, and there is one moment in particular that scared me to an abrupt vocal response. During the end of the second act of THE CONJURING, an unexplained light and noise bring skeptical cop Brad (John Brotherton) towards the house patio, readying the audience for another spooktastic showcase. Yet, when Brad sees nothing at the outskirts of the patio, he walks away, only to catch the ghostly image of a maid, drawing him into the next room with the utterance of “Look what she made me do…” As the laws of horror movies would have it, Brad follows the maid and accidentally stumbles into the scariest bait-and-switch of 2013, and one that sent the audience (myself included) into hysterics. It’s a simple scare, essentially with the same mechanics as a haunted attraction, with a loud noise and scary visual popping out toward you. But it’s also a brilliant way to relay specific elements of the plot and show off the multiple spirits bound to the house while also giving the scariest scene to the skeptic character.