This weekend, horror fans have something new and terrifying to slither to the theater for: the debut of “Lights Out” in theaters nationwide.” Based on a 2013 short film written and directed by David F. Sandberg, the full-length feature film marks his Hollywood directorial debut, with a little help from producer James Wan (“The Conjuring 2”) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer. The premise is so simple, and yet so unsettling: a young woman is stalked by a creature every time she turns the lights out. Nyctophobics have been warning us of the evils that lurk within shadows — and it turns out, they might have been right.
As fans of the original short film, our hopes are high for “Lights Out.” The trailer is packed with tension, following a woman who thought she left her childhood fear of the dark behind, until her little brother starts seeing the same entity who haunted her. Playing on common fears, the idea of everything we imagine in our dark bedrooms coming to life sets the stage for a deeply scary movie. Who hasn’t seen a monster in their closet, or checked for hideous, wet, dog-faced demons under their bed? The trailer alone was enough to make us sleep with the hallway light on.
We’re horror junkies here at CBR, and the anticipation of “Lights Out” got us thinking about other horror films that have lingered with us long after the credits rolled. We present, in chronological order, ten horror movie moments that made us sleep with the lights on.
10. Chest defibrillation in “The Thing” (1982)
When it comes to John Carpenter movies, you can really take your pick of moments that will ruin your sleep for life — but in “The Thing,” the horror master truly plunges the sickening depths of his imagination. Normally body horror doesn’t linger in my imagination the way more subtle scares do, but something about the sound of a human torso ripping open just sticks with me. Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) thinks his colleague Norris (Charles Callahan) has just suffered a heart attack and attempts to revive him with a defibrillator. Instead of bringing him back to life, he instead wakes up the sticky, glistening alien spider inside of him, which proceeds to chomp off both of his arms. We have special FX master Rob Bottin to thank for this one, and by thank we mean not so silently curse as we stare up at the ceiling trying to count terrifying sheep that look suspiciously like the alien creature in the film.
9. The song from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
No list of horror movies that’ll disturb your slumber is complete without at least one moment from Wes Craven’s classic slasher franchise. Robert England’s Freddy Krueger is a true horror icon, featuring burned skin, a signature fedora and a clawed hand, he’s the stuff of nightmares, even when he’s not actually hunting down his victims in the middle of a nightmare. While many of the deaths in the series are just a little too goofy to truly haunt my dreams, the childish voices singing Freddy Krueger’s lullaby have imbedded themselves into my overactive imagination. Part chant, part invocation, part warning, the simple rhyme drips with dread, creating a lingering and timeless legacy.
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door. Five, six, grab a crucifix. Seven, eight, Gonna stay up late. Nine, ten, Never sleep again…”
Well said, children. Well said.
8. Ghoulish nun with shears in “Exorcist III” (1990)
This might just be the best jump scare in any movie ever, full stop. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty, this installment of the classic franchise is highly overlooked. Blatty brilliantly channeled Italian horror with surreal David Lynch-ian storytelling, creating a surprisingly memorable film. This scene in particular involves a static long shot down a hospital corridor where nothing much happens for a couple of minutes, except a nice nurse doing her rounds. No matter how prepared I am for the fast walking wraith in white to overtake her prey, it gets me every single time. There have definitely been late night trips to the bathroom where I’ve flipped my cell phone flash light on, knowing full well it’s only a movie, just to make sure a pair of glittering decapitation scissors weren’t right behind me. Not that I’d have enough time to do anything, of course…
7. Fortune cookie from “IT” (1990)
Oh, Pennywise. You truly are the stuff that nightmares are made of. It’s hard to pick just one upsetting moment from a four-hour movie that stars a child-eating clown, but the one I find myself thinking about most often is the blood-and-claw filed fortune cookie. Now, arguably, this is a pretty terrible movie, but something about the unexpectedness of a benign dessert becoming a hell-crustacean before our very eyes bores right into the brain. One minute some friends are having a pleasant reunion over some chow mein, and the next they are being terrorized by possessed cookies filled with all manner of gore, from an eyeball to a half-alive baby bird. I haven’t cracked one open since without flinching. And as for New Line’s upcoming remake, having seen Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise for the first time… We’ll go ahead and say, “No thanks.” We value our sleep just a bit too much.
6. Buffalo Bill turns the tables in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
While Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter may steal the show, he’s far from the most terrifying thing in the 1991 film that won the big five Academy Awards. Yes, the idea of being stalked in the dark by a killer known for skinning his victims is scary enough — but to take that same scene and force the viewer to watch from the perspective of the villain makes a memorable moment. Director Jonathan Demme took his time with the climactic scene, which pits FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) against Buffalo Bill in his murder-basement. Bill flips the switch and plunges the hell pit into darkness, watching through Night Vision as the terrified lamb Starling feels her way around. Lasting nearly two minutes, the scene lets you imagine exactly how it would feel to be a hungry monster craving woman-skin, but also how it feels to be intently watched. Alone. Maybe in your own bedroom.
5. First night in the orphanage in “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
While plenty know Guillermo del Toro as the man behind the Hellboy movies and “Pacific Rim,” he cut his teeth on straight horror. Even if “Crimson Peak” didn’t exactly light the world on fire, one of his earlier works still gives us the heebie jeebies 15 years later. “The Devil’s Backbone” is one of the most beautiful, poetic horror movies I’ve ever seen, thanks to del Toro’s impeccable sense of visual storytelling and darkly magical aesthetic. A young boy is delivered to an under-funded orphanage in civil war-era Spain. Alone, unloved and frightened, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is forced to assimilate quickly to his new way of life. The orphanage itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t haunted by the milky eyed vaporous ghost, Santi (Junio Valverde). Del Toro’s spectral design pulls at the heartstrings while making you check under the bed just one more time, and the first night we see Carlos spend in his new home emphasizes how every creak, shadow and drip can be our undoing.
4. Katie in the closet in “The Ring” (2002)
You know what I hated? Having to search for this damn face on Google and face my fears yet again. I’ve never heard an audience scream before like they did during this reveal in Gore Verbinski’s nightmarish remake of “Ringu,” and the fast-cut has a lasting effectiveness that keeps it scary even after multiple viewings. The first victim of vengeful ghost Samara is young Katie Embry (Amber Tamblyn), who did nothing to incur wrath beyond watching a stupid video tape of, like, a bad art school film. Her punishment, exactly one week later, is to have the lower half of her face sucked into a nether void of endless suffering (I imagine) and be left, dead, in her closet to traumatize her mother the next day. Whenever I frantically pull back my shower curtain to make sure a serial killer isn’t lurking in my bathroom, this is the face I think of. And now so will you.
3. First appearance of the cave-monsters in “The Descent” (2005)
After an hour or so of gripping, claustrophobic panic in Neil Marshall’s cave-crawler “The Descent,” it seems like it can’t get much scarier. Oh, ho, ho — that’s where you’d be wrong. Dead wrong. It’s just at the point where you think you know what kind of film you’re watching when the director introduces blind, bat-faced ghouls who are ready to rip the guts out of the explorers. Say goodbye to a good night’s sleep as the cave-creeps are introduced via a character’s camera panning around a cave, set in night vision mode. By the time the faces of evil are revealed, it’s too late, since the monster is just inches behind her friend. This is the exact face burned onto my eyelids every time I hear a noise outside my window and consider checking it out. Which I never do, because I’m smart. And if you’re smart, you’ll avoid getting trapped in any dark caves for the foreseeable future.
2. Hide and Clap from “The Conjuring” (2013)
It’s fitting that one of the producers of “Lights Out” would earn a spot on this list for one of the most chilling moments in recent horror movie history. The best way to learn the lay of the land when moving into a freaky-ass haunted house is to play a blindfolded version of Marco Polo, I always say. Especially if you’re playing with a small child, who happens to be BFFs with one of the unseen entities already. In James Wan’s brilliant film “The Conjuring,” the five Perron children make a game out of hiding around the house, with the seeker calling out for them to clap so she can gauge their location. After their mother, played by Lili Taylor, is pushed into a basement, the malevolent presence shows its sense of humor by manifesting hands just behind her to clap loudly in her ear. Except it’s not playing.
1. Kitchen surprise from “It Follows” (2015)
Between the visceral sense of displacement, the nonsensical time eras, and the process of discovering exactly how a monster works while it’s constantly about to kill you, David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” is one long moment to ponder while you drift off to sleep. One scene in particular, though, haunts me whenever I go to my kitchen for a late-night snack. About thirty minutes into the movie, after spending quite a bit of time talking up the threat and seeing it from a distance, we finally get to meet it up close and personal — and it’s someone’s frumpy aunt? Except standing in a kitchen with her teeth knocked out, eyes blackened, thighs soaked with urine, and about to bend your legs behind your head until your spine shoots out of your stomach. Go home, frumpy devil aunt, you’re freaking me out.
What scene scared you so bad you didn’t sleep after watching it? Let us know in the comments!
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