The 25 scariest movie moments that will keep you awake at night

18. The Babadook (2014)

The scary moment: The book

The Babadook is unpleasant on so, so many levels, but the book that introduces the film’s monster is the real nasty. Ostensibly a children’s picture book - but really not suitable for anyone - it’s just as threatening as the pointy fingered bad-man it introduces. It’s helped along by some of the most unpleasant drawings committed to paper - cruel black scratches on the page promising threats of ill against the family that find it, terrifying the son and probing the mother’s deepest fears in particular (that she might hurt herself or her child). The fact that it can’t be destroyed either doesn’t help - nothing makes a prophetic cursed book worse than not burning.

17. The Wicker Man (1973)

The scary moment: The ending

There’s an eccentric and very English otherworldliness to The Wicker Man throughout, with all its sexually loaded pagan rituals and creepy kids in masks. It’s a layer that ultimately only serves to make the final moments all the more disturbing. It not just that Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie is to be burned alive in a giant wooden effigy, it’s the calculated nature of his very carefully planned death - faking a missing girl’s disappearance to draw him to the island specifically to be sacrificed. His final moments, screaming hymns as the flames build around him, is only made worse by the happy-clappy villagers dancing and smiling as he burns. 

16. Kill List (2011)

The scary moment: The hunchback

There are so many layers of nasty to Kill List that it’s almost impressive that the ending manages to trump anything that’s come before. Fingers are smashed with a hammer, a woman hangs herself, and Gal, one of the two ‘heroes’ gets disemboweled and is then executed by his friend, Jay. All filmed with oppressively claustrophobic weight throughout. It’s the final kicker though that, even now, still takes some processing: Jay, captured by cultists, is forced to fight a hunchback in a mask who he stabs to death. Except it’s his wife. And the hump is his now dead son on her back. Oh, and his wife’s laughter as she dies, because she’s been in on the whole thing for their entire marriage. 

15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The scary moment: The door and hook 

Of all the things to be afraid of in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the front door of a house is an odd one to list. But it does give us two of the film’s worst deaths. Firstly there’s Kirk, who puts his head into the house only to have it caved in with a hammer by Leatherface, his life ending to the beaten out rhythm of his spasming heel on the floor. Then there’s Pam, who’s dragged, kicking and screaming, through the door and hall to be hung, alive, from a meathook on the ceiling. Somehow that ends up feeling worse than an immediate death, Pam having to watch Kirk’s corpse chainsawed to pieces, while trying to take the weight off the metal spike jammed into the back of her ribs. 

14. The Thing (1982)

The scary moment: The bit with the chest and arms

John Carpenter's seminal sci-fi movie wastes little time in hitting its creature feature stride - dissolving a cage full of dogs and setting a few people on fire before most of the cast really have a handle on what’s going on. However, it’s the death of the Antarctic base’s geologist Norris that really ups the body horror. After collapsing, attempts to resuscitate him are literally cut off after it’s revealed he’s been assimilated by the shape-changing alien; his chest opens into a fang-filled mouth to bite off the arms performing heart massage at the elbow.

13. Alien (1979)

The scary moment: The chestburster

One of the most iconic deaths in cinema works so well, in part, because the cast at the time weren’t told everything that was going to happen. John Hurt’s death, as the baby xenomorph erupts from his chest, was mentioned to the actors. Kind of. They just left out the bit about the incredible amount of blood and guts involved. The panic and terror that makes the scene so memorable was largely real for the cast, as they freaked out in unison under the shower of all that gore. Actress Veronica Cartwright got the worst deal, catching a mouthful of blood and going into genuine, non-acted hysterics. 

12. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

The scary moment: The Pale Man

There’s classic fairy tale set-up to Pan’s Labyrinth’s most horrific scene: a big table full of amazing-looking food that you can’t eat, because monsters. Except the heroine Ofelia does exactly that, awakening the Pale Man, one of horror's most instantly recognisable creatures. Thin and skeletal, with folds of loose skin hanging in flaps, it’s already a disturbing image. But it’s his eyes, blinking in the palms of his hands, fingers splayed like giant eyelashes, that really cements the terror. By that point, biting the heads off two tiny fairies is basically icing on an already horrible cake. 

11. Poltergeist (1982)

The scary moment: Clown

Everyone remembers that moment of childhood dread when you absolutely believed there was something under the bed. Poltergeist does it beautifully, with one of the creepiest clowns ever committed to screen. It’s a beautifully crafted build up, with weather, lighting and slow camera pans teasing and then losing the toy, before exploding into a sudden and violent attack. The rapid changes in pace and tone, the timeless nature of the fear, and the fact that it’s a child under threat mean this still holds its impact despite repeat viewings.

Leon Hurley
Senior Guides Co-ordinator

I'm GamesRadar's Senior Guides Co-ordinator, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.