Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.
Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.
The movies, comics, games, and shows we love can make us feel many positive things – joy, wonder, love, yadda yadda yadda. But among all those feels, we’re here today to hail the moments from the last 25 years that truly terrified us, offering up the visceral sensation of fear in a nice, controlled environment.
Note: Remember, gang, these moments are starting in 1994 (hence no Exorcist because obvs).
ALSO A LOT OF THESE ARE NSFW.
American Horror Story: Asylum, "Unholy Night" - Ian McShane as Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a pretty terrifying character: A man with a beard that disguises his face, breaking into your house, riding around on flying reindeer, and hitting every house in the world in the span of one night. Now, you get Ian McShane (who can do no wrong) to play a psychopathic version of Santa, and it's a scary yuletide treat.
The Babadook - The bedroom scene
The scariest part of this scene is not when you see the Babadook creeping weirdly across the ceiling, or when it flies into Amelia's mouth; it’s when Amelia hides under the blanket (as we all have done at some point in our lives), and you hear the wretched voice strangling to get out the word "Babadook." That, and the notion that the covers aren't the sanctuary we all thought they were.
The Blair Witch Project - The ending with the dude in the corner
Even people who weren’t fans of the original The Blair Witch Project couldn’t help but find the end chilling. After a slow burn of things just being slightly off for our intrepid hikers, things go completely off the rails, with Heather and Michael running madly through an abandoned house full of very creepy graffiti. But it’s the final shot, with Michael standing in the corner, that truly makes you want to never, ever, ever go into the woods.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Hush" - The Gentlemen
The Gentlemen may be some of the most dapper monsters we've ever seen. Dressed smartly in suits, the Gentlemen float rather than walk, have very prim, proper demeanors ... and their ghastly faces that are frozen in a horrifying smile. The fact that they steal the voices of everyone in Sunnydale only adds to the creep factor.
The Conjuring - Hide and Clap
There are several "hide and clap" scenes in James Wan's The Conjuring. Clapping was a main component of the trailers. The game (which we had never heard of before this movie) is like hide and seek, but the seeker (who is blindfolded) gets to ask for three claps to use as hints to find the hider. Sounds pretty fun ... but not exactly the kind of thing you want to play in a haunted house. In this scene, you know that something unexpected will appear, but like Lili Taylor's character, you don’t expect it to come from the pile of old furniture, covered with ghostly white sheets.
The Conjuring 2 - The nun scene
This is why James Wan is the modern master of horror. The fear from this scene comes from the intense dread you get while waiting for the demon to appear. It is a slow build-up, with something scary lurking around every corner. It's not just a creak in the floorboards or a scratching sound on the window. You get to see the shadow creep slowly, slowly around the room, waiting to see what it does. Then, the fingers appear from behind the frame ... the attack of the nun is just the cherry on top, the release that the audience is waiting for.
The Descent - The creature appears
Here's a tip: if you are going spelunking and you see an enormous pit of animal bones that cannot possibly be the doing of any normal animal, don't start yelling. Just get the hell out. As this clip from The Descent proves, you don't want to meet the creature capable of doing that kind of damage.
Event Horizon - Ship's log playback
In this underrated blending of science-fiction and eldritch horror, we learn that messing with space and time might not necessarily be the best thing. Unfortunately, we learn it most by watching a series of ship’s logs detailing the hellish demise of the crew of the Event Horizon. It was found footage horror before that became a thing, and it set an unsettling tone for the events of the film.
Hereditary - Piano wire and a silent glide
Here’s another film that doesn’t lack for scary moments, but the most frightening is utterly silent. After Annie (Toni Colette) becomes possessed, she stalks her son Peter through their house. The entire sequence is horrifying, but her quiet-as-the-grave drift past his bedroom door is the scariest by far. Her hovering in the corner of his ceiling isn’t pleasant either, nor is the bit with the piano wire…both of which soon follow.
The House of the Devil - Satanic ritual
Babysitting must be the most dangerous job in the world. Slashers always stalk babysitters. But in Ti West's The House of the Devil, babysitter Samantha had a few warning signs, including the fact that she was actually "sitting" for an old woman instead of a child. Even still, that doesn't prepare her for what happens next: the Satanic ritual Samantha is forced into. Though the film was shot in 2009, it is set in the 1980s and trades on the "Satanic panic" that was gripping the nation by its throat.
The Human Centipede - Operation overview
We remember when we first saw the trailer for The Human Centipede. We were shocked, we were disgusted, we were horrified. Frankly, watching the movie in its entirety was not nearly as upsetting as the idea of being sewn together, posterior-to-mouth. There is something extra-terrifying about Dr. Heiter describing the procedure as just another standard operation, like resetting a broken bone or repairing a torn ligament.
Insidious - The demon appears
Nightmares suck, but you can always tell yourself, "It's only a dream. It's only a dream." That is, unless you are in a James Wan film. Then you know the nightmares will become real and a demon will appear behind your son.
It Follows - The tall man
It's a very simple jump scare. Jay is freaking out; her friends come to comfort her. Then there is a knock at the door. Will it be friend or foe? The kids open the door and are relieved to find it is friend - until a very, very tall man appears behind her, looking ghastly and evil.
Ju-On: The Grudge - The staircase
The 2004 american remake of this with Sarah Michelle Gellar (aka Buffy aka Daphne aka Kendall Hart #1) was definitely freaky, but the original takes the cake. And this scene is the piece de resistance. Can you imagine being at home and some creepy dead Japanese lady with a pale white face starts crawling down your stairs, moaning and reaching for you? Horrible.
Ju-on: The Grudge – Under the covers
We repeat the above sentiment. Except this time, imagine under your covers you see a Japanese woman with severe bangs just staring at you.
Let the Right One in - Pool deaths
In a certain light, this scene is sort of sweet but also really twisted. 12-year-old Oskar is bullied a lot at school but forms a sweet friendship with a vampire girl named Eli. Eli, being a good friend, decides to help Oskar out one day. This is the result.
Martyrs - The flaying scene
There is a lot of abuse and violence in Martyrs, the worst being when Anna is flayed alive in order to make her a "martyr." Despite all the bloodshed, the truly terrifying part of this film is the idea that this is all done in the name of religion.
Pan's Labyrinth - The Pale Man
The Pale Man may be one of the most enduring images in all of sci-fi/fantasy. Though he is only in a few minutes of Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, he is one of the most imaginative and distinctive creatures in a film filled with imaginative and unique creatures. When Ofelia enters his domain, she disobeys the instructions and samples a bit of the Pale Man's sumptuous feast. This awakens him, and causes him to put in his eyes - in his hands. Because you have to see your prey if you hope to catch them.
Paranormal Activity - The ending
There have actually been a lot of jump scares – or just really creepy scenes – in the Paranormal Activity franchise. The ending of the first movie – where we see the escalation of the otherworldly (demonic) activities happening to poor Katie and Micah come to head – might seem sort of tame now, but place it in context of the time. Found footage movies like this were still fairly nascent, and the grandmother of them all, The Blair Witch Project, left most of the action to the imagination. The finale – where a possessed Katie goes full metal evil – was the culmination of 90 minutes of creep out moments, now thrown in one’s face. Literally.
The Ring - Samara climbs out of the TV
Many people will say that the actual video from The Ring is the scariest part of the movie. True, it is scary, but the part that always stands out to us is when Samara crawls out of the TV. That scene some nightmares for weeks and had them threatening to get rid of their televisions.
Signs - The alien crashes the kid's birthday party
Signs certainly has its issues, but most of this intimate alien invasion film is effective and scary. Director M. Night Shyamalan keeps the extraterrestrial visitors in the shadows for much of the film, making this reveal at a child's birthday party that much more shocking and terrifying. Joaquin Phoenix's reaction really sums it up.
Sinister - any of the home movies
Sinister was one of the scariest movies of 2012, in no small part due to the terrifying "home movies." What first appears to be normal movies of families hanging out in their yard or going fishing soon turn into scenes of horror as it becomes clear the movies were taken by a stalker who then goes on to kill the families. What makes these home movies so terrifying is the fact that they were actually shot on Super 8 film, which lends to the authenticity of these being homemade snuff films.
The Walking Dead, "Welcome to the Tombs" - The Governor kills his own people
The Walking Dead has seen untold brutality in its run, both human-on-human and human-on-zombie violence. But by Season 3, it was still mostly humans vs. zombies. The Governor shooting his own troops, for no other reason than they wouldn't shut up, was a wake-up call. It showed the world was much farther removed from humanity than anyone had thought. It's a cold realism that is scarier than any zombie attack.
The Witch - The baby's blood scene
The Witch may have the most adorable representation of Satan (Black Phillip!), but it also has a truly horrifying scene near the beginning of the film. A witch steals an infant, takes it back to her cave, then crushes the baby with a mortar and pestle in order to rub the baby's blood and guts over her body. Sheesh.
Twin Peaks: The Return - "What year is this?"
There were plenty of horrifying moments to be had when we returned to the world of Twin Peaks (gotta light?) but nothing compared to the utter terror of the series’ final moment. Agent Cooper, the magician who longed to see, finally went too far. He wasn’t content with solving the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder, he went and stopped it from ever taking place. As a result, Cooper (and the audience) ended up in some kind of parallel universe where almost nothing made sense. Right after a bewildered Cooper asks what year it is outside what should be the Palmer House, Laura’s double in this alternate reality lets out an almighty shriek. It scared us on every level that it is possible to be scared on.
Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which moments from the last 25 years scared you out of your mind, and check out our complete "25 Greatest" lists here.