Though audiences are most familiar with Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the eponymous monster in Stephen King’s It actually takes on many forms, changing its shape to reflect the deepest fears of its victims. In celebration of the release of Andy Muschietti’s highly anticipated adaptation, some of the ORWAV writers decided to share some of the movie moments that have most terrified them.
Kambole Campbell – Black Philip, The Witch (2015)
Anyone that has watched a horror film with me knows that I’m not really all that fussed by things that make you jump. Not that I think anything is wrong with that mechanic: it might just be that things with a slower burn, or certain images, are what scare me the most.
Robert Eggers’ directorial debut The Witch feeds off paranoia, much like the witch of the title. The whole film oozes with tension and dread, but the moment that stuck with me the most came from an unlikely source: the family goat, Black Philip.
He’s an amusing presence at first (he’s a goat named Philip!), but you soon realise something is very wrong with this animal. The children claim he’s telling them things. Later, he gores a member of the family. And when the film finally plays its hand, it turns out Black Philip is actually goddamn Satan. The reveal would be laughable were it not for the power of the reveal itself – an offscreen transformation into the devil himself, cloaked in darkness, speaking the words “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”, in the most unnerving whisper I’ve ever heard. No more petting zoos for me.
Carmen Paddock – The opening of Scream (1996)
The deconstructionist horror-comedy Scream would have scared me sufficiently had the viewing gone smoothly. However, a home-video error in the first five minutes unintentionally ratcheted the suspense and scares to unbearable levels.
Hooded figures are my kryptonite, even in films like Hot Fuzz, so I knew from the start that Scream would frighten me more than was reasonable. Before Ghostface even appeared, however, my friend’s streaming connection was interrupted the moment after the voice on the phone tells Casey (Drew Barrymore) he wants “to know who I’m looking at.” After establishing a new connection, we started the film from the beginning, but the damage had been done: waiting with this overwhelming dread was excruciating. I knew just enough to expect horror aplenty, but not enough to dispel the suspense.
I have seen arguably scarier films (The Babadook, It Follows) with no ill effects as the credits rolled, but the cult classic’s black-cloaked killer and disembodied voice made night-time walks around my house terrifying for months after. I would like to watch Scream again – it is an excellent black comedy and horror-lite to watch with friends on an October night – but this last experience was embarrassingly recent, and a revisit will certainly not happen for another few years.
Phil W. Bayles – The Pleasure Island Donkeys, Pinocchio (1940)
Walt Disney may have brought us many of our most cherished childhood moments, but he’s also partially responsible for fucking us all up. The studio’s earliest films are filled with traumatic scenes, from the death of Bambi’s mother to Dumbo’s alcohol-induced hallucinations. But nothing beats Disney’s second animated feature, Pinocchio, for sheer nightmare fuel – being as it is a morality tale in which a puppet learns to be brave, truthful and unselfish through one form of torture after another.
By far the worst part is the sequence set in Pleasure Island, a theme park where young boys are encouraged to smoke, drink and gamble, and are punished by being turned into donkeys. Considering this is a film about a magic talking puppet and his cricket-shaped conscience, there’s something unnervingly real about the scene; David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London has nothing on Lampwick’s screams of pain. Still, at least the film doesn’t go as far as the original story, in which Lampwick is sent to work in a mine and freaking dies.
That one scene is the reason I haven’t seen Pinocchio since I was seven years old. Well, that and the whale. And the puppeteer. And the freaky fox and cat. God, that film is messed up.
Joni Blyth – The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Like many, the scariest film I’ve ever seen was during my early teenage years. Unlike many, this wasn’t a sleepover with an old video of chainsaw massacres, or borrowing a mate’s cousin’s pirated copy of The Ring – this was an innocent family movie night gone awry.
“Oh, this looks fun,” my mum says, “It’s fairytales, but with that Bourne guy, you’ll like it.” And so The Brothers Grimm was chucked on, and my night took a turn. Unfortunately, I am still too afraid to watch the appropriate scenes on YouTube to provide a recap, but don’t worry: the film’s horrors are ingrained deep into my cranium, like my Nan’s flapjack recipe or the Cha-Cha Slide.
I’m not sure what was the final straw that caused me to run out of the room. It might have been the horse spitting webbing and swallowing a child whole, or maybe the mud that stole a child’s face, but I definitely remember spending the rest of the evening choking back tears, and soothing myself with Burnout 3. When they’re directed by Terry Gilliam, fairytales definitely are not for kids.
Eddie Falvey – Martyrs
As a popular subset of the horror genre, extreme horror (or splatter horror) has a lot of trash films to answer for (I purposefully choose not to use the term “torture porn” here for the vexatious issues that I have with its implied pairing of violence with sex).
After Saw’s popularity instigated a renewed interest in the genre’s capacity to delight in censor-troubling violence, the stage was set for a new cycle of particularly graphic horror films that were breaking out from a variety of national contexts. The best of these films didn’t use increasingly violent imagery to exploit the eagerness of the gore crowd as the Saw sequels did; instead, filmmakers made use of violence to intelligently explore the perversities of human nature, such as in Pascal Laugier’s 2008 French masterpiece Martyrs.
Martyrs begins by asking the oft-ignored question as to what happens to the victims in such films, before veering off into increasingly more fascinating and disturbing territory where it inflicts targeted, blunt-force trauma on an audience used to treating such films as the celluloid equivalent of fast food. Laugier ramps up the horror for a masterful, terrifying final act which seeks to confront the troubling role that violence continues to play as a central component of the human condition.