The 25 Scariest Moments in Non-Horror Movies

The 25 Scariest Moments in Non-Horror Movies (photo)

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When you sit down to a horror film, you know, at least on a basic level, what you’re getting into. Whether or not the movie delivers, what you’ve been promised, and what you’re braced for or looking forward to, are scares. Which is why, when we look back on those truly traumatic movie memories, the titles that come to mind often are not horror films at all.

The most frightening movie moments can arrive out of nowhere, in the midst of where they shouldn’t belong, catching you when you’re vulnerable — which is why there are a few alleged children’s films on this list. But they can also creep up on you, working a different kind of dread, which is where some of the documentaries included below fit in. Fear is a funny thing. It comes in different varieties, it can work its way on you in unanticipated, and, as our collection here proves, it definitely doesn’t always stem from things that go bump in the night.

10262009_Safe.jpg25. Carol gets a perm
“Safe” (1995)
Directed by Todd Haynes

Never has Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” been used to more chilling effect than when it’s blaring at the hair salon where Carol White (Julianne Moore) awaits her hair stylist. In what is supposed to be a respite from the pollution of urban life and the confines of a predictable life as an upper class housewife, Carol attempts indulging herself after other late ’80s panaceas like New Agey meditation videos and strenuous workouts don’t do the trick. (As one of Carol’s exercise partners notice, she doesn’t even break a sweat.) Yet when Carol arrives at the salon, it feels as inviting as one of those elaborate Rube Goldberg death traps — even Carol’s stylist’s (Janel Moloney) tentative agreement to fit Carol’s perm into her schedule after a cancellation sounds foreboding. After an afternoon of having her hair tightly wound around rollers and drowned in chemicals, Carol sits unfazed by her new wavy do as a rivulet of blood drips from her nose in a confirmation that she has been somehow poisoned by modern life. Producer Christine Vachon complains of Moore’s hair on the DVD commentary, “This was the day the hair would not curl.” Hair? No. Toe-curling? Yes. – Stephen Saito

10262009_BourneUltimatum.jpg24. The wrong man is disappeared
“The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)
Directed by Paul Greengrass

The dogged pursuit of Jason Bourne through jam-packed Waterloo Station is one of the “Bourne” trilogy’s great set-pieces, but it’s also a profoundly unnerving comment on the impunity with which covert government agencies operate in the “war on terror” era. The sequence climaxes with Paddy Considine, a journalist for a major British newspaper, being gunned down in broad daylight — no surreptitiously cut brake cables or undetectable poisons here — but even that’s not as unsettling as the matter-of-fact manner in which an unsuspecting civilian who’s been mistaken for Bourne is grabbed, drugged and thrown into a van, never to be heard from again. The abruptness with which an innocent bystander is converted to enemy combatant is breathtaking, not least because the film lets the moment pass unremarked upon. Bourne never mounts a rescue operation to rescue the poor soul, nor is there so much as a stray line indicating he’s been found unharmed. In the government’s pursuit of extralegal justice, ordinary citizens are just cannon fodder, and even the good guys don’t have time to save them. – Sam Adams

10262009_DeliverUsFromEvil.jpg23. Father O’Grady takes a walk in the park
“Deliver Us From Evil” (2006)
Directed by Amy Berg

Ten minutes into the documentary “Deliver Us From Evil,” when the film has just begun to hint at the full scope of the crimes committed by Father Oliver O’Grady, it cuts to a shot of the former priest walking toward the edge of a playground full of young children. To this point, we’ve only heard vague allusions to the “trouble” O’Grady got into some 30 years prior. From the shot of him watching the children, we cut to the innocent looking old man standing in what looks like the same park, talking to the camera about his sexual proclivities. “If [someone] said to me… ‘Do you feel aroused when you see children?’ [I’d say] well, maybe… ‘How about if you saw children naked?’ I’d say ‘Mmhmm, yeah!’ ” O’Grady isn’t embarrassed or ashamed; he’s downright cheerful in a way that suggests he has no conception of the heinousness of his behavior. The most sickening part involves O’Grady describing his preferred victim, someone on what he calls “a younger level.” To indicate that he likes smaller children, he makes a yea-high gesture with his hand, just as an oblivious child of almost that exact height walks through the shot. Berg essentially ends the scene there, maybe because she felt as uncomfortable shooting it as we do watching it. – Matt Singer

10262009_FannyandAlexander.jpg22. Alexander and the puppets
“Fanny and Alexander” (1982)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Dylan Walsh may have recently dispatched a swinging table saw on his new brood in “The Stepfather” remake, but he’s got nothing on the Bishop Edvard Vergérus (Jan Malmsjö), the silver-haired man of God who wastes no time in doing ungodly things to his recently inherited stepchildren. Compassionate only in the sense that when he catches Alexander in a lie, the bishop offers the child a choice of “cane, castor oil or [to stay in a] cubbyhole” as forms of punishment, so when the children are snuck out of the house by an antiques dealer and taken into his home, where he lives with his nephew Ishmael, Alexander is filled with fear and contempt. Surrounded by Ishamel’s creepy collection of puppets, Alexander believes he’s found God when he hears a voice from behind a locked door as the other puppets tremble. “Is this is the end of me,” asks a resigned Alexander, as director Ingmar Bergman ratchets up the terror with only the pluck of violin strings to pierce the silence. When a bearded puppet emerges and falls to the floor, Alexander realizes Ishmael was only playing a joke on him, with the puppeteer whispering to the child, “I didn’t mean to scare you. At least, not that much.” Tell that to the audience. – Stephen Saito

10262009_RaidersoftheLostArk.jpg21. Opening the Ark
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

For every kid growing up in the 1980s, there was one childhood-defining test of your movie-watching cojones: could you keep your eyes open during the Ark-cracking sequence from “Raiders”? Few scenes in movie history have been watched with more hands in front of more faces than the icky, melty, explody fate that awaits Belloq, Toht and the rest of the Nazis at the end of Indiana Jones’ first adventure. Hell, even Indy himself keeps his eyes closed for as long as the Ark is open; who could blame anyone for following his lead and doing the same? The disturbing imagery — skin peeling away from skulls, while white pus and red blood pour out of every orifice — was so grisly that the MPAA initially slapped “Raiders” with an R rating. In order to secure the PG he needed to convince our parents that it was okay to sit their children in front of this nightmare fuel, Spielberg superimposed a wall of flames over the most intense shots. Still, as potentially traumatic as the images are, the scariest part is the fact that the movie invites you to do what Indy doesn’t, to look into the Ark and perhaps share the Nazi’s fate. Once you’d watched the scene and survived the initial fright, you still had to endure an interminable, panic-stricken night waiting for the Ark’s spirits to show up at your house and melt you into a big pile of goo. – Matt Singer


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.