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The 25 Scariest Moments in Non-Horror Movies

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

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10. Pleasure Island
“Pinocchio” (1940)
Directed by Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen

As a kid, watching Geppetto’s naïve wooden boy sip beer and take eye-watering drags off a cigar was enough to rattle my nerves. But “Pinocchio”s centerpiece portrait of childhood naughtiness, a drink and a smoke are a mere prelude for the horrifying punishment lying in wait. Having been lured away from school to enjoy vice on Pleasure Island, Pinocchio and his new friend Lampwick gravitate to a dank, dingy pool hall, much to Jiminy Cricket’s chagrin. Their fun doesn’t last long, as Lampwick — at precisely the moment that Jiminy discovers the island’s dark secret — suddenly sprouts donkey ears and a tail. Horrified, he pleads for help from Pinocchio (himself now stuck with large floppy ears and a braying laugh), his pawing hands at the animate puppet’s body changing into hoofs and — in a silhouette shot that haunted many a child-s dreams — his body transforming into that of a four-legged jackass. That Pinocchio escapes this den of iniquity relatively unscathed offers mere minor relief from this terrifying sequence, which remains so indelible that it’s hard to believe anyone who saw it as a tyke subsequently chose to imbibe or inhale. – Nick Schager


9. The Winkie’s dream
“Mulholland Dr.” (2001)
Directed by David Lynch

There were a couple of Lynch moment candidates for this list, from the introduction of Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet” to Laura Dern’s spotlit head-on run at the audience in “Inland Empire.” But it’s this scene, in the diner in “Mulholland Dr.”, that ultimately won out. An apparent non sequitur that resonates like crazy with the film’s conjoined dream and waking worlds, its symbolism and symbolized, the segment takes the most mundane of settings — morning in a Sunset Blvd. chain restaurant — and warps it into something horrific. Two men are talking over breakfast, and one confesses that he wanted to come to this specific location because it was the setting of a dream he had. In it, there was a man lurking in the back, an awful figure that he could see “through the wall.” And so he arranges a reenactment to rid himself of his alarm, heading outside toward the dumpsters and the site of his nightmare lurker — yet somehow, on the way, dream logic wins out, and everything is just as it shouldn’t be. The man behind the diner may stand in for the grim truth underlying “Mulholland Dr.”‘s initial Hollywood fantasia, but he’s also just plain scary all by himself, a figure of irrational nighttime thoughts that somehow escapes into the harsh light of day. – Alison Willmore



8. Curb stomp
“American History X” (1998)
Directed by Tony Kaye

Curb stomp. You know what I’m talking about. It now has its own Wikipedia entry, so notorious is the gruesome, completely horrifying act committed in Tony Kaye’s 1998 film “American History X,” in which Edward Norton’s neo-Nazi character Derek makes a man bite down on a curb before he, yep, stomps on the back of his head, crushing his teeth and his neck in one blow. The scene is shot in luminescent black and white, part of a flashback that Danny (Edward Furlong), Derek’s little brother and a budding skinhead, is having. After catching two African-American men in the act of trying to steal his truck, Derek, clad in boxer briefs and combat boots with a giant swastika tattooed across his chest, shoots the first man; then as his brother looks on, he commits the even more heinous act of violence on the second man. The scene has a slow-motion, nightmarish cast, from the rolling thunder, operatic score to the horrible clench of teeth on concrete. The cut between Norton’s full-bore crazy eyes as he’s arrested and the terrified, beautiful face of Furlong is devastating: the exchange of some horrific truth is made, and innocence is snuffed out. It’s almost as hard to watch as the violent act itself. – Michelle Orange


7. Just another day at the Department of Information Retrieval
“Brazil” (1985)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

In Terry Gilliam’s 1985 Big Brother fantasia, the film’s petty bureaucrat hero Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), who’s trying to get to the bottom of a man’s wrongful arrest and death at the hands of state police, seeks information from his old buddy Jack Lint (Michael Palin) in the Department of Information Retrieval, a euphemism for the place where prisoners are tortured. Sam waits for Jack in the latter’s office while Jack finishes a job in the chamber next door. Jack’s toddler-aged daughter plays on the rug. After a moment, Jack enters the room through a second doorway and proceeds to engage Sam in conversation while doting on his daughter. He’s wearing a white smock with blood on it. He never takes off the smock. Jack is all smiles. He could be a baker or a bus driver chatting with a friend during a coffee break. The unseen victim in the next room might be bleeding to death, or he might be dead already, but Jack has already forgotten about him. It’s just another day at the office. The scene is one of the most chilling illustrations of Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” ever committed to film. It’s also a reminder that certain parents should not participate in Take Your Child to Work Day. – Matt Zoller Seitz


6. “He got a real pretty mouth, ain’t he?”
“Deliverance” (1972)
Directed by John Boorman

Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, John Boorman’s thankfully inimitable adaptation of the 1970 novel probably should have gotten sued by canoe manufacturers and the Georgia tourism board for all the people who won’t ever again experience either after seeing this male-bonding outing from Hell. Four Atlanta businessmen (Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox) go on a wilderness adventure down the fictional Cahulawassee River, but not even that misshapen kid’s bluegrass dueling could telegraph just how terrifying the local boys can be. When the foursome split into pairs, Voight and Beatty are suddenly confronted by a couple of gun-toting hillbillies, but it’s not the threat of getting shot that makes the scene so unforgettably ghastly. Voight is strapped to a tree with his own belt, forced to watch poor whimpering Beatty strip down to a pair of tighty-whiteys that both infantilizes and sexualizes him like some grindhouse prey. Even people who haven’t seen the film know the taunt “I bet you squeal like a pig,” but until you’ve heard Beatty try to a frightened wheeze — his chubby ass smacked and sodomized while another bemused hick laughs through his missing teeth — then you don’t fully know the horrors of having a pretty mouth. – Aaron Hillis

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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