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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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5. Large Marge
“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985)
Directed by Tim Burton

“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” sees the world through a child’s (or perhaps, more accurately, a man-child’s) eyes, from a perspective where girls are icky, trick gum is hilarious and the coolest thing in the world is a kick-ass bicycle. Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) encounters plenty of potentially scary situations, from bull-riding to driving a car off a cliff, but like a child who touches the stove because he doesn’t know it’s hot, he tackles every obstacle with naïve glee. But even the fearless Pee-Wee gets spooked by Large Marge (Alice Nunn), the ferocious truck driver who gives him a lift and proceeds to tell him a story about the worst traffic accident she’d ever seen. “When they finally pulled the driver’s body from the twisted, burning wreckage,” she groans. “It looked… like THIS!” Suddenly, Nunn’s face is replaced by a ghoulish claymation head, which howls at Pee-Wee with bulbous bug eyes, serpentine tongue, and enormous, snaggle-toothed maw. An understandably frightened Pee-wee asks to be let out at the next truck stop, where he learns that he couldn’t have gotten a ride from Large Marge; she died in the very accident she described, ten years earlier. Though tonally incongruous with the rest of the film, the sequence compliments “Pee-wee’s Big Adventures” childlike point-of-view. Kids aren’t afraid of rodeos or car crashes. But a good ol’ fashioned ghost story gets them every time. – Matt Singer


4. Nicky Santoro in the cornfield
“Casino” (1995)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Joe Pesci has played some nasty characters in his career, but his “Casino” mob enforcer Nicky Santoro takes the cannoli. As envisioned by screenwriter Nick Pileggi and director Martin Scorsese — who based the character on real-life gangster Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro — Nicky isn’t just a cold-blooded killer who’s screwing his own mob family in a local power play. He’s also a married dad who’s cheating on his wife with a gold digger named Ginger (Sharon Stone) — a woman who happens to be married to Nicky’s best friend, casino manager Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro). And yet Nicky’s demise is so singularly hideous that you can’t help feeling sorry for the poor bastard. Nicky and his mobster brother Dominick meet with some associates in cornfield “in the sticks” to discuss the brother’s possible employment in Las Vegas, and realize too late that it’s a set-up. Three of Nicky’s associates (led by Frank Vincent, who was brutalized by Pesci in Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas”) force Nicky to watch while they beat Dominick to death with aluminum bats. “You see?” Frankie gloats, making eye contact with Nicky in between swings. “Watch!” Cut to moments later: Nicky lies beside an open grave, weeping as he watches the thugs finish pounding the remaining life out of Dominick. “He’s still breathing, leave him alone,” Nicky begs, crying like a child. No dice: Frankie administers a coup de grâce to Dominick; then he and his fellow gangsters beat Nicky with bats, strip him and drop him in the grave next to his brother’s corpse. “They buried him while he was still breathing,” Ace tells us in voiceover as a shovel full of dirt hits Nicky’s bloody face. Humanity’s depthless capacity for cruelty has rarely been more vividly illustrated. – Matt Zoller Seitz



3. The tunnel
“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1974)
Directed by Mel Stuart

The only way the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” doesn’t make this is list is if you disqualify it on the grounds that it’s so consistently scary that it actually is a horror movie disguised as a children’s film. Everybody’s scared of something from this movie; for years, the mere mention of the phrase “blueberry girl” was enough to send my brother off on a five-minute crying jag. The scene that always got me, though, was the infamous psychedelic tunnel sequence, one of the very few moments in history of children’s films that can draw reasonable comparisons to the works of both Salvador Dali and Hunter S. Thompson. Gene Wilder’s Wonka packs his visitors onto a boat for what initially appears to be a serene voyage down his factory’s chocolate river. But like most of the eccentric chocolatier’s toys, things aren’t as innocent as they appear. The boat passes into a dark tunnel that assaults the passengers with bright flashes of light and surreal images of eyeballs, worms and a chicken decapitation. Wonka ignores his guests’ pleas for mercy, and instead recites a macabre poem, quietly at first and then louder and louder until Wilder is maniacally screaming at the top of his lungs. “This is kind of strange,” says Charlie in the understatement of a lifetime. Yes, boring little Charlie Bucket thinks the boat to nowhere on the chocolate river with the psychedelic walls that flash images of chickens getting their heads cut off is only “kind of” weird. No wonder Wonka wound up giving him the factory. – Matt Singer


2. Everybody hurts
“Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Based on Hubert Selby Jr.’s grungy tome, Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 drug-addiction nightmare “Requiem for a Dream” may be the most consistently unnerving non-horror film ever made, right down to a climax not fit for the squeamish. Aronofsky’s film is a slow descent into abject degradation, with his three junkie protagonists (embodied by Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Connolly) finding, at the end of a needle, not the realization of their American dreams but, instead, merely physical and emotional torment, epitomized by Leto’s smack-addled arm turning so gangrene nasty that amputation becomes the only option. Even that bit of gruesomeness, however, can’t ultimately compare to the fate that befalls Connolly’s addict, whose narcotics hunger takes her from the blissful, dreamy sunshine of the Coney Island boardwalk to a filthy orgy where she’s forced, in trade for heroin, to perform a carnal tango with another woman and a double-ended sex toy. It’s a sight of such humiliating depravity in service of addiction, it could function — save for its severe graphicness — as an anti-drug PSA. – Nick Schager


1. The eye slice
“Un Chien Andalou” (1929)
Directed by Luis Buñuel

Classics are classics for a reason. This 16-minute silent film meeting of surrealist minds, a collaboration between Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, may be 80 years old, but it kicks off with a shock that still has the power to make audiences recoil in their seats. “Once upon a time…” it begins, and we see a man (played by Buñuel) stropping a straight razor, and then going out onto the balcony to puff on his smoke and take in the full moon. A woman, actress Simone Mareuil, gazes at the camera, untroubled, as from behind someone holds open one of her eyes and draws the razor toward it. Cut to clouds covering the moon, cut to — the cut, right across a milky, unblinking eyeball. The sight is so loaded to cue an instinctive flinch that the first time you see it, you may not even notice that the pierced peeper actually belongs to an animal — a dead calf. After that, we jump to an alleged “eight years later,” and Mareuil is still there, both eyes intact. But that slice lingers as the stuff of nightmares even after all of the famously dreamlike imagery that follows, not the least because of the placid expression on Mareuil’s face as she’s about to be disfigured, focused forward, attention elsewhere, looking, quite likely, exactly like us as we sit here watching her. – Alison Willmore

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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.)

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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