For MovieMaker‘s 2016 Guide to Making Horror Movies special edition, we set out to identify what makes some of the scariest scenes of all time quite so terrifying.
So we asked a few fright-meisters to share their personal picks for “scariest scene of all time,” and try to explain why those moments were so effective. We’ll post one response every Friday in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Today Emily Hagins (Pathogen, My Sucky Teen Romance, Grow Up, Tony Phillips) dredges up her deepest cinematic fears.
Emily Hagins: “One of the first lessons in horror filmmaking I remember really taking to heart came from watching The Evil Dead (1981) when I was 10 years old. Without spoiling the film, there’s a sequence where one of the characters is following a sound, ready to strike. He starts in a bedroom by an open window, then hears a thump from the closet. He slowly reaches for it—but there’s no one on the other side. Then he hears the sound behind him, so he cautiously enters the next room. This creates a jack-in-the-box-style sense of dread, since we know this sequence will eventually lead to a jump scare. He eventually gets to a bathroom, so we know the source of the sound must be in here. And of course, the shower curtain is closed. So he pulls the shower curtain back, and… it’s empty. Then the zombie jumps out behind him, right at the moment when we let our guard down.
This sequence has always reminded me that the quality of the horror filmmaking relies on how the sense of dread is built, and on subverting the expectations of the viewer when it is paid off. Sure, a jump scare is a jump scare, and will be at least somewhat effective no matter what the set up is. But to me, sequences like this that end in a jump scare are similar to the punchline of a joke in a comedy—the payoff doesn’t work without the setup.” MM
This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Fall 2015 issue.