Part of the beauty of horror is that it’s completely subjective. What works for one person may not work for another and vice versa. Even beyond movies themselves, specific scenes and/or kills work on different levels for different people.
I recently started thinking about what kinds of things really get to me in movies, and decided to compile a list (because everybody loves lists, right?) of scenes that make me squirm a little. I’m talking about purely in terms of physical horror. I’m not talking about scenes that are just uncomfortable on a psychological level. I’m not talking about “disturbing”. I’m just talking scenes that make me go “ouch” or “gross”.
While I’m sure I could come up with plenty more if I spent enough time thinking about it, I just decided to include 8 that came immediately to mind.
This was the first film I thought of for this list. I’ve seen it several times, and it’s just as effective today as it was the first time I saw it, which must have been fifteen years ago or better. There’s a scene in particular in which a woman scrubs her lips with a metal scrubby before cutting them off with scissors. The whole sequence is particularly nasty and still one of the things that makes me cringe the most in the history of the genre, but interestingly it’s the scrubby part that gets me more than the scissors. I often think about it when I wash my face or even when my lips get chapped. It just gives me the chills, and has always stuck with me.
2. Pet Sematary
I think this one probably get to a lot of people. You know the scene. Gage reaches out from under the bed and slices Jud’s achilles tendon before tearing into his throat with his teeth. It’s particularly brutal and one of the most memorable parts of the movie (as if every moment of that movie isn’t memorable).
Pet Sematary has been one of my favorites since first watching it as a pretty young kid, and the achilles slice in particular has always made me cringe. It’s hurting me even writing about it.
3. Dream Warriors
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors features what has always been one of my all-time favorite kills. Phillip gets turned into a puppet as Freddy uses his blood vessels and gristle as the strings. It’s really disgusting and is only made more visceral by the pulsating sound that accompanies it.
Freddy is mostly a cartoon character from that point on in the franchise, but that scene still gets to me on that level more than even the creepy Freddy from the first film was ever able to do.
4. Eastern Promises
Throat slashings in general have always made me cringe. I can’t even stand the idea of someone touching my adam’s apple, let alone having it sliced into. I always found Annie’s murder in the original Friday the 13th to be the most effective version of this common horror movie kill. That was until 2007 when David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises was released. Leave it to the king of body horror to maximize the gruesomeness of such a thing.
Eastern Promises isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it’s one of my favorite Cronenberg films, and he set the tone off very nicely with this scene happening early on in the film. It’s not just brutal in its violence, but also adds the element of giving another human access to one’s throat with a razor as the scene happens in a barber shop. I’ll be goddamned if another person is ever going to shave me.
Incredibly, it’s not even the only great throat-slashing scene from the film.
There are plenty of things to cringe over in Takashi Miike’s modern classic Audition. You might think I’d pull out the piano wire for this list, and that would be a completely legitimate entry, but it’s actually a different scene that gets to me more. It’s the one where Asami makes one of her victims lap up vomit like a dog. Eww.
6. The New York Ripper
How could there not be a Fulci movie on this list? I don’t think anyone has managed to gross me out more consistently with their films. Eyeball horror is also among one of my most squirm-worthy things, and nobody capitalized on this better than Fulci.
Zombie (Zombi 2) is famous for its splinter-to-the-eyeball scene, and it is indeed grotesque. I remember watching it for the first time and being totally amazed and repulsed by it at the same time. Just great stuff. Then I saw The New York Ripper, and somehow taking it to the level of razor blade-to-eye (not to mention nipple) just upped the ante for me. It didn’t hurt that the whole movie just made me feel dirty.
While Fulci is more associated with the gross-out than his Italian peer Dario Argento, the latter also knew how to make his audience squirm back in the day. There are plenty of memorable kills throughout Argento’s filmography, but something about the needles placed under a person’s eyeballs, which Opera is best known for, just gets under my skin.
8. Demonic Toys
This may seem like a strange one to include on this list, but there’s something you should know about me. I fucking love the original Demonic Toys. And the scene that makes me cringe comes courtesy of foul-mouthed Baby Oopsy Daisy. There’s a security guard at the warehouse where the majority of the film takes place, and she stabs him right in the balls with a knife. It may have something to do with the fact that I was like 9 or 10 when I first saw it, but it’s stuck with me ever since.
Goddamn, I love Demonic Toys.