When a horror fan reminisces about the most memorable scares of their life as a moviegoer, they’ll often find that many of them came from the most unexpected places imaginable. While classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween are obviously terrifying in their own right, it’s usually more unassuming movies like Gremlins that manage to traumatize a generation. And, in a world where horror filmmakers frequently end up producing mainstream studio pictures, it’s easy to see that crafting scares is an extremely hard habit to break.
In fact, several directors make a point of subtly hinting at their horror roots in their films (though others just seem to have fun playing with audience expectations). This results in some unpredictable frights in the most unlikely of movies, which is why I’ve compiled this list of the Top Six Most Horrifying Scenes in Non-Horror movies. Of course, this list is 100% personal opinion, but I’d love to see your own choices in the comments below!
The Matrix – Neo Gets Bugged
There isn’t much that hasn’t been said about the sci-fi action masterpiece that is The Matrix. Widely regarded as the Wachowskis’ best film, it’s also one of the most parodied movies of all time, has managed to stay relevant in popular culture for nearly two decades.
While most moviegoers recall the stylish action sequences and cyberpunk aesthetics, there are actually quite a few moments of extreme terror and even body-horror in The Matrix. The revelation of what the Machines have done to mankind is horrifying in its own right, but the Wachowskis take things a step further with one nightmare-inducing scene in particular.
Having been captured by agents, our iconic protagonist undergoes a twisted form of interrogation as his mouth melts away and he’s quite literally (not to mention painfully) bugged by the antagonists with a living tracking device. This scene is traumatizing enough on its own, but it’s complemented later on as our heroes are forced to remove the “bug” in an equally brutal fashion.
Robocop – Toxic Waste Scene
By now we’re all aware that legendary director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t shy away from violence in his filmography. Robocop is no exception, despite having been a big part of any post-80s childhood. While the movie is brutal enough on its own, there is one particular scene that stands out amidst this violent satire.
During a climactic confrontation at the old steel mill, Robocop faces off against one of the henchmen that originally murdered him. The encounter doesn’t end well for the miscreant, as he crashes into a convenient vat of toxic waste, meeting a gruesome demise as he devolves into a gelatinous mass.
It’s the kind of movie moment that must be seen to be believed.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – Heart Surgery
The Indiana Jones franchise is fondly remembered by several generations of moviegoers, containing some of the most iconic imagery in the history of film. While some consider these to be excellent family movies (and they are, for the most part), Spielberg and Lucas often make a point of focusing on some of the darker aspects of Indy’s adventures.
I’m certain that face-melting Nazis were the source of many childhood nightmares since the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s Indy’s second adventure that really ventured into horror territory. Supernatural death cults, ritual sacrifice, and child slavery made this the darkest of the Indiana Jones movies despite the PG-13 rating.
In a particularly grueling scene, we’re introduced to High Priest Mola Ram’s Thuggee ritual, where he removes the hearts of his victims with his bare hands, before throwing them into a scenic pit of lava. Why even bother making movies if you’re not going to scar your younger viewers for life, right?
King Kong – Spider Pit Redux
Before he became the visionary behind the Lord of the Rings movie franchise and its prequels, Peter Jackson was a horror nut just like you and me. His love for Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong was partially responsible for his filmmaking career, so it’s only natural that he’d be the one to helm the 2005 remake.
Following in Cooper’s footsteps, he even recreated the infamous Spider Pit sequence that was lost from the original film. However, Jackson’s version manages to be a lot more intense, in part due to Weta Workshop’s phenomenal effects work. Seeing those poor men get devoured by giant insects/arachnids isn’t for the faint of heart. Even fan-favorite Andy Serkis meets a particularly cruel end at the hands (well, mouths) of carnivorous worm-like creatures.
Spider-Man 2 – Birth of Doc Ock
It’s nearly impossible for Sam Raimi to be involved in a production and not leave some of his horror fingerprints behind, and that’s certainly the case with what might very well be the best Marvel movie so far, Spider-Man 2. While the first film boasted Willem Dafoe’s terrifying performance as the Green Goblin, Raimi took things to the next level with the introduction of the sequel’s antagonist.
On paper, Doctor Octopus doesn’t exactly sound like Spider-Man’s most menacing villain, especially when played by an actor as charismatic as Alfred Molina. However, looks can be deceiving, as Raimi pays homage to his own Evil Dead films in one of my favorite sequences in this already spectacular movie.
Having been in a terrible accident, Doctor Otto Octavius lies dormant on an operating table as surgeons prepare to remove his mechanical arms. Unfortunately, the semi-sentient tentacles don’t like the idea of being separated from their creator, and a ruthless massacre ensues. Not even surgical chainsaws can stop these monstrosities, and we’re treated to an unexpectedly thrilling scene.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – That Darth Vader Scene
Star Wars most definitely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of horrific moments in film, but that’s just a matter of perspective. Anyone on the receiving end of Darth Vader’s lightsaber would probably view him as the space-wizard equivalent of Michael Myers, and Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first film in the franchise to truly deliver on that front.
Regardless of what you thought of the rest of the film, I think we can all agree that the final sequence, featuring Vader plowing through terrified rebel soldiers like Jason Voorhees on vacation, is the closest we’ll ever get to a slasher film set in the Star Wars universe. And boy, were those few minutes worth the wait.