Ever since the early days of film, horror fans have been comparing and contrasting the scariest moments of our favorite movies. We love to share the specific scenes that get under our skin, hoping that we’re not the only ones afraid to turn out the lights. Ranking these moments also gives us a sense of accomplishment and we compare and contrast to find the films that test us the most. If we can watch the scariest moments imaginable and come out the other side, we might just be brave enough to take on the real world.
Before Bravo became known for chronicling the sagas of housewives, the network attempted to solidify this hierarchy with a formal list of the most frightening moments film has to offer. From way back in 2004, Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments is a mix of interviews, clips, and anecdotes that justify a 100 entry list of scenes known to terrify audiences. Covering a range of 80 years, the list includes classics like The Wolf Man and The Black Cat with more modern films like The Blair Witch Project and 28 Days Later.
Nineteen years later, the series is admittedly in need of an update and listing our favorite scary films seems to be in the zeitgeist. On that note, Shudder just rebooted the series last year with their own list of the 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time, and Rolling Stone also released their own list ranking the movies as a whole rather than specific scenes. If you’ve reached the end of both lists and still haven’t satisfied your scary movie fix, look no further than the original series that started it all.
Here are 10 reasons to love Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
A common complaint about any list of scariest moments is that they spoil any movie they include. It’s nearly impossible to discuss why a particular moment proves to be terrifying without talking about what actually happens. It’s also completely understandable that horror fans looking for their next authentic scare wouldn’t want to have the power of those moments ruined by looking at the face beneath the mask. But for many more fans, the original list provided an entry into the horror genre and gave us the courage to check out some of the films we’d been too afraid to watch. And there’s no doubt many casual horror fans found a deeper love for the genre. Some of us were introduced to films we’d never heard of or were inspired to dive into a director’s filmography. For squeamish horror fans, this demystifying of legendary films gave us a safe entry point into checking out movies we might otherwise avoid. If the people being interviewed could survive watching these moments, maybe we could too.
One common downfall of the original Bravo series is that with every year that passes, the more dated it becomes. Premiering in 2004, the latest film included on the original list is from 2002. To remedy this, Bravo released two sequel lists with a new cast of directors and actors discussing each entry. 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments premiered in October of 2006 featuring recent films like The Devil’s Rejects and Wolf Creek as well as additional classics like Vertigo and Christine not mentioned on the original list. Three Octobers later, 13 Scarier Movie Moments included newer releases such as The Strangers, Zodiac, and Hostel Part II. At this point, the pretext of these movies being more or less scary than any named in the 100 part original was pretty much up, but these addendums were a fun way to highlight more terrifying films in the leadup to Halloween.
One criticism often lobbed at Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments is the inclusion of “flash in the pan” guests like the Coors Light Twins and the cast of Club Dread. While it’s certainly true that many of the people interviewed in the series have fallen out of public consciousness, many more are pillars of the genre. Heather Langenkamp, Dee Wallace, Ashley Laurence, and Olivia Hussey all make appearances discussing not only their own work, but the moments that shook them to the core. These interviews, intercut with clips from the films they’re describing, reveal the stars of some of our favorite films as fans of the genre themselves. Bruce Campbell giddily describes the power of the decapitation scene in The Omen. Sheri Moon Zombie remembers being scared by A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Jennifer Tilly shares her love for Seven, Misery, and Fatal Attraction. Appearing with her then husband David Arquette, Courteney Cox not only talks about her feelings about playing Gale Weathers, but describes her experiences as a frightened child watching Friday the 13th, The Exorcist, and Jaws. It’s beyond fun to hear our favorite scream queens and kings geek out over the movies we love too.
Every fan of horror has at one point or another found themselves defending a movie that may or may not fit the genre’s generally accepted definition. Whether a kid’s cartoon, musical, or documentary, any type of film is capable of containing moments that spook and unsettle. Shudder’s version of the list specifies the horror genre in its title, but Bravo makes no such claim. Not bound by any particular classification, most of its entries are outright horror films but more than a few could reasonably be categorized as something else. From adventure tales like Jurassic Park, action films like The Terminator, erotic thrillers like Single White Female, and fantasies like The Wizard of Oz, many of our favorite films contain moments that terrify despite the director’s intention. Designed to celebrate moments that scare us regardless of genre, Bravo’s list honors the way most of us actually experience watching a movie.
One of the major draws to Bravo’s list is the sheer number of notable directors who participated in the project. The five part series features so many talented filmmakers talking about their own work and the work of their peers that it’s difficult to keep track of the talent on display. Up-and-coming (at the time) directors like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie both share their love for Audition and Night of the Living Dead. Rob Reiner describes the hobbling scene in Misery and remembers James Caan’s frustration at essentially spending the entire film in bed. Guillermo del Toro rhapsodizes about David Cronenberg’s The Fly, calling him a “poet of disgust,” Tobe Hooper remembers the inspiration for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and John Carpenter shares memories of casting a young Jaime Lee Curtis in Halloween. Clive Barker describes his mother’s reaction to Hellraiser and marvels at the fact that Pinhead still gets love letters from fans. It’s thrilling to watch the masterminds behind some of our favorite films talk about how the sausage gets made.
In addition to the heroes, victims, and survivors of history’s greatest horror films, Bravo’s list includes interviews with some of our favorite monsters. Betsy Palmer describes her first reaction to reading the script of Friday the 13th and we also meet Ari Lehman, the first Jason Voorhees to appear on-screen. Tony Todd describes his portrayal of Candyman as a tragic, romantic figure and remembers the experience of filming with live bees in his mouth. Robert Englund describes the strange vanity and gallows humor of his most famous character, Freddy Krueger. He remembers what originally drew him to the script for A Nightmare on Elm Street and chooses Tina’s early death as the scariest moment in the film. Not only do we spend time with the actors who bring these terrifying characters to life, but we also meet the special effects masterminds behind some of the most famous inhuman monsters. Stan Winston describes first hearing James Cameron’s idea for the terrifying Queen in Aliens and Tom Savini talks about how his iconic effects in Dawn of the Dead were inspired by the craft services table on set.
Bravo’s list is solely concerned with horror on-screen but also includes interviews with the master of horror fiction himself. With seven adaptations of his work on the list, Stephen King shares anecdotes and insight about some of his most terrifying tales. He remembers horrifying himself while writing Pet Sematary and chooses the tendon slice in which a murderous toddler takes down the 6’5” Fred Gwynne as its scariest moment. Having spent the 60s dropping acid and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, King recalls his excitement at learning that Stanley Kubrick would be adapting one of his stories. He also remembers uncomfortable run-ins with fans and being blown away by Kathy Bates’s performance while filming Misery. His explanation of the infamous hobbling scene is hilariously followed by a chorus of interviewees cringing at its brutality. When asked what he believes to be the scariest moment in any adaptations of his work to date he names Cujo: the terrifying scene in which the rabid dog comes out of nowhere to attack Donna Trenton and her young son Tad.
In addition to insight about the creation and inspiration for our favorite films, we’re also treated to delightful anecdotes from behind the scenes. Danny Pintauro describes the experience of filming Cujo, remembering scented toys being thrown into the car to excite the large dog outside; a terrifying thought considering he was only six at the time of filming. Lance Henriksen credits his friend, the late Bill Paxton, with convincing him to read the script for Near Dark. Apparently, Paxton got in the habit of wandering down to the nearby train tracks still in full makeup from the film’s bloody diner scene to scare passengers by pretending to be the survivor of a crash. Star and final girl of the original Friday the 13th, Adrienne King describes watching her mother react to the final jump scare in which a young Jason jumps out of the water. She believes her mother’s screams may have been a factor in selling the movie. When remembering a similar scare in Carrie, Stephen King describes watching two large men sitting in front of him absolutely lose their minds and correctly predicting that the movie would be “huge.”
Many directors grace the screen in each installment of Bravo’s list, but two in particular stand out above the rest. George A. Romero and Wes Craven both join the cast to talk about their famous work and to honor the films of their colleagues. When remembering his legendary Night of the Living Dead, Romero describes finishing the film on the same day news broke that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, TN. Wes Craven reflects on the political power of Romero’s film and credits it with changing his understanding of what horror could be. With a record five films on the list, Craven gives insight into his own creative process, remembering the upsetting experience of filming The Last House on the Left and the most upsetting moment in the original The Hills Have Eyes. Having recently lost these titans of the genre, it’s a bittersweet pleasure to see them again fondly remembering their most famous work.
With films from every sub genre and a wide variety of directors, styles, actors, and eras, Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments serves as a virtual textbook of horror. From 1922’s Nosfetaru in 1922 to 2002’s The Ring, the series chronicles 80 years of on-screen terror. We dive into foreign fare like Audition and The Vanishing, the body horror of The Fly, horror comedies such as Re-Animator, and classics like The Haunting, Dracula, and Cat People. We examine tentpoles of the genre like Psycho, Alien, The Blair Witch Project, and The Shining as well as less expected picks like The Sentinel and Wait Until Dark. Critics and analysts explain the cultural impact of Tod Browning’s Freaks and lament the fact that the then scandalous premise of Peeping Tom essentially ruined director Michael Powell’s career. There is a frustrating lack of diversity, but that’s more reflective of the industry than the list itself and each installment takes pains to present multiple points of view.
Like the best kind of college course, it’s impossible to watch Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments without gaining insight into the genre and adding multiple entries to our own watch lists.
That was true in 2004, and it’s still the case almost twenty years later.