Don't Get Scared, Huh? 11 Terrifying Movie Scenes To Test Your Scream Reflex

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We go to the movies to feel something, to be transported away from the regular old world to another place, another life, with the intention of losing ourselves. A good film captures the experience and delivers it in a nice package. A great film expounds it onto viewers, gets beneath their skin, and serves up a heavy dose of catharsis.

For some films, simply covering your eyes isn't enough. Scenes that irk viewers so much, they have to leave, faint, or vomit. But horror films aren't necessarily the go-to genre for this reaction – James Franco's 127 Hours had audiences throwing up in their seats. And this year's Gravity has been hailed as one of the most anxiety-inducing movies of late.

It takes a certain caliber of movie-making to bring out the primal instincts in audience members. And there's often one scene that sends them over the edge (sometimes it's the entire movie). These are those scenes. The ones that don't simply incite fear, but terror. And that's something that never rests easily.

Warning: The following pages contain graphic imagery.


L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat
While this wasn't the first motion picture ever made, it was one of the first to be projected on the big screen. Audiences were so frightened by the 50-second clip of a train approaching the station that they ran to the back of the theater, fearing it was actually coming at them.

Photo: Courtesy of American Film Institute.

Freaks
Here's another example of an early film pushing boundaries. The story of a fatal marriage between a woman and sideshow "freak" featured such traumatizing scenes (including a castration) that MGM was forced to cut nearly a third of the movie out just to keep the audience from leaving the theater. One women even blamed the scene for her miscarriage.

Psycho
An obvious choice, but for good reason. It's reported that audiences experienced episodes of fainting and vomiting during the sudden murder of Janet Leigh. Maybe it would have been a different story had they known it was chocolate sauce spilling into the shower rather than blood.

The Exorcist
Let's be real here: There is nothing, nothing, about this film that isn't disturbing. We could have included the crucifix scene, but figured we'd spare you, dear readers, the irksome feelings that come with it. Instead, here's one of two head-turning scenes that attributed to this movie's notorious reputation for having paramedics on-call during screenings. It's rumored that one man even had a heart attack while watching it.

Homicidal
William Castle was known for the in-theater gimmicks he'd pull. This film featured a "fright break" in which audience members too afraid to continue on with the film were instructed to leave the theater for a full refund. As the gimmick became more well-known, he used it as a means of humiliating scared patrons, ultimately forcing moviegoers to confront an even bigger fear — embarrassment.

Alien/Prometheus
Both these films (the original and prequel, respectively) feature — how should we put this — an alternative Cesarian section. A birth that was so unnerving, reports of people vomiting while running out of the theater weren't uncommon. One Prometheus account reported a moviegoer had a seizure during Noomi Rapace's labor.

The Blair Witch Project
Sure, the element of terror with the unknown is frightening. But the real reason audiences left the movie midway through was because they couldn't stomach the motion of the handheld camera. If they stuck around until the end (props to them), they would have faced this scene. There's nothing scarier than a potential haunting/possession/witch attack in the middle of the woods while an unseen character screams bloody murder. Unless, of course, it's filmed with a shaky handheld.

Audition
Halfway through its runtime, this film takes a surprising turn from the odd rom-com it began as. It's this very decision that makes Audition so successful. The semi-lightheartedness of the beginning makes the maiming of the desperate, single man even more gruesome. Most audiences couldn't stomach the scene above. Can you?

Antichrist
The most disturbing thing about this movie isn't the self-inflicted violence that had audience's fainting and walking storming out of the theater (although those scenes are incredibly unnerving). Rather, it's the way Lars von Trier shot the film. He makes scenes of body mutilation and freshly killed animals so beautiful that you want to look away, but can't. Not with von Trier's sheer audacity to beautify the cinematography.

Eraserhead
Like von Trier's Antichrist, David Lynch's film is stunningly disturbing. Eraserhead has been hailed as a black-and-white acid trip with similar side effects (nausea, fainting — the works). What gives it its edge is how human his "freak" characters are. If you want to make a Lynch fan cringe, all you have to say is "lady in the radiator." Done.

Martyrs
Torture porn and good storytelling often don't go hand-in-hand, but they do with Martyrs; in fact, they're holding hands and sprinting through movie space and time. We included the trailer, because the scenes that had many people falling out of their seats, leaving the theater, vomiting — often all three — are too gruesome and emotionally scarring to just throw at ya. Martyrs is an attack on the emotions and has been hailed as one of the most visceral gore flicks in recent history. A woman gets flayed alive, and you watch it all. Oh, yes, you watch it all.