A Saturday matinee screening of Paranormal Activity was the first and only time I have ever heard anyone actually scream in a theatre. I don’t mean a quiet whimper followed by an embarrassed laugh or a frightened little squeal. No, I mean a full-on, open throated howl of terror.
The release of Paranormal’s prequel last weekend got me thinking about other big screen scream worthy scenes. So just in time for Halloween are some leave-the-lights-on movie moments.
If Alfred Hitchcock had any doubts about the effectiveness of the shower sequence in Psycho they must have been put to bed when he received an angry letter from the father whose daughter stopped bathing after seeing the bathtub murder scene in Les Diaboliques and then, more distressingly, refused to shower after seeing Psycho. Hitch’s response to the concerned dad? “Send her to the dry cleaners.”
The shower scene was terrifying but at least it was allowed to stay in the movie. In 1931, Frankenstein star Boris Karloff demanded the scene in the movie where the monster plays with a little girl, throwing flowers in a pond be cut from the picture. It’s a cute scene until the beast runs out of flowers and tosses the little girl into the water, leaving her to drown. Karloff, and audiences, objected to the violence against the youngster and the scene was shortened, then removed altogether and remained unseen until a special videotape release 48 years later.
More recently, The Exorcist (now beautifully restored on Blu Ray) so traumatized audiences with shots of the possessed Regan MacNeil’s 360-degree head spinning that in the U.K. the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade were on-call at screenings to tend to fainters. Star Linda Blair says she wasn’t traumatized by the film, but admits there has been one long lasting side effect. “You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me to make my head spin around,” she says.
Blair may have been unfazed while shooting her gruesome scenes, but not all actors emerge unscathed. Elisha Cuthbert was so grossed out while shooting the notorious blender scene in the down-and-dirty flick Captivity she says she felt “physically ill twice” and had to have a bucket nearby.
Scary scenes one and all, but recounting them begs the question, why are we drawn to them?
The quick answer comes from Alfred Hitchcock who said, “People like to be scared when they feel safe.”