ComingSoon Staff’s Scariest Moviegoing Experiences!
To celebrate Halloween this year, the ComingSoon staff is sharing our scariest moviegoing experiences! From being frightened in a theater or at home due to some truly terrifying movies and tricks of the imagination, haunted by movie-related pranks thanks to untrustworthy grandmothers, or scaring the hell out of our friends with a few classic horror titles, you can check out our scary stories below!
MAX EVRY: THE ORPHANAGE (2007)
Even a year or two into my being a movie journalist in New York City I realized that critics screenings were an emotional wasteland. Critics here are generally jaded, cynical, and have a “seen it all” attitude. There has been many a screening where I’m the only one in the audience laughing, and forget about getting a clap or cheer out of these mummies. On occasions where I wanted a more engaging audience experience for certain movies, I’ve intentionally skipped critics screenings because they’re so stifling. However, that all changed during the first NYC critics screening of The Orphanage on November 29, 2007, at the (now sadly shuttered) Magno Review 1 on 7th and 49th.
Riding on the name recognition of its producer Guillermo del Toro, Spanish helmer Juan Antonio Bayona’s debut feature unfolded as the tale of a woman named Laura (Belén Rueda) who attempts to reopen her former childhood orphanage as a facility for disabled children. On the night of reopening her adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) goes missing, and thus begins a supernatural odyssey of Laura attempting to discover what happened to her child.
Every type of scare is in this movie: Slow burn dread, jump scares, creaking doors, ghostly apparitions, etc. At every one I heard/felt the crowd of been-there-done-that professional critics get audibly frightened, even whimpering at times. When they were meant to be jolted they jumped, when they were meant to be in terrified suspense they were practically hiding behind the seats in front of them, including myself. It was a miraculous occurrence, and one that was never quite duplicated in the time I’ve lived and worked here.
Bayona was firing on all cylinders when he made The Orphanage, to the point where attempts to do an English-language remake (with director Larry Fessenden) have failed because there’s simply no topping it. Even Bayona himself has never quite lived up to his promise in subsequent films, including the bloated Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. If you have never seen The Orphanage you owe it to yourself to turn off the lights and pop it on this Halloween season!
KYLIE HEMMERT: JAWS (1975)
My scariest movie experience was more thanks to my best friend’s grandmother than it was the movie itself, which happened to be Jaws. This was during a visit to California when I was a kid, probably around six. My friend, his brother, and my family were on a trip and took a night to catch up with my friend’s grandparents, Mac and Jodi. The adults decided we should have a Jaws movie night that was going swimmingly until the hours stretched on and it was time to take a bath before bed.
Being the cheeky woman she was, Grandma Jodi thought it would be hilarious to quietly tell little, impressionable and trusting me that I needed to be careful because sharks were capable of swimming up through the bathtub drain and could eat people that way — it wasn’t just the ocean you had to be scared of. I vividly remember staring at the drain the entire time I was in the bath that night, terrified, but never telling a soul about Jodi’s “secret” until I was a little older. When I did finally share the story, it suddenly became very clear to my mom why I stopped taking baths altogether and would only shower for a long time after that.
Watching Child’s Play when I was way too young with my brother and cousins and lying awake terrified in my older cousin’s bedroom staring at her porcelain dolls waiting for them to make a move is a close runner-up — not to mention the time that same cousin and I screamed bloody murder at a poor cinema employee that unintentionally scared us while we sat alone in the dark, empty theater watching What Lies Beneath when I was 11 — but actually believing this old lady about Jaws swimming up pipes and munching on people and being petrified (for way too long) to get into a bathtub takes the cake for my scariest movie experience.
GRANT HERMANNS: THE CONJURING (2013) & ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017)
As it did for many kids, it took me a while to truly get into the horror genre, with the series adaptation of Goosebumps being the most I could really handle, but as I entered my pre-teens and started to really watch more, the time finally came to have my first theater experience in the form of the Fede Álvarez-helmed reboot of the Evil Dead franchise. However, this was not my scariest moviegoing experience, as that would come just three months later in the form of James Wan’s horror magnum opus The Conjuring. To this day, I’ve seen the film probably about 100 times and nearly every jump scare, every visual, every haunting musical note from Joseph Bishara, rattles me to my core. I couldn’t sleep right for three days after seeing the film in theaters thanks to the amazingly horrific wardrobe shock given as I have a shelving system sitting across from my bed and all I could do was picture a shadow atop it.
Now I thought nothing could ever top this experience until I decided to use a rare day off from three jobs and school to catch David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation in theaters, and though the film itself may not have been as frightening as Wan’s, oh boy was going to the film a nightmare. From a nearly empty theater save one person sitting at the end of my row to my mind playing tricks on me with shadows moving around in the corners, seeing this film alone did not nearly work out as well as I had intended, especially as I stayed for the post-credits sequence with Valak/The Nun as she glided slowly towards the camera and staring out before it cut to black. With me actually being the only person in the audience at that moment, it felt like she was staring directly at me and when I say I had goosebumps, I had more than RL Stine could ever write.
MAGGIE DELA PAZ: SILENT HILL (2006)
I may not have any scary theater experiences but I do vividly remember the one horror film that truly scared me. When I was probably around 11 years old, Silent Hill was one of the many movies that my family had a chance to rent at the only video rental store in our city. For people who aren’t familiar with director Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill, the 2006 film centers around a mother and her adopted daughter as they get trapped in a purgatory-like dimension of Silent Hill where it is being inhabited by terrifying creatures and a cruel cult.
At that time, I thought that the film wouldn’t be that scary and that I can handle whatever the film has in store for me. Unfortunately, I was so wrong. As it turns out, 11-year-old me wasn’t ready at all for a movie filled with skin ripping and body slicing. By the time the main characters have arrived at the titular town, I embarrassingly started covering my eyes with my hands, especially when the film finally introduces the giant Pyramid Head man with a large executioner sword. This film was actually the one that made me realize that I hate gory scenes. I think this was the only horror movie that made me scared to fall asleep due to fear of getting trapped in a Silent Hill-like nightmare.
What makes the film so effectively terrifying to me was its desolate atmosphere and menacing setting that gives you an unsettling preview of what hell might look like. The film’s horrifying creatures and the idea of accidentally getting trapped in an inescapable nightmare dimension are still bothering me to this day.
JEFF AMES: JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982)
Some of my favorite horror film experiences occurred during late-night sleepovers with high school buddies during which I would subject them to classic films such as Alien or The Silence of the Lambs — movies I had seen dozens of times before — in the hopes of replicating something akin to a theater-going experience.
One such flick was John Carpenter’s The Thing, perhaps the nastiest film I had seen up until that point in my young life. Suffice to say, I was eager to see how my friends would react to the flick’s gross-out thrills and overtly nihilistic tone. Much to my surprise, the group spent more time early on poking fun at the Quaker Oats guy and the dated technology than the actual narrative. I was worried I’d made a huge mistake.
Then the dog scene happened. Nervous chuckles. As the film wore on and the proceedings became grizzlier, any and all laughter was replaced by silence. Then came the breaking point: the famous scene in which the chest of a man literally morphs into a mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth that proceeds to bite the arms off another man in bloody fashion. I heard one of my friends mutter a “holy shit” under his breath. The others stared in awe as a detached head sprouted legs and walked across the floor. “You gotta be fucking kidding,” exclaims David Clennon’s Palmer, echoing everyone’s mood.
For the remainder of the film, no one said much of anything. When the film ended, there was a notable lack of exuberant conversation. More than anything, a feeling of unease lingered in the air, which, I imagine, wasn’t too far removed from audience reactions on opening night back in June of 1982.
Of all the films I forced my friends to watch, The Thing evoked the greatest silence I have ever heard. Ah, John Carpenter. You sick, brilliant bastard.
What are your scariest moviegoing experiences? Share with us in the comments below!