Often, it’s the most disturbing moments of a movie that lodge in the mind. Even if a film isn’t that memorable, a shocking event can instantly make it an indelible piece of work that you’ll remember — whether fondly or otherwise — for years to come.
Reddit users have been discussing the most disturbing scenes in movie history this week, serving up a variety of examples — from straight-up horror to unexpectedly depraved family films and dark moments in otherwise perfectly palatable works.
Here are some of the most popular choices from that thread...
Pet Sematary (1989)
Horror movies always have the capacity to traumatise, especially when people watch them when they’re arguably too young. The most popular comment on this thread — upvoted 27,000 times — pointed to the scene in the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, in which the reanimated youngster Gage Creed takes a scalpel to the Achilles tendon of kindly neighbour Jud Crandall.
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It’s a violent sequence and one which, according to that particular Reddit commenter, meant they always checked under their bed before getting into it. Certainly, the equivalent scene in the 2019 Pet Sematary remake did not have quite the same impact.
David Fincher’s sprawling, ambiguous take on the hunt for the Zodiac killer is a film of bleak imagery and the stench of failure, given the fact the serial murderer was never tracked down.
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One of the most shocking scenes of the movie depicts the Zodiac’s attack on a young couple at Lake Berryessa in Napa County. He brutally stabs the couple multiple times, with one Reddit commenter pointing out that “the lack of any music while hearing their screams” makes the scene all the more horrifying.
American History X (1998)
With its hard-edged depiction of white supremacy and its associated violence, Tony Kaye’s American History X is a tough film to watch at the best of times. There’s no doubt, though, that the most disturbing scene of the entire movie is the moment in which Edward Norton’s increasingly radicalised neo-Nazi Derek confronts a group of Black gang members trying to steal his truck. He shoots one of them dead before subjecting the other to a brutal curb-stomping.
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It’s a scene so shocking — not least as a result of the grotesque sound design — that the Reddit user who suggested it confessed they have never actually been able to watch it. Once seen, it’s certainly not one that’s easy to forget.
The Road (2009)
The Road isn’t a movie anyone would choose to watch as part of a comfy night in front of the TV. Depicting a post-apocalyptic society in which just about everyone is untrustworthy and survival is the only priority, the movie follows Viggo Mortensen’s protagonist as he tries to keep his son alive. In one scene, the father and son discover a room full of chained people, being imprisoned as food for a group of cannibals.
It seems at least one Reddit user watched the film when they were far too young and they wrote that the cannibal sequence “really traumatised me when I was young” and left them in tears. The Road certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.
The Matrix (1999)
Pretty much everyone who was around in the 90s saw The Matrix — arguably the definitive cyberpunk movie. Many, however, will remember it as much for its most disturbing scene as for its mind-bending central concept. As Keanu Reeves’s Neo is interrogated by Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith, things take a turn for the Cronenbergian as the movie becomes pure body horror.
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The Reddit commenter who suggested the scene said that it “still holds a special, horrible place in my mind”, specifically for the moment in which he loses his mouth and has a robotic probe enter his body through his belly button. Gross stuff.
David Fincher’s second entry on this list is for another of his examinations of serial killers and the people trying to hunt them down. Se7en follows Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as detectives on the tail of a murderer whose crimes form a twisted crusade inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. The particular sequence highlighted by a Reddit user was the recounting of the “Lust” murder, in which a man is forced at gunpoint to do horrible things with a sex worker and a blade.
In a film littered with moments of memorable horror — the “Sloth” crime scene could easily have been chosen instead — this man’s tearful recollection of what he was forced to do sticks out as something uniquely vile. It features what is almost certainly the most traumatic Polaroid picture in cinema history.
The Mummy (1999)
Another 1990s classic, Stephen Sommers’s action-adventure take on The Mummy features some scenes that are alarmingly macabre for a PG-13 blockbuster. Many of these scenes feature characters being overwhelmed by burrowing scarab beetles, who attempt to eat them from the inside out.
As is the case with so many of the movies on this list, the Reddit user in question saw the film as an eight-year-old and so was ill-prepared for the intense body horror of insects crawling beneath people’s skin. “I still have nightmares once in a while about it 20 years later,” they wrote.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
Kids of the 1980s may remember bizarre adventure movie The Brave Little Toaster with a shudder of existential dread. Ostensibly a family animation about talking kitchen appliances, the film has several moments of pure terror. A selection of those moments were brought up during the course of the thread, but the one particularly singled out was the scene in which vacuum cleaner Kirby swallows his own cord in fear and appears to have a seizure until his friends intervene.
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The Reddit user who noted the moment said they “never vacuum over a cord” again after seeing what happened to Kirby as a result of swallowing it. Many of the founding members of Pixar worked on the film and they’d go on to make Toy Story, which told a considerably less horrifying tale of apparently inanimate objects coming to life.
New parents should probably steer clear of Trainspotting, which features more than one mortifying moment involving an infant. There is, of course, the infamous scene in which a hallucinating Renton sees an apparition of Sick Boy’s deceased infant crawling on the ceiling. However, the Reddit user who mentioned the movie in relation to this thread instead highlighted the scene in which the baby’s death is first discovered.
Many of the users in the thread discussed the horror they felt on realising that the baby had stopped crying. In a movie full of colourful characters and excess, it’s a scene of very real horror that brings the damage of drug use home in traumatic fashion.
The debut feature from animation house Laika is memorable for many disturbing images — not least the unforgettable Other Mother. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that one Reddit user cited the movie in this discussion, receiving 14,000 upvotes. They particularly pointed to the multiple scenes of eye-sewing that take place within the story. Laika has repeatedly shown a fascination with the bizarre and the grotesque, with Coraline firing the depraved starting pistol.