For many it’s these moments which make horror so bittersweet. The agony and ecstasy of being scared is a potent drug. An addictive quality which often promises a truly shocking and unforgettable payoff at the end of the trip.
To celebrate the home video release of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon (out on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD/Digital on the 31st of October), it’s time to take a look back at just ten of 21st century horror’s most shocking moments.
Behold scenes and images which have been unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences in an effort to provoke emotions which cinema outside the realms of horror is rarely capable of. Spoilers obviously lie ahead and so does a series of visions that once witnessed, will likely never leave you.
The Descent – Descent into Madness
Neil Marshall’s spelunking horror journeys deep into an abyssal North Carolina cave system. A group of female adrenaline junkies quickly realise that the cave they are exploring is uncharted for good reason, as they are confronted by sub-human creatures hungry for human flesh. Several fearsome sights pounce upon viewers from the darkness of Marshall’s finest directorial offering, yet the final futile scene is perhaps its most wicked moment.
When fearsome heroine and sole survivor Sarah finally manages to break out of the underground labyrinth and feel the sun’s rays upon her face, an awesome wave of relief washes over the viewer. In America, this is where the film ends, however, the original cut quickly pulls us back into the darkest depths of Sarah’s torment. Her escape was a vision conjured from madness and she is in fact still trapped below and comforted only by madness.
Martyrs – Parte Final
Though Martyrs features several anguish-filled moments, the culmination of its countless instances of bodily horror will leave an unforgettable impression upon those who behold its sheer sadism. Writer-director Pascal Laugier’s picture depicts the abduction and relentless torture of a young woman named Anna. Her captors intend to beat and brutalise her within an inch of her life so that she may glimpse the afterlife and relay what she has witnessed.
While Martyrs’ final scene possesses an almost trance-like and peaceful quality, the vision of a flayed Anna strapped to a medical bed is difficult to process. The New French Extremity movement conjured several brutal cinematic sights, but Martyrs’ coup de grâce is a disturbing portrait of despair that won’t make you jump, but will burrow deep into your psyche.
The Others – “We’re Not Dead!”
Much like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, The Others’ renown stems from its final revelatory moments. Though many may well have collected the clues scattered throughout the picture’s eerie Victorian narrative and formed them into a theory on the true nature of Nicole Kidman’s Grace and her two children, the final reveal still came as a shock to many cinemagoers.
Plagued by ghostly activity throughout the film, the finale finds Alice desperately attempting to save her children from the clutches of phantoms. As she races to save them, she stumbles into a seance that ultimately reveals that she and her children have been dead all along. Their repeated cries of “We’re not dead!” will long ring out upon the landscape of cinematic ghost stories.