Inspired by author Tim Waggoner’s blog post, where he asks, “So what, if anything, scares you?” and answers the question with his top five most horrifying movie moments and how it has influenced his writing.

Yes, there are spoilers!

My Top Five Most Horrifying Movie Moments

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
When Freddy kills Rick in his dream and Alice wakes up, screaming in class, shattering the glass windows

Why it’s horrifying: Alice has been watching her friends–and now her brother–die in their dreams. When everyone you love starts dying and you’re alone, can you still go on fighting? So, Alice channels her loved ones’ energy to beat Freddy. I love that symbolism. As a writer, you write about the things that scare you. Losing my loved ones helplessly. Being the last one standing. That scares me.

The lesson I learned: Alice goes from a reactive character to an active character. Again, I love the symbolism that she takes a part of each of her friends and her brother into her final battle with Freddy. Family and found family always seem to be a huge theme in my stories. So, to have that all taken away, but to still be able to beat the villain is really powerful.

2. Scream (1996)
When Billy reveals to Sidney that he’s the killer

Why it’s horrifying: Scream is one of my favorite movies (not just in the horror genre). I remember watching this movie in the theatre as a teenager and knowing this was not your typical slasher film. The scene I chose really stuck with me because of the anguish and pain you see from Sidney when she realizes her boyfriend has killed off her friends and also killed her mother. She truly is the “Final Girl.”

The lesson I learned: Pain is good! Angst is good! I’m not just talking about physical pain, but emotional pain. When Billy tells Sidney why he killed her mother (she was sleeping with his father), I’ll never forget that even Stu (Billy’s best friend and accomplice) was surprised by the truth. Pain isn’t just about the surface; you can always dig deeper to hurt someone even more.

3. Poltergeist (1982)
The entire ending

Why it’s horrifying:
It’s the false happy ending. They get their daughter back, but the story isn’t quite done with them yet. There’s a sense of security (the mom taking a bath, the kids going to bed), then bam! It’s chaos again.

The lesson I learned: Not every story receives a neat, tidy, happy ending. Even though the family thought they had cleaned the house from the poltergeist, the horror was still out there. It’s like evil never dies. That’s pretty scary.

4. The Princess and the Warrior (2000)

Sissi returns to work after getting hit by a truck and nearly dies….and nothing has changed.

Why it’s horrifying: It showed me my fear that what if you do go through some kind of life-changing event, but nothing in your life changes?

The lesson I learned: You are the storyteller in your own story. In the movie, Sissi returns to work after getting hit by a truck and getting rescued by a handsome stranger, and she realizes she doesn’t want her ordinary life anymore. She doesn’t want to go through the motions any longer. If you’ve living a life you don’t want, change it. Do something about it. Make something happen.

5. Jurassic Park (1993)
The first T-Rex attack.

Why it’s horrifying: “Where’s the goat?” *splat* Love the suspense and tension in this scene especially when the T-Rex goes through the roof in the car and the kids are just screaming. It’s amazing how the T-Rex goes from being the villain in this scene to being the hero by the end of the movie.

The lesson I learned: Everything about this entire sequence is shot beautifully. The cowardly lawyer gets eaten (justice). Malcolm fogging up the windshield (humor). Alan distracting the dinosaur with the flares, then Malcolm leading the T-Rex away from the kids so Alan can get to them. Great motivation and characterization from everyone.

And a bonus book moment:
Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar (1989)
Specifically, Chapter 19 as summarized by Wikipedia

19. A Bad Case Of The Sillies: Allison wonders if maybe her homeroom is in fact on the 29th story since there’s no 19th. After getting knocked down the stairs a short way by Ron and Deedee and her windbreaker torn, Allison proceeds to class and finds everybody ignoring her, especially when Jason accidentally swallows his pet goldfish. A frustrated Allison leaves the room and finds herself inducted into the classroom of Miss Zarves.

19. A Wonderful Teacher: Allison meets three other students of Miss Zarves’ classroom: a grown woman named Virginia; a teenage boy named Nick; and a slightly younger boy named Ray (Bebe’s made-up brother). None of these three remember where they originally came from but don’t care since Miss Zarves gives A’s no matter which answers are right or wrong. Allison soon starts forgetting her own origins while the teacher provides an extremely difficult assignment of writing down numbers from zero to one million and then alphabetizing them. During a two-minute break, Allison meets Mark Miller, who – in a twist of his counterpart in Mrs. Jewls’ class – is often called Benjamin Nushmutt.

19. Forever Is Never: Allison continues struggling to remember her origins while other students memorize the dictionary. She then realizes how Miss Zarves’ system works: assign lots of work so the students have no time to think; make them memorize stupid things so that they forget what’s important; and give good grades no matter what to keep them happy. Allison then proceeds to reenact some of her old classmates’ mannerisms to frustrate Miss Zarves and leave that room. Following a sharp stabbing pain in her gut and foot, Allison wakes up back at the bottom of the stairs where Ron and Deedee pushed her! She then realizes she might have ended up in a dream or a time warp. They apologize, and all proceed to their homeroom where Jason introduces his goldfish.

Why it’s horrifying: Again, this is something that scares me—being forgotten. What if the people around start ignoring you like you don’t exist, then you end up forgetting your origins…as a kid reading this book, the thought scared me. As an adult, it still scares me. What if the reality you’re living isn’t real? What’s real? What’s not? This theme also shows up as a recurring dream for me, where I return to my childhood home, but none of my family members live there anymore.

The lesson I learned: Along with family, memories are also something I fear losing. If you want to write something scary, it has to be scary to you.