[Editor’s Note: I’m happy to welcome Stephen Graham Jones back to Shock. If you recall, he whipped up a terrific Special Feature for us called Dear Final Girls… which you can read right here. Today, he weighs in with his favorite horror movie moments, but I think as you’ll soon catch on…there’s a twist.]
The other day I stumbled onto Roger Eberts 100 Greatest Moments in Film, which turned out to be cap you screw off the rabbit hole. About ten lists and a couple hundred movies later, I started to feel something amiss with the force: while there were plenty of lists of greatest horror scenes, there werent any lists of the best horror “moments.”
So, I set out to see what I could do to address thisthough, for sanitys sake, I had to limit myself to 20. However, I completely suspect thats the number Ebert started out at as well.
Just, making these lists, you keep thinking of one more, and then one more, and pretty soon youre riding the snowball downhill, completely out of control.
And then of course theres the fact that none of these lists are ever really complete. The good ones, though, the ones that arent just clickbait, they do start a discussion. And, while theyre never the exact same ones you would have picked, still, theres probably one or two on that list you give the grudging nod.
So, fully aware that 20 is not enough, and that one butterfly flapping its wings can change the whole list, heres what I come up with:
That second time the phone rings in the first minute of Scream, and Casey stops in her tracks, zeroes back in on it like the threat it now is.
How Casey, this second time she hangs up on this wrong caller, instead of saying Take it easy as she did the first call, she says See ya. And she will.
When Casey draws a knife from the block to punctuate her Halloween answer to what her favorite scary movie is, and that knife makes that metal-on-metal sound Michaels knife makes every time he even so much as twitches it by his leg.
That popcorns foil dome rising with pressure right along with the escalating danger of this phone call Casey should never have let get this far.
When the caller slips and says he wants to know Caseys name so he can know who hes looking at, immediately putting us in mind of When a Stranger Callswhich is to say the movie is the reference, while this, the house Casey is walking through, at least in relation to the reference, its our world.
How the cordless phone rings in Caseys hand like this caller is already stalking her, is already right there every time she turns around.
That escalation from a phone ringing to a doorbell being pushed, and how, with a single intimate sound, it erases all the comfortable distance we associate with phone calls.
How the callers Im getting scared and Im shaking in my boots dont actually track, coming from the same caller (see also Fraid not/no way, actually in different voices)cueing us in even this early that there may be two callers in this single voice…
When the boyfriend Casey seemingly made up turns out to be real and killable, meaning she was lying earlier, she was flirtingbut not so innocently, as it turns out: what shes doing is opening up a cycle of justice, which the horror movie is specifically built to close, and with much prejudice.
How the audio gore of Steve getting gutted like a fish from Caseys wrong answer precedes the visual gore, such that were already cringing by the time we see whats been done to him.
That when the caller says Hey! Were not finished yet! hes not talking about the conversation he and Casey are having. Hes talking about the game the we out there are playing, and hes promising that Casey is only the beginning.
When the caller asks What door am I at? and we, like Casey, dont allow that the answer might actually be Both.
How Wes Craven keeps the killer off-screen for a deliciously agonizing nine minutes and thirteen seconds.
That, when Casey hits this killer with her phone, itunlike with Jason and Michael and Freddyactually hurts him, telling us right there that this isnt the slasher we think we know so well.
How the killer, in slow motion, has to lean over Caseys right shoulder to stab her high in the chest on her left side, a very specific point, as if aiming for a blood squib, or actually trying to miss the heart, so as to prolong her death.
That, when Casey removes the killers mask, theres a moment of recognition: she now knows the secret of this movie, and, judging by the expression on her face, its a very, very good secret.
That Caseys dad says for his wife to go down to the Mackenzies, call the policenearly word-for-word what Laurie Strode tells her babysitting charges in Halloween.
That its Drew Barrymore who dies as the blood sacrifice that starts this ritual. If even she can Janet Leighd, then anything can happen, right?
The realization that were only thirteen minutes into this experience.