Director Ari Aster unleashes Midsommar this week, his follow-up to breakout debut Hereditary, the family shocker made very much in the horror tradition of dark corners, black nights, and creeping shadows to conjure up scares. Midsommar, set in remote Sweden during a flower-dressed festival, is designed as an anomaly: A gruesome horror movie that allows all its gore and brutality to curdle in open, bright daylight. There’s no hiding away in this one, folks, inspiring us to offer up our own selection of the 11 scariest scenes where the blood shines bright as the sun.
Here’s a movie that turns up the heat — literally — as a space crew treks with a nuclear payload to reignite our dying sun. A monumental task for those onboard the Icarus II, but the real danger takes on a more human face when they encounter the derelict Icarus I, which disappeared on the same mission seven years earlier. Sunshine morphs into a sun-bright slasher in its third act, a contrast to the earlier somber psychological tone, but director Danny Boyle tackles the shift with zest, challenging himself to pull the knife out of shadows and into retina-searing white light.
A condemned asylum. Inside: clattering chains, disturbed wheelchairs, and crumbling wards. A group of people enter to clean up the place, some who harbor dark histories. Sound like a set up for classic dark and stormy Gothic tale? Not so with Session 9. What kind of clean up crew would work at night? Come on, this is a horror movie: Logic is king here. A slow atmospheric burn with minimal gore until its final minutes, but even when things go to hell, the blood is bathed in New England sun.
Midsommar owes a blood debt to this provincial classic: the unsettling tale of an uptight Christian cop investigating a young girl’s disappearance on an island of decadent mystic pagans has thematic and visual parallels to Aster’s film. Likewise, nearly the entire movie is set during the day among verdant nature and maypole celebrations and foreshadowing musical rhymes that seem to follow the officer everywhere he goes. It’s far too late when he realizes the true nature of his work, leading to a fiery climax in the friscalating dusk light.
Some of the best horror wedges its way into the normal, degrading the routine and humdrum into a morass of paranoia and fear. Final Destination 2 does that with the daily morning commute, because what could be more humdrum than getting in our 1,000 lb. metal husks every day, navigating them manually down the road as cars careen towards us in the opposite direction separated only by capriciously painted lines on the ground? Suddenly, something as innocent as a flatbed of loose tree logs becomes a rolling thunder revue of broken windshield, splattered heads, and Michael Bay–style auto explosions.
28 Days Later‘s famous opening features calm shots of the hero wandering an empty London metropolis depopulated by zombies — moments we would consider eerie, almost beautiful, but not scary. 28 Weeks Later takes the opposite approach. It’s set in the countryside, as a band of infected descend upon defenseless survivors. The camera is in your face, the footage choppy and frantically (but not confusingly) edited, save for a gliding crane shot as our new “hero” flees across the field and towards a waiting river boat. The fact that he just abandoned his wife to the zombies moments earlier contribute to the gut-punching bleakness of the situation. Now that we consider scary.
Like a rusty chainsaw, Tobe Hooper’s horror masterpiece takes a moment to rev up. But once it gets going, the movie is relentless, grinding down the viewer’s endurance up until the famous ending of Leatherface cutting the rising sun light in boiling anger. It’s a great final appearance, but his first introduction is even better. Hapless travelers, in search of gas for their thirsty boogie van, approach a piquant homestead, oblivious that its inhabitants are cannibal freaks who have no qualms doing their dirty deeds in daylight. Leatherface suddenly appears from out of a hallway, smashes his victim’s head in with a hammer as the body crumples and twitches on the ground, and then slides the slaughterhouse door shut. Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!