While horror fans love the genre and tend to seek out hidden gems, both old and new, we also love to watch the same titles over and over. Our favorite franchises, the movies that shaped us as fans, those we cherished in our youth… there are probably way too many films I love that I can recite backwards and forwards on a whim. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. While it can sometimes wear out the magic of a picture to see it dozens if not hundreds of times, it can also yield a new appreciation.
There are so many moments in these movies that I’m still just noticing for the first time. For instance, I’ve always wondered where Tiffany happened to get her doll-sized leather jacket in Bride of Chucky before eventually noticing that it’s clearly displayed on one of her dolls in the opening montage. Sometimes there are tiny moments that start to reveal an incredible new meaning, and sometimes they’re just fun little beats that do their part to provide the feature with a clear sense of character and charm.
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You’ll find a bit of both on this list. Every entry is either considered a classic or is part of a classic franchise. While not every moment brings a new level of brilliance to the movie, each entry provides a new insight—I hope—into the feature as a whole.
The ending of Friday the 13th is an inversion of Psycho
It’s interesting that Jason doesn’t speak when you take into account that our first real introduction to the character was through his voice. Well, not his necessarily, it was his mother trying to keep him alive by speaking in his voice. And that’s what makes the ending work so well. In the original, Jason’s just a dead boy and the ending reveals it to be a tragic case of a mother doing everything she can to not only avenge her dead child, but to keep him alive in her mind. It’s a complete reversal of Psycho, which of course saw Norman Bates taking on the persona of his dead mother.
Michael freezes when he sees his childhood self in Halloween 4
There’s an infamous moment in Halloween 5 that takes a whole lot of flack from fans, in which Michael sheds a tear when he unmasks himself in front of Jaimie. But the series is full of these fleeting, humanizing moments for Michael, and that’s part of what I think makes it all so interesting. There’s the moment when he stops and tilts his head after hearing Laurie say his name for the first time in Halloween II. And then there’s this moment in Halloween 4.
It sees Michael break into the Carruthers house, rummaging through pictures, returning to the POV of the original Halloween opening. And when he finds a picture of himself, dressed in the clown costume from that fateful day, he freezes for just one moment. It’s one of the only scenes in the series where Michael is caught completely off-guard.
Jason’s reaction when Ginny gets the chainsaw in Friday the 13th Part 2
This one isn’t so much a moment of brilliance as it is just a great humanizing, kind of funny moment for Jason. So, Friday the 13th Part 2 really wants to make it as clear as possible that Jason’s actually a man who’s been living out in the woods since surviving his near-death accident as a child. There’s still an ominous presence to him that feels more than human… until this happens. When Ginny bursts out with the chainsaw, Jason is terrified. It’s probably an authentic moment for stuntman Steve Dash, but it adds a nice layer to Jason’s characterization in the movie.
Danny watching a TV that’s not plugged in to an outlet in The Shining
There are moments like this all over The Shining. Part of what makes the film so fascinating is that almost all of the normal haunted house stuff plays out in the background. There’s very little attention drawn to the vast majority of it, with the focus planted clearly on Jack’s descent into madness and Danny’s psychic visions of the hotel’s past. Because of this, people often remain adamant that The Shining is about virtually everything other than ghosts.
But I think it’s just an exceptionally well orchestrated cinematic ghost story. Little bits like the TV not being plugged in, a ball rolling toward Danny from the other end of the hall… they’re all really creepy, but they’re never the focus of their respective scenes.
Leatherface checking all the windows and doors in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
In the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, just after Jerry is killed, Leatherface has a mild freak out. He runs all through the house, checking the windows and doors, because he doesn’t understand what’s happening. In one day, three strangers have wandered into his house, startled him and wound up dead. He killed trespassers in his home. This moment reveals so much about his character.
It’s so rare, especially coming out of the age of atomic monsters and Gothic horror, to see the monster break down and panic. He has no idea what’s going on, he doesn’t know where these people keep coming from. I love that they took the time take this breather before the horror begins ramping up again.
The owl over Norman’s shoulder in Psycho
This moment has definitely been picked apart by cinephiles and gets reiterated in just about every film class. Obviously, Hitchcock was a cinematic genius and placed moments that contextualize the twist all throughout Psycho. One of the most infamous comes in my favorite scene in the film, which is the conversation in the parlor between Norman and Marion. You’ll notice that Norman’s mood fluctuates between very polite and passive and then aggressive, and this is determined by his posture.
The owl behind him basically represents his mother, watching everything he does, so when he leans in and starts to talk badly about her, each time he’s in direct view of the bird, he has to pull himself back and regain his composure.
Chucky’s explanation for how he’s alive in Child’s Play
We, the audience, are immediately clued into the origin of Chucky because we see it happen. We see Charles Lee Ray perform the spell that passes his soul into the doll, which makes the situation feel like a ticking time bomb. But a six-year-old kid is at the very least going to understand that one of his dolls is alive and the others are not. What’s the explanation he gives to Andy?
Well, Andy actually says that himself plain as day, and it’s got to be one of the coldest things Chucky’s ever done. “He said he was sent down from Heaven by Daddy to play with me,” that’s what Andy says. Chucky told the kid that his dead father sent him as a guardian angel. That’s so twisted, so creepy, but it’s easily one of the most overlooked moments in the whole movie.
Billy’s motive speech at the end of Scream
This is a moment that’s so subtle that when I first saw it, I just couldn’t believe it and had to re-watch to make sure the context was clear. I think it’s actually become one of my favorite moments in any film. And it all comes down to Matthew Lillard’s performance in a single shot. So, Billy brilliantly contradicts his note about how motives aren’t scary by then providing Sidney with his actual motive, explaining his father’s affair with her mother.
The genius thing that happens here is that Stu looks at Billy at that moment, and he looks surprised. Stu’s hearing all of this for the first time. That reveals so much about his character. Stu never asked why they were doing this. They’ve been killing their friends, planning this for a year, and it never occurred to him that Billy had a reason. He never asked why. He was just along for the ride.