Is the element of suspense universal? Or is it generational? Is it about what is overtly portrayed on the screen by a good director, or what is merely insinuated? Is it about action? Horror? Does it entail surround sound, at high volume, or subtleness? A good soundtrack paired with good editing?
I'm not really referring to cinema's most scariest moments...but rater its most suspenseful moments. Most ominous moments. Most cinematically creative moments that pulled you to the edge of your seat, made your breathing a bit shallow, made you nervous, that sucked you in and hooked you.
Those moments can come at various points in any good film. Sometimes it is the opening sequence. Other times it is mid-film and, obviously, it can come at the climax.
What are the film scenes that made your stomach immediately tense up, and remain with you long after seeing the film? I'll share some of mine below the squiggle.
Stanley Kubrick earns two spots on my list of most suspenseful film moments. The first is a scene from his 1980 film "The Shining." Long before the first scene of his little boy riding his bigcycle up and down the empty hallways of the hotel, the fact that the place had a troubled history had been established, and we knew it was haunted. The shots of an innocent toddler frolicking alone on his trike, zooming down the long, empty hallways, were nerve racking. When he slowed down and looked at the ill-fated room 237, we just knew something bad was going to happen. Kubrick milked those emotions for all they were worth, and let the tension build. When we first see the twin girls, and a hallway gushing with blood, we have already been primed to jump out of our seats. It is pure film making bravado.
I'm Sorry Dave, I can't do that."
Another great movie scene by Kubrick is from his film "2001: A Space Odyssey". Though it was a science fiction film, it had a couple great and suspenseful moments. My favorite was when Dave and his co-astronaut realized that HAL had become adversarial, and knew they had to come up with a plan outside of HAL's earshot. They decide to go inside of one of the sealed "landing pods", where they felt certain they could converse frankly about the situation without HAL overhearing their conversation. Kubrick shoots the scene from HAL's perspective. We can see the two of them leaning into each other, talking with obvious concern on their faces, but we cannot hear their words. The camera slowly pans closer and closer, until all we see is their lips in conversation...and we realize at that moment...HAL can read lips. HAL's malevolence was also brilliantly offset by the bland, monotone, emotionless voice that the computer was given in the film. Another great touch.
Wait Until Dark
I was 12 years old when this film came out, and it had me hooked from beginning to end. It felt like a Hitchcock film, but it was directed by Terrence Young. The whole movie is suspenseful, but there are a few exemplary moments. One is where the is broken glass on the floor, and Audrey Hepburn, who is blind, walks across the room blithely unaware. We are left cringing in our seats, waiting for her to step on a shard of glass...and Young stretches that moment out. The climax of the film, however, is superb. It helped to have a petite, beautiful actress like Hepburn starring in this film...who could envision anything tragic happening to her? And Alan Arkin was a great villain. When he finally confronts her in her apt, she busts out all of the lights in order to level the playing field...it is classic film making.
Blood Test from John Carpenter's 'The Thing'
This was a spooky movie. A suspenseful movie. And the Blood Test scene rocks. I found a good clip of it, but I won't post it, because I'm guessing there are, at this late date, many here who have never seen the film. I don't want to spoil it for you. It's another movie that takes place in a long distant, solitary environment, far from help. There is something preying upon the group...something that can take on doppleganger forms and become indistinguishable from the others. Nobody knows whom they can trust. It's pretty good stuff.
The Master of Suspense
Hitchcock is the best, hands down, but choosing his most suspensefull cinematic moment is a real challenge. Psycho? Rear Window's climax? Rebecca? I will go with one of my least favorite Hitch films, overall, and choose a scene from "The Birds."
He took an inspired concept...birds turn upon humans...and made them truly fearful. The scene where Tippi Hedron visits the school and notices several crows congregating on a jungle gym, and then leaves to find them multiplies tenfold, and squawking ominously, is truly chilling. As she leads the children away and tries to keep them calm, we all know that it will end badly. It's a really creepy, tension-filled scene. I mean...everyone likes birds, right?
The film that cleared the beaches
no explanation necessary...the opening sequence to Jaws had all of us hooked. And the soundtrack was great.
Those are just a few of mine. The opening scene from the movie "Dead Calm" deserves honorable mention, as well. I might have included the Normandy landing from "Saving Private Ryan", but while it is undeniably suspenseful, it's mostly just disturbingly real and gut wrenching. The tenseness comes not so much from dramatic effect as it does from a disconcerting reality of war must feel and sound like.
What are your favorite moments of stomach churning suspense in film?