What is the scariest experience you’ve had in a movie theater?

What is the scariest experience you’ve had in a movie theater?

Graphic: Natalie Peeples

This week’s AVQ&A is in honor of Halloween Kills, the second movie in David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot/sequel trilogy, hitting theaters this weekend:

What is the scariest experience you’ve had in a movie theater?

Paranormal Activity

In 2007, I pulled myself out of bed for a 10 a.m. screening of Paranormal Activity. I really didn’t know much about it, but I was a huge fan of The Blair Witch Project at the time and thought this would scratch that itch. Little did I know that I would spend the entire movie wondering if I should just leave because I was so scared. Then the ending happened. I spent the last ten minutes stressed out of my mind, reflexively putting my head in my hands for safety. When the film ended, I joined the rest of the audience in refusing to get up until the lights came on. [Matt Schimkowitz]

3 / 9

Clicking in the lobby of the Music Box

Clicking in the lobby of the Music Box

My scariest moment in a movie theater is a bit of a cheat, because it took place in a theater lobby. The Music Box in Chicago is famously haunted, but I never believed in any of that. That is, until 2019, when I was standing in the lobby perusing the flyers that pile up in the corners of venues like this one. Then, directly behind my right ear, I heard a loud, clear tongue click—think Charlie in Hereditary. I jumped and turned around, but there was no one within 15 feet. Does the Music Box ghost sit in on horror movies, taking notes on new ways to freak out theatergoers? Or did my ear just pop, and I made a connection that wasn’t there? Either way, it made my stomach drop to my ankles. [Katie Rife]

Rango

Whenever I think of Rango, I hear the screams of children. Gore Verbinski’s animated western isn’t especially horrifying (although its inventive character design is scary good), but circumstances made this theatergoing experience particularly traumatizing. A friend and I went to see the film on opening weekend in 2011, just as a massive thunderstorm was rolling through town. Right before Rango’s climactic showdown with Rattlesnake Jake, the theater’s power cut out—accompanied by a boom of thunder—plunging us into darkness. Needless to say, the kid-heavy audience was panicked. A swirling chaos of shouts and wails lasted for at least a minute before a back-up generator kicked in, and then we were promptly asked to leave the theater to seek safer shelter from the storm. Now that I think about it, I still haven’t seen the end of Rango. [Cameron Scheetz]

The Invisible Man

Maybe it’s recency bias, but the scariest experience that comes to mind is during 2020’s The Invisible Man. It’s the last film I saw on the big screen before the pandemic. I went on my day off for a midday show, which explains why the theater was practically empty. The only other audience member walked out after 20 minutes. The movie itself wasn’t frightening and I really enjoyed it, but it definitely wasn’t meant to be seen alone. I didn’t realize how much the isolation spooked me until halfway through, when I was nervously biting my nails and making sure no one was around. I also appreciated exiting the theater to broad daylight. [Saloni Gajjar]

The Ring

My first thought was also Hereditary, which chilled me to my very core when I saw it at Sundance; I was so freaked out by it that I actually considered fleeing the theater—a very rare sensation for me, and one that I tried to honor when I sat down to write about it later that night. (On some level, I do think that I fed this movie’s hype machine with that dispatch, which the trailer quoted, and feel—perhaps rather arrogantly—somewhat responsible for the number of people who later reported that it wasn’t so scary, what was all the fuss about?) But if I’m honest, there was no single moment in Hereditary that shook me as fast and forcefully as a two-second shot from the American version of The Ring. It’s the moment when we see, very briefly, what Samara did to the girl in the opening scene. That cut to the closet, and into a close-up of the dead girl inside of it, was so unexpected and so horrifying that I spent the rest of the movie in a state of sweaty panic, convinced they were going to pull the trick on me again, that it was only a matter of time before we’d get another shock cut to another pasty, grimacing corpse. It haunted me. Not bad for a PG-13 Hollywood remake. [A.A. Dowd]

The Grudge

Consider me among the others who would happily slide their Hereditary experience into the top spot here. (I saw a midnight screening before it came out, and was also probably guilty of helping to feed the hype machine, what with my dispatch bearing the headline, “Believe the hype.”) But since it’s already taken, I will go with another formative horror experience, one that forced me to confront my own deep-seated issues with the genre. Sitting down to watch The Grudge set off a serious internal terror alert, one that made me get out of my own bed at 5 a.m. the next morning and drive around until the coffee shops opened, so terrified was I to be alone in a bed. (If you’ve seen that film, you know why lifting up the covers is the last thing you want to do.) Happily, though, it led to my completely reevaluating my relationship with horror; I went from avoiding it like the plague to becoming a die-hard scary-movie fanatic, so I guess I owe Sarah Michelle Gellar and that J-horror remake a debt of gratitude. [Alex McLevy]

Get Out

I don’t see horror movies in theaters often. If I’m going to be scared by a movie, I prefer to be scared in the comfort of my own home, damnit. But on the rare occasion I’ve deviated from that position, I’ve been greeted with some of worst scares of my movie-watching career. Coincidentally enough, one such scare was from the final scene Paranormal Activity 4—that movie that isn’t tremendously scary as a whole but those witches freaked me the hell out. More recently, I remember being filled with dread in the final moments of Get Out. Seeing those red and blue police sirens flash while Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is strangling the life out of Rose (Allison Williams) sent my stomach dropping through the floor. Couple that with the fact that I was seeing this movie at the former ArcLight Cinemas (RIP) in a primarily white Chicago neighborhood, with a primarily white audience, and it easily becomes one of the most anxiety-inducing theater experiences I’ve ever had. [Baraka Kaseko]

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