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October 19, 2018
Sleep is just as important as eating or breathing, yet it’s also when we’re at our most vulnerable. Our defenses are nonexistent, and we’re oblivious to everything around us. It’s why animals seek out cozy burrows, dens, caves, or nests, and it’s why we humans evolved into creatures that put thick walls and solid locks between ourselves and the outside world at bedtime.
It also explains why scenes of someone sleeping in a horror movie set our hearts to pounding–you just know something awful is about to happen. Here are some of the scariest sleep scenes in movie history. (Follow the links to clips on YouTube at your own risk!)
The quintessential slasher flick of the 1980s, A Nightmare on Elm Street centers on nightmares that come true, so it certainly has its share of insomnia-inducing moments. In a film peppered with gory death scenes, Glen’s is by far the bloodiest. After plotting with his girlfriend Nancy to trick Freddy Kreuger into entering the waking world so he can be killed, Glen is foiled by his parents, who want him to break things off with Nancy. Confined to his room, Glen falls asleep despite his best efforts. He’s sucked into his mattress, TV and all, and after a moment of agonizing screams, a literal fountain of blood shoots into the ceiling.
Most of the first installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise centers around “found footage” of horrible things happening while people sleep, so it can be hard to pick a single scariest bed scene. However, Katie’s body being dragged out of bed by an unseen force, then banging on the floor, had undeniable shock value, as did her terrified screams of “Micah!” as she was violently wrenched out of the room. Footage of Katie standing, zombie-like, beside the bed and staring at Micah for hours as he sleeps runs a close second.
While not billed as horror movies, the Godfather film trilogy has some terrifying moments. The most chilling, and arguably the most memorable, is the scene in which movie producer Jack Woltz gets his comeuppance at the expense of his prized racehorse. The scene opens with tense music as the camera slowly pans across Woltz’s sleeping body. The anxiety-inducing score reaches a crescendo as Woltz wakes up, horror slowly dawning as he finds his hands and then his entire body covered in blood. He throws back the covers to reveal the severed head of his unfortunate thoroughbred. His screams echo across his perfectly manicured lawn and pristine swimming pool as the camera pulls back. While the act itself is brutal and visceral, the thought that someone snuck into his home and quietly, craftily slipped an entire horse head under his covers undetected is the real spine-chiller.
One of the most famous scenes in the formidable Stephen King universe is author Paul Sheldon’s brutal hobbling at the hands of deranged superfan Annie Wilkes. When Annie learns of Paul’s failed escape attempts, she goes to extremes to ensure the writer remains her captive long enough to rectify killing off beloved character Misery Chastaine. Paul awakens to Annie looming over him with a syringe full of sedative. She then puts a block of wood between his ankles and proceeds to crush each one with a sledgehammer. Suddenly, “I’m your number one fan” is no longer a compliment.
Using the “monster under the bed” horror trope to maximum effect, the 1982 version of Poltergeist emphatically answered the question of whether clowns and dolls are scary. Spoiler: Yes. Yes, they are. After their home is supposedly cleansed of the vengeful spirits haunting it, the Freeling family prepares to move away and start anew. On the eve of their departure, a hideous clown doll in his bedroom unsettles eight-year-old Robbie, who awakens from an uneasy sleep to discover the doll is no longer in its chair. He peers under the bed, only to turn and find the clown in his bed. The clown drags Robbie under the bed, where the boy fights for his life.
These spine-tingling movie scenes play on some of our most primal fears, including a fear of the dark and the unseen. What’s your most memorably terrifying sleep scene? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to check under the bed tonight!