The year is 2004, and basic cable TV network Bravo has just recently begun its transformation into a reality TV hub following the unprecedented success of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The demographics of the network are about to be effectively rewritten, but there’s still time to air one last piece of signature content that would go on to become quite influential in its own right, hearkening back to the channel’s original filmic background. That October miniseries was titled The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
If you’re a horror film fan of a certain age, you probably remember and have some degree of fondness for The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. For the budding millennial horror geek, the special was an eye-opening bolt from the blue, an effective primer that served to introduce a generation of young cinema geeks to a number of relatively obscure pieces of horror history—films such as 1960’s Peeping Tom, 1973’s Don’t Look Now, or 1955’s Night of the Hunter. There was nothing particularly unique or special about its construction—just an assembly of footage with the usual Hollywood talking heads, discussing their admiration for classic genre movies—but it made an impact all the same, to see horror cinema discussed with such reverence on TV. Some 18 years later, the entire Bravo special can still be found in snippets (and in full) via YouTube, with hundreds of thousands of views. It is clearly still well remembered.
But what of the horror films released in the last two decades? At what point is such a countdown due for a refresh? Horror streamer Shudder apparently thinks the time is now, as it will debut a new series, The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time on Sept. 7, 2022. A somewhat clunky title, perhaps, but the “101” feels quite clearly deferential to the precedent Bravo originally set—there can be little doubt that this special is a spiritual successor, even if it doesn’t directly acknowledge the previous miniseries. Like the series before it, Shudder’s countdown features a variety of relevant talking heads, with interview snippets featuring such creators and performers as Tony Todd, Greg Nicotero, Keith David, Joe Dante, Mike Flanagan, Tom Savini, Tananarive Due, Kate Siegel and others.
The fascinating question, therefore, becomes “How different will this list be?” What films of the last 18 years now deserve to make the cut? Which films from Bravo’s list will be lost in transition? How does one assign weight to a more modern aesthetic, such as the omnipresence of A24-style “elevated horror” in compiling this sort of list in 2022? Of note: The original Bravo list never explicitly had the word “horror” in its title, and thus included scary movie moments from a somewhat wider variety of genres, making for some unexpected selections that included the likes of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s tunnel sequence or the tooth drilling of Marathon Man. With a marginally tighter focus, how will Shudder’s list look different?
After previewing the first two episodes (of eight in this series) of 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time, I can at least say the following: The vibe here is comfortably familiar. The format is very much intact, and some of the films that appear on both lists (there are many) have segments that could likely have been interchangeable despite the almost 20 years that have passed. As I expected, modern “elevated horror” makes its presence felt, but I was also surprised to see some classic additions to the list that didn’t make the cut in the Bravo version, back in 2004. It’s too early to judge the full list, given that I’ve only seen the first 25% of it, but I dare say that Shudder’s version could serve a similar function of being a well-rounded primer on the horror genre, especially for newer fans.
What more recent films can you expect to see? Well, the likes of Robert Eggers, David Robert Mitchell, and Jordan Peele find themselves represented in these first entries, but the list doesn’t completely kowtow to “prestige horror” either, in terms of its new additions. The 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead from Zack Snyder is an intriguing inclusion, and one probably fitting on its own merits, though you have to wonder if its inclusion will result in the original George Romero film leaving the list. South Korea’s 2003 psychological chiller A Tale of Two Sisters is another worthy addition, as are 1958’s Horror of Dracula or Mario Bava’s iconic Italian horror Black Sabbath. Can you believe the original Bravo list apparently didn’t have a single Hammer Horror entry? Another interesting swap: Shudder’s list has the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and presumably loses the 1956 original.
Another mark in Shudder’s favor are the well-chosen sources of commentary in this series, whether that’s Joe Bob Briggs—Shudder’s own resurrected hype man—spinning yarns, or Keith David recalling what it was like to actually see Carpenter’s The Thing on screen for the first time. I especially loved seeing actress Alexandra Essoe (Midnight Mass) discussing David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and how much she loves the tagline of it being “a story about love in the City of Dreams.” She would understand the latent psychological underpinnings of this better than most, having starred in one of the genre’s most disturbing horror films about the psychological and physical transformation of would-be Hollywood starlets, 2014’s harrowing Starry Eyes. That film isn’t mentioned, but I’d like to think the savvier horror viewer watching this special can appreciate how fitting Essoe is as an inclusion here.
With that said, some of the film entries on the list are notably uneven, varying dramatically in detail and length. Some films are discussed by a handful of different luminaries who have plenty to say about multiple scenes, while others rush by with a single talking head mentioning one scene in passing. The effect is a little odd, making it feel as if the filmmakers care more about some entries than others, and you wonder why it wasn’t a bit better balanced.
Likewise, there were a few moments when I found myself questioning the thought process behind featuring a certain guest to discuss a film—particularly when an episode brings in director Mike Flanagan to discuss one of his own movies. Classically, you’d think that the talking head roles would be reserved for other industry luminaries who want to share unbiased admiration for a work. Although a filmmaker obviously has valuable insight about their own movie, and details that no one else would have, they can also hardly claim to be an unbiased observer when describing what makes their movie effective. If I was shooting a series like 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments, I don’t think I’d be inviting a director to be the sole commentary on his own film.
Ultimately, though, Shudder’s new countdown is simply effective genre popcorn entertainment, debuting at the perfect time of year to prime our excitement for the Halloween season. I hope that younger horror viewers in particular may stumble across it, and be inspired to add a slew of historical horror films to their personal watch lists. At the end of the day, a kid’s first introduction to Mario Bava is never a bad thing.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film writing.