20 of the Most Terrifying Horror Movie Dream Sequences
The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is a horror movie that doesn’t rely on jump scares or loud sounds to terrify the audience. Instead, the film’s suspenseful atmosphere and subtle tension maintain a lasting sense of dread throughout. It’s a a testament to just how great horror films can be when they are not relying on cheap gimmicks and buckets of gore to hold them up.
As an example of how it uses suspense and imagery to give you a sensory bash over the head, we look towards the films first act and the tragic death of Damien Karras’ (Jason Miller) mother. A drunken night sleep leads to the priest haunted by a vision of his deceased mother. He sees her emerge from a subway station and waves his hands to get her attention. She shouts something silently out to him before returning back down into the subway. He runs towards her but it’s too late, she is gone.
The entire sequence is eerily silent, intercut with a clocks pendulum and the chilling face of the demon Pazuzu, a reminder that even now, the Demon is weaving it’s evil. Apart from some very quiet tones of music, all we hear is Karras’ troubled mumbling in his sleep. Chilling stuff.
The Prince Of Darkness (1987)
In this classic John Carpenter film, a group of young physicians are asked to investigate a canister in an old church basement. What they find is anything but ordinary. A strange swirling vessel of slime that has strange properties.
The members of the team all experience the same strange dream of a silhouetted, cloaked figure emerging from the doorway of the church, whilst a disturbing voice states that “This is not a dream… not a dream… You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine.”
Whilst it feels a little erroneous on a modern day watch, the mega hit sequel Aliens decide to open the film with a cheap dream scare to get the audience’s blood pumping. In a film filled with genuinely terrifying sequences, the opening moments are sadly misplaced.
Having awoken after years in stasis, lone (human) survivor of the original film; Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), finds herself on an orbital space station. Company representative Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) enters the room to fill her in on what is going on and to drop off Jonesy the cat (the other survivor). But things turn dark when Jonesy hisses at Ellen and she starts to scream out in pain as a xenomorph starts to push it’s way out of her chest.
We have seen this before in the first film. Having this moment played out on Ellen left many audiences wondering if the film was about to bait and switch on it’s action packed trailer and kill of Ellen in the films first five minute! Luckily for everyone, it was all a dream.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
With both the United States and Soviet Union stockpiling nuclear weapons, fears of nuclear warfare pervaded American society and culture in the 1950s. Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation persisted for decided. No film convincingly capitalized on this notion than Terminator 2 and it’s horrific nuclear nightmare.
Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) walks over towards a fence separating her from a nearby playground. With the Los Angeles cityscape looming overhead, she screams out at a version of herself, who is tending her toddler son , but no sound emerges. She rattles the fence and smashes it with her fists in frustration, as a nuclear bomb explodes on the city. The intense heatwave instantly burns everything to ash. The resulting shockwave destroys everything in its path as a still burning Sarah is blown apart, leaving a skeleton still grasping at the fence.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Sometimes dead is better. Based on the Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary is a horror film that explores the loose metaphor for addiction and the terrible decisions people make. The film follow the terrifying ordeal of the Creed family and the local pet cemetery that can bring dead things back to life.
Whilst the family patriarch Louis is coming to terms with the terrible consequences of resurrecting the dead, wife Rachel Creed (Denise Crosby) is haunted by terrible dreams of her long dead sister. Traumatized by the memory of her sister slowly dying from spinal meningitis, Rachel’s nightmares of Zelda are a gruesome reminder that the greatest terror is often spawned from our own past. Zelda’s twisted form and witchy cackle are pure nightmare fodder.
The ‘Burbs (1989)
The ‘Burbs is black comedy which follows n overstressed suburbanite and his neighbours, who all become convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult. No one sees them during the day. At night, their basement windows crash and flash with spooky noises and discharges of electricity, and someone’s digging large grave shaped holes in the backyard.
This is all too much for Ray Peterson’s (Tom Hanks) who is suddenly fraught with terrible nightmares of his neighbours wielding chainsaws, whilst he is severed up as the main course of a satanic barbeque. It’s certainly the most whacky dream sequence put on celluloid, but it gives the film carte blanche to go over the top in the most entertaining way.
Day of the Dead (1985)
As the world is overrun by zombies, a small group of scientists and military personnel dwelling in an underground bunker in Florida must determine whether they should educate, eliminate or escape the undead horde. George A. Romero’s stunning third act in his dead series was one that slowed the pace but upped the ante.
With the sterile surroundings and constant threat from the zombies and the increasingly unhinged soldiers protecting them, Scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) is constantly haunted by terrible nightmares. On dream, she witness her lover Miguel rise form the grave as a zombie, spilling his guts all over the floor, another see’s their helicopter escape plan thwarted by a well hidden zombie. But the films best use of this nightmare theme comes as the films titles are still crawling over the screen
Restless and alone in a brick-paved room, Sarah awakes from sleep and looks around to see a lone calendar before her on the wall. The pages are turned to October, and each day of the month has been crossed out as marker of her long ordeal stuck in the bunker. As she reaches to touch the calendars image of a pumpkin patch, a dozen decayed arms punch through the wall clutching at her.
It’s dramatically played out, and one that is only highlighted by the films chilling soundtrack that playthrough out. The message here is clear, the dead are coming, it’s just a matter of time.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Ed and Lorraine Warren are two of the most famous real-life ghost hunters and demonologists in the world. These paranormal experts have helped people around the world with their ghostly experiences for decades. Such is their legacy that an entire film franchise has been created based on their experiences.
In The Conjuring 2, we see the couple tackling more demonic forces, this time in England, at the sight of the famous Enfield Hauntings. However, Lorraine is haunted by the visions of terrifying Spirit, in the shape of a Nun. In one dream, she is seen wandering into a room, where she is attacked by this demonic spirit when it jumps out at her from a painting. It’s chilling stuff.
The Woman in Black (1989)
Whilst many horror fans will know The Woman in Black thanks to thanks to Daniel Radcliffe’s turn in the 2012 thriller, the story originates as a 1983 horror novel by Susan Hill. The novel was quickly snapped up for a British TV version, produced for the ITV Network in 1989 and traumatized a generation of late-80s viewers. In this movie, a young solicitor is tormented by a ghost that haunts the grounds of a widow’s estate.
Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) goes to bed, a little confused by some of the strange occurrences going on, only to be woken by childlike ghostly whispers. More than slightly alarmed, still trying to shake of sleep, he is suddenly confronted by the shocking floating corpse of the woman in black, complete with a hair raising scream. It might be all a dream, but the scene will have you on the edge your seat very early on in the film.
The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg is well know for his body horror films, where he pushes the limits of visceral bodily transformation, infection, technology, and the intertwining of the psychological with the physical. In his most loved film, The Fly, Brilliant but eccentric scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) accidentally fuses himself with the DNA of a household fly, when a transportation experiment goes horribly wrong.
Science journalist Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (Geena Davis), starts a love affair with the young scientist, only to discover much later what has happened to Brundle. Discovering that she is now pregnant with his child, she has terrible nightmares where she gives birth to a huge, wiggling fly pupae. This is the type of nightmare that puts people of having children for life!
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“Hello Horror Fans – Like a heartbeat drives you mad, dreams will outright slay you. I don’t often remember my dreams, but if I did, I’d want them to be a nightmare vision like the films in this list. Did we miss something…why not tell us in the comments below?