5 horror scenes that were MOST DIFFICULT to shoot

Which scenes in horror movies were the hardest to shoot?

Michalina Peruga

3 December 2022

The most difficult scenes to shoot are not only those that require high technical advancement or special equipment. These are also those which, for safety reasons, are difficult to perform for the actors playing them. Here are the 5 most difficult scenes to shoot in horror movies.

The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s film was a breakthrough for horror cinema – it shaped the common idea of what exorcisms look like and set the iconography for the subgenre of horror about possession. The film about 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair) who becomes possessed by a demon is full of great practical special effects. One of the most famous scenes, where Regan is exorcised and her head rotates 180 degrees, used a realistic mechanical puppet. The cast of The Exorcist has spoken many times over the years about how demanding it was to work on set. For Ellen Burstyn, who plays Regan’s mother, one scene on The Exorcist was the most difficult of her career. It’s about the scene where Chris (Burstyn) tries to stop his possessed daughter Regan from mutilating her genitals with a crucifix. They begin to struggle and Chris is suddenly pushed away by her daughter with inhuman strength. She falls to the floor and hits her head against the wall. After the first take, Burstyn alerted Friedkin that the stuntman’s push was too much for her, but the director is said to have replied, “It has to feel real.” Finally, he instructed the stuntman not to push Burstyn so hard. On subsequent shots, however, the actress hit her lower back hard when she fell. The cry of pain we see in this scene was 100% real. Burstyn’s back injury continued for many years after filming ended. Although she forgave Friedkin, at the time of the incident she was furious that he did not stop filming when she howled in pain after the fall.

The Shining

This excellent horror film by Stanley Kubrick became famous for being in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest shot scene in the history of cinema. It is, of course, the famous scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) runs down the stairs from her husband Jack (Jack Nicholson) and aims at him with a baseball bat, crying hysterically. To shoot this scene, Kubrick made his actors take as many as 127 takes. It was probably a matter of the director’s morbid perfectionism, but above all a form of calculated violence towards Shelley Duvall. It is well known that Kubrick abused the actress during the filming, which resulted in health problems (the actress’s hair fell out during the filming), as well as mental problems that accompanied her throughout her life. Kubrick isolated Duvall from the rest of the film crew so that she would perform better on screen as a fragile, submissive and intimidated wife. He was constantly criticizing her, pushing the boundaries many times, pushing the actress to the brink, a prime example of which is the scene with the baseball bat. As mentioned, the scene was repeated 127 times, and Kubrick did not inform Duvall about the changes in the choreography, wanting to bring out genuine horror from it.


Tobe Hopper’s horror film follows the Freeling family as they move into a new home. As it turns out over time, the house is haunted, and the evil spirits are particularly fond of the youngest child of the spouses Diane and Steve, daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). After a series of terrifying events, a married couple with three children decide to leave home. Just before leaving, Diane (JoBeth Williams) is left alone at home with her two younger children. Outside, a downpour rages, and when the ghosts begin to attack, Diane seeks help and runs around the yard, falling into the pool. Skeletons emerge from the water and coffins float out – Diane discovers with horror that their house was built in an old cemetery. An interesting fact is that the skeletons floating in the pool are real human skeletons. Apparently, it was much cheaper to obtain them than to create artificial ones. Special effects supervisor Craig Reardon confirmed that the skeletons were made up and dressed to resemble decomposing corpses. JoBeth Williams had no idea at first that she was swimming in water with genuine human remains. However, what scared her more while filming this scene was the fact that there was a lot of electrical equipment and cables around the pool. To reassure her and get her to finish the scene, Steven Spielberg, the film’s producer, jumped into the pool, telling her that if something happened, they would both die…

Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by slasher master Wes Craven, this cult horror film follows the murderer Freddy Krueger, who haunts the teenagers of the town of Springwood in their sleep. Nightmares haunt, among others, Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss), who lives on Elm Street. In his dreams, he sees a scary man with a scarred face, a red and green sweater, a hat, and blades for hands. One night, Tina dreams that the killer is cutting her clothes with blades, and when she wakes up screaming, she finds her nightgown cut. The next evening, the girl is left alone at home and invites several friends to a house party, including her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), who also has nightmares. That night, Tina once again dreams of Freddy, who is trying to get her. Meanwhile, Tina’s waking boyfriend Rod (Nick Corri) watches in horror as his girlfriend is dragged across the wall and ceiling by a mysterious supernatural force and murdered.

Practical special effects are stunning throughout the film, and this particular scene was shot using a revolving room. Its originator was Jim Doyle, an outstanding specialist in special effects. On the set of the music video for the famous Michael Jackson song Thriller, Doyle invented a safe smoke machine that greatly simplified the methods used to achieve this effect in films. In 1992, Doyle won an Academy Award for “Technical Achievement” for creating this device, which was later used in, among others, the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Of the revolving room idea, he said, “Wes wanted something really big and amazing, something out of the ordinary for the first death … so I suggested a revolving room.” The structure was rotated by several set workers, and the operator was strapped into a seat from a wall-mounted aircraft cockpit. Amanda Wyss, who plays Tina, even had panic attacks about the fact that she was about to fall. Shooting the scenes inside the revolving room was extremely difficult and demanding. It was also used in the scene where blood gushes out of a hole in the bed.

28 Days Later

Danny Boyle’s film enjoyed great popularity more than two years ago after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. London, deserted due to the virus epidemic, resonated very strongly with the situation at the time and the empty streets of cities due to the strict lockdown in the first months of the pandemic. 28 Days Later tells the story of Jim (Cillian Murphy) who wakes up from a coma in a deserted hospital to discover that just 28 days earlier, a virus epidemic broke out in the UK that turns people into bloodthirsty creatures. Jim leaves the hospital and wanders around a completely empty London. He visits the most popular places in the very center, and yet the streets are completely empty. Alex Gladstone, location manager, explains what was done to achieve this effect: “We shot over the weekend and got on site very early to capture the moment. We had to shoot everything in the early morning, which contributed to the rawness. There were a few people who were returning home after a night out, but the police helped us to direct them out of frame. Angry drivers honked at Cillian, but we just edited the sound.”

Michalina Peruga

Michalina Peruga

Film scholar, art historian and lover of contemporary horror cinema and classic Hollywood cinema, especially film noir and the work of Alfred Hitchcock. In cinema, she loves mixing genres, breaking patterns and looking closely at characters.

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