The Scariest Photographs Ever Taken On Screen

sinister 568x320 - The Scariest Photographs Ever Taken On Screen

In honor of the new Dread release of Takeshi Kushida’s romance horror film Women of the Photographs, Dread Central is taking a look back at some of the most disturbing photos in movie history. From ghostly encounters to ominous images foreshadowing a terrible fate, the photograph in horror has always been a harbinger of doom.

In a genre that’s largely defined by the unknown, photographic evidence of the supernatural is generally hard to come by. When something evil is captured on film, it finally becomes real. There it is in plain sight, impossible to unsee. The examples below are genuinely unsettling, largely because they represent themes of inevitability, guilt, betrayal, and desperation.

So, to kick things off, let’s start with an episode from an old Canadian anthology series from the ’90s that gets a little scarier the more you think about it.

The Tale of the Curious Camera episode from Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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Courtesy of Paramount Media Networks

The beloved Nickelodeon series Are you Afraid of the Dark? featured future stars like Ryan Gosling and Jay Baruchel before they made it big. Each episode was introduced by a group of kids called the Midnight Society as they sat around the campfire. In season 3 of the long-running series, an episode called The Tale of the Curious Camera tells a story about a magical old camera that can predict the future.

Gifted the 1940s camera from a teacher, Matt Dorney (Eddie Kaye Thomas of American Pie fame) discovers that he can see the terrible fates of his classmates before they happen. Each photo he takes comes true in terrible fashion. Eventually, his own family is at risk when Matt sees a terrible car wreck predicted. The episode ends when it’s discovered that a tiny Gremlin has possessed the camera, only to find a way to digitize itself into the family computer.

The accidental Polaroid selfie in Shutter

Shutter 2004 960x625 - The Scariest Photographs Ever Taken On Screen
Courtesy of GMM Tai Hub/GMM Grammy

In 2004, the J-horror craze helped this Thai ghost story find a worldwide audience. Shutter is ultimately a story about guilt and the inescapable dread of knowing that you can’t outrun your past. After a hit-and-run accident, Tun (Ananda Everingham), an amateur photographer, and his girlfriend Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) keep seeing a mysterious shape in the background of all their photos. Upon further investigation, Jane discovers that Tun and his friends are hiding a terrible secret.

Taking advantage of a classic trope to great effect, the reveal is jarring and … a little ridiculous. Tun discovers through an accidental selfie that the victim’s ghost is piggybacking on his shoulders. Earlier, Tun discovers that his weight is double what it should be in a very obvious metaphor for his tremendous guilt. Somehow, it’s an incredibly frightening moment that proves once again that there’s nothing quite as disturbing as a creepy Polaroid picture. (You can skip the 2008 remake, FYI.)

Rose’s Hidden Photo Collection in Get Out

get out - The Scariest Photographs Ever Taken On Screen
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) refuses to believe his best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) might be right about his doting girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). His deepest fears are confirmed when he discovers Rose’s small box of photos and keepsakes. The Armitage family has been luring black men and women back to their palatial estate, with Allison working as the ultimate deceiver.

Jordan Peele’s breakout sensation Get Out has multiple levels of subtext to discover through repeat viewings. But the photos Chris discovers work as the ultimate act of betrayal that finally breaks the spell he’s been under. It’s a chilling, almost incomprehensible reveal. No matter how much he may want to, Chris can’t deny the photographic proof he’s holding in his hands.

A lurking Bagul in Sinister

sinister - The Scariest Photographs Ever Taken On Screen
Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions

What happens to the person that finds the footage in a found footage film? That’s the jumping-off point for Scott Derrickson’s Sinister. After discovering multiple reels of Super 8 tapes, best-selling author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) becomes obsessed with old home movies of the family that lived in the house before him.

He begins to see a frightening image in the background of an evil entity that later reveals itself to be a soul-eating ancient boogie man called Bagul. Ellison’s obsession leads to Bagul’s resurgence, which starts to threaten the lives of his children. In one of Sinister‘s most memorable scenes, the image of Bagul turns its head towards Ellison when he’s not looking. When that scene happened during the film’s premiere at Fantastic Fest, we were all watching through our fingers until the credits rolled.

The childhood photo in I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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Courtesy of Netflix

Mirroring the general uneasiness captured in Get Out, Charlie Kaufman’s version of Meet the Parents is all kinds of weird wrapped up in a surprisingly frightening dark comedy. Jessie Buckley (Men) and Jesse Plemons (Antlers) play a truly bizarre couple that travels to the remote countryside to spend some quality time with his side of the family. When they arrive, Buckley’s character (who is never named) begins to notice old family photos hanging on the wall.

One photo, in particular, looks exactly like her as a teenager. Looking closer, she asks who the person in the photo is. Then, it suddenly reverts back to a picture of her boyfriend as a young man. She can’t believe her eyes, and the supposed hallucination begins to cause her to start questioning everything. While not explicitly horror, the experience of seeing something impossible starts to tear at the fabric of their reality. And that existential dread is at the core of what collectively scares us.

Honorable Mentions

BTTF - The Scariest Photographs Ever Taken On Screen
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The dark room photos foreshadowing the deaths of Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) and Jennings (David Warner) in The Omen are undeniably iconic. The lines in the photographs appear at first to be a flaw caused by the development process. Then, when the church spire impales Brennan, and a sheet of glass decapitates Jennings, the photos become ominous warnings. It’s a classic moment for a reason.

The same goes for the lingering close-up of the group photo of the Overlook Hotel’s Fourth of July Ball from 1921 in The Shining. How is Jack Torrance in that photo? It’s impossible, which makes it terrifying. But there he is, in plain sight. It doesn’t make sense. Then again, supernatural horror doesn’t always have to explain itself. Jack has always been here. Enough said.

Another case for the scariest Polaroid photo is Marty McFly’s photo in Back to the Future. If Marty doesn’t get his parents together in 1955, he will cease to exist along with his brother Dave (Marc McClure) and sister Linda (Wendie Jo Sperber). Every time he glances at the photo, they slowly start to disappear into nothingness. When Marty’s on stage he literally starts to vanish until his parents finally have their first kiss.

But what if Back to the Future didn’t have a happy ending? The Back to the Future disappearing Polaroid has scarred more kids than it’s given credit for. Robert Zemeckis must be held accountable and answer for scarring a generation of children in his twisted time travel movie.

What are some of your favorite scary movie photos to add? Let us know over on Twitter at @DreadCentral.

Tags: Are You Afraid of the Dark? Back to the Future Shutter Sinister Woman of the Photographs

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