In his near 20 years working in the film industry, writer/director James Wan has become the modern king of horror, creating or co-creating some of the most profitable scary movie franchises in Hollywood. His resume includes the ever-expanding Conjuring franchise, the recently revived Saw franchise and the fan-favorite Insidious franchise.
Wan only directed the first two Insidious films, but he and co-creator Leigh Whannell (who also directed the third film) have delivered one terrifying sequel after another. The fourth film in the franchise, Insidious: The Last Key, is in theaters now, with heroic parapsychologist Elise Rainier returning to her childhood home to defeat a demon she came across a long time ago.
In honor of the release of the latest sequel, let's take a look at the scariest moments in the franchise.
Note: Minor spoilers ahead for the Insidious films.
Don't Turn Around ('Insidious')
This is arguably the most memorable and terrifying moment in the entire Insidious franchise and it still scares the living daylights of everyone watching the film. Arriving right around the halfway point in the film, Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is having a sit-down with a priest and her mother-in-law, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), after seeing a child entity in her house. As Renai tries to convince her husband, Josh (Patrick Wilson), that the spirit was there, Lorraine relays a dream she had about the entity... and the demon appears behind Josh's head. The horrifying road and quick burst of music accompanying the sudden reveal of this terrifying figure make the scene one of the scariest moments in the four films.
Look Both Ways ('Insidious: Chapter 3')
Horror movie jump scares often succeed when filmmakers use silence in a scene followed by a sharp return of sound to the mix. One of the most effective examples of this technique is the car crash sequence in Insidious: Chapter 3. After a successful audition at a performing arts school, young Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) crosses the street. After seeing a mysterious figure waving in the street, she is hit by a car, entering the Further on the verge of death. She is shocked by the appearance of the figure before she finally regains consciousness. Thanks to a combination of skillful audio editing and a dark character design, the scene helps set the terrifying tone for the rest of the film.
Pack Light ('Insidious: The Last Key')
Whannell and first-time franchise director Adam Robitel prove they know how to unsettle audiences even after three effective films. This sequence in the new movie is equally as chilling as anything in the Insidious series. As Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) investigates her childhood home in search of the entity haunting her family, she comes across a suitcase filled with a skull and the dead person's belongings. Hearing a minor sound, she closes the suitcase to check behind it, only to be attacked by a malevolent enemy which bursts out of the suitcase. Despite knowing the outcome from the trailers, the deliberate pacing and buildup to the jump makes it freaky and effective.
Don't You Dare ('Insidious: Chapter 2')
One trick James Wan has perfected is the sudden appearance of a frightening vision, whether via a sudden cut back to a previously empty space, or a character taking a few steps aside to reveal demons that have suddenly appeared nearby. In a quick moment in the second franchise entry, Renai is frantically searching her house for her missing baby. In the living room, she turns briefly away, only for the spirit of the mother of the Bride in Black to suddenly appear in front of her, shouting "Don't you dare!" before slapping her and knocking her out. Thanks to a combination of quick shock, loud music and intense performance from Danielle Bisutti, it adds up to the scariest moment in the first sequel.
Anyone who had a ViewMaster as a kid, remembers escaping to new worlds as we rotated through each photo on the reel. What if they helped us see things invisible to the naked eye? In the debut film, technical genius Tucker (Angus Sampson) shows off a modified version of a ViewMaster fitted with a reel that highlights different ultraviolet spectrums on each rotation. As he cycles through them, he's disturbed to find two women standing in the hallway, flashing big smiles. The visual technique of the ViewMaster rotations not only helped elevate the scene's suspense, but the sudden appearance of the women and the creep smile delivered through its subtle cut make it a truly scary moment.
Who You Gonna Call ('Insidious: Chapter 2')
It might be a little old-fashioned, but telephone was one of the easiest and cheapest games to play as a kid. The idea that cans connected by a piece of string can carry voices between people is weirdly fascinating basic technology. In a moment that was more creepy than scary, young Dalton Lambert (Ty Simpkins) is awakened in the middle of the night by someone he thinks is his brother talking to him through the can telephone, only to realize the string is suspended in mid-air, disappearing into his closet. A disheveled spirit suddenly rushes out of the closet and asks for help. With a combination of brilliant sound editing featuring a delay in the woman's dialogue as if traveling across the "phone line," a rush of music as she moves, and her creepy dialogue pleading for help, it's one of the more underrated moments in the film.
Knock, Knock ('Insidious: Chapter 3')
Kind of awkward to knock on your apartment's walls in hope of getting the attentions of your crush, only to discover your crush was never there in the first place. For young Quinn, however, this becomes a moment of terror. Not only was someone – not her crush – knocking along with her, but as she tries to go to bed an arm suddenly appears from the ceiling, grabbing her shoulder. The revelation that some entity was knocking along with Quinn would have been enough to set an eerie mood for the moment, but Whannell and his crew took it a step further, delivering an effective jump scare. The disembodied arm appears in a shock moment, and the spirit's cry is equally as surprising as the arrival of the arm.
I Want It All ('Insidious')
The most petrifying things in a movie are often sound effects, whether the sudden crash of an object in the distance, the horrifying screams from a hellish dimension, or the demonic roar of an evil spirit going after innocent characters. In one of the first Insidious scares, Renai notices sound coming from her baby monitor. When the volume is turned up, the sound is revealed to be a male voice. As she heads to the stairs, continuing to listen, the voice grows more agitated, demanding something over and over again before punctuating the demand with one terrifying "NOW!" The combination of dramatic music and the intense, crackly voice make this one of the scariest scenes in the original film.
The Finale ('Insidious: Chapter 3')
Though the franchise has introduced new demons and spirits with each movie, the one that has carried through almost every movie, and has been a fright to see each time, is the Lipstick-Face Demon. This horrifying figure has a black body, hooves, a demonic tail and a creepy red face with piercing yellow eyes. In what was arguably the best conclusion of any of the films, Elise is happy to discover her deceased husband's favorite vest is laying on her bed by itself, seemingly put there by his spirit. But the moment is cut short as her dog begins barking at something hiding in the dark. As Elise stares towards it, and before audiences can get a good look at the entity, we are confronted by Lipstick-Face jumping from behind Elise towards the camera, with a new facial design from the first film that makes him all the more horrifying.
'Insidious: The Last Key' is in theaters now.