It’s been 21 years since the first “Harry Potter” book was released and the series is still as prominent as ever. With seven books, eight films, a play and a spin-off series on the go, not to mention an ocean of merchandise, theories and fan art, it’s clear that the Harry Potter universe still holds a special place in our hearts.
Now, admittedly, when we think Halloween, horror and scary movies, we don’t automatically think about Harry Potter. But what was once marketed as a children’s book series certainly isn’t without its ghoulish scenes, and once they were re-imagined onto the big screen, they became the stuff of nightmares.
So button up your cloaks as we count down the top ten scariest moments in the Harry Potter movies!
10. The Restricted Section – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
I don’t know if anyone ever told Harry Potter this, but the restricted section is…well, restricted. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the books inside are described as “containing powerful dark magic” and are arguably thought to be inappropriate for younger readers, so you don’t really want to be poking around there at the best of times, let alone in the middle of the night.
No one wants to be screamed at, but especially not by a face that stretches out of a book, alerting everyone to the fact that you are not in bed like you are supposed to be!
9. Quirrell Removes His Turban – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
No. Just no. Even though we knew at this point that Voldemort was at the centre of the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, and even though we knew his return would be inevitable, this scene was beyond creepy. Moments before his reveal, we, like Harry, were trying to work out where his sinister voice was coming from. And whilst it’s not like we were expecting Voldemort to jump out from behind the Mirror of Erised and say ‘BOO!’ I’m not sure if anyone was quite prepared for what Harry saw in that room.
8. Quirrell/Voldemort Drinks Unicorn Blood – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
If there was any scene in the first film that could instil utter terror into our hearts, it was this one. Everything about this scene takes us straight past magic and right to the supernatural. It. Is. Horrifying! It’s our first glimpse of Voldemort, who glides across the ground in an almost serpentine way, and everything about him means he wouldn’t look out of place in any horror movie. It’s enough to give anyone nightmares!
7. Dementors on the Hogwarts Express – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Let’s face it, nothing about the Dementors is pleasant; at three metres high and cloaked in tattered black robes, these immortal beings look terrifying. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin describes them as ‘among the foulest creatures to walk this earth’, feeding on happiness and causing feelings of despair. Really, any scene with the Dementors could have made it onto this list, but as they board the Hogwarts Express seeking Sirius Black, when we have no idea who or what they are, this first encounter has us feeling like we are face to face with death itself.
6. The Quidditch World Cup – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
With each new instalment of the Harry Potter series, the story grew notably darker, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire marking the clear step away from the almost whimsical world we were first introduced to, towards the darker and more sinister story to come.
The Quidditch World Cup was excellently adapted to film and managed to uphold the level of terror exhibited in the books. This was the first sequence in which we were introduced to the Death Eaters as they reaped devastation upon the attendees of the World Cup. The frantic, disorientated style of the shots, overshadowed by blazing fires and screaming, leaves the viewer with a real sense of terror and dread. And then, as Harry wakes up on the ground of the smouldering campsite, and as Voldemort’s dark mark is cast among the devastation, we are given a glimpse of what things were like the first time he was in power, as well as the realisation that he may be more close to returning than ever.
5. Bellatrix Tortures Hermione – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
Whilst this scene wasn’t necessarily ‘scary’ in the traditional sense, it is arguably the most distressing scene in the whole series. To see any character, least of all one as beloved as Hermione, subject to the impulses of a character as unhinged and undoubtedly evil as Bellatrix Lestrange is always bound to be unpleasant. Like so few scenes throughout the movies were able to do, we were once again pulled away from the magical world and thrust into a very real-world sense of terror.
And if watching it wasn’t bad enough, hearing Hermione’s sobs and screams as she was tortured was something that no viewer will be able to easily forget.
4. Bathilda Bagshot/ Nagini – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
Does this even need an explanation? Bathilda Bagshot was murdered and then her corpse was possessed and re-aniated by Voldemort’s snake Nagini to wait for Harry Potter on the off chance he returned to Godric’s Hollow. This whole scene was utterly horrifying.
3. The Grave Yard Scene/ Voldemort Returns – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
From the moment Harry and Cedric Diggory are transported by the Triwizard Cup, this already dark film takes its most sinister turn. The masked Death Eaters return to Voldemort, Wormtail slices off his own hand with an agonising scream and, most tragically, Cedric is murdered. We get our first glimpse of Voldemort since he abandoned Professor Quirrell to his crumbly demise in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and he appears as a creepy, baby-like entity. However, it’s not long before he is returned to his physical form in a horrifying transformation of fire, smoke and slime. Finally, Harry is face to face with Voldemort in the flesh… and it is terrifying.
2. The Inferi – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
After six films, we had already been introduced to a vast number of creatures in the Harry Potter universe, from Thestrals to Grindylows, but one thing we never really expected to see was re-animated corpses.
Yet, that’s exactly what we got in Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince.
This scene fits the outline for every horror film ever. Its dark and eerily silent. Harry is slowly reaching down towards the black water. Viewers are practically screaming at him not to, “Doesn’t he understand? He does not want to be touching that stuff!”. But, apparently Harry has never taken a lesson from any horror film, because he just goes and does it. Then BANG! Cue jump scare. A hand reaches out of the water to grab him and it all goes downhill from there. Unlike Harry, we knew something was coming when he approached the water, yet it doesn’t fail to make us jump every single time.
1. Follow The Spiders – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
So here it is, the scariest moment in the Harry Potter movies.
It’s not a ghost or the murder of a favourite character. Nor is it a howler from an enraged Molly Weasley.
Well, firstly because Aragog, the leader of the Acromantula colony, was the size of a small elephant and WAS THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES! But mostly, because the majority of us don’t have to worry about being the enemy of a powerful dark lord or having someone try to kill us each year. No, here J.K. Rowling played on one of the most common fears around: the spider (or, in this case, an army of spiders). Watching the entire spider scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets will make your skin crawl, because an entire sequence about giant spiders that eat human flesh is never not horrifying!