When it comes to making a classic film, a good script goes a long way, but you may be surprised to learn that some of the best bits in your favorite scary flicks were actually unscripted horror movie moments. Ad-libs are common in comedy, but they're unexpectedly frequent in horror, too. Maybe that's because scares, like laughs, are often best elicited when they're unexpected. From horror comedies like Ghostbusters and Shaun of the Dead to some of the scariest found-footage horror movies like The Blair Witch Project, which was almost entirely unscripted, this list of improvised horror movie scenes shows that sometimes the scariest (and funniest) sequences are the ones that happen organically in the moment.
Some of these ad-libs were planned, as in Blair Witch, while others were spur-of-the-moment one-liners, inside jokes, or even gags that the actors were playing on the crew. Sometimes, the directors loved the new line so much they kept it in; other times, they had to be convinced. But always, it's hard to imagine these horror flicks without these famous improvised lines and scenes.
"So, what do you want me to sing?" Jamie Lee Curtis remembers asking John Carpenter on the first day of filming the 1978 classic Halloween. "Well, just make up a song," he told her. "I don't sing," she replied. "Really don't sing." Carpenter told her not to worry about it, that it was "like an internal monologue - she's not belting a country-and-western tune." So, Curtis, Carpenter, and co-writer and producer Debra Hill came up with the song that Laurie sings during that early sequence on the fly, poignant and dreamy and, ultimately, haunting because it's being juxtaposed with the point of view of Michael Myers.
"I wish I had you all alone, just the two of us." The moment became so iconic that director David Gordon Green had an actual band record a version of the song to hide as an Easter egg in the soundtrack of the 2018 follow-up.
Actors: Jamie Lee Curtis, Kyle Richards, Donald Pleasence, Sandy Johnson, Charles Cyphers, + more
Directed by: John Carpenter
Sure, the cast and crew knew that something was going to happen, but until the iconic moment when the alien first emerged from John Hurt's chest, nobody really knew what to expect. Director Ridley Scott had played the whole thing close to the vest. "They were crafty," Sigourney Weaver later recalled. "They pitched the story so that you feel John Hurt's character would be the only true hero among us."
Audience members weren't the only ones surprised by Hurt's gruesome demise, however. Weaver and the other actors later recalled being led onto a set where "everyone was wearing raincoats - we should have been a little suspicious." According to Weaver, all it said in the script was, "This thing emerges." Scott wanted to keep the entire sequence a secret as much as possible, even from the cast, because, "If an actor is just acting terrified, you can't get that genuine look of raw, animal fear."
The scene managed that and then some. Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, actually passed out when a 3-foot geyser of blood hit her in the face. After filming the scene, Yaphet Kotto, who played Parker, went to his room and wouldn't talk to anybody. "It was real, man," Kotto later told The Guardian. "We didn't see that coming. We were freaked. The actors were all frightened."
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, + more
Directed by: Ridley Scott
It's one of the most famous lines in horror history, and it almost didn't make it into the finished film! When Jack Nicholson chops down the door in Stanley Kubrick's cinematic version of Stephen King's haunted hotel novel The Shining, he quotes Ed McMahon's already famous introduction of late-night talk show host Johnny Carson. Filming the scene required numerous takes, with Nicholson chopping through as many as 60 doors in the process. He also ad-libbed the legendary line.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Kubrick's notorious perfectionism, the improvised line almost didn't make the final cut. Can you imagine a world without it, though?
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Barry Dennen, Barry Nelson, + more
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
At the time Clive Barker was filming Hellraiser, American actor Andrew Robinson - who later played Elim Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - was one of the biggest names associated with the film. He played Larry, which also meant that (spoilers!), near the end of the film, he played Larry's brother Frank, wearing Larry's skin as a suit. (This is a Clive Barker movie, after all.) It was in that role that he utters one of the film's most famous lines, which also happens to be the shortest verse in the King James Bible, "Jesus wept."
The line is Frank-as-Larry's sign off, the final thing we hear him say before being torn apart, at least in this film. In the script, the line was a much more generic "f*ck off."
Actors: Doug Bradley, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Nelson, Clare Higgins, + more
Directed by: Clive Barker