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(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Chris reminds you of one of the scariest scenes in “The Sixth Sense.”)
Spoilers follow. I know the movie is old enough that everyone knows the twist, but this way no one can complain!
“The Sixth Sense” wasn’t M. Night Shyamalan’s first film, but it was the film that put him on the map. And it seemingly came out of nowhere — the flick was released in August, which is usually a dumping ground for summer movies studios don’t have much faith in. But what Shyamalan created proved to have serious legs, as critical raves and hype about the film’s “big twist” helped make it the second-highest-grossing film of 1999. While the film is probably best remembered for its whopper of an ending, “The Sixth Sense” is more than just a good twist. It’s a slow-burning, expertly-crafted, and surprisingly delicate drama that just happens to involve the supernatural. And when it comes time to showcase some of his ghosts, Shyamalan doesn’t hold back on the horror.
Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) has a new patient — Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a troubled 9-year-old. Malcolm is determined to do his best to help Cole, because a year ago, one of Malcolm’s former patients broke into his home, accused Malcolm of failing him, and then shot Malcolm. Wow, but surely, Malcolm recovered from his wounds and is perfectly fine since we see him walking around a year later, right?
The Story So Far
Cole has a big secret: he sees dead people. The traumatized kid claims there are ghosts all around us, and he can see their ghoulish visages all the time. Malcolm, of course, thinks Cole is delusional. Eventually, though, he comes to believe his patient. And he comes up with a possible solution: maybe the ghosts, even the scary ones, just need help. Maybe they know Cole is the one person who can help them. One night, Cole is visited by the ghost of a vomiting girl (Mischa Barton), inspiring Cole and Malcolm to travel to the dead girl’s house.
As movie fate would have it, Cole and Malcolm arrive at the house after the funeral for the girl. Her grieving family has gathered at the home to mourn and grieve, but Cole finds his way to the dead girl’s bedroom — only to get a big scare when she reaches out from under the bed. Haley Joel Osment’s performance was much praised at the time, and it holds up incredibly well — he’s really great in the movie, fully embodying his character’s trauma. This scene, in particular, has Osment doing wonderful work selling how scared Cole is. Yes, he’s on a mission to hopefully help both himself and this ghost, but he’s still terrified since he’s dealing with the supernatural.
It’s a jump scare moment, and while jump scares can be cheap, Shyamalan does a great job here making it work. For one thing, the jump scare isn’t cheap — it isn’t some cat jumping out to scare Cole. It’s a real friggin’ ghost! And she looks creepy!
The dead girl hands Cole a VHS tape which leads to something disturbing: it turns out the ghost was poisoned to death by her mother, and it’s heavily implied the mother is starting to poison the dead girl’s sister, too. Luckily, Cole gives the tape to the girl’s father, cracking open the case and revealing the mother (who, in true nightmare fashion, is wearing bright red to her daughter’s funeral) for the monster that she is, a monster scarier than any ghost.
The Impact (Matt’s Take)
Sometimes the gotcha just gonna go and getcha. “The Sixth Sense” is M. Night Shyamalan operating on levels he’s rarely rediscovered, merely because of how high he soars above an entire decade of ’90s horror films. This scene certainly isn’t the first time someone’s been terrified by an unexpected hand reaching from underneath a bed, but Shyamalan honors the rules of a proper jump scare. The score grows pitchier the closer we get, there’s plenty of time to understand there’s a scare coming, and then Shyamalan takes a page out of our childhood fears of boogeymen in bedrooms. Yeah, it’s nothing flashy but when done right, simple can be more than enough. Did you jump? Were you scared? Well, then, what’s the problem with a finely-tuned jump scare?
Read this next: The Saddest Character Deaths In Horror History
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