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Is This One Of The Scariest Movie Scenes Ever?

When you think of the scariest movie scenes you've ever seen, you probably don't think of moments of gore or a monster jumping out and going "boo!" Instead, you probably remember scenes of tension and dread — scenes in which you're confronted with something unknown and inexplicable that's getting closer and closer, like the man behind Winkie's in "Mulholland Drive" or Samara in "The Ring."

One such memorable, psychologically unsettling scene is in the 2001 Japanese horror movie "Pulse," which was recently described by SlashFilm's Meagan Navarro as one of the scariest scenes of all time. The scene features a ghost appearing out of thin air and walking toward a character in a weird way. That description doesn't sound like much, but when you see it, you understand how unsettling it is.

Writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film tells a story of loneliness and isolation mediated via the internet, a very prescient idea that's only become even more pronounced and severe in the 20 years since the movie came out. It's set in Tokyo and tells dual stories that come together at the end. The premise is that the afterlife has become overcrowded, and ghosts are spilling over into the physical world via technology and inflicting their misery on the living. They use the internet to destroy people's will to live. 

The film's parallel storylines follow people investigating what's happening. In the scene in question, a man named Toshio Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) is trying to get information on the mysterious, depressing death of his co-worker, when he learns about "forbidden rooms" where bad things happen if you enter. He sees a forbidden room and feels compelled to enter it, where he encounters something terrible.

The scariest scene

In the scene, Toshio walks through a silent, dark, and empty apartment until he reaches a wall. The darkness enshrouding the wall lifts to reveal creepy, red writing, as a spectral, wailing score begins to play. He turns around and sees a woman standing there, her face hidden in darkness. She begins to walk toward him, slowly and haltingly, almost as if she's glitching out. At one point, she loses her footing and almost falls before righting herself, and the movement is deeply unsettling. She continues to walk toward Toshio, who collapses in fear. He crawls behind a couch. When the ghost peers down at him, he screams in terror.

SlashFilm's Navarro writes that Kurosawa's masterfully restrained direction is what makes the scene so effectively frightening. "Through this scene, Kurosawa proves that you don't have to rely on genre tropes or jump scares to unsettle," she writes. "Sound design, camerawork, lighting, and unique movement combine to showcase the disconcerting power of suggestion. It's not just the inhuman quality about an otherwise average looking woman that terrifies here, but the implications behind why she's there, locked away in a Forbidden Room. It gets under your skin and lingers, long after her face fades back into the shadows."

"Pulse" (which got a lesser American remake in 2006) is a classic horror film and an exemplary master class in building terror through atmosphere and suggestion instead of cheap jump scares. Whether or not you agree that it's one of the scariest movie scenes ever, you have to admit that the way the ghost moves is super creepy.

"Pulse" is available to stream for free on Tubi.