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The Best of the Worst Claustrophobic Moments in Film

Yeah, kiddos. With Buried on the brain now that it’s been lowered into theaters, we thought it’d be fun to look back at some of the worst moments in characters’ lives in the history of stuffy cinema.

These are some of the scenes that have either caused me to hold my breath, breathe too quickly, or simply flail my arms and legs around like someone dropped an ice cube down my shirt, in the hopes that my empathetic energy might help the characters onscreen out of their sticky situation. Here are a few of:

The Best of the Worst Claustrophobic Moments in Film

The Serpent and the Rainbow – Any flick whose tagline announces in the first person “Don’t bury me… I’m not dead!” must be included, no? Bill Pullman is an anthropologist who goes to Haiti to discover the truth behind whether or not zombification is possible. He finds out, and it sucks extraordinarily hard for him. Watching someone being buried alive is one thing. Watching someone being buried alive by a maniac who tosses a tarantula in the coffin to keep the victim “company” is another. It’s unpleasant business, no question about it – but the fact that it’s Lone Star who is suffering through this makes my heart ache and my stomach cramp. Thanks, Wes Craven. You might as well have buried my favorite uncle alive – it would’ve hurt just as much, if not less.


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Jaws: the Revenge – Gonna catch some hell on this one, I’m sure. Fine – let me have it. But before you do…consider that I’m considering the circumstance of the character, and not the film itself. Lance Guest plays Michael, one of the haunted Brody brothers. Michael has been coping with shark attacks since puberty, so he’s grown up to be marine biologist who spends all day in the ocean. Director Joseph Sargent sticks Brody undersea with a potentially supernatural beheamoth…chasing him…into an abandoned ship…that Brody can’t get out of. The scene ends with Brody stuck between a rock and hundreds of razor sharp hard places. The film still sucks as much as you want it to suck, but watching Brody struggle with a sunken, sea-crusted door while a Megalodon’s ghostly cousin huffs down his wetsuit’s collar freaks me out. Freaks me right the fuck OUT. The scene also makes absolutely no sense, as sharks typically don’t enter tight spaces they can’t get out of, because they have no reverse shift. However, I think that’s part of what gets me about the scene – the shark doesn’t give a damn. All it wants is that sweet Brody blood, which must be more delicious than Sookie Stackhouse’s.

Creepshow – Ted Danson has been lovin’ Leslie Neilson’s wife. No good, Teddy. Leslie Neilson, contrary to popular belief, is capable of wicked shit. I can only hope that some of our younger viewers are reading this now, and have no idea who Leslie Neilson is. When they Google his name and realize that he’s the funny guy from The Naked Gun franchise, I sincerely wish they will sit with Creepshow and witness his ruthless attack on the Knight in Shining Corduroy. For those who have sat through it, I ask you: Ever wonder if you could wiggle one finger, then another, then another, then your thumb? Think you could ever get out that way? I don’t ever want to find out, but on the other hand, I’m pretty sick of the potential success or failure of this tactic keeping me up at night.


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The Descent – If you can’t breathe because you’re panicking, and stuck, miles below the surface, and you finally wriggle your way out of the cave’s narrow passage – the last thing you want to see is a humanoid life-form that is utterly at home in the place you might as well call Outer Space. It’s not so much the way Neil Marshall suffocates the character of Sarah when she gets stuck during her “fun’” adventure with her co-spelunking friends – it’s the intention behind it. We bought a ticket to a horror film. We know something awful is going to discover these women in this cave. Being temporarily stuck is a wicked trick – it must be hellish to be lodged between rocks underground. And we can sympathize all we want. But that’s not why we bought the ticket. We know something worse will happen, and that anticipation makes this moment of panic all the harder to watch.

The Vanishing (1988) – It’s a bit too easy to include here, but must be mentioned. And with this mention, I cannot mention any more for fear of ruining a harrowing experience for more adventurous viewers who have not sat with this bizarre beast yet.


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The Phantom of the Opera (1925) – Raoul and Inspector Ledoux are trapped in the Phantom’s lair, trying to find and rescue Christine. Oh-ho, I don’t think so… The Phantom burns the poor bastards in his Secret Room of Awesome Torture. Then the Phantom blasts a ruthless gush of water into the same room, forcing the men to INHALE-EXHALE the finest of breaths while their faces are pressed against the opera house cellar’s ceiling. The Phantom gives in, but my first impression of this scene never will.

Honorable mentions:

The Coen Brothers’ bitter Blood Simple and Martin Scorsese’s vicious Casino both feature two of the most horrifyingly heartbreaking Buried Alive scenes I’ve ever encountered. That’s all you need to know, if you have not witnessed such.

Chris Haberman

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Chris Haberman

  • Vanvance1

    One of my faves is in the underrated gem ‘The Gravedancers’.