Everyone has an opinion of what the scariest movie ever is – some say The Exorcist, some point to video nasties like Cannibal Holocaust, or modern movies like Hostel or Saw – they are all wrong. The scariest movie ever is a black and white silent movie from 1895.
The film is called “L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat”, made by Auguste and Louis Lumière, from France, and it was 50 seconds long. It shows a train arriving at a station.
What was so scary about that? Well, when it was screened in 1896, it was, for most people, the first movie they had ever seen. Many people saw the train coming towards them, and genuinely feared for their lives. Some reportedly ran to the back of the auditorium in order to escape.
Some historians, keen to spoil a good story, claim the audience reactions have been exaggerated over the years. Perhaps people just ducked out of the way. There was certainly another version of the film made in 3D a few years later, and perhaps that was the one that evoked such strong reactions. Nobody knows for sure, but we can imagine how bewildering and exhilerating it must have been for 19th century folk seeing a train coming towards them from a moving picture on a white sheet. For a few seconds, their brains told them they were in danger!
As disturbing as some more modern films are, nobody would claim that they make significant sections of the audience think they are about to die. L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat did exactly that though, and that is why it is the most terrifying movie of all time.