Horror has a funny way of popping up in action films. Most of the time, the horror surrounds the villain, and it is easy to see why. The more dread and fear and villain an inflict in a single scene can tell an audience that they mean business.
One of the best horror scenes in an action movie has to be the introduction to Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) in Spider-Man 2 . The scene establishes the menacing presence of the A.I. tentacles attached to Dr. Otto Octavius, and the birth of their symbiotic bond. What makes the scene a short horror film is director Sam Raimi’s ability to create controlled chaos in the scene.
Nerdwriter1 breaks down how Raimi made it easy to read the mayhem on the screen by intensifying the violence of Doc Ock's mechanical arms in an iconic villain introduction scene in his video below.
Raimi and horror
Sam Raimi’s cinematic roots were founded in the horror genre with his cult classic The Evil Dead . When given the big budget of a superhero movie and the expectation to create a movie that was PG-13, Raimi couldn’t utilize the blood and guts that he used in his earlier projects to create suspense and doom. Raimi had to get inventive and use the horror elements he had mastered so long ago to amplify the moment.
The establishing shot of the hospital scene is incredibly dynamic as the camera tracks backward and cranes up to slowly reveal tools and people in the scene. The camera movement ends and arrives on a frame that centers the scene’s main characters, Doc Ock’s mechanical arms. By establishing the scene in a hospital and the surgery that would prevent Dr. Otto from becoming Dr. Octopus, the audience knows something intense is about to happen.
Then, the camera cuts to an extreme close-up of a doctor’s eyes directly above the blades of a circular saw. We can see what the doctor is staring at in the next shot of the metal pulley that is holding Doc Ock’s arms swaying which creates immediate uneasiness for the audience. A moment of silence builds the tension, and the sound of the saw turning back on and rising in pitch builds that tension further.
The surgeon begins to cut, but we can see through the reflection of another doctor’s goggles the machinal arm preparing to strike. By the time the doctor with the saw notices the arm and whips around, the tension breaks.
'Spider-Man 2' Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
The arm lunges, then switches the camera to the perspective of the arm as it hits the doctor, and propels him through the room and into a glass window, and ends with a snap zoom on a female doctor’s blood-curdling scream.
These frames work so well with each other because they act as one continuous movement, giving the audience no breaks to process what is happening until they hear the screams.
The sound effects of the scene add another layer to the terror. The isolated flipping sound of the doctor before he hits the window followed by the scream makes the glass shatter more impactful. Raimi also ups the chaos by creating dynamic shadows through dramatic lighting that is motivated by the arms knocking all the lights around. The lights now direct the audience’s eye to what Raimi wants them to see.
A lot of what Raimi does in a scene with the visuals, lighting , quick camera movements, and sound effects add to the intensity of the scene while clarifying what is happening. There is no score to create suspense. Instead, the moment relies on the sound effects and gives the audience little room to catch their breath until the moment is over.
'Spider-Man 2' Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
This scene feels grounded as the arms hunt the doctors before tossing them around like rag dolls. Raimi and the team saw how real the puppeteers could make the fake mechanical arms look, and decided to shoot the scene with those puppet arms. The audience can feel the physicality of the arms as they move in the camera and the weight of them as they latch onto a person’s face.
While blood and gore couldn’t be used in Spider-Man 2 , Raimi created a fantastic moment by using fake nails and a wax floor. One of the mechanical arms drags a doctor into a dark spot, and the doctor's nails peel back a layer of the floor as she disappears into the shadows. The moment borders a fine line between horrifying and comedic, but the shot works because it can amplify the sinister nature of the arms.
Raimi understood that Doc Ock’s arms have a mind of their own, and established the mind of the A.I. through their perspective. There are moments within the scene that shift the camera’s perspective to the arm’s POV right before it attacks a victim. Seeing the victim’s terror as they meet their end is a classic horror trope that will forever scare audiences .
The blood-curdling scream for the horror scene in 'Spider-Man 2' Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
Genre blending isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Raimi’s bloodless bloodbath in this superhero film can easily be noted as one of the best horror scenes in a non-horror movie. The horror elements are all there, presenting themselves in a way that allows the mechanical arms to be the monster that lurks in the shadows, waiting for the moment to strike fear into the audiences’ hearts.
As Doc Ock prepares for his return to Spider-Man: No Way Home , we might get to see some of Raimi's influences on the terrifying doctor return to the screen and hit us with a sense of nostalgia. While he may not be as horrifying as Raimi made him be, we can still appreciate the trauma that the hospital scene inflicted on us as kids.
Is there a better horror scene in a superhero movie? Let us know if it is in the comments below!