Snow makes a great setting for some shocking moments in film and television. Snow is white; it’s also often described as pure which makes it a perfect contrast to blood, gore, and grisly goings-on. It can be pretty inhospitable too, adding atmospherics and isolation into the mix.
Fandom delves into some of the most memorable scenes from screens big and small that have scared us half to death, given us palpitations or just plain stopped us in our tracks.
1. The White Walkers Advance in ‘Game of Thrones’
There are several snow scenes from Game of Thrones we could pick, from bloody battles with wildlings to face-offs with rogue Night’s Watch men and fatal encounters with White Walkers.
But it’s a White Walkers scene in which nobody gets killed that spooked us most in Game of Thrones.
It occurs at the finale of Season 2. Samwell Tarly is out beyond the Wall at the Fist of the First Men with fellow Night’s Watch men Grenn and Edd when they hear three blasts of the horn. They instantly know what it signals – White Walkers. Fear strikes, and they run. But Sam gets left behind. A blizzard disorientates him and all he can do is hide behind a rock and wait, paralysed with fear.
The army of wights slowly approaches, at first looking like something out of John Carpenter‘s The Fog, and then way worse. Whether Sam is seen is up for discussion but either way, they’ve got bigger fish to fry. The lead Walker screeches an ungodly sound and the army proceeds towards the Wall. The scene for the ensuing battle is set, and we see the horrifying scale of the army of the undead.
2. The Maze Scene in ‘The Shining’
It’s one of several defining moments in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. But not only is this snow scene an iconic sequence in the film, it’s also a standout moment in cinema.
Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance has unravelled completely at the point where we see him pursue son Danny through the snow-covered maze in the Overlook Hotel’s grounds armed with an axe.
With a demonic look in his eye and a menacing shuffle, he relentlessly stalks the scared but resourceful little boy. Shelley Duvall appears, characteristically meek and snivelling but armed with a knife. She finds the inner strength to rescue Danny, jumping into a snow truck and driving them both away.
The film cuts back to Nicholson, still navigating the maze and wailing unintelligibly. He’s a monster. He falls down, and the next shot is a lingering one on his demented, frozen face.
3. The Wood Chipper Scene in ‘Fargo’
You’ll never forget seeing the wood chipper scene in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo for the first time.
As the film nears its end, Frances McDormand’s pregnant police chief, Marge, moves towards a buzzing sound, pulls out her gun and proceeds cautiously. She curls up her nose. We can see a tree trunk covered in red through the trees and a guy – Gaear – standing over a wood chipper.
The camera moves closer and red stuff is spurting out from the opening where wood chippings should instead be spewing forth. Gaear – Peter Stormare – carries on doing what he’s doing. He can’t hear Marge shout “Police”, and our fears are confirmed. He’s struggling to grind up the last few parts of Carl’s dismembered body. We watch him get a block of wood to help him ram an inverted leg into the machine, sock still on. It’s as funny as it is gross.
He finally hears, looks up, throws the wood at her, and runs before she fells him with a shot to the leg.
4. The Shock Killing in ‘Fortitude’
Strictly speaking, this scene doesn’t take place in the snow. But it’s no less shocking for it. Fortitude is a TV series set in Arctic Norway, and the landscape is covered in snow. The opening scene of the very first episode shows us the aftermath of a savage polar bear attack, which leaves a man dismembered. The police later use photographs of the attack to warn off explorers who have ventured into the landscape without rifles to protect themselves from a similar fate.
But it’s not this scene we’re talking about. It’s the scene where Christopher Eccleston’s character, research scientist Charlie Stoddart, winds up dead in his house at the end of the episode. At first they think he’s the victim of a polar bear attack too, and it’s easy to see why – his torso is completely ripped open. What makes this moment so impactful is the gradual build-up to this grisly climax. There’s an impending sense of doom and a Twin Peaks-esque strangeness to everything that’s going on.
And, of course, the flashes of gore before the full horror of his bloodied body is finally shown.
5. Luke vs the Wampa in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’
The moment on Hoth when Luke Skywalker is attacked by the Wampa is a moment of pure terror. The Yeti-like beast practically kills Luke, and one smack in the tauntaun’s face is enough to finish the animal off. Plus, it apparently has a taste for human flesh – it leaves the tauntaun and takes Luke, hanging him from his feet in his lair like a pig. Thank goodness for Luke’s lightsaber, which gets our hero out of his immediate predicament – he cuts himself down and slices off the Wampa’s arm before fleeing into the freezing, barren landscape of Hoth.
If Han Solo hadn’t shown up when he did, and put Luke’s barely alive body inside the dead, gutted tauntaun, he would have certainly died – whether from a combination of his injuries and the freezing temperatures or winding up as Wampa dinner. Scary stuff when you think about it.
6. The Horse Sequence in ‘The Revenant’
Everyone talks about the pivotal scene in The Revenant where Leonardo DiCaprio is attacked by a bear. But an arguably more hair-raising moment is that scene when he’s rudely awoken by the pursuing Arikara tribe who chase him to a precipice.
DiCaprio’s frontiersman wakes suddenly to find them practically on him, scrambles to his horse and flees. The tribe shoots at him with bows and arrows, and he fires his gun before hurtling over the cliff and plummeting into a tree far below. The horse dies, Leo survives – and our hearts are in our mouths. Echoing the Empire Strikes Back tauntaun scene, DiCaprio then cuts the dead horse open, guts it, and climbs inside to keep himself warm.
7. The Plane Chase in ‘Spectre’
There are so many thrilling snow scenes in Bond films, it’s difficult to pick just one. Having said that, some of them are a bit dated or a little too ridiculous, which can impact on the tension.
That’s why we’re picking a scene from 2015’s Spectre, which brings its action sequences bang up to date. 007 appears in his plane alongside the mountain road that Dave Bautista’s bad guy is driving along in a 4×4, with Léa Seydoux inside. There’s a Bautista/Craig face off as they glare at one another through their respective windows. Daniel Craig smirks, then slides open his window before giving a mock salute and sticking his gun through the opening and firing. All the while keeping the plane steady. Bautista fires back, Bond peels off.
He reappears ahead, flying towards them. The convoy of three cars swerves; there’s an explosion as he takes one out.
Still on their trail, Bond flies low and loses his wings on a couple of trees, then rear ends one of the cars before skidding off across the snow, propelling himself down a slope and through a building.
There’s a pause. The music stops. He bursts through the other side before taking out a second vehicle and halting the third – Dave Bautista’s – in its tracks. Cracking stuff.
8. The Underworld Creatures of ‘Krampus’
It may place an emphasis on comedy but Krampus has its share of alarming moments. If there’s one scene, though, that will make your blood run cold it’s the moment where young Max confronts Krampus as the film approaches its finale. The horned demon and his assembled grunts from the underworld make a freaky sight congregated ritualistically around some kind of fiery hell-hole in the snow. As Max pleads assertively for Krampus to return his family and restore Christmas to the way it used to be, the monstrous fiend picks him up and throws him into the fiery pit. Harsh.