This is an unusual topic for a list, but (as you will see) it makes for great reading. Here we look at ten questions posed in movies that make you shudder – because as soon as you hear it, you remember what comes next; and that is almost always something dreadful. Be sure to add your own favorites to the comments.
The Question: “What do you mean I’m funny?”
This one is on the list because, at first, it is delivered harmlessly, and then the gravity of it is suddenly thrust upon us like a landmine. It is also the first of two appearances on this list from the 1990 mafia classic. Joe Pesci, brilliantly portraying Mafioso Tommy DeVito, is shooting the breeze and trading laughs with Ray Liotta, portraying Henry Hill, and others at a table. Everyone is laughing and having a knee-slapping good time listening to Tommy’s exploits. After really laughing up a storm at something Tommy said, Henry says “You’re really funny.” At first Hill isn’t taking Tommy’s response seriously as he’s figuring he hadn’t insulted him. DeVito gradually drops his smile all together and, after another mobster tries to calm him down, he says “No, no, he’s a big boy. He knows what he said.” Now the mood at the table is deathly serious as everyone, including Hill, is now fearing Tommy has, indeed, taken it as a grievous insult and seems terrified of what he’s going to do next. At the end of this suddenly intense pause, Hill gets it and laughingly tells Tommy to “Get the fuck out of here.” Everyone at the table, including Tommy, starts laughing and actually appear relieved that Tommy wasn’t serious. Tommy actually says “I almost had him.” And anyone who’s seen this juggernaut wise guy movie began to breath again after this moment.
The Question: “Have you ever come across someone you shouldn’t have fucked with?”
Now, if we were to have a terrifying movie question on the list that was delivered by a character portrayed by Clint Eastwood, you’d figure it would have to be the timeless “Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” from Dirty Harry. But the reason this one beats that one out is because it’s just as thought provoking, but a tad more directive in nature. Portraying disgruntled Korean War Veteran, Walt Kowalski, Eastwood happens upon a teenage girl and her spineless boyfriend, who are basically being manhandled by a couple of thug life galoots. The two are not taking Kowalski seriously at all as they see him as a foolish old man that they could easily beat down if he doesn’t leave like they tell him to. It is right in the confines of this safe moment for these two guys that Kowalski poses this question. Then suddenly, like everyone on the edge of their seat engrossed in the moment, they realize that no one would dare ask this question if they WEREN’T someone that was not to be fucked with! Before this scene is over, Kowalski rescues the girl from the thugs, and from having a frail boyfriend and even winds up looking good with the thugs too. Clint Eastwood style—a definite must see. I think anyone would agree that it’s truly terrifying to have this question posed to you, but picture it coming from the steely, assassin-like glare of an angry Clint Eastwood and it’s magnified a hundred times over.
The Question: “What did I tell you? What did I tell you?”
Just like number 10 on this list, this question from Goodfellas makes the list because of the timing of delivery and the sudden nature of the seriousness of the question. Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of lifetime wise guy, Jimmy Conway, was legendary like every other role he’s ever had. As the organizer of the infamous Lufthansa Heist, Conway, based on real life wise guy Jimmy Burke, was on edge about not having any attention drawn to his crew, and especially himself, immediately following the heist. As members of his crew begin to file into the bar to celebrate, when he sees some of the big time purchases some of them have made, he becomes infuriated. While also trying to keep his cool, he grabs one of them, who is gloating to him about a car he just bought, by the collar, stares him right in the eye as if he were a little child and sternly belts out this question to him, TWICE. Instantly, you realize that this guy just fucked up. And to make things worse, after Jimmy makes it clear to the guy that he’s going to take the car back, the guy actually has the nads to say something under his breath. This gets Conway’s ire up even more causing him to throw out an equally terrifying question which was, “Are you fuckin’ trying to be a smart guy with me?” I feel that it wasn’t until after this sequence with Conway that we knew how powerful this man’s influence was with his crew at this time.
The Question: “Are you Sarah Conner?”
This question is not only more than worthy of being on this list, it has also become a pop culture staple in movie phrases outright. Now, he’s the “Governator”, running California with an iron hand but back then our good friend Ahhnuuld, was an up and coming, muscle ripped action movie dynamo. Portraying a frighteningly emotionless cyborg from the future, sent back in time to kill a woman that would give birth to the leader of his kind’s mortal enemies, which was US as humans, Schwarzenegger delivered this question to his first victim early in the film. After watching good ol’ Termie stock up on weapons, ammunition, and then kill the guy that tried to sell them to him, this question definitely terrified us because after he asked it, we sort of knew what was coming next. A hail of gunfire and then probably a computer readout in his head that said “TARGET IS DECEASED. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.” Over the course of the movie franchise, the Sarah Conner he was really after became a real ass-kicker (played with brutal intensity by the lovely Linda Hamilton). It took more than futuristic cyborgs to stop her. Cancer to be exact, but that was well after her son John, the exalted leader of the human resistance, was safely birthed and on his way to making SKYNET pay for trying to exterminate us.
The Question: “Why so serious?”
This question sounds harmless enough. Three simple words forming a question that is designed to actually lighten the mood. But have them come out of the mouth of the most demented serial killer, super villain in comic book history, holding a very sharp straight razor, and preparing to carve up a guy’s head like a Halloween pumpkin, and they form a question terrifying enough to make this list. It’s no secret now that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in the Dark Knight was as epic as it was dark and gritty. I’m pretty sure he had a few other scary questions in that film that I may have overlooked, but this one is a standout. Thug Gambol, portrayed by Michael Jai White, wanted the Joker dead. The Joker feigns death; pretending to be delivered to Gambol dead by hired thugs. While viewing the “dead” Joker’s body, Gambol is sprang upon by a surprisingly alive and well Joker. Holding the razor closely to Gambol’s face, the Joker eerily pulls us through the dark side once again by recanting yet another, and different, story of how his own face became carved and mutilated. He then proceeds to, to coin a phrase from the defunct sketch comedy show In Living Color, “carve up Gambol like negro sushi.”
The Question: “Was that the boogey man?”
No disrespect to Rob Zombie’s new Halloween franchise, which I liked, but I felt it did not hold a candle to the creep factor in John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic. This movie set the standard for all crazed serial killer slasher movies to follow that came after it. And it magically did this without a lot of blood and gore. From the original score of the movie, to the way Michael Myers creeped through it like an apparition from another world, to the unfeeling and cold blooded murders of his victims, this movie nailed everything to the wall (including one of the victims). By the time our heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis, in her very first full length feature film, asked this question, we were all exhausted from sheer fright and horror as Mr. Myers stabbed, choked and slashed his way to this climax. Portraying Laurie Strode, who turns out to be Mikey’s sister, battered and bloodied and through tears, she is speaking to Dr. Loomis when she asks this question. Loomis was portrayed with sheer raw power by the late, great Donald Pleasance. Hats off to Loomis, who tried at every turn to convince us of how evil ol’ MM was, but we just couldn’t quite grasp it. Having been thoroughly spooked out at this point by Haddonfield’s finest, we already knew Dr. Loomis’ answer, “As a matter of fact it was.”
The Question: “Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times’ sake?”
America’s love affair with all things mafia would not be what it is without the Godfather. I officially don’t like anyone who doesn’t like the Godfather. With all the great lines in this film, it’s no wonder there’s a question from it on this list. The question itself is not all that terrifying and neither is the answer; what IS terrifying is knowing what both means. Abe Vigoda is portraying mafia point man, Sal Tessio, and he has already betrayed newly appointed Don Michael Corleone (I shouldn’t have to mention the awesome brilliance of Al Pacino in this role, but I will). What he doesn’t know is that Michael knows it, and so does his consigliari Tom Hagen. While he was trying to set up Michael, Michael set him up. Believing that he has successfully deceived Michael and is going with him to a “meeting”, Tessio and Hagen are intercepted by one of the bodyguards. He tells them that the boss is going to come in a separate car. Tessio says that will screw up his arrangements, to which the guard replies, “well, that’s what he says.” After they begin to proceed to their vehicle, Hagen stops and tells Tessio that he can’t go with him, either, as several bodyguards surround Tessio, it becomes obvious that Michael has found him out, and now he’s about to pay for his betrayal with his life. Probably because his character was an old salt in the business, and knowing how these things go, he takes it well and even asks Hagen to tell Michael that it was only business and that he always liked him. To me the terrifying part comes next. Tessio shows us that the fear of death can even get to an old Mafioso like him. Before Hagen splits, he looks at him with sad eyes and poses this now classic question. Without hesitation, Hagen looks back at him and says “Can’t do it, Sally.” Tessio is then lead into the car and driven away to his doom.
The Question: “Have you checked the children?”
This question has become so popular in American pop culture that when one voices it you instantly think of the horrifying movie it came from. As with Halloween, earlier, this seventies fright film has been imitated but, in my humble opinion, not outdone by it’s successors in 1993 or 2006. There are two things that are terrifying about this question. Number one, any threat against a defenseless child is terrifying, and two, picture it being posed to you telephonically by some maniac IN the same house with you!! Carol Kane is portraying Jill Johnson, who tragically, has to listen to the maniacal Curt Duncan, portrayed by actor Tony Beckley, ask her this not once but twice in the movie. The first time, she’s a young babysitter when he hits her with it. It’s horrifying to think that children you were hired to care for could be horribly murdered right underneath your nose, but it turns out that Duncan had already killed the children several hours earlier. Time and adulthood can’t save her from being in this situation again. This time, she’s a married wife and mother of two kids, herself. She and her husband are out celebrating a promotion, and a babysitter is at home with her kids. While at the restaurant, she receives another call from the homicidal Duncan who is now posing this question referring to her children. Eventually, we learn that her kids are okay but that doesn’t stop an explosive final confrontation between her and Duncan. Oh, and I should mention that veteran actor Charles Durning portrays cop turned private eye, John Clifford, who bursts in and saves the day at the very end.
The Question: “Is it safe?”
Our question at number two comes from one of the best movies of all times. I would say that’s my opinion, but it’s also the opinion of millions of others as well. Based on a novel by William Golden, this 1976 suspense thriller is so good, that I can’t do it justice by trying to rip through the whole thing in this short blurb about the now world-famous question from the movie. It is an absolute must see, and crushes many modern day suspense movies into a fine powder. If you see it at Blockbuster, please rent it. Hell, right now it can’t be an expensive buy and if you bought it, you definitely would not be wasting your money. I’m going to thrust you right into the gripping moment of our question, though. Dustin Hoffman, with flawless excellence, is portraying Thomas “Babe” Levy, a history Ph D candidate, who has been abducted by Nazi war criminal Doctor Christian Szell, played by Sir Lawrence Olivier. So evil was Szell that he was voted to be one of the top 100 movie villains of all time by the American Film Institute. Szell mistakenly believes that Babe has vital information he needs in his efforts to obtain a very expensive, and rare, diamond collection. Outside of being a Nazi, Szell is also a skilled dentist. He uses these “skills” to torture Babe into giving him the information he wants. Unfortunately for Babe, Babe really does not know the information. So, Szell starts drilling holes in his teeth while repeating this question over and over again. It is a code question for this specific situation but Babe has no idea what the answer is and at one point, he answers one way and then when the question is repeated, he does a 180 and answers the opposite way in a desperate attempt to end the torture. He eventually passes out and those of us watching are left literally holding our mouths shut to give extra protection to our teeth.
The Question: “If they put you up in front of that grand jury, what you gone tell ‘em?”
Though gripping and compelling at times, At Close Range wasn’t one of those movies that you could officially classify as memorable. I liked it a lot and so did a lot of Christopher Walken fans. What gives this question the number one spot on this list is that the movie is not a work of fiction. It is based on the real life story of Bruce Johnston, Sr., head of a crime family in rural Pennsylvania in the 60’s and 70’s. In the film, Walken portrays Brad Whitewood, Sr., the character based on Johnston. A good movie but quite tragic; it will make your stomach churn. At a critical point in the film, Whitewood realizes that the police is getting close to him and his crew, which included sons Brad Jr. and Tommy (portrayed by real life brothers Sean and Chris Penn). To prevent the police from discovering him, he decides to execute his own sons and the other new members of the crew that may give him up. The question above comes from the scene where he and his crew take Tommy out to a secluded area. To make this scenario even more morbid than it sounds, his grave is already dug for his soon to be lifeless body. That’s when his father poses this terrifying question to him. Tommy tells him no without hesitation or trepidation. There is then a silent and motionless moment, then Tommy realizes that his father is going to kill him, anyway. He pleads with his father, briefly, before his father calls him a liar and shoots him in the face at point blank range. I made this question number one because it is both heartbreaking and quite frightening that a father would do this to his own son…and it actually happened in real life.