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Nightmare Fuel / 2001: A Space Odyssey

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"I'm afraid."
—HAL 9000

This movie thoroughly endorses the trope Nothing Is Scarier and is pretty much the first movie to exploit the horrors of space (not counting '50s B Movies), 11 years before Alien.

  • HAL is generally creepy all throughout the film, but the sequence where he murders Frank Poole by ramming him with a space pod, severing his oxygen tube is outright terrifying, not least because it occurs both offscreen and in complete silence. Not to mention the extremely quick series of jump cuts into the lens of HAL's camera before Dave sees Frank go flying past the screen.
    • Even more so, Frank's side of the experience. He's doing a routine repair job, when suddenly he is thrown out into space, his air hose torn. He can hear the flow of air get slower...and it gets colder in his suit...and harder to breathe...
    • The scene in the movie isn't much better. After the aforementioned series of jump cuts, we see Frank tumbling through space, frantically trying to reattach his severed air hose. We quickly cut to Discovery where Dave is rushing out to the pod bay, and when we go back to Frank he's barely even moving...
    • Related to this, some viewers noticed during HAL's game of chess with Poole, that HAL is cheating, announcing a wrong turn and even declaring victory when not in a position to do so. The computer they are trusting their lives on is able to lie! Possibly a foreshadowing that something's not right with HAL.
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    • Alternately, HAL could be testing his ability to lie, as per his orders to not tell Bowman and Poole about the real intent of the mission. His primary function was to provide accurate information completely free from error, and as such had never lied before. He could not ignore his orders, but, given his subsequent actions towards the crew, nor could he stand lying. Distorting information, to HAL, must've been like trying to drown himself. He held his breath for as long as he could, and then desperately searched for a way out. He continued to lie out of necessity, figuring if he couldn't wholly stop it right then, at the very least he could end it sooner.
  • Right before Bowman and Poole destroy HAL, there's a brief moment as the two work out their plan outside the base, cutting off all audio from the inside so HAL won't hear. You think it'd work, but, then, a low, eerie hum is heard, and picks up in tempo. Then there's repeat, increasingly tight shots between HAL's camera lens and Bowman and Poole talking animatedly, finally settling on two extreme closeups of HAL's camera and Bowman and Poole's lips moving animatedly. Then it sinks in. HAL, A COMPUTER, CAN READ LIPS. Cue the intermission.
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  • "Open the pod bay doors, HAL."
    "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
  • Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do...
  • I'm afraid. My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it... What really sells this is the way he says "I'm afraid". As he's saying it, you naturally assume (given the way he's been talking so far) that he's saying something condescending like "I'm afraid this won't work", or "I'm afraid you're overreacting, Dave", but instead he catches you off-guard by saying only those two words. A simple and piteous expression of fear. From a machine. The effect is nothing short of spine-chilling, on several levels.
  • His nearly silent, ruthless murder of the three hibernating crew members also definitely counts. "LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED" will haunt your dreams.
    • What's especially haunting is that there is no dialogue and almost no action onscreen. The entire murder is played out using the imagery of the astronauts' vitals, the unmoving faces of the astronauts, and HAL's cold, unblinking, red eye.
    • The only sound through the entire scene is the soft hum of the ship's engines and the slow "beep-beep, beep-beep" of the "COMPUTER MALFUNCTION" error, which then becomes a "LIFE FUNCTIONS CRITICAL" error paired with a faster beeping tone that is absolutely piercing.
    • The film averts the Flatline trope (a single, sustained beep to indicate death) by simply showing the the totally silent message "LIFE FUNCTIONS TERMINATED". This is one of the least gory but affecting multiple killings ever depicted in a film.
    • The astronauts seem blissfully unaware that their life support systems being are cut one by one; then you see one of the astronauts' central nervous system readings — his last active line — flare up erratically just before going silent for good. Don't think too hard about that one.
    • The novel makes it even worse for one of the astronauts. Dave manages to partially revive Whitehead; after HAL depressurizes the ship, Dave only has time for a quick glance at the doomed astronaut and thinks he can see the poor man's eyes twitch. In other words, Whitehead is killed just as he's beginning to regain consciousness.
  • The approach to the Monolith is one of the eeriest/creepiest scenes in film.
  • The famous "Beyond the Infinite" sequence is more awe-inspiring than scary, but when it's intercut with images of Dave FREAKING OUT (as shown above), it gets really creepy. It gets even creepier before that. There is a momentary sequence where Dave, wide-eyed in awe (to the point that his eyes are bulging out of his sockets) slowly starts to recoil from the intensity of the environment. The lighting and warping that continuously gets brighter and becomes increasingly distorted transforms Dave into this blue-ish, monstrous, yet somehow still human alien-thing.
  • Dave very slowly killing HAL by removing his memory. HAL's Creepy Monotone is enhanced when you realize that he is terrified and he can't even express it. It's made a bit more unnerving when you realize that Dave isn't so much killing HAL as he is lobotomizing him, and the fact that you can't quite tell if HAL is just trying to trick Dave by appealing to his more emotional side or if he's genuinely scared.
    • The revelation that HAL wasn't really at fault for his actions and was, in fact, on the receiving end of an unintentional Logic Bomb doesn't help matters. Given the reason behind behind his initial meltdown, it's unlikely that he's lying. HAL is basically a young but superintelligent and powerful child, too dangerous to allow to live, but still both innocent and absolutely terrified.
  • The reason why Dave is going to the monolith. On one hand, it's obviously because he wants to find out what is up with the thing, that the government was willing to give HAL conflicting orders that led to the death of the rest of the crew. But on the other hand, it's because he is essentially stranded since without HAL or the rest of the crew he can't get the Discovery back to Earth, he is doomed either way.
    • The novel adds a bit of Fridge Horror. Discovery only had enough fuel for a one-way trip (somewhat justified as the original destination was Saturn), so once their mission was complete the crew was to go into hibernation and wait for the rescue ship that wasn't even built yet. It's very likely that if Bowman hadn't been able to reestablish contact with Earth after HAL went rogue, he very likely would have been left to die.
    • You can even notice it in how when the pod is launched to investigate the Monolith, the bridge of the Discovery is dark, implying that Dave has shut down the ship or it's in the process of shutting down. He never expected to come back from his encounter, most likely.
    • Though the book does mention that Dave was able to send a message back to Earth and is waiting for Mission Control to answer back. As the last sentence of that chapter said:
    It was difficult to imagine what answer Earth could possibly send, except a tactful sympathetic, "Good-bye."
    • The subsequent chapter in the book has Floyd sending a briefing to Bowman about the mission, though, not a pre-recorded message.
  • That damn Star Child at the end of the movie is pretty creepy, especially when he looks right at the audience.
  • The bit with the monkey crushing the tapir skeleton with a club. This is the discovery of tools. If the music doesn't make it clear, it's supposed to be a singular leap forward for life on this planet. But then we realize it's just a more efficient way to break stuff and kill other monkeys. The closeup on the ape's face, complete with yellowed teeth and feral expression, is enough to send chills down your spine.
    • On that note, the novelization (and the original screenplay) add some Fridge Horror to the famous Match Cut: the satellites that we see at the start of the Blue Danube sequence? They're launching platforms for nuclear weapons.
    • Blue Danube was the name of the first British operational nuclear weapon.
  • The monolith scene with the hellish droning choral music.
  • Lux Aeterna (2001:Space Odyssey). Funny nobody mentioned this one. It is even scarier in the movie, with Jupiter and black void on screen.
  • Ligeti’s ‘Atmospheres’, used in all its atonal glory during the opening prelude and the intermission. Both times it plays over a black screen and is utterly terrifying. It’s later used to full effect during the Stargate sequence.
  • The scene where the leopard kills the monkey. It happens without any warning at all, and the thing's eyes glow so fiercely in the darkness that it practically looks demonic. The next scene, where we hear the leopard growling in the background as the apes cower in terror in their cave, sets the tone of the opening scene perfectly. We see how chilling it can really be to live on the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder, always just one drought away from being wiped from existence for all eternity. A disturbing scene in the novel version describes the ape-men ripping the leopard's tail off by the root.
  • For some, the man-apes in general are pretty damn unsettling. They're juuuuuust barely human enough that we can clearly see the roots of ourselves in them, but they're so hopelessly devoid of reason, restraint or empathy that they wind up invoking the Uncanny Valley in the most terrifying way possible. The two clashes between the rival ape tribes are especially chilling, even before they discover the wonders of weaponry and learn how to club their enemies to death with bones. That inhuman screeching and hooting will stay with you for weeks.
  • 2010 gives us the underlying Cause of the Discovery massacre: some idiotic politician, or a lethally incompetent high-ranking military officer, gave HAL an imperative order, to conceal the true reason for the missionnote . However, this directly contradicted his primary programming, which is to provide accurate, precise information to his users in a timely manner. The deaths of Frank Poole, and the scientists in hibernation, were indirectly caused by a government obsessed with "need to know" information control, that was apparently in too big a hurry to read HAL's manual.
  • The first time you can see Bowman's face clearly in the hotel suite at the end of the film. Between the thousand-yard stare and the intense wrinkling, that is the look of a man who has seen some SHIT.


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