My Top 22 Most Disturbing Moments in Cinema
Intro/Most Honourable Mentions
Note: Sorry to anyone out there who has missed regular posts, especially if you are one of the three or four people who have asked me about the Disney ones in particular. To be honest I had finished the next review only for my laptop to go a bit wrong and it got deleted and frankly the task of rewriting it has been…a chore. Which is sad. In an effort to get back into the swing of it I have set myself a task to post every day from now until the end of the month so with that in mind…
In my last couple of Halloween Specials I emphasised the difference between being momentary startled and deeply horrified but for those of you who only scanned those reviews for Chica porn let me reiterate: It is easy to get people to jump. We’ve seen it done a million times. You know the drill:
Silence, character walks around in a self consciously stilted way, small sound, ‘Hello?’ investigation, nobody behind the door, then NOISE and loud music, don’t worry it was just a cat, distraction, long scene of nothing as the tension is pushed, a shadow against the wall that the character misses, they watch TV, we see a shot from behind them showing us their back is vulnerable, nothing happens, character not relaxed, goes to wash face, looks into mirror, perhaps makes a pithy remark about how they need to relax, bends down to get face wet, when they straighten up-
SOMEONE IS BEHIND THEM IN THE MIRROR OH MY GOD I DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING EXCEPT THAT IT HAS HAPPENED IN FILMS I HAVE SEEN MORE TIMES THAN I HAVE EATEN NOODLES…
And I eat a lot of noodles.
My noodle addiction aside, you take my point. I enjoy being startled ok, but it is not as wholy, brutally satisfying as those unexpected moments in movies that disturb me. To be disturbed isn’t the same as being scared. To be disturbed is to have an experience change you, even if it is in some small imperceptible way. It shakes you up, knocks you down and doesn’t always attempt to put you back together again. Maybe the impact is due to the unexpectedness of the event, or the buttons it pushes or the imagery your brain could never have produced on its own. All of these show up in my list.
So now I want to celebrate and shake my fist at the work that has caused the deepest disturbances of my very soul. Y’know. Cause Halloween.
Every night up to and including October 31st I will provide you with examples of some of my most personally disturbing moments in films. But first let us clarify a few things:
1. There are no rape scenes on the list. Please take it as read that I find rape disturbing and didn’t want to talk about cinematic assaults non stop for two weeks.
2. I have not seen every film. If there is an obvious oversight it might be I have just not got round to watching that film yet or…
3. As usual, this is a subjective list but even more than with previous posts I need to remind you that this is a deeply personal topic. What makes one person feel sick to their core may make another feel slightly hungry. There can’t be a right or wrong. While I always enjoy comments/remarks about what I post I don’t expect anyone to try and challenge the order/picks on display. I won’t dignify such bullshit with a response. Rest assured I am not misleading you: Even though Number 1 in particular might seem a bit odd…
4. Having said that…I am posting clips of the scenes where possible. Watch them at your own risk. I take no personal responsibility for any nightmares/mouth vomit/life long fear of Harry Nilsson music you have as a result.
5. Ok this is a tricky one: A LOT of my choices spoil major plot points of the films I am discussing. This just can’t always be helped. So I will note at the top of each posts if there are major spoilers afoot and I expect you to take personal responsibility. I am only doing it for the ones that I believe could potentially spoil your enjoyment of the film if you watch them out of context…I mean if you call ‘spoilers’ because I post a werewolf transformation clip from a film with the word werewolf in the title then that is your problem. But any end scenes or crucial twists? Fair enough. So if you have NOT seen the film and you see this:
Know you may want to skip it.
With that business covered let us proceed to the Honourable Mentions. This list got bigger and bigger and bigger the more I thought about it. Some films that I considered for the Honourable Mentions section that I decided to cut include: American History X, M, The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Night of the Hunter, The Picture of Dorian Grey, City of God, The Craft, Alien, Don’t Look Now, The Vanishing…I could have kept going. I like watching films much more than I like talking to people.
So if I have written quite a lot here it is because it became clear that my passion for cinema could have lead to a much, much longer list but all these list type things have proven troublesome so let’s keep it simple. Ish. A Top 22 (I will explain why it is a top 22 in a later post) and some Very Honourable Mentions.
HM #1 Pinocchio: Lampwick Changes
This one is odd, because I don’t remember it impacting me a child. But as an adult? It is mostly because of the way the hands gripping Pinocchio turn to hooves. And the fact that Lampwick seems genuinely terrified. And the…ok everything about this is fucked up. 1940 times were scary.
It didn’t make the list because… I have spoken about this scene at length in my Pinocchio review. So if you need further thoughts on it, please direct yourself there.
HM #2 Sleepaway Camp: That noise though…
Sleepaway Camp was recommended to me by a friend. I paused the film about an hour in to call him to ask why the hell he suggested I watch it. Between the clichéd camp bullshit, the boring deaths and the disturbing choice to make half the staff at the camp paedophiles I couldn’t see one reason why he thought this would be an enjoyable way for me to spend an evening. ‘It’s not very good…’ I told him. ‘It is not’ he agreed. ‘So why the cocking hell am I watching it?’ I responded. ‘Wait’ He then hung up. Cause he’s an asshole like that. But since I had nothing better to do that night (I think it was my Masters graduation ball but who needs to mingle with your peers after 3 years together? I’d met as many of them as I needed to…) I kept watching. Then it happened…
At the start of the film it is revealed that the shy, sweet Angela was the only survivor of a freak accident that killed her Dad and Brother. So far, so red herring. But then, with seconds of the film remaining it is revealed that Angela didn’t survive the accident. At all. Her Brother did though…Angela/Peter stands up and…it is not the reveal itself that unsettled me but the facial expression and the NOISE Angela/Peter is making. I had never seen/heard anything like it and as the credits rolled I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
It didn’t make the list because…I ended up going with laugh. I love the ending and man is it an effective, bonkers moment (that the many sequels/spin offs tried to top but never could) but it didn’t disturb me more than it made me laugh. Sleepaway Camp is shlock that got lucky with ONE glorious moment. But it is not deserving of too much critical time or scrutiny.
MH#3 The Rules of Attraction: Suicide
Well, what did you expect from the author of American Psycho? The teenage girl without a name having realised that the guy she loves who doesn’t know she exists errr…doesn’t know she exists, lights some candles, runs a bath, takes off her rings (irritatingly we see one magically reappear on her hand seconds later) and slits her wrists.
The first time I saw it I really wasn’t expecting them to show her running the razor blade down her arm and I big time winced. The music choice might be a bit on the nose for some but I can’t hear ‘Without You’ without seeing that image in my head. It gives me this feeling of dread that has very little to do with the song (Unless Mariah is singing it) and all to do with the idea that some people really can’t face reality and will literally end it to deal with that problem.
It didn’t make the list because…The impact of this scene has faded for me a bit, in part because exsanguination is not that easy to achieve and hurts quite a bit more than her faces would suggest (don’t ask me how I know…No. Seriously. Don’t.) and it does feel like this scene is trying to romanticise suicide especially as the character isn’t even really in the film and doesn’t get a name. I suppose you could argue, and I am sure fans of the film do, that her anonymous-ness is kind of the point, seeing as our arrogant lead never learns that his ignoring the girl who served him his food lead to her demise. But it all feels a bit…shallow. Like the writer has never actually known anyone with suicidal ideation. This idea that all teenage girls are one rejection away from death is not a message I am comfortable with.
HM #4 Return to Oz: The fucking Scarecrow
Ah yes. The sequel to the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most universally beloved stories of all time (despite not being that well received when it first came out) Return to Oz…well it just sort of exists too doesn’t it?
I had this storybook with a cassette tape as a kid and man did it freak me the fuck out. Nothing more so than the scarecrow though. Sure the rollers (seen above…sorry about that) are so wrong and there is the room of heads but my God the redesign of the scarecrow literally give me nightmares. This fucking thing showed up in my dreams more than once:
Look at it. This film was for children. For children! FOR CHILDREN!
I eventually had to shut the book away to stop that thing from climbing out and killing me. Many years later when I had all but blocked it out, I was watching a list not unlike this one online and that brain chewing sack of screams showed up in a still and I pretty much had a Nam flashback only instead of watching Johnny get blown to bits minutes after telling me about wanting to marry his childhood sweetheart I just remembered how that gross scarecrow made me shit myself as a toddler.
Oh and just for added nightmare fuel-Anyone out there claustrophobic? Here is how the actor who played Tik Tok moved around in his costume:
Oh God why???
It didn’t make the list because…I am not 100% convinced I have actually seen the film. I am pretty sure all I know about it I got from the read along cassette/book. Maybe I should give it a go sometime…Maybe I would actually find the scarecrow charmi-
HM #5 Spider-Man 3: Spider-Man Dances
Am I kidding?
Am I kidding?
No. I am not. In all seriousness, all jokes aside, my brain nearly exploded in pain watching Toby Maguire mug his way through this scene. In what most surely be the oddest revenge ever committed to celluloid since the phrase ‘bunny-boiler’ was coined, as Mary-Jane goes to sing, Peter presumably kidnaps the piano player and takes his place. But that’s not all: he uses his power the way they were supposed to be used cause after all; what are spiders better known for than dancing? Is your answer anything?
Swinging from Piano to bar, to chandelier, to chair, Peter spins across the bar gurning all the while, and begins to schmooze it on the dance floor with moves that would send Kevin Bacon running home in tears, screaming about feeling violated. Clicking his fingers, wiggling his hips, and whispering ‘Now dig on this.’
Did I mention the movie this takes place in is a Spider-Man film? Well it is.
Have I taken this out of context? Nope. Did director Sam Raimi mean to make something this awful? Come on, this is the creator of The Evil Dead for fuck’s sake, he knew what he was doing. But this wasn’t the place for it. How do they expect us to take Spider-Man even a little bit seriously after this? This film wants to have its cake and eat it too to justify the bloated run time and in doing so actually includes a scene that appears to mock the audience for bothering to show up. Every wiggle seems to be saying: ‘What did you expect? A compelling super hero film? Well more fool you, this is a film about petty romances and terrible dancing!’
Is it disturbing? Honestly, The knowledge that this film grossed over 8 hundred million world wide and was the biggest film of 2007 keeps up me at night. Horrible. Without a doubt, the worst and most unnecessary scene in any action film, strike that any film. Ever. Ever.
It didn’t make the list because…There are more deserving choices than fit the theme better. But still…seriously…Why is Spider-Man dancing???
HM #6 An American Werewolf in London: Changing
I have never been particularly invested in the whole werewolf…thing. Monster movies are not my favourite subsection of the horror genre. I just don’t find the idea of them especially scary or horrifying. But you know what is scary? Pain. I love how this moment begins with David reading a book and then suddenly shooting up out of his chair in agony. Watching him writhe around and bellow for help calls back all those times I have felt unexpected pain (I know, I know I should see a Doctor, what are you my Mum?) and how each time a situation like that occurs you are convinced that something horrible is about to happen. In this case of course, David is right.
I must take a paragraph (yes a paragraph) to applaud the work of the make up artists who actually managed to create a whole new category at the Oscars who had never rewarded make up achievement in motion pictures. It has been more than 30 years since the film was released, and yet when young David begins to change the impact remains impressive. Like with Lampwick, David seems genuinely terrified and you feel every moment. It is much more impressive here though given the restrictions of the medium. As the camera focuses on his feet growing longer to accommodate his new wolfy DNA (the sound of bones growing is just so…Gah!) you will wince as you realise changing into a werewolf would hurt like fuck.
The transformation is long, gruelling and does not offer any respite. And I love it. Also, yes. That is ‘Blue Moon’ he is listening to. That’s John Landis for you.
It didn’t make the list because…Overall I am more impressed by it than anything else. I felt it deserved a mention but after I saw it once it didn’t quite have the hold over me that some of my other picks did.
HM#7 Gummo: Bath Time
I can’t fully explain this…But really. This just turns my stomach upside down. Just…No. Kid. No. Don’t eat spaghetti and strawberry milk in the bathtub. Why? Why? Why? I felt sick just typing that.
Don’t get it? I have posted a link to the scene below. Try and make it through the whole thing.
Some of you may be wondering what the hell this is. A good question. Gummo was directed by Harmony Korine (he wrote the script for ‘Kids’) and is about a group of largely unsupervised kids doing horrible things in the wake of a tornado that has torn their town apart. It was not that well received but arty farty directors freaking love it, especially the scene where young cat hunter Solomon has his dinner in the dirty bath water where there is bacon stuck to the wall. I suppose there is a lot to be said through this picture about poverty in America, how it makes us uncomfortable, how it is ignored, how the idea of the American dream is only achievable if you get the right breaks…But to be honest my only take away from this scene is how it makes me want to vomit. Everywhere. On me. On you. Just everywhere.
It is unsettling in a way I can’t even name. It seems to take the lead from the magnificent ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) in that it feels like you are watching some kind of grimy snuff film that has fallen into existence by accident and you should feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself for choosing to look at it. Well, it is not like I have not been punished. God there goes my stomach…
It didn’t make the list because…I don’t actually know. It should have made the list. Sorry.
I do hope nobody is reading this over dinner…
If you have survived all of that, please return tomorrow for #22!