Given my DVD collection now exceeds 1000 and counting, I watch a LOT of movies, but some of them have actually affected me to the point where I can hardly stand to watch them for a second time because an otherwise awesome piece of cinema is nearly brought down by one scene that is just like nails on a chalkboard for me. So with that in mind, here’s 7 otherwise great movies with one REALLY messed up scene.
Let’s define our terms, first of all. I’m not talking gore here. Anyone can sling blood and guts at the screen like the torture porn crap that’s currently stinking up teenagers’ DVD collections everywhere. I’m talking well-crafted, usually bloodless, scenes that allow the imagination to fill in the details and thus provide a far more effective image than any CGI could. The scene should stick with you and make the movie hard to watch in the future to make this list.
David Fincher’s masterpiece about a serial killer plying his trade based on the seven deadly sins. This is one where the disturbing images are almost on overload, but the acting from Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, as the burned-out and beleaguered detectives unlucky enough to draw the case, is so strong that I can’t help but watch the movie over and over again. That being said, the initial murder, based on “gluttony”, is pretty yucky and stomach-turning, even though it’s not particularly gory or vile. It’s just such a pathetic scene, as some poor guy was forced to literally eat himself to death, and his bloated corpse serves as the signpost that says you’re in for a bumpy ride with this movie.
The heroin stuff I can take with no problem, Spud’s little overnight accident I can handle without flinching, and even the creepy baby on the ceiling I can deal with…but Renton diving headfirst into “the dirtiest toilet in all of Scotland”? Maybe I just have a thing about toilets, but that one nearly makes me retch every time I watch the movie. Which is often, because it’s an amazing piece of ugly, in-your-face moviemaking that almost feels as drug-fueled as the characters are.
This, of course, is the gangster classic that inspired a generation of wannabe rappers of the glamorous Miami drug dealer, but is any scene as non-glamorous as the early one in which Tony and his brother get hired to do a drug deal with Columbians, and learn first-hand how bad it is to mess with them? There’s actually very little seen on the screen as far as gore, but just the mental image of the chainsaw and the shower curtain is enough to mentally fill in the blanks and freak you right the hell out.
Quentin Tarantino provides a valuable lesson in letting the viewer imagine things far worse than he could provide, as most people remember seeing the ear getting cut off the police officer, and yet, in reality, nothing is ever shown but the aftermath. Still, it’s pretty gruesome stuff. But what really makes it horrifying is the juxtaposing of “Stuck In The Middle” on the radio and Michael Madsen’s gleeful little dance before doing the deed, which pretty much ruined that song for me for years afterward and cemented his rep as a great psychotic character actor.
OK, this sounds silly because normally you don’t equate that crew with “great movies”, but I’m of the camp that thought it was such brilliant guerrilla film-making to essentially make a movie for nothing and take in millions in revenue, thus creating the YouTube generation in the process. And it’s all just so funny, albeit mostly in the “ashamed of yourself for laughing at it” type of way. That being said, do I even need to say more than “papercuts between the toes” to make everyone reading cringe involuntarily? I think not. And really, it’s not a VIOLENT act as such, but YIKES. Just try picturing it without wincing.
I watch this movie a lot. Like, almost as much as Goodfellas, but some of the stuff depicted, while not graphically violent (although there’s a lot of that, too) is just such a disturbing IDEA that it can be a tough movie to watch at times. Which is why it’s great, too. Specifically, trying to pop someone’s eyeballs out with a vice is pretty messed up. Pesci getting clubbed to death with baseball bats and then buried alive (with a shot of the dirt landing right in his mouth) is also tough to stomach. But probably the champion of the nasty scenes is Robert DeNiro, as casino kingpin Ace Rothstein, teaching would-be cheaters a lesson by smashing one of their hands with a hammer in a scene that almost produces phantom pain just by watching it. The kids in 21 would have been well advised to watch this movie before going along with the scheme to count cards, I think.
The very reason I came up with this list idea. Lemme tell ya, any of the above items on this list I can take with no real problems or lasting after-effects. I watched the Saw movies and laughed through much of the silly gore effects without a second thought. But here, I only need to say two words to give myself nightmares for days, and probably a lot of you reading as well: Curb stomp. Without a doubt the most visceral and awful scene ever committed to film (that I’ve seen), and it’s mostly just done by some really effective sound effects and quick camera cuts. But is there a more awful sound to hear than teeth scraping on the curb of the sidewalk? For me, although I loved the rest of the movie a lot, I just cannot bear to watch this scene anymore and I probably won’t ever watch the movie again as a result.