THIRTEEN DEFINING MOVIE MOMENTS OF EXQUISITE AGONY
February 18th 2010 04:05
I was very impressed that Amy Wallace had the inclination to delve into the Darkness and compile a thoroughly delectable array of inspired tastes and insightful opinions from a small pool of horrorphilic staff writers and numerous renowned figures from the horror arts and entertainment (chiefly writers and directors). And the gallows humour is mixed beautifully with scholarly indulgence.
Over the coming weeks I’m sure many of these lists will find there way into my blog posts in form or another, whether it be inspiring me to compile my own version, or to simply present the opinion of a celebrity horrorphile whose perspective I admire. For example, Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead (2004) and the faux-trailer to Don’t, which features in the intermission of Grindhouse (2007). He submitted a Top Ten “Ouch I’m Sorry, But That Has Got To Hurt!” Moments In Horror Films. I agreed with most of them, and decided to do my own similarly-themed list.
Here are seven instances of explicit agony presented within a nightmare movie where, if you’re in a cinema, you can feel the whole audience collectively wince. Some of them are small injuries, yet they tap into a universal sense of empathy (which is the angle Edgar Wright’s list took, a few of which feature on my list), others are exquisitely visceral in an immediate and overwhelming way. And, for the record, none of the torture porn in the Saw movies holds any weight here.
In no particular order:
Wolf Creek (2005)
Greg Mclean shows viewers some pretty nasty stuff that top end killer has been doing in his shed and garage, including the ol’ head on a stick business. But the moment that actually has the most wince power of the whole movie is a simple swipe of Mick Taylor (John Jarrett)‘s fuck-off big knife and oopsy-daisy, he’s lopped off all of poor Liz (Cassandra Magrath)’s fingers, which scatter on the floor. Her grimacing, hysterical reaction shot as she clutches what’s left of her hand is the icing on the proverbial cake. Digit loss always causes a strong reaction (see The Burning for similar effect).
The Thing (1982)
At gunpoint MacCready (Kurt Russell) forces the rest of his surviving Antarctic team to undergo a blood test to determine who is and is not one of those things. In close-up with a scalpel he slits open the pad of his thumb and a big dollop of blood wells up out of the wound. Thanks to Rob Bottin’s superb special make-up effect and authentic accompanying foley the moment receives a guaranteed “OW!” from viewers.
The Evil Dead (1982)
Forget all the explicit full-body dismemberment, even the confronting supernatural rape by tree branches and vines, hands-down the most excruciating moment in the whole movie is when a possessed Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) takes a sharpened HB pencil and thrusts into the soft part of Linda (Betsy Baker)’s ankle and proceeds to twist it in and around. Man, I writhed and grimaced something chronic in my cinema seat when I first witnessed that moment on the big screen. Yie, yie, yieee!
Deep Red (1975)
Dario Argento is another man with a PhD in the simulation of extreme agony. His murder set-pieces are legendary. I was inclined to include the brilliantly savage sequence in Opera involving a short wide dagger and a young man’s under-jaw, but instead opted for the same moment Edgar Wright includes in his list: Prof. Giordani (Glauco Mauri) is menaced by a creepy mechanical doll, then struck about the head before being manhandled violently toward the marble mantelpiece where the poor man has his teeth bashed out against the edge. Oh dear God, the humanity (and, although not strictly horror, yes, a very similar scene in American History X has become equally notorious, but more widely viewed).
Takashi Miike knows pain. He inflicts it with relish. The needlework he employs in Imprint, and to a lesser degree in this movie, is memorable in the most nightmarish way. But the sequence that follows the acupuncture – and just as importantly, the sound effect – where Asami (Eihi Shiina) takes piano wire and steadily (like two woodsman working on a big tree with their trusty double-handled saw) slices through the flesh and bone of Shigeharu (Ryo Ishabashi)’s ankles, severing both his feet, was almost enough for me to feel faint.
The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg loves the disintegration of the human body, the vulnerability of the flesh. Before Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldbum) begins to fall apart he experiences superhuman strength, and in a display of this he challenges a large, intimidating man to an arm wrestle where upon at the sweaty climax of the bout (and deftly punctuating the end of the scene) Seth simply snaps the man’s arm, and - along with the cringe-inducing sound effect - produces a most shocking compound fracture that everyone watching the movie feels intensely.
At the climax of this violent, yet beautiful movie, the central character of Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) in a desperate challenge against his cool, calm and collected foe Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu), yet ultimately in an act of submission, takes a razor-blade and vigorously cuts through his tongue until it is severed. The act is not shown graphically, but implied strongly from alternate angles and framing, and it is utterly gruesome to experience, especially since the audience has been feeling such sympathy for Dae-su.
Day of the Dead (1985)
All the flesh-tearing, gut-munching aside, George Romero’s masterpiece features an astonishing moment of shocking dismemberment courtesy of special effects make-up magician Tom Savini when unconscious Miguel (Antone Dileo), who has had his forearm bitten by a zombie, has to have it amputated. Then to add insult to injury, his lover Sarah (Lori Cardille) is forced to cauterize the huge wound. Miguel immediately regains consciousness and screams like a bastard. Oh yeah, we hear ya Miguel!
30 Days of Night (2007)
The brutal no-holds-barred savagery of this monstrously good vampire flick hits a high note of “Damn, that’s gotta hurt!” when Billy (Manu Bennett) has his head cut off by a blunt axe courtesy of Eben (Josh Hartnett). It takes several attempts, as each time Eben swings into the side of Billy’s neck his head lolls further to one side, still not quite severed. It’s messy, exquisitely horrific, and must have tickled something wicked.
Hard Candy (2005)
It’s been a battle of wits, a nasty psychological game of predator and prey, between young Hayley (Ellen Page) and older Jeff (Patrick Wilson). But everything is taken to a whole new level of shock tactics when Jeff awakens from being drugged to discover Hayley is performing genital surgery on him, to be precise, a castration. I challenge any man watching this movie not to clutch their crotch in involuntary protection whilst this ghastly scene is playing out, it cuts deep.
Clive Barker is a man who savours the finer points of exquisite pain; many of his novels languish in the indulgence of agony, infused with an otherworldly adoration. In his debut feature he features a stunning moment of abject, grisly horror that set new standards in the on-screen perversity of graphic violence; Frank/Larry (Andrew Robinson) being literally torn apart by the demon cenobites hooks that are dug deep into the flesh of his body and face. Two words: “Jesus wept!”
There’s the infamous ear-slicing scene in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and although it’s a powerful moment, the scene in Andrew Dominik’s criminally under-rated portrait of standover man Mark “Chopper” Read (Eric Bana) when Chopper encourages Bluey (Dan Wyllie) to use a straight razor to slice off both of Chopper’s ears off so that he’ll be admitted to the infirmary. Bluey does a pretty good job of it, there’s blood pissing everywhere, and to viewers it’s painfully convincing. I shudder just thinking about it again.
They’re short, they’re in black and white, and they’re surrealist. The first (sixteen-minute) film, directed by Luis Bunuel and co-written with Salvador Dali, is an experimental exercise in audience manipulation which features a woman having her eyeball slit open with a straight razor in extreme close-up. Ocular horror, 'nuff said. The second (nine-minute) film by Spanish provocateur Julian Zenier focuses on a man restlessly surfing through television channels, who then sets up a video camera and standing in the middle of the room proceeds to slice huge pieces of flesh from his naked body using a Stanley knife. It is probably one of the most brilliantly harrowing - with its astonishing special effects - scenes of self-mutilation I have ever endured.
Each to their own of course, so what nightmare movie moments have you found to be excruciatingly, yet exquisite, in their agonising detail?
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