10 disturbing movie scenes

There’s a reason I don’t seem many horror movies: I am a wimp.

Now, don’t try to make me feel better. I know the truth, and so does anyone who’s had the misfortune to sit through a scary movie in my presence. I cringe, I cower, I gasp, I glimpse the carnage unfolding onscreen through Vulcan-split hands over my eyes. To this day, I can’t tell you what the characters in “The Ring” looked like. Know why? I took my glasses off 10 minutes in and I never put them back on.

But these sad little details aren’t what form the complete fraidy-cat that is me. It’s the fact that scenes from regular movies — some that don’t fit into the horror genre at all — stick in my brain for all eternity. The bit from “Spun,” with the hooker staying tied up, blindfolded, on a bed for days? Can’t hear heavy metal without flashing back to it. The scene in “Arlington Road” where Joan Cusack says the word “shopping” with all the menace of Jeffrey Dahmer snatching Konerak Sinthasomphone from the cops? Still get the wiggins when I hear that term.

So now, since I’ve gotten myself all worked up and jittery, here’s a list of 10 disquieting, troubling and (in some cases) disgusting scenes that my brain cannot forget:

1. Videotaped family slaughter, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” — No single scene in movie history (and in my short time on Earth) has left me as shaken as the grainy, muffled home video footage of Henry (Michael Rooker) and Otis (Tom Towles) gleefully murdering an entire family during a home invasion. It makes us voyeurs, removes that safe “this is just a movie” barrier and makes us participants. In a word: Yikes.

 

 

2. The opening scene of “Wild at Heart” — Ever seen a moment of violence so brutal, so feral and uncontrolled that it makes you violently ill? I have, and it takes place (literally) at the beginning of David Lynch’s soul-deadening “Wild at Heart,” when Nicholas Cage bashes in — with sickening vigor — the head of a man hired to kill him. 

3. The firecracker/handjob scene in “Mysterious Skin” — Oh, the things kids come up with, how mind-blowingly sick they are. A preteen boy and his gal tagalong get the idea to stuff a firecracker inside the mouth of a shy dweeb and set it ablaze. Afterward, he gives the victim a handjob. Thoughtful … and yet horribly, horribly unsettling.

4. The burial sequence in “Blood Simple” – The fear of being buried alive is old as time, and about that universal, too. Place that fear squarely in the hands of Joel and Ethan Coen and you get a prolonged death scene so upsetting you’ll never, ever look at a shovel the same way again.

 

 

5. The chiropractor joke from “Apartment Zero” — When Larry punches Curly in the nose, you laugh. When a sociopathic serial killer (Hart Bochner) breaks a dead woman’s back to stuff her body in a trunk and slings a wisecrack about missing his calling as a professional back cracker? Well, you laugh then too, mostly because you have no idea what to do. And then comes the cringing. A lifetime of it.  

 

 

6. The torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs” — They say memories have an emotional core. I can’t think of a better case-proving point than the stomach-turning, nerve-jangling torture sequence in Tarantino’s classic “Reservoir Dogs.” To this day, the clip, with Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) brutalizing a bound-and-gagged cop in time to “Stuck in the Middle with You” — and taking pleasure in it — remains the one part of the film I cannot watch.

7. Guy’s revenge in “Swimming with Sharks” — Pushed too far by his screaming movie mogul boss, Guy (Frank Whaley) promptly drops his basket and ends up exacting the kind of physically painful revenge that involves hot sauce, salt and lots and lots of paper cuts. Let your imagination tell you the rest.

 

 

8. The shower scene from “Psycho” — Yes, I realize that this one’s something of a gimme, but facts are facts. There’s a reason this scene is considered a horror classic. Think about it: Where are we at our most vulnerable? That’s the genius of it. Any woman who tells you this scene doesn’t come a’callin’ when she’s showering alone in her apartment is a first-class liar.

 

 

9. The last four minutes of “Requiem for a Dream” — “Requiem for a Dream” qualifies as one of my all-time favorite films, in part, because of the final four minutes, an exercise in dark pessimism that assaults the senses and deadens the soul for weeks — make that years — after the credits roll. Seek not your happy, hopeful ending here, for all you’ll find is a killshot of reality. Gripping stuff.

10. “Chaos” (the whole. blasted. movie) — “There are some things that you see, and you can’t unsee them. Know what I mean?” So said Max California in “8MM,” and if I didn’t know better I’d be convinced his words applied to “Chaos,” a bleak, grim and cheerfully punishing slice of torture porn filled with senseless violence. Things are done that scar the retinas and pervert the mind … things we cannot unsee. And oh, how I wish I could.

What say you, readers? What are your favorite disturbing movie scenes?

33 Responses

  1. The knife fight from Saving Private Ryan is really hard for me to watch…

    • To quote Joey Russo: “Whoa.”

      Funny how that scene almost matches the intensity of the opening, which counts as the most brutal 20 minutes in movie history.

  2. Ok, I thought of a few more.

    1) Though it’s not bloody, the opening scene from Jaws where the girl gets thrashed about while screaming “God please help me!” That actress deserves some sort of award for portraying true terror better than maybe anybody else I’ve ever seen.

    2) American History X. The mouth-on-the-curb scene. Ouch. Again it’s all left to the imagination, but that can be worse than showing it.

    3) This one isn’t left to the imagination. It’s the scene in Zodiac when the killer stabs the couple by the lake. My gosh…’brutal’ is the only word that comes to mind.

    • Right on with No. 2 and 3. How could I forget about “American History X”? Oh, wait, that’s right, I remember — I stuffed it way deep down in my subconscious. The lake scene in “Zodiac” might have been the eeriest part of the movie aside from the one with Robert and Bob Vaugh in that dank basement.

  3. This list tells me one thing about you. You haven’t seen Oldboy!

  4. Yeah, arguably the whole of Old Boy could be on this list.
    Others include:
    The rape scene from A Clockwork Orange
    The flogging scene from The Proposition (as well as the scene at the end)
    That scene in The Prince of Tides where the family gets attacked by the inmates.
    I realize most of my choices involve rape because unlike the gum chewing cowboy in Blazing Saddles “I don’t like rape.”

    • I forgot about that scene in “A Clockwork Orange.” But rape scenes in general make any movie hard to watch, I’ve found. Torture, murder, all kinds of violence — somehow a rape scene in a movie is still the hardest thing to stomach. Something too personal and voyeuristic about it, I guess.

  5. As you say rape scenes make a movie hard to watch, the worst is probably Irréversible made all the more harrowing and realistic by the way it is shot with one camera, one take.

  6. great list M Carter the unstoppable blog machine
    i really need to steel myself some day and watch Henry: Portait of a Serial Killer, have always loved Michael Rooker

    • Gird your loins, steel your nerves, batten down the hatches — do whatever you gotta do to get yourself ready for “Henry.” Truly, it is the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s so hard to say why because very few murders take place on the screen. But that videotape scene — whew. I’m not sure you CAN prep yourself for that one…

  7. Fandango is RIGHT! Oldboy is a must see! That movie with lurk with you hours and days afterwards, just like Requiem which is my favorite addition to your list here. I’ve watched that film at least four times and each time I finish I’m resolved it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and then I also resolve myself to the fact that I may never be able to watch it again. Seldom movies are that powerful.

    Another one, a cult film from my generation: KIDS…………….The last scene from the party in that movie. If that doesn’t inspire teenagers not to get high and party, I don’t what would. Skip Sex-Ed. Buy ‘em some condoms and tell them to watch this movie.

  8. I just sat through Antichrist and pretty much that entire movie is disturbing.

    Another was August Undergroun Mordum. This is a movie that nobody should watch. I have a friend that still won’t forgive me for making him watch it. It literally made me sick to my stomach.

    If you’re not into horror movies then I suggest skipping those two entirely!

    • “Antichrist” intrigues me. Willem Dafoe scares me. This could be a winning combo, or it could lead to a lifetime of therapy.

  9. If you’re a wimp, then what am I? =) I was petrified just ‘reading’ about some of the scenes in ‘Scarface,’ and I still get chills remembering Regan’s face in the Exorcist. Some disturbing scenes are found in ‘American Psycho.’ Not sure how I could get through that entire thing!

    • You know, the scene that killed me in “The Exorcist” wasn’t even the spinning head scene — it was that one early on where the bed starts jumping and bucking wildly with Reagan in it. Sometimes in bed I think about that. Creepy.

      • You’re absolutely right. Sometimes it’s the scenes that take place in what you normally regard as a ‘comfort place’ that scares you the most. Here’s a funny story: My hubby’s aunt was a flight attendant who served Linda Blair once and though she looked familiar, she couldn’t remember who she was. She asked, ‘how do I know you?’ Linda did something with her eyes and her expression turned really creepy. His aunt immediately realized who she was!

  10. Some notable additions might be…

    The famous “eye cutting” scene in Un Chien Andalou (squirm inducing for sure!)

    Most of “I Stand Alone” (This is where the director of Irreversible cut his teeth. You will feel completely icky after watching this)

    The encounter in the apartment in “Cache” (if you’ve never seen it, watch it, although beware)

    Oldboy is a good pick!

    The homeless man behind the dumpster in “Mulholand Drive” (for that matter anything Bob related from Twin Peaks. For that matter, anything from David Lynch)

    and finally…

    Our first sighting of Pennywise the Clown, through the laundry in the TV version of “It”. (Yeah, yeah…it was made for TV, but that fucking SCARY!)

    • I can’t get out of seeing “Oldboy.” In the queue it goes.

      Oh no, you went and brought up Pennywise. I didn’t like clowns before “It,” but that movie did me in. Can’t look at one now without having flashbacks.

  11. For me, there’s a whole category of Films That I Should See But Am A Little Bit Scared Of. ‘Antichrist’, ‘Irreversible’… I’ll get around to them one day. But maybe tonight I’ll just watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ again instead.

    For more on these films and on cine-torture in general, please see my ‘blog at http://matineeidle.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/cine-torture/

    • I consider “Return to Oz” one of those Films I Have Seen That I Will Never See Again. The wheelies? The woman with all the heads in her cabinet? I can’t remember how old I was when I saw it, but I didn’t sleep for weeks.

  12. Great list!

    I saw ‘Antichrist’, and yikes! There were some scarred-for-life moments in that one. I’ll venture that there are a couple of scenes in that movie that are impossible to watch (I had to look away), they’re that disturbing. It took me about a week before I could stop thinking about the movie – I was constantly analysing it and trying to make sense of it. I do think it was worth it, though. It really is a masterpiece, and I think it made some very important points. So it’s definitely recommendable! Just, you know, don’t go see it if you’re already in a bit of a bad mood, because it is a draining experience.

    However, most of the movie scenes that have truly scared me are scary scenes in non-horror movies, because they come as all the more of a shock. I did a post on the subject on my blog (and thanks for your comment there, M. Carter!), but I’ve realised that there was one scene I left out when I made my list: The woman-cyborg transformation scene from Superman III! Here it is:

    Aaargh! I watched the movie on TV when I was about five, and it scared the living daylights out of me, and watching it now I actually still think it’s a horrifying scene! I think it’s the woman’s muffled screaming as she is being transformed that does it. And then her dead cyborg eyes after the transformation. Brrrr!

    • I think I’m not going to be able to get away with not seeing “Antichrist” — too much fuss and too many “holy crap!” reactions have piqued my interest…

  13. [...] but he doesn’t leave it there. So Tarantino pumps in loads of violence — including a disturbing torture scene involving Mr. Blonde, a kidnapped cop (Kirk Baltz), a razor blade and gasoline set to Stealers [...]

  14. Check out the original Funny Games by Michael Haneke… Too many crazy and genuinely disturbing scenes for one film.

    • That sounds promising. I’ll have to give that a go.

      • After a re-watch, if the conclusion of Oldboy doesn’t make your guts wrench you have no soul, no soul at all. It’s also a ‘must see’ movie, so worth the rent. Did you ever check out Funny Games (1997)?

      • I have “Oldboy” in my Netflix list b/c several people recommended it. I’ll add “Funny Games” as well. In fact, I may have to do another list given my reaction to the ending of “Twentynine Palms.”

  15. The most disturbing thing I ever saw in cinema was the documentary ‘Dear Zachary’. A life-changer, but not in the manner of the movies listed above – Antichrist was pretty repulsive, Funny Games just banal – but it gave me dark thoughts for days afterwards.

  16. how about ‘squeal! squeal!?’ from deliverance?

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