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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?

Where’s the love (for Vince Vaughn)?

Yesterday, as I was dreaming up some weekend plans, a friend posed a revealing question: “Do you want to see ‘Four Christmases’ on Sunday?”

This question presented me with a dilemma of existential proportions. Why, you ask? Well, you see, Vince Vaughn is one of those actors whose career seems as jumpy as a virgin at a prison rodeo. He slam-dunks zany buddy comedies (re: “Old School,” “Dodgeball”), then drops the ball with paint-by-numbers clunkers like “Domestic Disturbance” or “Fred Claus.” (Yes, I’m aware I’m working the sports metaphor here. Go with it.) And when he tries genuine sincerity and emotion? Oh, the results will have you wishing your popcorn bucket was an airsickness bag (see The Onion A.V. Club’s review of “Four Christmases” for a more complete — and comical — take). And don’t even get me started on “The Break-Up.”

All this begs the question: Is Vince past his expiration date? Should I be worried that he is, in fact, a sociopath incapable of expressing anything more difficult than a sarcastic one-liner? Maybe so; after “Four Christmases” things aren’t looking so hot for VV.

Then I wandered back into the dark recesses of my mind (yikes — where’s the Swiffer when I need it?) and remembered three movies — all released in 1998 — where he stepped outside the bud-com box and succeeded. Nailed it, really … and I mean nailed in that “Wedding Crashers” way.

So, Vince, this list goes out to you from a fan who’s still hoping you can tap into that magic you had in 1998. Here are the Top Three Most Underrated VV Performances in a Motion Picture:

3) “Psycho” — Hitchcock snobs, if you put away your machetes and remained calm for 10 seconds you’d see the only reason you’re angry is because, deep down, in your heart of hearts, you know Vince’s take on Norman Bates is make-your-skin-crawl creeptastic. He puts his own stamp on the iconic character; he’s equal parts lost little boy and simmering madman. It’s like watching Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory come alive.

2) “Clay Pigeons” — This one’s proof that if VV plans to quit his day job, he’d make a damn-fine serial murderer. As Lester Long, Vaugh plumbs the damp, ill-lit depths of his psyche and comes up with a performance that tops his Bates turn in terms of sheer, unparalleled creepiness. He’s extremely unnerving and possesses the kind of high-pitched laugh, as Roger Ebert put it, “that, when you hear it, makes it seem prudent to stop whatever you’re doing and move to another state.” It sticks with you, and so does Vaughn’s creation.

1) “Return to Paradise” — Call this one the Best Movie No One Saw in 1998. This Hollywood take on the philosophical Prisoner’s Dilemma deserves its top spot in this trifecta because it is, quite simply, the best serious performance VV has ever given. His Sheriff is a complicated fellow, one who projects both amorality and ambivalence when he discovers a buddy he partied with in Malaysia is on death-row for hash possession. He wants no part of accepting responsibility, doing time to lessen his sentence, and yet … I will say no more, except that this is Vaughn’s best work. Period.