Split Decision: Films That Can't Be Unseen
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
In honor of the Arrow release of Audition, what movie warped your brain and messed you up?
It's not as if I've ever had to watch anything as Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in A Clockwork Orange, is with his eyes forced open. Though there was a time a friend practically strapped me to a chair and insisted I watch The Exorcist that comes close. (The film's famous moments didn't disturb me, but the carotid angiography scene was a bit much for me). And I can never "unsee" Tommy Wieseau's naked ass in The Room's slow-jam love scene. A friend of mine and I have a deep bond over one of the worst films ever made, Ben and Arthur, which actually has to be seen to be disbelieved. But one of the films that I wish I'd never seen was Jack & Diane, a bad fever dream of a film where two lovers (Riley Keough and Juno Temple) enter some very strange–monstrous–territory when they can't stay together. It's unpleasant in all the wrong ways. I remember staggering out of the theater asking for eye bleach.
I don't want to unsee Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. I think it's a great documentary about an artist whose work I appreciated learning more about. Flanagan is a performer with cystic fibrosis who takes control of his body by beating the hell out of it with the assistance of his partner. The philosophies behind that, the disagreements he and his partner have, it's all fascinating. But then director Kirby Dick makes what's probably the right decision artistically and shows Flanagan drive a nail through his dick. A little later in the doc you essentially see Flanagan die. I'm glad I watched Sick. It's been a while— maybe I'll see it again someday. But damn do I wish my eyes were closed when that nail went through. It'd be great to unsee about five minutes of Sick!
I touched on some of these moments in a list I wrote in 2017- but there are plenty to go around. Each Eli Roth film is full of moments that have burned themselves into my neural pathways- often because the gory imagery is accompanied by a context that is both cruel and humorous. As a director, he is the master of inspired tastelessness.
I will go with the first one I ever saw by him, Hostel. In it, a victim of the pay-to-torture secret club, a young Asian woman named Kana (Jennifer Lim), manages to escape after she is freed by Paxton (Jay Hernandez). The two of them flee to a nearby train station to try and get the hell out of dodge. Only Kana was freed in the middle of having a blow-torch to the face by a gross American client, who Paxton kills. Her eyeball is literally just hanging out of the socket by her retinas. It is truly disgusting and unsettling, but what drives it home is having witnessed the trauma she experienced when she was freed. At the train station, she sees herself in the reflection of a station map, and decides promptly to jump into the path of an oncoming train, ending her life. It is a grim and upsetting end to a grim and upsetting film- one I will never be able to unsee.
Honorary mention goes to the death of Nicky (Joe Pesci) and his brother Dominick in Martin Scorsese's Casino. Nicky plays much the same role that his character Tommy did in Goodfellas–having a short temper, and often taking advantage of being underestimated due to his small size. Well, after doing so much damage to his friend Sam's (Robert DeNiro) business operations in Las Vegas, and just genuinely being an out of control psychopath who can't be reasoned with, the bosses have had enough of Nicky and decide to put him out to pasture. Meeting up with his friend Frankie (Frank Vincent) in a cornfield somewhere for god knows what, Frankie's crew ambush the two brothers with a bunch of aluminum baseball bats, leading to what is probably the most brutal violence I have seen in a Scorsese film- in a career that has no shortage of them. For an added little moment of humor, Nicky is in the middle of doing his voiceover when he gets first bopped on the head- we hear the voiceover go "Oh!" and that's the last we hear of it. Anyway, they get beaten within an inch of their lives, and buried in a shallow grave while they're still breathing. It's pretty damn brutal! And another moment that I cannot unsee.
Okay here's my extremely PG answer, but I think it informed my feelings about torture in films today. The film is Hook, and the scene is The Boo Box. In the scene, one of Hook's underlings is put into a small chest that is then filled with scorpions and the man is screaming. I don't know why it was the first thing I thought of for this question now, but as a kid, I found the whole thing incredibly disturbing. Maybe it was the man's pitiful crying beforehand, maybe it's the scorpions crawling and biting all over the man in a small dark box, I don't know. All I do know is that to this day I can't abide by excessive torture and psychological taunting in films. Perhaps it all started here.
Speaking of things that aren't directly shown, my honorable mention would be the scene in The Mummy (1999) where they mummify everyone alive. That just sucks.
This isn't a glamorous answer, but the first thing that popped into my mind is the needle pit in Saw 2. That was the last Saw movie I watched because I'm terribly afraid of and anxious about needles, and seeing someone thrown into a pit of them is the most my skin has ever crawled. I don't think I'll ever see anything more uncomfortable than that, nor do I think I'll ever get over my fear of needles with that image lodged into my brain.
Someone had the bright idea to watch the movie The Cell (2000) when I was at a sleepover at the tender age of 12 or 13. Two things stood out and have stayed with me ever since. Vincent D'Onofrio's character kidnaps women, essentially drowns them, and then has a field day with the bodies. Early on in the movie, a woman makes her way to her car in a dimly lit garage. Even at 13ish I knew what was coming. But how it happens scarred me. D'Onofrio places his well-trained pooch behind the woman's car, so as she slowly begins to back out, the dog yelps. She checks her mirror, and like any normal human would, jumps out of her car to check on the dog. D'Onofrio comes running over, feigning concern over his dog, and she profusely apologizes. And boom. Kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. I think about this every damn time I get into a car in a parking garage. It terrifies me because I know that I would do the same thing, even with this scene in mind.
The second moment will come as no surprise to anyone who has actually seen this stupid movie. We're inside one of D'Onofrio's dreams (which is how J. Lo is trying to figure out where he's hidden his latest kidnap victim), and there's a horse. D'Onofrio is a young boy, petting the horse. J. Lo begins to do the same. Suddenly young D'Onofrio pushes J. Lo out of the way, and sharp dividers descend from the ceiling, going straight through the horse's body. The dividers then move outwards, with each section of the horse preserved. That's not the best description, so the scene is posted above. Absolutely terrifying as a kid. Shortly after, I believe there was some disjointed body riding a stationary bicycle (it's a hazy memory), and the movie was promptly turned off at that point.
Let me pitch a word at you: necrophilia. Doesn't necessarily conjure up the most appealing mental images, does it? Well, in keeping with that brand of bad taste, my selection for a film I can't "unsee" is none other than Jörg Buttgereit's classic slice of West German shock, Nekromantik. (For those unaware, it's about exactly what the title suggests.) There's very little that I'd deem taboo, but the desecration of human corpses is nothing short of a moral affront. So how do you think 15-year-old Dan felt watching a movie that follows the sexual exploits of a working-class German couple eager to spice up their love life by ushering a rotting cadaver into the bedroom?
As for the movie itself, it's more than worth watching, but best reserved for those with a taste for transgressive cinema and gore films. The despairing portrait of working-class life in Germany, set before the 1990 reunification, bristles with suspicions of power, igniting viewer recognition of Germany's past transgression by association. Now this tract isn't necessarily an innovation, having been a mainstay of films from the New German Cinema movement of the 1970s (Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog), but there's something invigorating about viewing it in this package, one that some may define as "sleazy" and "pornographic". The ruminations lack the nuance and psychological underpinnings that fortify those earlier films, but Nekromantik trades that for a primal vehemence, confronting the specters of Evil (and their lingering influences) haunting the national psyche with an existential scream from the void. Buttgereit eventually crafted somewhat more polished pills that are no easier to swallow – I have a tremendous soft spot for his 1990 film, Der Todesking, a parade of suicides in portmanteau form – but Nekromantik scarred me first, and for that I'll forever cherish it.
Oh yeah, there's another image in the film's closing moments that'll haunt you for life, but I'll leave it to those willing to partake. Let's just say it's the movie's ultimate climax. Pun intended.
I've certainly mentioned this film before in a post specifically about movies that fucked me up. More so than any other movie, there's a scene in a little known thriller called Red White & Blue that haunts me to this day, and it's all about what they don't show. Cuz let's face it, you're not going to show me anything that leaves me unsettled. I'm a gorehound who will explain to you why A Serbian Film is not just good, but important. I laughed my ass off at The Human Centipede 2 when it became clear that the black and white photography was for every image EXCEPT the gruesome, and liberally applied images of human excrement. I'm the guy who was mad at the Guinea Pig films because they weren't realistic enough. So no, no images you could show me could ever shake me.
But the stuff you make me imagine? That shit can ruin me.
In Red White & Blue, a deeply psychotic man wants to get revenge on another man who wronged him, so he goes to the man's house and ties both his wife and daughter to chairs. When the man arrives home, our psycho friend subdues him and ties him up as well. He tells the man that the plan is this: He will torture and kill his (completely innocent and unknowing) wife right in front of him, and then do the same to him. He gives the (also innocent and unknowing) daughter an option. She can either watch her parents be tortured and killed and then be set free to live the life of an orphan, OR she can be killed alongside them.
The daughter chooses death while her parents beg and cry for her to choose life. Then the scene ends and we never see what transpires.
I am haunted by this. Also, I totally recommend the movie.
Honorable mention: The vice scene in Casino. No, the eyeball pop doesn't bother me, it's the offhand mention that they stuck ice picks in his balls that makes my tumbly grumble.
I used to run out of the room when they went into the giant rat cave in The Princess Bride. I've since gotten over that, but the truly scariest moment I've ever seen in a movie is in The Sentinel (1977). That weird man just being behind a closet and WALKING!?!? I hate it. I hate every minute of it. Sometimes I'll just tell Dan "I'm spooked" because it's dark out and things can be hiding in shadows, and he has to give me a talk about how monsters don't exist.
Mine is a movie that I absolutely love (as do many other people, obviously): The Matrix. I saw this on DVD a year or so after it came out and bullet time had already been reproduced hundreds of time in parody format. It was probably the most violent movie I’d ever seen at the age of 14 or so, since my parents had a strict ban on R-rated movies in our house with the exception of Air Force One. But the ideas in the movie blew my mind and stuck with me just as much as the kung fu and orgasmic gunplay. While it seems to have entrenched itself in the idea of popular philosophy and the culture at large, the idea that we could be living inside a simulation so real we couldn’t perceive the difference between it and reality blew my precious little mind. The little details about how the Wachowskis use The Matrix to explain phenomena like déjà vu just made it stick even more.
And then there’s the scene where Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) makes Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) mouth seal up and then puts a robot into his bellybutton. I always am more afraid of having nightmares from movies than that actually happens, but that one legit stalked my dreams for a few weeks. Thanks, Uncle John.