Posted December 12, 2012 by Greg Evans in Features
 
 

Shocking Moments


As December 25th inches ever closer, many of us will be wondering what the man in the red onesie will be leaving in our stockings come Christmas day.

As December 25th inches ever closer, many of us will
be wondering what the man in the red onesie will be leaving in our stockings
come Christmas day.
Hopefully there will be plenty of unexpected
chocolate/beer/whisky/wine (delete as appropriate) surprises for us all to
enjoy but, sadly, in the film world real shockers are a rare and beautiful
thing. Greg Evans takes us on tour of ten of the very best …

In life how many times are we genuinely shocked? The
vast majority of us could probably count those instances on one hand. Most of
us happily go from day to day without anything out of the blue ever happening.
That’s why we watch films. Film, above any other medium, has the ability to
amaze, astound, and sometimes genuinely shock. For good or for worse, this
‘shock factor’ has given us some of the cinema’s most iconic moments. Everyone, from George Lucas to Michael
Haneke
has used shock value to emphasise a point or message of a film. It’s
hard to pinpoint which has had the greatest affect over the course of time but
here are ten of the all time best.


For obvious reasons this feature contains **SPOILERS**

The Empire Strikes Back
(1980)
(Main Picture)
We’ll start this list with arguably the most famous
shocker of all time. The revelation of Darth Vader’s fatherhood has become
probably the worst kept secret in film history. Referenced in everything from Family Guy to Toy Story, this huge twist has been watered down to be nothing more
than an amusing quote. Yet when first viewed without any preconceptions it
still has the ability to utterly bewilder and astound us. Just like this little
chap found out.

The Usual
Suspects
(1995)

After Star Wars this is probably the second most well
known shocker of all time. Kevin Spacey’s metamorphosis from the fragile
Verbal Kint to the sinister Keyser Soze is one of the most iconic moments in
all of cinema. The interesting thing about this twist is that it was obvious
all along. As the final montage showed, all the clues to Kint’s story are there
for all to see. And to think: it was the simple act of changing his walking
pace which made his devilish plan complete.

The
Departed
(2006)

The inclusion of The Departed in this list has nothing
to do with anything that takes place in the actual film. Sure, we could mention
the sudden deaths of characters played by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Ray Winstone, making it one hell of a
famous blood bath. But no, its inclusion comes through its success at the
Oscars. You see this was the first, and so far the only film, that Martin Scorsese has won an Academy
award for. Bear in mind that this is a director that has made the likes of Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy
and Goodfellas. The Departed is a
perfectly good film but it has little of the quality of those other films. The
Academies’ consistent rejection of Scorsese’s talent is the truly shocking element
of The Departed.

Caché /Hidden
(2005)
Michael Haneke has always made films that challenge
and provoke audiences. Bleak and disturbing scenes exist in nearly all of his
films. None though have been quite as jaw dropping as this one from Caché. After receiving a series of creepy surveillance
tapes of his family home, television presenter Georges Laurent accuses an
Algerian man, Majid, of producing the tapes. Majid and George’s history goes
way back to their childhoods, when the immigrant’s parents served George’s
wealthy family. Let’s just say that this isn’t a cheery back history. Sick of
the accusations being fired in his direction, Majid decides to take extreme
action and commit suicide in front of Georges. What makes this scene so
fascinating is Georges’ reaction. The nature of the death is so unexpected that
Georges, like us, is shocked to his very core and simply doesn’t know what do.
Any other film would cut away from the horror but Haneke’s static camera never
roams from its position. Bravo Mr Haneke. Bravo.


Psycho
(1960)
Still guaranteed to send a shiver down any spine, Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal horror,
remains one of cinema’s defining moments. Condemned at the time for being
indulgent and chauvinistic, Psycho was a film that aimed to break every taboo
of the post 50’s era. Not only is the famous shower scene a significant cause
of controversy, other minor things raised eyebrows. Such as seeing a couple in
bed, the use of the word transvestite and believe it or not the sound of a
toilet flushing, were all unthinkable contents for a film to use – which led to a heavy campaign by the
censors. The public lapped it up though. Such things had never been seen before,
proving that societies’ taste for the wicked is something far from new. (The
upcoming film Hitchcock will surely look at how the production tackled such
boundaries) When we watch Psycho today those things tend not to have the same
effect on us but you have to ask yourself: ‘Do you close your eyes in the
shower?’

Arrival Of A Train At La
Ciotat Station
 (1898)

A 50-second film from 1898, in which a train arrives
at a station, featured in a shocking scenes list? Really? Well, obviously this
isn’t shocking to us now but when it was released people were reported to have
let out screams and fled the room. Directors, The Lumiere Brothers were early pioneers of cinema and even back
then were trying to perfect a type of 3D film. Although not being the full-on
3D experience that we know today, this short appears to have produced the same
results. As the train approaches the station, audiences genuinely believed they
were about to be hit by a train. It seems rather silly in retrospect but this
was an early art form that few had ever seen before. If any film can show us
the shock value of cinema, then maybe this is it.

Gummo
(1997)
In 1997 Harmony
Korine
released this widely unseen yet notorious film. Gummo looks at the
inhabitants of a small American community, shortly after their town was
devastated by a tornado. The film has little narrative but is genuinely
surreal, dark and downright disturbing. Several scenes involve prostitution,
exploitation of the disabled, racism, Satanism, murder and a really long scene
where a boy eats his dinner in possibly the dirtiest bath you have seen, are
all horribly grim. Yet all these pale in comparison to the frequent subplot of
cat killings. Two of the town’s young boys have started up a business in which
they literally kill stray cats. Once dead, they sell the bodies onto a local
butcher. These scenes are utterly reprehensible as we witness the duo shoot,
whip and drown the poor creatures to death. Despite the controversy over its
content, Gummo went on to achieve cult film status and praise from the likes of
Werner Herzog and Gus Van Sant.

Bambi
 (1942)
Disney is good at quite a lot of things. Making good
kids films that appeal to all ages. Memorable songs. Iconic characters. Making
us cry. Acquiring million dollar franchises. Yet one thing that is lacking in
their arsenal is the ability to shock us. However, not only can Bambi bring us
to tears, it has left generations of children traumatised. The cruel and
untimely killing of Bambi’s mother has to be one of the most troubling scenes
ever used in cinema. Described at the time as being unpleasant and insulting,
this innocent little tale of a young deer caused a mighty uproar. Some even
cited it as a horror film. What makes Bambi even more shocking is the culprits
of the murder are us. How can we, as decent human beings, have brought so much
suffering to such an inculpable animal? That question is what makes Bambi so
shocking. It gives us this vision of a pure, natural creature and then snatches
it away in an instant – and we’re to blame.


Un Chien Andalou
(1929)
This collaboration between director Luis Brunel and surrealist artist Salvador Dali brought about one of the
most talked about shots in cinematic history. Like many other films on this list,
Un Chien Andalou has no plot. It is 16 minutes of surrealist imagery, which was
reportedly inspired by the dreams of Dali. The opening section of the film sees
a man on a balcony sharpening a razor blade. The next shot shows him positioned
next to an attractive woman – and it’s the scene that followings which has been
said to have caused audience members to faint. The man takes the blade and
simply slices the woman’s eye wide open. The camera never cuts away as we see
the incision in full. What first appeared to be a grotesque abuse of artistic
licence was actually a clever special effect. With a quick piece of editing,
the human eye was actually replaced with a dead calf’s eye and no real harm was
ever done. Explanations behind the films meaning are vague but it is generally
perceived as an extreme reaction against the avant garde art establishment at
the time. The vitriol was short lived though, as Brunel and Dali were declared
visionaries and the film was embraced by the bourgeoisie.


Freaks
(1932)
In 1932, director Tod
Browning
was on top of the world. After directing the smash hit Dracula he was working the heavyweight
acting talent like Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney. Then he decided to release
Freaks in which a circus trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of a freak
show. What is initially believed to be an act of love is actually an act of
greed, as the trapeze artist intends to take all the ringmaster’s money for
herself. After discovering the real truth, the freaks decide to take matters
into their own hands. While the story of Freaks sounds fairly clichéd and predictable, what made it so shocking
was the fact that Browning decided to use real sideshow freaks in his film.
Cross dressers, deformities, amputees and dwarfs were things that the common
man wasn’t used to in the 1930’s. That’s why, unfortunately, they had been
segregated to the demeaning realm of the freak show. Browning was slammed for
using these poor individuals as antagonists and manipulating them to appear as
nothing more than monsters. Look a little closer, though, and the real monsters
are those that are ‘normal’, who are conspiring to murder. The ‘Freaks’ are
actually noble heroes who stand up against injustice and help their friend.
Kind of like a prototype X-Men. The censors didn’t see things this way and
Freaks was banned for up to 30 years in the UK alone. Browning’s career never
recovered and the director struggled to find a serious work after its release.
To be confronted with the images seen in Freaks is still shocking today but its
message is of an overridingly positive nature.


Greg Evans