So, I still get shocked and some of my favorite movies are the ones that have shocked me the most. I have put together a list of these movies and why, at least from my perspective, they seem so memorable. The list is in no particular order. If you haven’t seen some of the titles, I caution that you need an open mind even to get through some of them. They are definitely NOT for all tastes. You have been warned.
Blue Velvet (1986)
This used to be my favorite movie of all time. It still is on my top ten list and bounces around on that list depending on my random cinematic moods. It’s a story revolving around a severed ear, some very bad gangsters, two innocent teenagers (who don’t really look like teenagers) and a beautiful nightclub singer who gets abused (and sometimes likes it). The best part about this movie is how the director David Lynch directs the clash between the innocence and evil. And it’s pure evil. The kind of evil that makes you think that something very very bad is going to happen to the main characters. Favorite scene: Isabella Rossellini makes Kyle MacLachlan strip naked while she threatens him with a knife. Not exactly shocking by itself but what comes after certainly is.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
If there is one movie that should get the most shocks per minute of screentime, I would like to vote for this one. John Waters created this low budget masterpiece by using a cast of friends who apparently weren’t afraid of doing anything. Pervert with a turkey neck tied to penis? Got it. Singing asshole? Got it. Drag queen eating dog shit? Okay, hasn’t everyone scene that scene? Even Mr. Waters is apparently tired of explaining that yes, that scene did actually happen and Divine did call up a doctor’s office just to make sure that he wouldn’t die of some sort of canine parasite. I am amazed that I can’t think of another recent film that has this many jaw dropping moments. There is even bestiality. Strangely enough, none of it seems gratuitous. In some ways, it just looks like a group of friends got together and shot a lot of crazy shit with a camera.
Hustler White (1996)
This film seems like a documentary but isn’t; the film borrows its beginning from Sunset Boulevard where the narrator is face down dead in the water. This film follows the journey of a Hollywood hustler who is part of a very seedy, twisted and most of the time, outrageous underbelly of LA’s sex scene. Extremely graphic, this is the type of film that you would only dare your most open and closest friends to watch because anyone else would probably never talk to you again for suggesting it. The star is Tony Ward, who seems strangely comfortable in this strange world.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
We see so much violence on tv and in the movies these days that it takes A LOT of brutality to get through our jaded exteriors. But this movie seems to do it. Based on the true story of serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, we follow Henry as he casually kills people without any real motive. He simply seems compelled to do it. And he does it without any sense of regret. The opening scenes of the dead bodies in macabre tableaux are bad enough (especially the one of the half naked girl at the sink with a glass bottle embedded in her head) but it only gets more shocking with the torture of a naked woman while her husband and son are unceremoniously killed. And the whole scene is filmed by Henry’s accomplice, Otis. Such raw evil is chilling; these victims could have been your mother or your father or your child. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer shows us how cheap human life can be. To add to the horror, Henry gets away with it in the end. His real life inspiration wasn’t so lucky.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I saw this movie for the first time with a church group. Admittedly, it wasn’t an older church group, we were all “youths” and someone brought along this gem for a “movie night”. Obviously, we didn’t have any older supervision that night and I suppose all of us were too shocked or intrigued or at that age, turned on, to turn the blasphemy off. If you’re not familiar with the story, it tells the tale of a very bad adolescent who is part of a violent gang and in one of the more gruesome scenes, they rape a woman and permanently maim her husband all to the joyous melodies of “Singing in the Rain”. Weird indeed. The leader subsequently enters therapy—pretty much desensitization to violent images while his eyes are held open—and you might think that he would be cured. But you would be wrong. Sexually and violently graphic, the acting and directing elevate it beyond a simple exploitation film. Why is called A Clockwork Orange? I have no idea. One of the great movies of the Golden Age of cinema.
Anatomy of Hell (2004)
And now we have a little French film. A little French film that is filled with such disgusting and nauseating images that it’s best if you haven’t eaten a meal for several hours. I’m not really sure of the plot. I suppose it revolves around a woman who tries to kill herself but then is rescued by a gay man who is intrigued and repulsed by her sexuality. Makes sense so far, doesn’t it? Oh well, it’s French and that explains a lot. To its credit, it pushes a lot of boundaries that most filmmakers wouldn’t even want to approach and in my opinion, doesn’t deserve the 4/10 rating on the IMDB website. If anything, this film will make you realize that there is always something out there that will shock an audience, no matter how open minded they are. And believe it or not, this filmmaker is a woman, the one and only, Catherine Breillat.