~ written by ~
john b. cribbs
~ written by ~
~ written by ~
john b. cribbs
"Us old boys ought not to be doing this to each other," an outlaw says as he lay sprawled across a roof, gutshot by an overzealous Pat Garrett. Sure enough, there doesn't seem much point to the clumsy gunplay that's just transpired, making the mortal wounding of Slim Pickens' Sheriff Colin Baker, guilted by Garrett into aiding him in his own inglorious crusade, all the more meaningless. Drawn into the tiny wars of men whose way of life in America is dying without the help of bullets, leaving behind a half-built boat, Baker appears resolved to exit the world as he wanders determinedly to a still pond beneath the setting sun, his expression serene, like he's already looking across from the other side. Even his devastated lady friend betrays a gleam of sad acquiescence once she sees his tranquil composition. Baker's ignoble yet elegant exit, paired with the ensuing scene on the river where Garrett and a stranger on a passing barge stare each other down before lowering their rifles, reveals a glimmer of compassion in the mercurial nature of death in Peckinpah's west.
Since there were no living witnesses to the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1955, Olivier couldn't make the fall of his horseless Machiavellian hunchback monarch as authentic as, say, Spike Lee could with Malcolm X. But Sir Larry went even further off-book by changing the end of Shakespeare's play so that his Richard isn't killed in single hand-to-hand combat; instead, he's stabbed multiple times in the center of a large crowd a'la Julius Caesar. Of course it's the conceit of the thespian-director to have everybody in the cast kill him, however this change gives the slaying a much sexier edge. Penetrated by all those swords at once, Olivier's Richard tumbles to the ground writhing in what appears to be combination pain and ecstasy, his subsequent spasms perfectly synchronized with William Walton's thrusting string score. Everything leading up to it is so much fluff, but if the movie's on TCM I'll tell my wife to call me in for the end. While Olivier managed to perform one of film's most subtle symbolic final scene deaths (The Entertainer), this one is full-on hammy, and enjoyably so: it predates every extended, exaggerated death scene * from Jean-Pierre Léaud's in Made in U.S.A. to Zbigniew Cybulski's in Ashes and Diamonds. Speaking of which...
The planned assassination of Zastrzezynski's communist commissar Szczuka consumes Zbigniew Cybulski's Home Army soldier Maciek throughout the entire day during which Andrzej Wajda's film is set. That day, in which Germany officially surrendered to end World War II, culminates in an explosive, celebatory fireworks display that lights up the sky just as killer and victim embrace after Maciek has emptied his pistol into Szczuka's dancing body, illuminating the previously discreet act while at the same time spotlighting the spectacular insignifcance of it: this is no longer a noble assassination, now it's just a dirty murder. Maciek, used to fighting in the dark Warsaw sewers (or just using that as an excuse to look cool by wearing his sunglasses at night) is confounded by the sudden brightness, and considers the dead meat in his arms with newfound remorse and mortification.
There are a lot of great deaths near the end of this nasty little noir, most memorably the impulsive, Justus D. Barnes-esque shooting of a tratiorous bookkeeper and the offscreen killing of stubborn, sweaty small time racketeer Thomas Gomez (who's been "dying while still breathing" the entire movie; seriously, every time he stands up you hope he'll just sit back down.) But the most stylish of them occurs during a shootout in an office after the ball is dropped and three men realize they're going to have to kill each other. One knocks over the desk lamp and everybody scatters in the darkness. Trying to escape by carefully opening the office door, the first one is plugged in the back by hood Billy Ficco. But Ficco (Paul Fix) has inadvertently doomed himself, as his previously concealed form is slowly revealed by the light from the other room as his victim's lifeless body arches forward and edges open the door. Realizing his fatal mistake milliseconds before a slug punches him in the chest, Ficco falls forward and dies undoubtedly feeling like a true moron.
The movie makes an amazing transition from being absurdly comedic to deliriously ominous when Sicilian mob bosses ship a hapless Nino (Alberto Sordi) off to America inside a crate to pull a hit on some rival New York don. Nino remains blithely ignorant of what exactly they want him to do (so...he just has to deliver this letter then go home, right?) up 'til the very moment he's forced to walk into a barber shop and gun down a stranger. You could argue that it's the lead up to the actual murder that makes the scene so noteworthy. It's proceeded by such memorable encounters as the sudden presence of a drunk man on the street who tries to make friends with Nino, and there's even a little hint of comedy right before the hit when Nino walks in, already uncertain of his target, and sees a line of men in barber chairs, their faces covered by towels. This subtle joke lightens the mood temporarily before the victim is revealed and Nino raises the gun, the abruptness of his resolve (motivated by fear of reprisals from the Sicilian mob) completely offsetting the movie's light tone. Nino's been so charmingly aloof, he's the last character you'd ever expect to shoot someone down in broad daylight.
I'm not talking about some twerpy harpoon gun death a'la Thunderball, Face/Off or The Dead Pool - I mean a bonefide hand-thrown harpoon. The best example is the satisfying climax to a feature-length slow build in Joseph H. Lewis' last film, which should have been titled Harpoon Crazy. Not only is the movie bookended by the showdown between Cabot's gunslinger and Swedish whaler Sterling Hayden's harpoon-heaving giant, the pike in question is the very weapon Hayden's father was gripping in his hands when Cabot gunned him down earlier in the movie. Seeking vengeance for this as well as Cabot's terrorizing of immigrant farmers, Hayden harpoons up and marches miles down a train track into town to find his enemy. Cabot, recently spooked after witnessing something he'd never seen before - a man who "wasn't afraid to die" - stands across from Hayden with a confidence that gradually weakens the longer he stares into the eyes of the silent bohemian and the business end of this migrant's mobile meathook. Seconds later it's sticking out of Cabot's chest: Hayden beat the bullet! Everything that plays out between the brutal bookends is superfluous melodrama, but Lewis' swan song secures its place in cinematic history with this memorable meridian - until a character is run through by a stuffed swordfish hanging on the wall in a Victorian costume piece or something, it will remain the most curious marriage of backdrop and chosen projectile.
The three "civilized" castaways of a whaling ship quickly wear out their welcome among a small tribe of Eskimos and get pegged as harbingers of ill tidings, the death of a young woman who passes out on the ice and freezes after an innocent drinking binge with some Warren Oates-brewed alcohol serving as the offical last straw. Assaulted by his hosts in an igloo, the groggy yet resourceful Gossett Jr. bursts out the top of the roof like an angry leviathan rising from the sea, ready for action. What he couldn't have anticipated was the impeccable aim of a young Inuk whose trusty harpoon glides right into the vulnerable center of Lou's back, felling the bald, bellowing beast, himself an out-of-practice master harpooner (oh the irony!) Although the film previously featured an excellently-staged polar bear skewering, Gossett's end is the highlight thanks to the satisfying combination of desperate self-preservation (busting out the roof of a damn igloo) and brutal efficiency of a peace-loving native you wouldn't have thought capable of swatting a fly.
Another "white dudes exploit primitive culture and get their comeuppance" anti-imperialism special, as two rogue ex-non-commissioned officers of the Indian Army journey deep into Kafiristan to get rich only to end up with way more than they bargained for. Connery, through a series of adventures too outrageous to relate here, accidentally becomes the god of a vast civilization and even modestly chooses the best-looking among them to be his queen. This all backfires when SHE accidentally exposes Connery's con and all 100,000 deceived Kafiristanians instantly turn on him. Trapped at a cliff between armies, Connery musters his most divine poise and steps out on the bridge, defiantly belting out "The Son of God Goes Forth to War" (with Mickey Caine harmonizing) as they cut the ropes from both ends. It's not long before ol' Sean falls, round and round like a penny whirligig, not quite godly but gloriously human.
One of the most egregious kind of characters in movies is the one who coughs throughout the film, or mentions going to the hospital or seeing a doctor...we get it, you're dying. But somehow Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday (not to be confused with Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood) manages to be that character and still be badass. Holliday's wild living catches up with him not in the form of a bullet but rather a terminal case of consumption, through which George S. Cosmatos demonstrates not all deaths in the west were the result of showdowns with six-shooters (or harpoons.) After supplying work for half the undertakers in the southwest, Doc dies unceremoniously in an empty hospital with only Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp by his side. At the last moment (taken from allegedly true historical documents) he glances down at the socks covering his feet and mutters "I'll be damned." He never expected to die with his boots off.
This one's a cheat, since Bernice doesn't technically die in the film - her death just happens to be the key subject of a six-hour documentary. As a stroke victim tethered to machines in an ICU who can only communicate through weak gestures, she deals with a slew of doctors and nurses trying to get a sense of what her final plans are: does she want the breathing tube removed? Does she want the tracheostomy? Is she just holding on for the sake of her devoted husband of many years? What Fred Wiseman's dealing with is death in human hands, how being as respectful and humane as possible towards dying patients can so quickly turn into condescension and bullying. In trying to draw a response from her, with every intention of getting a clear understanding of what she's trying to say, the hospital staff repeat themselves ad nauseum as they would a child. Naturally they don't want to misinterpret anything she might be trying to convey to them, but they ultimately betray their own frustrations by looking up helplessly at other staff members and shrugging or suggestively leading Bernice towards the answer they're looking for. As fresh corpses are spirited away from their hospital room to the morgue in a transfixing combination of solmenity and efficiency, well-meaning physicians spout off discomforting phrases like this innocent acknowledgement of superiority: "I don't want to keep you alive unless you like living."
The consequences of Richard Widmark helping himself to some top secret microfilm planted in the purse of an unwitting accomplice to espionage and treason on the train, then deciding to offer it up to the highest bidder, is the harsh murder of his only friend. Thelma Ritter's Skid Row Moe, "an old clock runnin' down," has no reason to stick up for Widmark but she does anyway. Sitting on her crummy bed over dirty sheets and under a pathetic light, she refuses to give up her pal, then flat-out insults the Commie thug who's got a gat pointed straight at her. She reasons that there's no reason to continue the way she's going - "I gotta go on makin' a living so I can die!" - and gives him permission to do what he's gotta do, offering one of the best exiting lines ever: "Look mister - I'm so tired, you'd be doing me a big favor if you just blow my head off." He obliges, the sound of a gunshot punctuating the end of the scene as a meaninglessly spinning record, like Ritter's surrendered existence, reaches its end.
The penultimate shot of The Passenger is a well-documented cinematic feat along the lines of the opening crane shot of Touch of Evil, so I won't waste time with the play-by-play. The basic idea is, Jack Nicholson lies down in a hotel bed, the camera moves outside through the window, when it turns back into the room Nicholson is dead, the victim of thugs looking for the deceased arms dealer he's traded identities with. "There's no escaping trouble" is part of the movie's message, but moreso it's that some people aren't cut out for adventure. Although he staged his death to escape these very things, Nicholson finds he can't elude modern man's natural tendency to obligation, schedule, commitment, a personal order that drives us instinctively towards our destinations ("We're creatures of habits," the dead man has told him, repeated posthumously on a tape recorder.) Nicholson hasn't been successful at living beyond his symbolic suicide - moments after his death his wife catches up to him (in a great moment later mirrored by Martin Donovan's murder at the end of Amateur: "Yes, I know this man") - and he's discovered too late that no matter who we pretend to be, what personality we adopt, the "few bad habits" we can't get rid of determine our fate. While the scene evokes the sinister nature of political assassinations ("People disappear every day"), Antonioni really turns this murder into a natural death, with Nicholson relaxing in bed, no actual sound of the killing heard, the peaceful Spanish village outside continuing its lulling existence while he fades from it. If you buy into the "Antonioni the architect" gimmick, moving outside and back inside is one of his more profound achievements, the movement through the window always reminding me of the line from Cocteau's Orpheus about mirrors, "gates through which death comes and goes." Sometimes so are windows, or the screen of a movie theater.
I thought I'd follow four scenes of characters dying in bed with a great, gory death from a horror movie, and this final set piece takes the cake. In Carrie, Sissy Spacek is notably terrorized by members of her own sex: vicious classmates, her mother, even well-meaning females like Amy Irving and the gym teacher ultimately lead her down the path to destruction. In this (arguably better) De Palma classic Irving becomes the victim, not of women (although her blossoming "gift" does earn her the mockery of female classmates) but rather John Cassavetes' family-wrecking government stooge. His confrontation with young Irving, in a bedroom behind closed doors, is a figurative rape in which he hopes to gain dominance over her and her awesome psychic abilities. But he's no match for her, his bum arm a token of his impotence, and when she unleashes her feminine fury Cassavetes is blasted to bits. Sure it's showy, fetishized from every camera angle in a typically De Palma fashion, and the head explosion from Scanners two years later is probably more impressive, but this classic death still makes for a dynamite denouement.
Actually, a badass death is his character's introduction and his exit. Walken's Nate Champion is initially seen in silhouette through a sheet hung up on the laundry line; after blasting a bullet through it and the sputtering immigrant on the other side, his face is revealed for the first time, framed inside the burnhole. It's a cold-blooded murder, and Walken never really redeems himself, he just reasonably falls for Isabelle Huppert's gorgeous bordello belle. When his fellow enforcers assault her, he turns against them...but that just leads to a monumental last stand against landowner assassins, who turn out in force to rub Walken out. Setting fire to his cabin and eviscerating pal Mickey Rourke, the killers wait patiently for their target to bust out the door for a final firefight. Ned comes out two sidearms blazing but finds himself outnumbered and outgunned: he gets plugged so many times that soon there's more smoke coming off his body than the burning cabin behind it. At one point, it looks like he even gets shot in the crotch, but he hangs in there for well almost a full minute. Just a flat-out awesome death (it's too bad the movie bombed so we never got to find out what nasty end Cimino had in mind for Walken in his next film) although it turns out to be for nothing since later on (in a goofy epilogue that almost ruins the movie) Huppert gets killed too. Speaking of which...
As Huppert, playing the last woman ever guillotined in France, is marched to her messy end we still don't know what she's feeling. Throughout Chabrol's film, set during the height of the Vichy government, she's approached every decision with a moral indifference indicative of her country's collective lapse of ethics under occupation. Each choice (performing abortions for money) has led to a worse one (getting involved with a Nazi collaborator) to the point that survival tactics begin to more closely resemble opportunism; still, the way Huppert plays it, whether her character is really that naive or just simply a bad person remains uncertain. The carrying out of her death sentence, ostensibly a gesture by the French authorities to establish a moral cleansing after the war, is just as ambiguous: is she victim or victimizer? Saint or sinner? Desperate mother looking out for her family or heartless profiteer? The sound of the blade hitting its mark puts an end to all questions.
Loren Visser, former Elks Man of the Year, has the dubious honor of being the Coens' sleaziest character but also the most likeable in a movie populated by a phlegmatic bohunk, a clueless dame and a scheming Dan Hedaya (who, for his part, makes for a more stubborn corpse than Bernie Lomax.) By the last scene of the movie, Loren has become something of a boogeyman to the couple who have unknowingly covered up his crime, always testing the lock just behind closed doors or appearing as a shadow on the other side of the window. Frances McDormand even manages to trap him, stab him and later shoot him without even seeing him (a precursor to Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem repeatedly tagging each other despite never catching a glimpse of the enemy in No Country for Old Men.) She doesn't even realize it's not hubbie Hedaya until, with one last chuckle, Visser corrects her. Mortally wounded, he looks up at the plumbing beneath the sink he's fallen under with a terrific look of absurdity and terror as he waits for the drip from a faulty pipe to hit his face. Cut to black and we're out.
Death are the support columns of this sleazy classic: having opened with a freshly-showered femme being throttled by an off-screen attacker - an ugly death for a beautiful creature - Coleman Francis brings things full circle with the beautiful death of an ugly creature. And they don't come much uglier than Tor Johnson's massive, mindless, radioactive monster, a recently defected Russian nuclear physicist who ironically becomes the victim of gamma rays from a nuclear test site in the Nevada desert. Transformed into a homicidal hulk, he strangles and smothers his way through the endless sand until he's finally brought down, Kong-style, by a hail of bullets. A bunny hops over to nestle his head; the beast grips its neck in his meaty metacarpus, ready to claim its final victim. But Tor is too weak to crush the fluffy cottontail, collapsing into darkness with one inadverent act of mercy.
So this guy, Hagen Tronje, stands about seven feet tall, always wears dark armor and a helmet with giant wings on top - he looks like he was born to brutally maim people. If, out of nowhere, he playfully offered to race you to a bubbling brook - winner gets first drink! - would you happily skip ahead or would you figure "y'know...I'll bet this guy's probably trying to put a spear through my back right in my vulernable spot where the lime leaf fell and the dragon's blood didn't make me impenetrable"? Well, ol' Siegfried falls for it...just as his bride Kriemhild stupidly fell for it when Hagen asked her to sew a cross on Siegfried's tunic right over the weak area ("Just in case we need to know where NOT to throw a spear at him!") To his credit, Siegfried does win the race, and he's hunched over for soooooooooo long - you'd think he intends to lap up the entire spring. The sweet taste of victory is fleeting and promptly replaced with pain when Hagen's mighty spear hits its mark. Siegfried's murder, visually related to the grieving Kriemhild in a dream as a tree that morphs into a giant skull, ends up inspiring a million more as his would-be bride's revenge occupies the entire second half of Lang's ultraviolent masterpiece.
A strikingly anti-climatic end for hero 'Hard Mo,' the corps soldier who accidentally brings a killing machine home to his girlfriend as a Christmas present then spends the holidays trying to protect her from the metal monster's biblical directive: "No flesh shall be spared." He dies defending her, but rather than the sensational disembowelment dished out to William Hootkins' peeping tom, Mo is merely injected with a cytotoxin that causes hallucinations and euphoria, so that he effectively trips to death over an extended sequence which plays like a cyberpunk reworking of the "Jupiter and beyond" sequence from 2001. Subjected to bright flashing lights (appropriate, since it's Christmas), infinite spirals and images like the vengeful face of Tibetan destroyer god Yamantaka, Mo mutilates himself in a futile effort to stop the flow of the poison only to be mocked as he slips away by his murderer, the M.A.R.K.-13: a leering, towering agent of destruction. Grisly and beautiful at the same time.
Sadistic fascist Attila Mellanchini (Donald Sutherland) suffers a number of of indignities in Bertolucci's bloated, grotesque epic: pelted with horse manure, skewered in the groin area by the pitchforks of beefy, vengeful Italian women (rotund with pasta and a healthy serving of delicious justice) and locked in a pig sty before having his head blown off in a cemetary by frolicking peasants ("Stop the music! This is not a dance hall!") But you get the sense he probably deserves it during a flashback when, at the peak of his cruelty, he ties a helpless cat to a hatstand and headbutts it to death. Declaring the act as good a metaphor as any for the appropriate response to the threat of communism, Sutherland straps up the feline in Christ-like position, backs up several paces and with a cry of "you've got to destroyyyyyyyyy!" makes like a billy goat and crushes the creature with one swift skull slam. This isn't the only animal casualty of the film (there's a somewhat famous extended scene of a pig slaughtered onscreen) but it's one of the weirder ones you'll find in a movie by an international auteur.
Crafty convict Burt Lancaster decides to do what he can to solve the prison's overpopulation problem, even going so far as to set up one of the more expendable inmates to be flattened to a manageable pancake-like shape for easy disposal, in Jules Dassin's gritty prison men-behind-bars melodrama. Establishing his alibi elsewhere, Lancaster has his prison pals arm themselves with welding torches, confront their target in the bustling laundry room, and force the fink (whose loose lips landed Lancaster in solitary confinement) into a giant mechanical press. Not that this isn't an awesome death for a prison snitch, but what's great about the murder is what it says for the movie's heroes. In order to create sympathy for Lancaster & co., Dassin has to make Hume Cronyn's security chief that much more a sadistic bastard. So just imagine how evil Cronyn has to be when a gang of "good guys" are forcing a cornered snitch into a crushing laundry press with blowtorches! Later on, it's no surprise to see a hardened Lancaster - face dirty, shirt torn open, more animal than man - mowing down guards with a machine gun and a wild look in his eyes.
One of Lynch's very best scenes, from one of his very worst movies. Fugitive lovers Sailor Ripley (Nic Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) have spent the first half of the film living a rock 'n roll life on the road, smoking and screwing and generally having mostly harmless fun while Lula's insane mother sics legions of weirdos on the lovers' trail. It all starts to run together and even begins to grow monotonous (despite a shot of Charlie Spradling's big butt taking up the entire frame) when, traveling at night on a quiet back road, they spot something in the desert - "Looks like clothes." What they find when they pull off the highway is a flipped car, a mangled corpse or two, and a jabbering Sherilyn Fenn bleeding effusively from the head. Sailor and Lula try to help until they realize that, despite her goofy behavior, what's happening is that they're watching a person die in front of them. Sherilyn spouts a few non sequitors ("I got a bobby pin") and nonsense phrases ("Now my pocket is gone!") that seem inspired by the dying rant of Dutch Schultz (who also kept speaking to his mother throughout his final monologue; Fenn makes no references to French-Canadian bean soup so it's hard to say for sure whether Lynch had this in mind when they wrote the scene.*) Then she crumbles into the sand and expires as the helpless couple look on. But Fenn looks absolutely gorgeous the entire time, perhaps more beautiful than she ever has before, even when she's coughing up a pint of blood. This taps into several of the director's best themes - the giddy glamor of destruction, the strange allure of death, a woman losing her bearings and falling apart in front of us. To Lynch dying is the ultimate mystery, so even while what plays out is horrific it's inarguably seductive - the sexiest severe head trauma in history. This has more in common with another of Lynch's lovely death scenes, John Merrick laying himself to rest in The Elephant Man, than the cynical lunacy of most of the rest of the film (just compare this scene to the absurdly staged murder of Harry Dean Stanton's Johnnie Farragut.)
Italians love their suicides. There's the patricidal Edmund's plunge from the bombed out building in Germany Year Zero...Steve Cochran's swan dive off the refinery which prompts "il grido"...the drowning of Fabrizio's friend that haunts him throughout Before the Revolution...Peter Neal's phony slicing of his own throat at the end of Tenebre. Most memorable are these from two films by Fellini where unbridled hedoism and manic barreling towards destruction, matched by the movies' manic pacing, are fueled by the director's personal fear of death. Life is a circus, Fellini figured, and when the circus sputters to a close you might as well die. Hence the disturbing fate of Marcello's well-off, happily-married, Sanskrit-enthusiast friend Steiner, the proud papa of two beautiful kids who harbors a strange melancholy. The murder-suicide of his family by Steiner, eerily proped up in a chair as paparazzi circle the corpse for the best angle, is a grievous moment of shame for epicurean Marcello, who looked up to his friend as having secured the kind of stability, health and happiness he himself has never been able to even fathom. This loss of faith ultimately inspires Marcello to launch headlong into the ultimate pillow-wrecking binge that makes up the film's final reel, Steiner's death haunting the rest of the running time and making the heedless fun seem dark and pitiful.
Fellini set the same kind of sobering scene smack in the center of the rotting stomach of Satyricon, a seemingly endless procession of drinking, fucking, torturing, food-fighting, premature-burying and hermaphroditic demigod-kidnapping. In the middle of the madness there's a refreshingly quiet interlude in which the unnamed head of a patrician villa, to escape the wrath of newly-instated Emperor Nero, sets his slaves free and sits on a bench outside his house to slit his wrists. Enjoying a final meal with his wife, who he pleads not to follow him in death (she does anyway), the patron enjoys a peaceful departure prior to the lead characters turning up, instigating a threesome with a remaining slave girl and setting the wheel of decadence back in motion. It makes for a more peaceful end than the disturbing death of Steiner and his kids, the couple left where they lie like a pair of fallen Roman statues.
Quite simply, the most beautiful suicide ever filmed. For siblings Zushio and Anju, children of a wrongfully-exiled governor abducted as children and forced to spend their lives as slaves of the sadistic title steward, life is nothing but torture. Their shared hardship has turned Zushio into a cruel overseer who punishes weaker servants, but failed to move Anju away from the virtuous teachings of her father. Such is her shatterproof humanity that it restores her brother's faith and convinces him to escape so that he can search for their lost mother; afterwards, he'll return to rescue Anju from Sansho's clutches. No sooner has he left, to safeguard his destination from her inevitable torture session, Anju lowers herself gracefully into the water, ripples sent forth from around her body to spread the supremacy of her sacrifice across its immaculate surface. There have been several notable movie suicide-drownings (Sterling Hayden in The Long Goodbye, Bruno Cremer in Under the Sand, William Eadie in Ratcatcher), attempted suicide-drownings (Michael Simon in Boudou Saved from Drowning, Holly Hunter in The Piano) and phony attempted suicide-drownings (Kim Novak in Vertigo) but none quite match the majesty of Mizoguchi's masterpiece, in which base cruelty is met with obsinate compassion.
"I've had enough," is the simple resignation of housewife Mrs. Richards, who prepares herself for casual suicide as Malcolm McDowell's Mick Travis pleads with her from the ledge outside the window to reconsider. Cleaning up the place one last time for her husband ("I'll not have him saying I did wrong in the end"), she gets the kids settled before she does the deed, her preparation an eerie forerunner to the unbearably drawn-out family suicide in the final reel of The Seventh Continent. Unimpressed by Travis' daredevil tactic of climbing on the ledge to stop her, or the philosophical poetry he recites to try and convince her that life's worth living ("There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow! Hamlet!"), Mrs. Richards sets about with a tired resolve that inform her banal final words: "Tell Harry to leave a note for the milkman...two pints." Then she walks off-screen into the next room never to be seen again (her successful suicide reported to Travis via silent film footage later that night.) On a sad note, Rachel Roberts - forever immortalized on screen in This Sporting Life and Picnic at Hanging Rock - actually ended up killing herself in a pretty ghastly fashion, ultimately finding life without drinking buddy ex-husband Rex Harrison unappealing. In the actress' own words: "Everybody has a story...and a scream."
"I put the gun in my mouth...Bang...Bang...It was, like, so really real."
"Well if it was so really real you probably wouldn't get that second shot off."
Yes, we all had a laugh at this brilliant exchange from the timeless Dead Man on Campus, but who knew such a seemingly sensible declaration would be disproven by David Twohy and Darren Aronofsky a mere 4 years later in this haunted submarine film? Bruce Greenwood's American sub commander Lieutenant Brice, forced to confront the colossal guilt of mistaking a British hospital ship for a German freighter, sinking it and murdering his C.O. to cover up a scandal resulting from the friendly fire, is tormented over the course of the movie by ghosts from the wreck. Confronted with his crimes, he ends up on the surface deck of the U.S.S. Tiger Shark in the rain, where he turns his sidearm on himself and manages to fire a bullet into his brain not once but twice.* It could be that his conscience has festered so long with the deaths he's directly and indirectly responsible for only a second shot would end his internal struggle; or possibly he pulled the trigger and, just to make sure the punishment was swift and final, the icy, invisible hand of one of the haunting spectres gave it an extra tug. Whichever the truth, it lies with Brice at the bottom of the cold depths of the sea, along with the answer as to whether the movie would have turned out better if every scene was as savage and spine-tingling as its last one.
Hipster photographer Louis Garrel, racked with guilt over the earlier suicide of lover Laura Smet, starts seeing her image in the mirror urging him to "join me." Smet, a moody model/actress, may have been high maintanence, but the conventional relationship with Garrel's current pretty-but-boring-fiance promises nothing but a predictable, uninteresting life. Realizing this, he allows himself to be swayed by the spirit and plummets to the pavement...immediately after, Smet's sad face is replaced by that of a grotesque demon. Garrel's acceptance of the plunge is the very definition of unsatisfied desire, and its equation to death: we want most what we can no longer have.
There are so many memorable death scenes in Val Lewton's RKO productions that I could fill at least half of my list with moments from his 1940s horror films – the off-screen murder of a street singer in The Body Snatcher, the premature burial in Isle of the Dead, Karloff's demise in Bedlam, Wesley carrying Jessica's body into the sea in I Walked with a Zombie. But I'll go with The Leopard Man. The killing of Teresa Delgado, a daughter of a poor working couple in Mexico, returning home from buying a sack of cornmeal for her father’s supper, hailed by William Friedkin on the DVD commentary as "one of the greatest horror sequences ever filmed."
Finding the first store is closed, Teresa goes across the arroyo to the big grocery. She takes a short cut through a dark passage under the rail track and it is on her return that she sees the escaped leopard following her. The girl runs, dropping the cornmeal on the way. Out on the street she finds the door of her home locked. The girl begs for her mother to open the door but after a blood-curdling scream and a pounding sound behind the door, the mother realises too late the very real danger her daughter is in. The door is jammed so her brother hammers away at the lock and blood streams in from under the door.
Earlier on, the man at the store remembers her as "the little girl who was afraid of the dark." "I'm not afraid. What could happen to me?" she replies. Besides the masterful tension and atmosphere that director Jacques Tourneur employs, it's seeing the girl confront her fears, the things that terrify and fascinate her that makes it so enthralling and haunting. Death was an important theme to Lewton; it permeates so much of his work. When asked what The Seventh Victim was about, he responded that the message is that "Death is good."
The rape and murder of an innocent girl in the forest is described in 3 brief shots: a wild boar running in the Raillon Woods, a frightened rabbit and finally Claire's legs covered in blood and the live snails she had been collecting. It's perverse, enigmatic and perfectly represents the film's exploration of moral decay.
The Little Red Riding Hood feel of the scene is apparent from the start with Claire first shown eating blackberries. She then sees groundskeeper Joseph passing by, who remarks "Roaming around the woods again?" He offers to take her back but she says she hasn't finished. "Watch out for wolves," Joseph warns her. We then see him with an impulsive look running in to the forest before the animal collage.
"Why did she always go into the woods alone?" one of the servants later asks.
A local mystic sets a task to cross the shallow water at St Catherine's pool with a lighted candle. His heart condition alluded to earlier in the film, Russian poet Gorchakov finally dies after he places the candle on the ledge. We hear his final gasp off-camera. Apparently some viewers feel his fate is ambiguous, but I'm pretty sure that actor Oleg Yankovsky and director Andrei Tarkovsky himself confirmed he dies at that moment. The entire sequence lasts roughly 8 minutes and we see his growing pains, weakness and frustration but also his determination. It has a quiet intensity and supreme spirituality which is pure Tarkovsky. Three years later, life reflected art when like Gorchakov, a Russian artist in exile, he died from a painfully drawn-out terminal illness in France.
He is famed for his elaborate murder set pieces and operatic style and Dario Argento really is at the top of his game here. Sensing she is being followed after a bizarre encounter with an alchemist in a New York library music, student Sara escapes to her apartment building. She meets sports writer Carlo in the lift and, seeing she's rather shaken, he agrees to keep her company. The power cuts off and it becomes more apparent they have an unexpected visitor. Checking the fuse box, Carlo gets a knife in the neck and Sara stabbed in the back, finally clawing through a lit white screen and then dropping to the floor.
During this sequence the film cuts to all sorts of odd imagery - a full moon in the sky, the trademark gloved killer's hands using scissors to snip off the heads of four women on paper cut-outs, a lizard devouring a butterfly, glass breaking and a woman’s suicide by hanging all scored to a glorious Verdi record. This is orchestrated violence, Argento style.
Major Amberson's grief-stricken monologue. The entire scene is a shot of the Major's face staring into the fireplace, deep in thought contemplating his life and impending death. Following a prior death in the family and facing financial ruin, we hear family members discussing the estate and the deed to the house. Strictly speaking we never witness his moment of passing, but it is very clear what the scene is addressing. It's all there in the wonderful narration by Orson Welles, the lighting, actor Richard Bennett's expressive face and delivery and the final fade to black.
Mouchette, a girl living a tough rural childhood finally finds life too much when her ailing, bedridden mother dies. She ends her life by covering herself in a shroud and rolling downhill into a lake where she drowns. Jean-Luc Godard, in a written commentary/trailer on the film, described it as "Christian and sadistic." Cruel and tragic but also surprisingly tender, it's the perfect ending to the tale.
"You don’t know what Death is!" Donald Pleasence shouts at the start of Halloween II to a neighbour unaware of the night of carnage in Haddonfield. Michael Myers certainly had nothing as insane on his mind as what Conal Cochran plans for Halloween night: a druid magic transmission that turns your head in to a pile of poisonous creepy crawlies.
Buddy Kupfer's obnoxious family, who have come for a guided tour of the Silver Shamrock factory, are shown in to a test room where they are to give feedback on TV commercials. The child puts on his mask as instructed and goes in front of the TV set. The broadcast triggers a chip inside the mask causing the child to clutch his head with both hands in great pain. The mask starts to rot, killing "Little" Buddy Kupfer Jr. and when he hits the ground cockroaches, wasps and snakes emerge from the child's head.
This displays the kind of warped logic I love in horror movies: filming nightmares and fears with little regard for exposition. Halloween III was one of several films in the early 1980s where watching television is bad for you (others include Videodrome, Poltergeist and, ironically, Twilight Zone: The Movie.) It was about 30 years too late for cinema to strike back at its rival, but it's certainly a fun and interesting concept.
Harry Dean Stanton's weary, sad eyed expression is put to incredible use when he is confronted with Death in the form of Marlon Brando's highly eccentric cross dressing bounty hunter Lee Clayton. The man has been hired by a rancher to eliminate Jack Nicholson’s gang of horse thieves. At night time Clayton, wearing a dress, apron and a bonnet, sets fire to the cabin where Cal (Stanton) is resting. A burning Cal makes it out of the cabin to put out the flames in some nearby water and rests by a tree. Clayton asks of the whereabouts of Logan (Nicholson), Cal knowing death is imminent lies that Logan is still inside the cabin. Clayton then unexpectedly pitches his bizarre Crucifix like mace weapon into Cal’s forehead, stating "Old granny's getting tired now." Both actors are illuminated by the nearby bonfire in an unforgettably strange and terrifying scene. The film has been much heralded, and maligned, as a showdown between two acting giants (Brando and Nicholson) but this is the film’s oddest and most memorable scene
Another death towards this film’s conclusion almost made my list: "You just had your throat cut."
The crocodile* eats the puppy. Just when you think that an EC comics-style film with Marilyn Burns, William Finley and a scythe wielding Neville Brand can't get any more deranged.
Hanbei (the superintendent's henchman) insists he and Sanjuro face each other in a duel. After a long staredown, both draw their swords. Blood explodes from the chest of Sanjuro's rival, who slowly topples over. The gushing blood effect was apparently much bigger than planned on set and cropped up again in Kurosawa's Ran. Avoiding the epic showdown and sword fight we were expecting from the two adversaries it humanises Mifune's wandering samurai, bringing home his ambiguous morality when he acknowledges his reluctance to face Hanbei and his regret when it's over. He realises his opponent is exactly like him,an unsheathed naked sword.
Carl Weathers himself kicks the shit out of notorious right wing douchebag Craig T (T for Talentless) Nelson before that stupid redneck fuck is shot to death in Action Jackson. (If you don't think policing the mean streets of Detroit is war then you are fucking crazy and I don't got no time for your shit anyway.)What was harrowing about seeing a villain such as Craig T get his comeuppance? The harrowing memory of what he did to Vanity! Got her hooked on the drugs so he could have his Poltergeisty way with that Nubian angel. Rot in hell Craig T! Coach sucked!
"I heard two clicks!" Stupid fuck American paratrooper gets one in the gut and dies after using the little cricket noisemaking thingy in The Longest Day. Lesson learned, Joe!
Jim Belushi cleans house and kills the aspirations of lawlessness and disrespect for authority in The Principal. If you don't think controlling a high school in Detroit is war then you are fucking crazy...
William Forsythe, right all along about that 5th column saboteur phony poseur Joe Huff/John Stone pig cop scum Brian Bosworth, is silenced before he can make the usually sensible Chains see the light, in Stone Cold.
Sam Neill dies... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! right after taking out the machine gun nest in a fantastically selfless and futile act of heroism in Attack Force Z (Zed).
Bill Holden dies at the end of the pretty stupid and implausible Bridges at Toko-Ri...
...wait a minute... Bill Holden dies at the end of Bridge on the River Kwai... after British scum Lady Alec Guiness turns traitor and whines like a little ninny girl for the Japanese to come kill him! Kill him! (Bill Holden should stay away from bridges apparently)
Dutch SS man takes a break from the scenic Russian countryside to vacate his bowels. Sits and dreams of tulips and chocolate perhaps when he hears the tinkling of... not pee pee... but glass! Oh my, has that impish Soviet scamp tossed a potato masher grenade into the outhouse? He has! Blown up with his pants down and his ass dirty... not a good way for the smartly dressed Netherlander to go. Soldier of Orange.
Laughing Cossack is killed by dueling Frenchmen when he simply wanted to enjoy a chuckle or two at their showdown in The Duellists.
Scientist and ass clown Bruce Sabbath bloody Sabbath is turned into a nerdy pulpy mess at the hands of the coldly menacing Andrew Katz in Dutch Kills.
George Peppard suffers engine trouble...and soon will plummet to his death in his experimental fighter as knowing German officers look on in The Blue Max. Ursula Andress smolders and somewhere, Holly Golightly looks to find a new gigolo boy toy to replace the gooey mass of Peppard that soon will splatter all across the Pomeranian plains.
Alpha bitch Heather drinks the drano and topples into the glass table, smashing it and her dreams of becoming a celebrity sexpot to smithereens in one awesome fall! The war on drugs claims another victim. When will these kids realize that the best high can be found at the local library? Those stodgy old librarians are far too lazy and blind to even notice you slipping behind the secluded stacks to huff a lil' glue and give each other handys. Stick it to the man! Defile some Milton and some Shakespeare and give the next bookworm who rents those dusty tomes a pungent sticky surprise! Heathers.
Outback nutjob gets obliterated as the Humongous' hot rod slams head on into the Road Warrior's hard charging Mack truck with him hanging off the grill. First his boytoy sex slave gets a steel boomerang to the noggin, and now this! Bad week in the badlands!
Frank Sinatra, old blue eyes himself, the Chairman of the Fucking Board, takes a burst from a grease gun in the back and ruins his leather jacket while ending his life in Von Ryan's Express. He falls flat on his face ring-a-ding dead as his comrades look on all sad. It ain't witchcraft, it's bullshit! The summer wind is gone and it's been replaced with Nazi lead!
Brave Sir Robin bravely attempts to cross the bridge of death but is tripped up by a question about Assyria and thus is bravely slain. He will be missed.
Drummer in Spinal Tap is killed in a tragic gardening accident the authorities deem 'better left unsolved.'
Pedro Armendariz uses sniper rifle to take out Bulgarian thug under Anita Ekberg's watchful eye and heaving bosom in From Russia With Love. Sometimes I miss the Cold War.
Mads Mikkelson goes down fightin, grenade tossin and machine gun shootin, all the while looking adorable in his pajamas. This scene would have attained perfection if he had managed to kill Hitler with a cereal bowl full of Trix (spoiler alert: he didn't.) Flame and Citron.
A very tragical death in a very bad movie. Our hero Jeremy Piven, the Piv himself, displays great courage and fortitude when he volunteers to take bachelor party entertainment and 100 pounds of hootchie Kobe Tai into the luxurious Vegas hotel suite bathroom for some on the side suckee fuckee time. Sure, initially he thought her sultry services were comped, but once he found out her cooz came at a price he was still willing to pay premium dollar. You don't get cheap when peerless Asian pootenanny is on hand!
We as an audience are grateful the Piv had the audacity to boldly go where countless other men have been before, but their happy humping interlude comes to a terrible and abrupt end when her petite frame turns out to be a fatal flaw, and her light little body is hoisted while humped and she unwittingly has her head impaled on a bathroom hook. Talk about getting it on both ends! Zoinks!
It's a real blow cause she was the highlight of the movie and I don't even think the Piv had finished at that point. Who is the architect who made those towel hooks so prongy anyway? And all that time I thought her nipples were the perkiest thing in the room! Wakka wakka!
Everything about Dolph Lundrgen is epic right down to how he kills people in movies. In Rocky IV he shut Apollo Creed's cocky-ass up...permanently. He shot a man's torso off at the beginning of The Expendables and he made a necklace of ears taken from his victim's dead bodies in Universal Soldier. But nothing comes close to the final scene in Showdown in Little Tokyo where Dolph lunges a samurai sword through the main villain's stomach, then picks him up and throws his body (with the sword still in him) on to a rotating fireworks pinwheel.
What's that you said about the curb stomp scene in American History X? Please. The skull crush scenes in Irreversible (repeated blows to the head with a fire extinguisher) and Drive (repeated stomps to the face) make Ed Norton look like a little girl. I also find it interesting that both of these scenes end with someone starring off at someone crazily ("La Tenia" looking at his friend's crushed skull as if he's strangely aroused in Irreversible and Ryan Gosling looking at Carey Mulligan like a maniac in Drive.)
I've always been a fan of this movie (and this scene in particular) no matter how much hate it gets. Putting aside the fact that this scene clearly exposed Lars Von Trier's obvious depression and was a clear indication that he just needed a hug, I think a small part of us all wanted the town of Dogville to burn to the ground. I know I did. The more this movie went on the more I wanted something bad to happen to these people and Von Trier didn’t let me down. One by one Grace's father's men shoot everyone in Dogville (men, women, children, babies and even the disabled girl) and then burn the town to the ground. In my opinion, they all got what they deserved.
Given that just about anyone who contributes to the pink smoke is a big Werner Herzog fan, I assumed the final scene from Stroszek would be taken before I had the chance to claim it so I went with the next best option: Ian Curtis' suicide from 24 Hour Party People, which shows Curtis watching Stroszek moments before killing himself. The imagery of Ian Curtis' legs dangling off to the side after hanging himself with the dancing chicken scene playing in the background is just haunting.
I can honestly say I did NOT see this coming. And it’s not like I was bored up until that moment (I was enjoying it very much actually) but once Majid slit his throat I felt a jolt of electricity shoot through my body and I didn’t take my eyes off the screen for the rest of the movie.
I know this is supposed to be a list of "awesome deaths" [not necessarily! --ed.] so I feel kind of bad about this one. In no way did the security guard deserve to die. It’s not like his death was “awesome” in any way but the scene itself is quite awesome. The look of horror & surprise on Alex’s face as the security guard slowly drags his legless body towards him after being run over by a train is one of the best things Gus Van Sant has ever directed.
I know this scene is pushing it, but gimme a break. If you know anything about Claire Denis you know that one of her strengths is getting her points across through hints & implications instead of spelling everything out. Instead of showing us another tortured soldier committing suicide (Full Metal Jacket, Courage Under Fire, Predator, etc) she simply implies it then cuts to Denis Lavant dancing the night away in one of her most iconic scenes.
I've always loved the idea of one, lone, determined man walking in to danger and taking everyone out one by one and still making it out alive with only minor injuries. I hate using generic terms like "Badass"... but it's pretty badass. These two scenes from two of my favorite movies exemplify that:
There's this split second moment of silence in Taxi Driver right after Travis shoots his last victim in the face that just gives me the chills. There's so much noise and chaos going on and then suddenly everything just goes quiet. That specific moment was Iris' wakeup call that it was time to leave the grimey streets of New York City, go home and live a normal life.
The final eight minutes of Thief is another killing spree/rampage that involves one of my all time favorite death scenes. The way in which Robert Prosky dies (after being shot in the head by James Caan) is almost indescribable. The way he yells out after being shot, his blood splattered all over the wall, the look of determination on James Caan’s face… everything. It’s one of Michael Mann's best scenes.
66. Has no one mentioned Hands Gruber falling to his death in slow motion? Die Hard.
67. Fox, finally fatally crushed by his good fortune, lays down in the subway and dies. Fox and his Friends.
68. "Guess he wasn't half a man after all." A bullet in the back on the lonely walk to the sheriff's office. Lee Marvin didn't see it coming. Seven Men from Now.
69. The noble sacrifice of Slurms MacKenzie. Futurama.
70. Cobra Verde makes it to the coast but can't get the boat in the water. Exhausted, the waves consume him.
71. The death that isn't: Fatty takes a shotgun blast. Fortunately for Beavis, there is a remote control nearby. Funny Games.
72. Microwaved Gremlin.
73. The fat cop slips and squishes the deformed baby monster. It actually feels like a tragedy and Bilal once again deserves his revenge. Basket Case 3.
74. "Suzie's gonna get you, Sarge." Frederick J. Frenger expires on a tabletop, poignantly delusional even at the point of expiration. Miami Blues.
75. Lino Ventura catches one in the gut just after he primes the grenade. He goes up in flames along with the loot. He learns this lesson the hard way: Touchez Pas au Grisbi.
76. "Oop!" Lance Henrikson fails to disarm the primed grenade. Hard Target.
77. The oaf slips on the mansion stairs and blows his own brains out. Out of Sight.
78. At midnight in Dallas, five shots from a car window during a standard traffic stop. The Thin Blue Line.
79. First felled by stones and then finished off with a boot, it's a brutal end for The Red Balloon.
80. A pointlessly violent car-jacking is matched by a pointlessly dispassionate capital punishment. Decalogue Part V: Thou Shalt not Kill.
81. Jack Burton catches the knife and instinctively flips it back directly into the skull of Lo Pan, the first thing he's done right all weekend. Big Trouble in Little China. He's as surprised as we are.
82. After winning the lottery and dodging a highway pile-up, the luckiest guy in the world avoids a kitchen fire, getting his hand caught in the garbage disposal and an explosion... but his luck runs out on the fire escape. Final Destination 2.
83. The tobacco blows out of Charles Vanel's hand and in a flash the other truck is gone. The Wages of Fear.
84. A massive explosion punctuates the final showdown in Dead or Alive, annihilating not only both of our heroes but presumably most of Japan.
85. Menaced by shadows and mauled by a seeing eye dog in an empty piazza. Suspiria.
86. The evil warlord thanks our hero for the most exciting day of his life, just before his severed head bounces down into the toilet, right where it belongs. 13 Assassins.
87. No one can stop the dancing chicken as Stroszek rides the great ski lift to nowhere. Is this really me?
88. Mutating/melting from the toxic waste, the Morgan Spurlock-looking thug is probably happy to get run over and exploded into gloppy goo. Robocop.
89. The clock strikes midnight and time's up for the arch-duke. Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro.
90. "Don't let it happen again!" Play Dirty finds the perfect mix of infuriating, hilarious and tragic as Michael Caine is gunned down by his would-be saviors.
91. A mentally-fried Damien Young repositions himself with a manic deliberateness around his dying target to unload a revolver’s worth of bullets into the villain (Chuck Montgomery!) from a variety of angles. Amateur.
92. There's still a live girl in the trunk of the car as it splashes into the water after rolling off of the dock. Get Carter.
93. Keith Carradine gets sold-out and ends up in a cabin riddled with bullets, in Keechie's grandmother's blanket. Thieves Like Us.
[This list assumed Paul's already included "Baby, I can't make it" from Le Doulos and death by non-consenual buggery.]
After Fuad Ramses is found out to be the culprit in several ritualistic slayings of slow adult women, the two noticeably greasy detectives corner him and chase him through a desolate and empty dump (I guess? From what I remember it just looked like an empty field) where a garbage truck sits idly with its engine running for no clear reason. Ramses stumbles into the back of the truck before getting crushed by its compactor. A somber moment of cathartic stoicism follows before the sweatier of the two cops declares "A fitting end for the garbage he was." It feels like a line from one of Shakespeare's best sonnets, concisely and adequately illustrating the pathos of mortality and its contrast to Fuad's karmic demise. Had any diligence or care been introduced to this scene, it would lose all its ineffectual charm. Thank Horus that HG Lewis is a businessman first, a filmmaker second, and an artist never.
Say what you want about where Coppola has drifted off to in the past 25+ years, but he can make a million Jacks and it will never change the fact that he made four of the greatest films ever made, in a row, each better than the one that preceded it (Yes, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now are better than the first two Godfather films.) The Conversation might be aping Antonioni's Blow Up but it has something that Blow Up doesn't have: me liking it (I haven't seen Blow Up since I was 19 but I remember hating it enough to swear to never giving Antonioni another chance - almost a decade later and I've now seen Red Desert twice this year, most recently at a screening last week, and have become an ardent defender of Zabriske Point, so go figure) and for another it has that fucking scene in the hotel room. With all the time I have wasted watching movies, it's difficult for me to recount scenes in films that I felt were truly terrifying, but this is one of them; the fact that the murder is virtually inevitable does absolutely nothing to mar the power of its execution, watching it for the first time or the tenth matters little, if at all. It's the greatest sequence in a horror movie that isn't a horror movie.
By and large, The Conversation acts as meditation on guilt. The career of Frank Caul (Gene Hackman) is based entirely on the act of being invasive; he is paid to monitor the conversations of strangers from afar, submitting the recordings to his clients and subsequently destroying the lives of people who he has absolutely no relationship to or has ever met. By the time the murder occurs in the adjacent hotel room, we're already well-saturated in Frank's conflict; the act of the murder, complimented by David Shire's aggressively abstract electronic score (pre-dating most No Wave by nearly a decade) is the ultimate manifestation of Frank's guilt - we find out in the next scene that by proxy Frank is nearly as culpable to this crime as the murderers themselves. When the blood begins to overflow from the toilet it's absolutely devastating, and not because of the fact that there's blood overflowing from the toilet (this is nothing new obviously) but because of the fact that it is affecting on a more real and visceral level - ultimately a human one.
I probably haven't watched a movie with Giovanni Radice in it for years (except last year at Cinema Wasteland when I watched House on the Edge of the Park with David Hess sitting behind me), but as I channel the 14 year old version of myself I am reminded of his long list of great contributions to cinema:
- Guy who gets power drill rammed through temples and skull (see above) in City of the Living Dead
- Guy who gets dick hacked off and eaten before then having the top part of his skull sliced off, with brains exposed to be picked and eaten like ribbon candy in Cannibal Ferox
- Guy who portrays Charles Bukowski (Not a bad joke, that's the actual character's name. Look it up) in Cannibal Apocalypse who meets his end in a sewer by having a basketball-sized chunk of abdomen blown out with a single shotgun blast.
The rule of thumb then was if you saw the words "John Morghen" listed in a film's credits you could be damn sure his body get more spotted, blotched, blistered, torn, bruised and mangled than Wilt Chamberlain's dick by the end of his life. Even in the rare instances in which his character was somehow able to avoid the tender cranium-smashing embrace of death it would still remain unlikely that he would exit the film completely intact (full-on chest gashing in House on the Edge of the Park springs to mind.) Despite obtaining some sort of notoriety for his reoccurring role as the human punching bag Radice himself supposedly hates most of the movies where he met glorious disembowelment, at least that is true for Cannibal Ferox which I remember having one of only a few handfuls of entertaining DVD commentary tracks I have ever heard, all because of Radice's relentless criticisms of the movie, which probably isn't unfounded because I'm sure I'd probably hate half these movies on some level if I were to watch them today (House on the Edge of the Park wasn't nearly as fun as it was when I was 14 at least.)
It's difficult to isolate a single scene in Andy Sidaris' masterwork Hard Ticket to Hawaii that stands out from the rest of the film, as the film demands to be respected in its entirety. But I suppose if there's one death sequence in the film that really stands out it is the moment when our buff heroes are tracked by a towheaded skateboarder armed with a shotgun and an inflatable blow-up doll for protection. The skateboarder first shoots the driver through the heart, and when asked about his condition he brushes it off, stating "I've been better." Then the passenger reaches into the back of the jeep, pulls out a bazooka and with no hesitation blows apart the skateboarder who lets loose of the blow up doll before bursting into a ball of flames - and for whatever reason our hero shifts to then launch another rocket into the blow-up doll which then explodes into an even bigger fireball, all of this happening within about 8 feet from him.
I don't think justifying why I have included this scene is deserving of any more tedious extrapolation. It speaks for itself.
So far all my "serious" inclusions on this write-up have been climactic scenes involving characters named Frank reaching their absolute breaking point. In The Conversation it is Gene Hackman's Frank coming to terms with his virtually direct involvement in someone's murder, in Thief James Caan's Frank he walks through a house and kills a whole bunch of people. But like The Conversation the music used in this scene is absolutely instrumental to its inclusion. Though the bulk of score was composed by Tangerine Dream the song "Confrontation" which plays out during the ending rampage was done by Craig Safan, who had replaced Tangerine Dream at the last moment after they had already left the country. "Confrontation" gels so blissfully to mass murder that I could not imagine anything else in its place. Probably one of the two best films of the post-Peckinpah era that ends with a contrastingly violent and inspiring mass shoot-out. The other one is State of Grace.
When it comes to discussions on The Departed versus its predecessor Internal Affairs there's always some heated debate, mostly from 43-year-old virgins. I say they both suck and that State of Grace is really the only film to see dealing with virtually the same concepts of friendship and betrayal in the mob/police dynamic. My opinion holds more weight by the simple fact that I was the ripe young age of 25 when I lost my virginity to a prostitute on a pool tarp that I'm pretty sure was coated in dried cum and blood, and I'm fairly certain half of that blood was still wet at the time.
Although that may seem repulsive to some, and have very little to do with why State of Grace makes it to this list I will attempt to tenuously link the fictional and non-fictional events together by the sheer volume of blood. Because the shoot-out in State of Grace sure has a lot of it, at least three pool tarps worth. It's just as sticky ,bloody and stylized as an early John Woo film but with the advantage of being a solidly better film than anything John Woo has ever made.
Out of the small avalanche of Jim Thompson adaptations that surfaced in the early 1990's After Dark My Sweet remains the only one that I think really got it "right." Most of the English-speaking adaptations for whatever reason seem to really overlook Thompson's knack for deadpan and absurd humor, which permeates his fiction every bit as much as the nihilism and misogyny he is known and loved for. The scene at the airport where Jason Patric's character is trying to avoid a cop who keeps pestering him about his boxing past while Bruce Dern is gunned down across the street is about the purest moment of Thompson's wit ever reflected on screen (at least since Coup De Torchon.)
That 7 minute long reversal tracking shot as Robert Blake sits upright, hunching just slightly forward with his blood pouring out of him, the color a vibrant red, almost matching the hue of the sand and dirt that surrounds him on that desolate stretch of road is something that we'll probably never see in a mainstream PG-rated movie ever again. It took a brilliantly haunting ending like that to transform what I thought was a fairly good movie into an almost certifiably great one.
Years ago I use to love going to Ponderosa buffet, for reasons both similar and dissimilar to most. For one, I am an admitted glutton. The food offered at the buffet, with few exceptions, was absolutely terrible - even compared to college cafeteria standards. The "light" foods always tasted like detergent, and the meat and heavier items was like drinking that acid that sprays out of the facehugger in Alien; your insides were never left undecimated by its immediate path of destruction. But I loved going because it was ridiculously inexpensive (12 bucks for an entree, the buffet, and a drink last time I went, which was probably in 2008.) But even besides that each time was like a horrific yet compelling experience.
I don't know what it was, but Ponderosa and Wal-Mart are the only two places I know of where you can feel like one of the skinniest, healthiest people in the room no matter what your body type. You feel good about yourself, but lose all hope for society as a whole. It's the only place outside of The Learning Channel where I have witnessed entire extended families of people who are all under six feet tall yet tip the scales well beyond 500 pounds. I'm pretty sure I saw one guy wearing a comforter as a sweatshirt - that's absolutely not a joke.
I try not be judgmental of others but you would have to be blind and deaf (the sound of collective exhausted, stunted mouth-breathing completely usurps the canned music) to walk into one of those places and not immediately notice something is very, very wrong. Even walking in the bathroom was an experience in itself - underwear that's been sharted on billowing out of the garbage can, neon hot pink barf sprayed all over the sink, causing physical burn to your retinas if you looked directly into it - yeah, I've seen that. And half the time I went there would always be this station between the main buffet and the salad/sundae bar where a fully dressed clown would be sitting, always alone and always looking completely crestfallen and irreparably broken inside - I've never once seen him/her entertaining a single child. It only managed to facilitate an even greater dimension of surreal sadness to the place - and this was long before I ever experimented with drugs; I can't imagine what it would be like under the influence of psychedelics, but knowing my social anxieties I probably would not be able to cope, and end up like one of those middle school drug education horror stories that never returns from the void.
Another unrelated tangent? Possibly. But the parallels between Marco Ferrari's La Grande Bouffe - a film about a group of gluttonous food connoisseurs that meet up at secluded mansion to enter a suicide pact to literally eat and fuck themselves to death - and my dinners at Ponderosa are just too great to ignore.
The most pivotal scene occurs towards the end of the film when Michel Piccoli finally meets his demise when his body is overtaken by an compulsory eruption of violent diarrhea, almost instantaneously dehydrating as a several liters of liquid shit pour out of him and onto the mansion's veranda. In fact, thinking about my real life adventures and the film itself have become almost interchangeable with one another.
The Wikipedia article for Donald Cammell's White of the Eye states of the film as being a loose remake of Russ Meyer's Supervixens. It seems ridiculous, but there does appear to be some overlapping elements of the two films, but more importantly they both end with the central psychotics clad in dynamite literally blowing themselves apart. In short, it's the only way I want to go.
I know a lot of people hate the film largely for its heavy narration, for me I thought it was a major element of why I loved it. Heavy-handed or not, those last lines before Ford falls are probably the best in recent cinematic memory.
Although I wasn't hugely into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and actively dislike Panic Room and Benjamin Button, and have since - I think - fallen out of love with most of Fight Club (a great movie when you're a 17 year old angst-infused American male), I don't think I can really deny David Fincher's strengths as a director. His best works tend to be films working with procedure, detail and close examination of a subject (Seven, The Social Network, and obviously Zodiac.) Zodiac, when I first saw it, wasn't anything I found to be overtly compelling honestly, but in the 5 years since its release it has grown on me considerably and probably ranks among my favorite mainstream films of the last decade - it's slow-moving, highly detailed and multilayered, reminiscent of the best films of Alan Pakula or Sidney Lumet.
But even when I wasn't necessarily compelled by the film as a whole, I certainly was gripped by that opening sequence.
Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" has always been a strange song; the lyrics are almost upbeat and 'hippyish' (though the the lines "Down through all eternity/The crying of humanity/'Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man/Comes singing songs of love" feels like a contextually ironic departure) but the actual song, due to its heavy distortion and use of the tambura, is absolutely eerie. The song's transcendent irony comes fully realized in that incredible opening scene in which the Zodiac makes his first known killing/attempted killing of the couple in the car. Although the song was first recorded nearly 40 years before the film's release the matching is so perfect, and so creepy, that it feels like the two were absolutely designed to be together.
It might seem like an obvious and cliched choice, but it's absolutely deserving of its place.
And I mind as well round out this list with one more scene where the soundtrack makes an impact on the character's death, and one more scene where Slim Pickens is involved. Unlike Dr. Strangelove, Slim Pickens is the only one dying here, and unlike Zodiac it's a film where the music was actually recorded for the film - and the song became more recognizable than the film it was a part of, which is a shame because it's easily Peckinpah's greatest achievement made during a string of great achievements (that pre-Convoy 1969-1975 era of Peckinpah.) Slim Pickens shot in the stomach, past the point of physical anguish and just calmly waiting for death as Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" plays him out is by far one of the most beautiful scenes of one accepting their own inevitable fate ever captured on screen. Though probably the most unrealistic as well (I've never seen anyone get shot in the stomach but I'm sure wailing in physical agony as your body regurgitates blood from any orifice it can find would be a major component of those last few minutes). But who cares. Realism be damned, this is fucking poetry.