Part of the magic of movies is their ability to leave an indelible mark upon us. Sometimes they make us see the world differently, sometimes they inspire us, sometimes they anger us. However, sometimes they just downright disturb us. These are the moments I would like to revisit now – the disturbing images that I would rather forget, but that somehow have always stayed with me since the moment my eyes first made contact with them and my brain processed them. For me, “disturbing” takes different forms, including scary, sad, sickening, strange, and shocking. And remember, these are disturbing images or moments – the movies themselves may not be particularly disturbing, although in some cases they are.
- A fully naked, fully exposed Harvey Keitel caressing a piano in The Piano – Need I say more? I don’t think so. But this movie, and this scene, left such an unsightly impression in my mind, that I believe I have never watched a Harvey Keitel movie since then for fear that the man will unclothe himself again. I take that back. I did see Pulp Fiction and Red Dragon, but thankfully he stayed suited up in those.
- Christian Bale’s emaciated body in The Machinist – Christian Bale is normally a beautiful man, so it was tragic and truly frightening to see his appearance in this movie. That’s not to say it was a bad movie. It was actually very good, if you could stand the sight of Christian’s gaunt frame and sunken eyes. Here are the details on his extreme weight loss, according to IMDb: “The producers of the film claim that Christian Bale dropped from about 180 pounds in weight down to about 120 pounds in weight to make this film. They also claim that Bale actually wanted to drop down to 100 pounds, but that they would not let him go below 120 out of fear that his health could be in too much danger if he did. His diet consisted of one can of tuna and an apple per day. His 63-pound weight loss is said to be a record for any actor for a movie role. He since gained the weight back for his role in Batman Begins (2005).” All I can say is thank goodness he regained his weight and his health, because Batman Begins, and especially Christian Bale in Batman Begins, is a wonderful thing.
- Samara, the long-haired ghost-girl in The Ring, climbing first out of the well, and then out of Noah’s television and into his living room (and eventually killing him). The scene was so effective that I felt like she was about to take it a step further and climb out of the movie screen and into the theater!
- The “sloth” victim in Se7en. This description from Wikipedia gives some idea of the repulsive nature of this scene: “the man is found tied to his bed, alive but suffering from severe mental and physical deterioration after spending a year completely immobile. Above the bed is the word SLOTH written in excrement.” However, that description is nothing compared to what the man looked like. He looked so inhuman that the detectives assumed him dead, as did the audience. The most horrific moment is when they hear him utter a gurgling breath. For weeks after I watched that movie, I would have to check behind my shower curtain to make sure “Sloth Man” wasn’t in my bathtub every time I went to the bathroom. If you’re interested in being given a visual reminder of what Sloth Man looked like, click here and scroll down the page until you see photos of him. They’re impossible to overlook.
- Two particular death scenes in Saving Private Ryan – The only two things I remember from this movie, which I could only bear to watch once, are two very different, but equally gruesome death scenes. The first is very brief. We see a soldier hunkered down next to Tom Hanks’ character, and the camera pans away from him as he rolls over. Seconds later, the camera pans back to him as Tom Hanks’ character turns to talk to him. Shockingly, the soldier’s face is gone, as he has fallen victim to the enemy attack. The director left nothing to the imagination, but instead showed us a gruesome close-up of the realities of war. The second death scene that deeply disturbed me was much longer and involved a struggle between an American and a German soldier. After what seems like several minutes, the German soldier gets the upper hand and pins the American down. Rather than kill him swiftly, the German opts to make the American suffer a horrible, slow death as he slowly pushes his knife into his chest.
- Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the head in Pulp Fiction – Quentin Tarantino has one sick sense of humor. This scene is supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find someone getting shot in the head and having their brains splattered all over a car window very amusing. Perhaps this scene was all the more disturbing because real people die this way (in accidental shootings).
- The scene with the random man wearing a bear costume in The Shining – The movie was disturbing enough without having to contribute to my fear of people in costumes. It doesn’t matter if it’s Captain Hook, Big Bird, or a college sports mascot. I always get a little nervous when I see someone dressed up as an animal or cartoonish character. Since this “Bear Man” showed up in a movie where there was also a scary old naked lady and creepy little girl twins, it was all the more disturbing.
These last three images are from my childhood movie-viewing, so they are probably considerably less disturbing than the previous items. I just wanted to make that disclaimer. Please, continue reading now…
- Large Marge, the truck driver, reveals herself to be the victim in her story about a horrendous car accident, by transforming into a bug-eyed, monstrous ghost – Remember this scene from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure? The movie was only disturbing in the same way that Pee-wee’s Playhouse was on Saturday morning, but as a small child, this scene really scared me.
- Carol Anne stares at the TV, which is showing nothing but noisy static, and exclaims, “They’re here!” in the original Poltergeist – This little girl, Heather O’Rourke, was disturbing just to look at. Throw in a snowy tv screen and a creepy line, and you have enough to give me a recurring nightmare about nothing but tv static. Yep, it’s true. I had nightmares about tv static when I was little.
- The two Nazi villains (was it two, or one?) slowly burn and melt away when they open the Ark of the Covenant and unleash God’s wrath upon themselves (Raiders of the Lost Ark) – This scene is disturbing in a similar way to the Large Marge scene. I was probably more disturbed by the unnatural special effects in both situations than by what they were supposed to convey. Claymation (or whatever this was) can be really creepy! See for yourself.
Please add your own disturbing movie images to the comments section.
External Link: For more disturbing movie memories, go to Filmsite’s alphabetical list of Scariest Movie Moments and Scenes.