Valentine’s Day Special: Ten great gory scenes

Today, because it is Valentine’s Day, I am offering a little counter-programming: an article about gore in movies.

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Blood and gore in film can be used a variety of ways – to repulse, to add authenticity, dramatic punch, or sometimes to scare, and even for darkly comic purposes. I make no apology for defending the well-deployed use of blood and gore in film, regardless of what some of my fellow believers think about such things (although I do sometimes wonder if they have actually read the Bible, which is, in parts, an absolute bloodbath).

So here are ten great gory moments on film, in no particular order of merit:

The Omen – Let’s start with my all-time-favourite decapitation scene (yes, I have one of those). David Warner’s unfortunate neck/pane of glass interface is shown from multiple angles in one glorious moment of gory ecstasy. Horrible, unforgettable and (like the rest of the film), impossible to take seriously.

Witness – The murder scene early in the film is an outstanding example of dramatic justification for graphic imagery. When it was first shown on BBC1, the film was cut to remove the two bloodiest shots, which to my mind made the scene about a tenth as powerful (I had previously seen it uncut). Director Peter Weir even now wonders if he went a bit too far, but I don’t think he did.

The Godfather – The first really nasty scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic occurs when a movie mogul refuses to play ball with a mobster lawyer leaning on him on behalf of the Don. The result? A horse’s head left in the mogul’s bed. Gruesome, terrifying, dramatic, and slightly absurd.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Parasitical, mind controlling worms burrow their way into (and later out of) the ears of Chekhov and Captain Tyrell. Although censored in the UK to obtain a PG certificate, there was a famously gruesome treat for UK children in the 1980s when the film was shown on ITV in its uncut version.

The Wild Bunch – I find it almost impossible to choose between the massacres that bookend Sam Peckinpah’s western masterpiece, but for sheer bloody, invented-modern-screen-violence, slo-mo squib bursting spectacle, I’m going with the finale. An influence on everything from John Woo’s Hong Kong thrillers, to just about every Hollywood action movie ever since.

Breaking Bad – Yes, this is a TV series so technically shouldn’t be on this list, but there is a particular shot at the end of series 4, involving a bomb and a drug kingpin, that will remain forever scarred in the memories of those who have seen it. As gruesome dramatic flourishes go, this one is truly remarkable.

A Prophet – Twenty minutes into this extraordinary French prison drama is a murder so bloody, so messy, so utterly horrific and potentially alienating to the viewer, that I couldn’t help but watch from between my fingers. And yet, by the time the end credits rolled, I had to admit that the film overall would have been less powerful had the scene’s extreme content been toned down.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – The only reason Steven Spielberg’s film gets away with a PG certificate is because the villains are Nazis. Throughout the course of the film they are stabbed, shot, burned, blown up, run over and chopped up by plane propellers. And that’s before we even get to the notorious ending, when God sends the Angel of Death to melt their faces in spectacularly bloody fashion. As satisfying today as the time you saw it as a child and cheered gleefully, whilst wondering just why the heck your parents had allowed you to see it.

Saving Private Ryan – Spielberg again, but this time with a much more serious story, recreated with staggering attention to detail. The opening massacre at Omaha Beach on D-Day is, according to veterans, phenomenally authentic. When striving for an accurate depiction of warfare I believe it is irresponsible not to make it horrifically gruesome, and this scene alone changed the way war movies were made from that point.

Alien – I started this list with a horror movie, so let’s end with one. The “chest-burster” scene with John Hurt is now so well known that it is difficult to imagine the impact on an unsuspecting viewer (which I was, the first time I saw it). I often say that a great horror film needs just one spectacularly bloody moment to establish the threat, and this is certainly such a moment. Director Ridley Scott wisely kept the remaining deaths almost entirely off-screen, because it made them much scarier. The viewer has already seen what this creature is capable of, so there is no need to show it again.

There are loads more examples I could have included in this list. For instance, I can hardly believe I didn’t include any zombie movies or Japanese horror. Can’t believe I left out Scanners and Carrie either. And I’ve omitted “comedy” gore (eg Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Shaun of the Dead, early Peter Jackson movies like Bad Taste and Braindead). Perhaps I should make another list, just for the comedy stuff…

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