As discussed in our most recent podcast on controversial cinema, the idea of shock is subjective. What may disturb and repulse one viewer may not apply to the other therefore the discussed scenes in question will derive from our own personal experiences.
Caitlyn's Most Shocking Scene:
The Woman (2011): The Woman is Freed.
Lucky McKee’s The Woman, based on a novel by Jack Ketchum was never going to be a walk in the park as far as the levels of violence, cruelty and outright depressing stuff was concerned. McKee’s previous adaptation of a Ketchum work, The Girl Next Door is a profoundly distressing tale, made all the more horrifying by its basis in fact. The Woman, however uses a rather more fantastical element with which to tell its story of family patriarch Chris Cleek (played terrifyingly by Sean Bridgers) discovering a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh while out hunting and his decision to capture and transform her.
Now in a film that contains a wide variety of cruel humiliations and painful punishments levelled not only against the titular Woman, but also the women within the family home, there is no shortage of disturbing scenes to choose from. In fact, one can never truly be sure that the walk-out at Sundance was a publicity stunt or a genuine objection to the horrors unfolding on screen. However, one scene captures everything about the film that I love (and I do think it is a stunningly powerful piece of work) and that is the scene in which the Woman is finally freed.
The bloodshed and gore in that scene isn’t what most got under my skin however, but the moment in which the Woman comes face to face with Belle (Angela Bettis), the abused wife of Chris Cleek sent me cold. After experiencing the whole film and the torture that is dealt to both, some part of me wanted nothing more than for the Woman to take pity on this poor, damaged woman and accept her into her tribe somehow with the others. However, the attack on Belle is arguably the most aggressive and animalistic. The reason for this is what is most disturbing to me: Belle did nothing. Yes, she did not herself inflict any pain on the Woman, but at the same time, she would not stand up and say how wrong her husband was in his sick ‘conditioning’ of the Woman and his other abuses of the children.
This is a typical message in a Ketchum/McKee work, but it never loses its power and that power is in the suggestion that you don’t have to pick up a weapon to be involved in cruelty, simply witnessing it and doing nothing about it is just as unhuman. It is the recurring presence of the idle bystander so often seen in news stories that is more deeply disturbing than any measure of gore.
All in all where The Woman succeeds is in its portrayal of forgiveness and acceptance of damaged outsiders in addition to the revenge levelled at those who have done wrong toward them and this scene perfectly encapsulates that with the use of some incredibly brutal imagery.
Hayley's Most Shocking Scene:
Hostel: Part II (2007): Lorna's Death.
During the mid- 2000’s a new breed of brutal horror splattered onto our screens. Mis-labelled by the tabloids as ‘torture porn’ and also known as ‘gorno’, these films dominated the genre for a good portion of the decade. Ultimately they were an extension of the slasher film, barely leaving anything to the imagination, these neo-exploitation movies involved graphic scenes of torture and mutilation. Eli Roth, the best friend of Quentin Tarantino was one of the most prolific directors to take on this sub-genre and created one of Horror’s most well remembered splatter-fests of that period, Hostel (2005).
I’d first watched Hostel on DVD a couple of years following its initial release. This type of torture cinema wasn’t something I particularly gravitated toward; however I had enjoyed the first SAW (2004) film to a great extent mainly for its psychological aspects and how it managed to keep the audience on edge until the unexpected twist at the conclusion. I was dubious about Hostel due to what I’d heard about it. Was a film that involved scenes of nasty torture something I’d particularly wanted to see? To my surprise I in fact reacted well to the film in a distressing but thought-provoked way. Despite it being horrible and uncomfortable to sit through it had some interesting elements and a strong commentary about US and European relations. Despite many dismissing the film as some gross, exploitative torture flick, there is an underlying message there if you look hard enough.
Immediately I was hooked in a morbid curious sort of way and decided to check out the sequel. Hostel: Part II (2007) once again directed by Eli Roth is one of the only films I have actually never got round to finishing.
The subversion in the sequel with the female focus rather than male as opposed to the first one was a welcome change, gelling them both together well through demonstrating the scenario for both genders. However I never fully made it passed the first scene of extreme torture and wow, it certainly packed a punch! Hostel II’s first victim is a virginal, introverted young woman named Lorna played by well-known actress Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Doll House). Already the typical horror trope of ‘the virgin survives’ is thrown out the window as Roth puts a modern spin on the Mrs Bathory legend (a countess who bathed in the blood of virgins in order to remain youthful).
To my memory the scene itself felt drawn out and painful to watch. Poor Lorna is suspended upside down and is gagged and naked which is incredibly humiliating, while a group of grim thugs prepare her for torture; she then hangs over a bath while they light candles. Matarazzo’s performance is just intense. She is very expressive and convinces the viewers that she is truly terrified. In a surprising twist it’s not these burly men that cause this innocent and inexperienced young woman’s demise, it’s an attractive almost vampyric looking woman who places herself in the bath below Lorna. The brutality emerges when the woman takes a scythe to this poor young woman’s exposed body and begins to slash her to death. The woman then bathes herself in blood giving off a sense of gratification while Lorna hangs there like a slaughtered animal.
Once this scene had played I’d decided enough was enough and felt compelled to stop watching. As a horror fan this is quite unusual for me however there was something so cruel and nasty about this scene that got under my skin. Within horror as a whole we are always subjected to mindless deaths but when it’s a character that you can genuinely feel empathy for and only crime is being naïve then it’s slightly harder to swallow; that said it gives the overall film a greater impact. The startling image of a suspended Lorna was used as one of the film’s covers, emphasizing it as one of the most significant moments of Hostel II.
While the violent and horrific, drawn-out rape scene in the remake of I Spit on Your Grave (2010) is also up there as one of my disturbing horror moments, the fact that I was unable to continue a film due to a five minute sequence demonstrates the upsetting effect it had on me.
Do you agree with our choices for most shocking scene? Feel free to comment whether you agree or disagree and share which horror moment freaked you out the most in the comments below.