Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Top 7 Traumatic Cinematic Experiences

Everyone likes lists, right? Here are my all time most traumatic movie-watching experiences in order of how much psychological damage they caused. You get seven, because I couldn't think of ten. (Damn my resistance to traditional horror film gore.) I'm sure I missed plenty, so please leave a comment with your most mentally injurious viewing experience(s). Childhood traumas don't count; otherwise I would have included Large Marge and the scary T-Rex in the first Land Before Time.

7. Requiem for a Dream
The standard entry for people who started to get into Indie cinema around the time of Pi. Sure Aronofsky's previous film was a little messed up, but nobody was quite prepared for the unending bleakness of Requiem. It's been described as a monster movie where the concept of addiction plays the monster, but it is really just 100 minutes of likable characters making poor decisions and otherwise being boomer-biled on by life. I think the buddy who watched it with me in High School (dating myself terribly here) sput it best when, during the closing credits, he turned to me and asked, "can we watch The Lion King now?"

A strange little Australian movie that will be getting the full Video Updates treatment in the coming weeks, Body Melt is not a particularly coherent or affecting piece of cinema, but it warrants a mention for being the only film that ever made me want to throw up. Gore doesn't usually phase me (I think it's pretty rockin') and I played through Mirror's Edge on a big screen TV with nary a hint of nausea, but during the scene where a man drowns in his own prodigious snot (his anatomy deliquescing, if you will) made me gag a little. Why it is so much worse than eyeball gouging and decapitations, I'll never know.

5. Clockwork Orange with my Mom
For some reason, she thought she had seen it before. I was probably around 15 years old and had no idea what I was in for. Turns out, neither did she. All she could remember were the costumes, so she had probably just seen clips or a parody instead of the actual movie. Awkwardness ensued, but I'm pretty sure we both made it through the whole thing.

Later we went to see Event Horizon in theaters under similarly misguided pretenses. I thought it was awesome; she had nightmares for weeks.

A faux "one long take" movie with a backwards narrative structure, a camera rig that can twirl freely in any direction, rampant use of infrasound, and disturbing undercurrents of homophobia, Irréversible could be one of the most traumatic films ever purely through its art-film pretentiousness. I'm pretty sure Gaspar Noé's intension was for the viewer to viscerally hate him and his movie.

Oh yeah, there is also the little matter of the arm breaking, face smashing, and the infamously excruciating 10-minute, static camera angle rape scene.

To this day, this is the only movie my long suffering wife has refused to sit through. (She did once ask me to stop showing her so many "rape" movies, but, in my defense, there is far more to Straw Dogs than the rape scene.)

It's a simple story of a woman who becomes obsessed with self mutilation. If you watch it, you will probably spend most of the time screaming, "Oh God, what are you doing lady? Stop that! Wait. That's not where that is supposed to go! AAAAAHHHH! That knife isn't clean! No, God No! Don't put it near your eyes! What is wrong with you?!?!?!"


Long story: I had just changed colleges, and was getting the lay of the land at the new campus. The film club had a midnight movie series and this semester was exclusively horror films. What I didn't figure out, was that they did not have a regular schedule. (They might have two weeks in a row with showings and then nothing for a few weeks.) After catching a show the last two weeks, I showed up the next Thursday at 11:45 to see what I thought was going to be Rosemary's Baby. How wrong I was. It turns out that I had shown up during the LGBT film festival, and that they had their own midnight movie: Thundercrack! (From the Killdozer! school of punctuating movie titles.)

It's a difficult movie to find, so I may never get around to doing a full write-up, but... wow was that a strange movie to sit through all by your lonesome. Written by
George Kuchar, the patron saint of grainy underground wackiness, the film is ostensibly a comedy with the setup of and old horror film (people forced to take shelter in a creepy house during a thunderstorm), the actual plot is more akin to a zany porno. Basically every combination of characters does the nasty in a variety of ways. It begins with penis pumps and creative uses for zucchinis, moves along through your standard heterosexual couplings, then goes completely off the deep end with gorillas giving hand jobs and full dude-on-dude anal while other characters smoke pipes and performs disturbing monologues.

Funny, but I haven't been quite the same ever since.

Poor, poor Rowf and Snitter. Why is life so cruel? From the makers of the more well known childhood punishment, Watership Down, comes an animated children's film so traumatic that it makes Watership look like a slow day on Sesame Street. Two moderately anthropomorphized dogs (one with the voice of John Hurt) escape from a particularly nasty animal testing facility and have adventures. Unfortunately, their adventures consist mainly of suffering and starvation, with occasional bouts of getting chased by the military, who mistakenly believe the pooches to be carriers of bubonic plague. It doesn't end well.

First of all, this is the only children's cartoon I can think of with an unrated version. Second, it is so. fucking. sad. I don't normally get misty-eyed during movies, but The Plague dogs had me balling like an 8-year-old girl and made me depressed for roughly two weeks. I found myself repeatedly watching the end credits on YouTube, and would get sad at the thought of islands. My wife, similarly traumatized, had to read the original novel (with a somewhat more upbeat deus ex machina type ending) in order to exorcise her cuddly cartoon demons.

I can only imagine the damage this movie could do to its target audience. If you are a child, a dog person, or have even a single empathetic braincell untouched by 21st century cynicism, do not watch this high quality and underappreciated animated film.

I'm sad just thinking about it.


  1. Nice list. Being a dog person, I haven't had the heart to watch The Plague Dogs (but I do like animation, so I'm a bit torn). My number one trauma: Large Marge in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

  2. Hey KB to the XIV,

    Decent showing you got here...I haven't seen a few on this list but Thundercrack! sounds great. I'm dying to see a movie where gorillas are giving hand jobs...but I think I'll avoid Plague Dogs.

    Have you had the chance to check out 2007s À l'intérieur (Inside)? My pregnant wife refused to watch it but had to hear me moaning and screaming in the next room while I thoroughly enjoyed every brutal second of it.

  3. It's currently languishing somewhere in the upper middle of my Netflix queue. I've heard it's pretty brutal, and we all know how well pregnancy and horror films go together.

  4. The cat from Incredible Shrinking Man traumatised me as a kid. Years later a friend of mine watched The Exorcist on acid and has never really been the same since.

  5. Requiem for a Dream is on my "Movies to psyche yourself up for suicide" list. It also marks the genesis of the movie soundtrack staple "Lux Aeterna," sometimes referred to as "Requiem for a Tower," or "The orchestral theme for every summer blockbuster trailer this decade."

  6. Most traumatic movie ever is Bambi and I'm dead-serious about it.