5 Positively Shocking Moments in Vintage Film
5 Corpse Delivery, “The Public Enemy” (1931)
This pre-code gangster romp still packs a punch for many reasons, with its stark violence, grimy characters and a sense of impending doom hanging throughout. The ultimate end of main character Tom Powers, however, is more morose than the standard “laying in the gutter full of holes.” After surviving that particular fate, Tom is kidnapped from the hospital in his weakened state, presumably tortured, killed and propped up against his mother’s doorstep, eyes open, to fall over into the house when his own brother answers the door.
4 Little Girl Shooting, “Assault On Precinct 13” (1976)
In John Carpenter’s bleak tale of a town besieged by a particularly ruthless gang of toughs, a very, very dark line is crossed when a heartless scumbag piloting an ice cream truck callously executes one of his small customers with a very large revolver. It’s hard to accept or forget this case of above and beyond villainy, and we kind of hate Carpenter for showing it to us.
3 Shower Slashing, “Psycho” (1960)
Hitchcock’s iconic thriller may not match the balls-out gore of today’s torture porn, but it does prove less is more with its nerve-wracking scene of cross-dressing Norman Bates’ desecration of Marion Crane’s nude, delicate curves set to Bernard Hermann’s discordant, shrieking violins. Imagining a 1960 audience witnessing the death of what seemed to be the film’s main protagonist so early on, and in such a memorably imaginative, briskly startling fashion only helps cement this scene as a true and important standout.
2 Eyeball Slicing, “Un Chien Andalou” (1929)
Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s silent surrealist short opens with a notoriously nasty bit of business, namely the nonchalant splitting of a woman’s eyeball with a razorblade in close-up. Besides the fact it’s a woman’s freaking eyeball being slit open with a razor blade in close-up, the effect is pulled off quite convincingly with the use of a dead calf’s eye. Leave it to the mind of one of the 20th century’s most distinct and depraved voices to bequeath cinema this undying shocker.
1 Duck-Woman, “Freaks” (1932)
In Todd Browning’s indelibly creepy classic, there are several upending images and sequences, not the least of which is the sight of several circus freaks crawling through mud with various weapons towards quite understandably frightened and duplicitous trapeze hottie Cleopatra to exact revenge on her for seducing and betraying one of their own. But the capper is the reveal of her gruesome yet oddly funny fate: mutilation into a legless, flippered, squawking, seemingly mindless duck-woman hybrid. There is no unseeing this grim, surreal poetic justice.