Cinema's most shocking moments

To mark the fiftieth-anniversary re-release of ‘Psycho’, Time Out asked a panel of actors, directors and writers which movie moments have shocked them the most

50 years ago, it took Alfred Hitchcock 6 days, 77 camera setups and one very wet Janet Leigh to create the most iconic moment in horror cinema. The shower scene in 'Psycho' scandalised the filmgoing world: a fusion of sexual titillation and extreme violence which would irrevocably alter the boundaries of what's acceptable on screen. For better or worse,  filmmakers have since attempted to outdo one another in graphic depictions of sex and horror: in this article, we discover what – if anything – cinema's foremost artists and experts find most disturbing.

Nicolas Cage, Actor

‘When I saw “Scarface” [1983] in the cinema and they took the chainsaw to Pacino’s brother’s arms, that bothered me. It was grotesquely violent, and even though you don’t really see anything, just imagining what’s happening is horrifying. The actors were so real, and larger than life in their reality, it just got the message home even more viscerally.’

Alex Cox, director of ‘Sid and Nancy’, ‘Repo Man’

‘A scene in the great Italian director Giulio Questi’s dark and sweaty spaghetti western “Django Kill” [1967], which he claimed was based on his experiences as a partisan fighting the fascists in World War II. The townspeople realise that one of the bad gunslingers has been shot with bullets made of gold, and they tear him open on the saloon “operating table” to get at the precious metal in his gut.’

Kim Noble, shock comedian

‘Feeling a little down some years back, I sat down to watch a documentary called “The Bridge” [2006]. I knew it wasn’t going to be a Vince Vaughn/ Jennifer Aniston vehicle, but I wasn’t expecting such a beautiful and harrowing film. Is life really worth living? Many individuals  in this film, caught in the act of jumping to their deaths, clearly thought not. It combines interviews with friends of the dead and footage of a suicide spot on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge where, during filming, 23 people ended their lives. It should be screened in nurseries to prepare little ones for the inevitable torment and pain in their lives.’ 

Stephen Woolley, producer of ‘The Crying Game’ and 'Perrier's Bounty'

‘I saw a film in Manhattan in the early ’80s called “Pieces”, about a guy who constructs a woman from various body parts of people he kills. It was very much of its era – the colours were garish, with lots of horrible reds. It was a nasty, sexist film, but what was really shocking was that I looked round the cinema and it was full of kids, full of seven year olds watching it with their parents. I just wanted to make them turn off the film and get those kids out of there.’ 

Nick Broomfield, director of ‘Kurt and Courtney’, ‘Battle for Haditha’

‘I remember going to see “Betty Blue” [1986] in the cinema with friends and being absolutely astonished by the lovemaking in it. You’ve got this terribly dark, gorgeous creature in Béatrice Dalle who’s just out of control: like a car without the brakes. For me, the sex in that film was extremely shocking. It was shocking to see these characters just so believably… into it! ’

Don Boyd, producer of ‘Aria’ and director of ‘My Kingdom’

‘By far the most shocking scene I remember seeing as a boy was a black-and-white  re-enactment of the Crucifixion in the style of the painter Tintoretto.The actor playing Christ seemed to be withstanding the horror and pain. It was possibly a Buñuel film. I had nightmares about that sequence which temporarily subsided until my similar anguish at the painful horrific beauty of torture and flames in Dreyer’s masterpiece “The Passion of Joan of Arc” [1928] a few years later – when my nightmares began again!’ 

Michael Winterbottom, director of ‘24 Hour Party People’, ‘9 Songs’

‘There’s a scene in Gaspar Noé’s “Irréversible” [2002] that I found very shocking. It’s the one  where Albert Dupontel beats a guy to death with a fire extinguisher, smashing his skull until he dies. Physically, it’s very brutal.’

Kim Newman, horror expert

‘I’m not the sort to be scandalised by sex and violence and blasphemy and the like. But I despise films about rich people getting married where we’re supposed to think it’s a good thing. And pretty much everything Joel Schumacher [“The Lost Boys”, “Batman & Robin”, “The Phantom of the Opera”] has ever made. Oh, and the film version of “The Avengers” [1998] really annoyed me.’

Ben Hopkins, director 'The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz', '37 Uses for a Dead Sheep'

'I’m a bit immune to shock and can watch extreme violence with equanimity. However ,in 1990 I was in Pisa in Italy and saw Emir Kusturica’s charming 'Papa’s Away on Business'. In the circumcision scene there was a close up of the boy’s penis and the scalpel cutting off his foreskin. I jumped out of my seat and yelped with horror. People gave me funny looks. Later, I saw the film again in the UK, and the terror-inducing circumcision shot had thankfully been cut by the British censor. Censorship is great. 'I also saw Haneke’s original version of 'Funny Games' at the London Film Festival, and I was deeply disturbed by this shocking film. About 20 people walked out during the film. Then Haneke came on stage for the Q&A, and I was so shocked by what a pompous, self-aggrandising twat he was that I walked out of the Q&A. Still, as one of the world’s best filmmakers maybe he’s allowed to be a bit shocking.'Read our review of 'Psycho'

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