Ten great head shots in the movies
Lots of people get shot in the head in the new film 'Wanted'. Read our guide to some other great head shots on film
The Deer Hunter (1978)Currently languishing in the pesto purgatory of neo-revisionist anti-American sentiment, Michael Cimino’s spectacularly moving film on the pain and confusion that the Vietnam War was wreaking across a divided nation is in danger of being a baby that’s thrown out with the bathwater. Centring on the fortunes of a trio of drafted Pennsylvanian steel workers, it culminates with a heartrending scene in which Christopher Walken’s broken and forsaken GI is reduced to playing Russian roulette for coin in the back room of a Saigon rub ’n’ tug shop. His opponent is old pal Robert De Niro, who’s trying to convince him to come home. The law of decreasing returns, however, has other ideas…
Blade Runner (1982)‘Wake up. Time to die.’ Intergalactic cyber-lug Leon Kowalski (seriously? Robots are called Kowalski?) is having a bad day. As if escaping from an off-world colony, hopping a freighter back to Earth and being forced to bump off a nosy cop isn’t enough, now he’s got Harrison Ford poking around his flat and pinching his family snaps, and a distinctly cranky Rutger Hauer moping over his shoulder. What better way to let off some steam than to take that snoop Ford and give him a damn good pasting in a darkened, industrial alleyway? But just as Leon’s getting into the swing, a shot rings out. In a shocking display of replicant-on-replicant violence, Sean Young’s Rachel has snuck up out of nowhere and planted one smack between his purpose-built eyes, causing his skull to shatter inward in a creepy, blood-rimmed, candle-hole in the cake icing sort of way.
Young Guns (1988)So you ask yourself, what happened to the Western after the moody empire building of ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller’ and the beauteous folly of ‘Heaven’s Gate’? The '80s happened, that’s what. Harking back to the boil-in-the-bag B-pic dynamics of the '40s and '50s, Christopher ‘Gone Fishin’’ Cain re-wired the Western as pulpy, star-driven, apolitical drive-in fodder with ginger laughing boy Emilio Estevez saddled in the role of that lovable thief and serial murderer, Billy the Kid. Forced into a game of cat and mouse in and around New Mexico with wrinkled old coot Jack Palance, the predictable denoument sees Billy’s crew holed up in an abandoned farm house and stuck on the business end of a massive Army-supplied machine gun. Billy escapes to shoot Palance in the centre of the forehead from long range, delivering the nonsensical, albeit very cool line, ‘Reap the whirlwind, Murphy’. It saves the film. Just.
Bullet in the Head (1990)That brutal title says it all. Before the dove-laden logic wilderness of ‘Windtalkers’, ’Mission Impossible’ and ’Paycheck’, stocky, long-time underachiever John Woo produced perhaps the ultimate film about being shot in the head back in his bone-crunching days as a Hong Kong maestro of genre cinema. With plot and character not dissimilar to ‘The Deer Hunter’, Woo’s film sees three happy-go-lucky Fonz-a-likes prancing around some neon-lit back lot without a care in the world before deciding to prolong their summer hols in war-ravaged Saigon to kickstart some ‘naughty’ black market ops. After being captured by a group of blood-thirsty Viet Cong, one of our plucky smugglers gets blasted in the head for non-compliance, and survives! He spends his days shooting heroin in a Hong Kong back alley waiting for that ever elusive mercy kill.
Wild at Heart (1990)Hats and, indeed, heads off to Bobby Peru, the sickest, twistedest, most physically repulsive lip-quivering creep in the whole history of cinema. A Vietnam vet with a history of psychotic behaviour, Bobby has been spending time in the town of Big Tuna drinking cold beers, molesting hot women and planning ruthless crimes. That is, until a heist gone wrong leaves him spattered with a feedstore clerk’s arterial blood and facing a carful of angry Texan lawmen, with nowhere to turn but down the barrel of his trusty sawnoff. The exact circumstances behind Bobby’s death remain unclear – does he slip, or is the final shot intentional? Either way, there’s no mistaking the consequences: Bobby’s entire head, firmly encased in a spit-slick stocking, rips loose with the force of the blast, pirouetting balletically through the air before slapping wetly to earth like a condom packed with chopped liver. A fitting end to a gruesome existence.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)In what could and should have been an awful miscalculation, Arnie triumphantly returns to the ‘Terminator’ franchise as guardian angel to a teenage John Connor – the future saviour of mankind whose existence he so tenaciously attempted to obviate in 1984’s seminal sci-fi actioner. In the red corner is the liquid-metal form of coathanger-jawed non-actor Robert Patrick, into whose malleable noggin Schwarzenegger puts round after round of point blank double-ought buckshot to no deleterious effect whatsoever. That Patrick went on to reprise/spoof his iconic role in ‘Wayne’s World 2’ suggests, however, that he didn’t escape with his grey matter entirely intact.
Hana-Bi (1997)Making Clint Eastwood look like some farm-reared, blubbering mammy’s boy who wouldn’t know a .44 Magnum from a electric hand blender, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano is the Japanese pseudo-clown turned meditative overhauler of the Yakuza genre whose entire oeuvre comprises a veritable rogues gallery of great shots to the skull. There were threats in his debut film ‘Violent Cop’ where he plays an out of control detective who darts around town in a brown suit, forcing all and sundry to suck Glock while the precinct commissioner tears his hair out. The same goes for the Russian Roulette-based tomfoolery of ‘Sonatine’. But it’s 1997’s ‘Hana-Bi’ that contains one of cinema’s most beautiful head shots, as Kitano’s officer Nishi casually caps some goon in the forehead while capturing a spiralling plume of blood in gorgeous super-slow motion.
Fight Club (1999)'How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss...?' So retorts Kevin Spacey’s crippled fall guy to the implication that he missed the opportunity of taking down vindictive Turkish criminal puppetmaster Keyser Soze in Bryan Singer’s brainy 1996 potboiler ‘The Usual Suspects’. It’s a thorny dilemma all right, and one echoed in Edward Norton’s agonised refrain of millennial self-doubt in David Fincher’s divisive ‘Fight Club’; 'What if you try to blow your brains out to rid yourself of the Nietzschian fury burning within the mental projection of your sociopathic imaginary friend?' Many of us are still unclear as to the answer.
Last Days (2005)Michael Pitt loads up on guns and alienates his friends in Gus Van Sant’s meandering, arguably tasteless portrait of Kurt Cobain’s final moments on earth. The Cobain-worshipping community was up in arms when the movie was first announced, but after persuading their dads to let them see it, found that there was nothing much to get excited about; indeed, the movie relentlessly stifles any potential sense of intrigue or even interest through a merciless deployment of icy arthouse distancing techniques. Pitt’s anhedonic rockstar Blake potters about the house, plays the guitar, walks aimlessly through the woods for what feels like days, then caps it all by capping himself, just like Kurt, with a shotgun under the chin in the greenhouse. It may be better to burn out than fade away, but either is preferable to being slowly bored to death.
No Country For Old Men (2007)Javier Bardem’s ludicrously improbable yet downright bone-chilling turn as tonsorially misguided angel of death Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning Tex-Mex carve-up threw an intriguing spanner into the crime-scene works. Harbouring an ironclad motive and given ample opportunity, the only legal obstacle to his prosecution – apart from the not-inconsiderable feat of actually catching him – would be presenting to a jury the means by which he dispatched his victims. One between the eyes from the nozzle of a high-pressure compressed air canister is quiet, clean and leaves no room for ballistic reports. It’s hardly worth the boys from forensics even getting out of bed.
Author: Adam Lee Davies, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston
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