Been having some strange dreams lately...don't ask me why. You know, dreams that sear your brain, take root there, and then continue to fester and grow the next day. But sometimes those 'dreams' can serve as inpiration...which got me thinking about disturbing movie scenes and sequences.
A lot of my faves come from my youth...when one was relatively unscarred by all the horrors the real world had to offer so being exposed to a dark twisted movie sequence could really do a number on you...like almost any scene from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, or Taxi Driver, or even Marathon Man's 'Is it safe?' scene...
But let's dig deeper, darker. Some standouts...Reservoir Dogs and the ear trimming set to 'Stuck In The Middle With You':
Or in Trainspotting...the toilet scene (or dead baby scene, take your pick):
But the master of the disturbing scene (but not necessarily effective film) is still, for me, David Lynch. From Elephant Man to Twin Peaks to Wild At Heart to Lost Highway, his movies have always been flawed but laden with memorably messed up moments (Fire Walk With Me...shiver). For example, Dennis Hopper's Frank in Blue Velvet and the "Mommy wants to f***!" scene made me shit...though for some reason, Dean Stockwell lip syncing 'In Dreams' disturbed me more:
Or who could deny the creep factor of Robert Blake's "I'm in your house right now. Call me." request of Bill Pullman in Lost Highway:
Or the diner scene and the man's recounting of his dream in Mulholland Drive:
Dreams are where Lynch really plays with our heads: all of his films have them...but the movie of Lynch's that remains to this day the only film I've ever walked out of (because it just creeped me out so) was Eraserhead. Essentially one long bad dream, it was an experiment in the juxtaposition of grating industrial noises and some horrific images (monster baby anyone?):
I've tried watching some of today's gore porn like the Hostel movies and Saw sequels, but they tend to either sicken or repulse or just bore with their blatent graphicness. It's all on the surface, and doesn't get under your skin. Unlike say, Donnie Darko and the rabbit skull. Or the General in Pan's Labyrinth having his cheek sliced open and then sewing it up himself. Or even the restrained threat of Anton the psychopath in the new Coen Brothers movie...that scene in the gas station with the old man and the coin toss...now that was disturbing.
I've written a lot of TV scripts, but the ones that remain 'memorable' in most people's minds have been the ones with unsettling yet relatable scenes. One was an Are You Afraid of the Dark? where two teens in a dingy ventured out onto a haunted swimming pool with something dangerous lurking beneath the water (Jaws in a pool was my pitch I believe). Another was a Psi Factor episode where a young man who we weren't sure if he was alive or dead began slowly decomposing and started peeling off his fingernails one by one. Both have earned me far more compliments than other episodes I was more proud of, because they had memorably disturbing sequences.
I've talked about this before...'movie moments' in the TV script. If you're writing horror or suspense television, try to go to that dark place of your nightmares and see what you find...sometimes one good creepy sequence is all you need to build your story around.