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Five Movie Deaths that Made Me Shudder

These Endings Shock to the Core

Shudder — tremble convulsively, typically as a result of fear or revulsion.

Movie deaths such as Leonardo Dicaprio’s sudden death in The Departed certainly take you aback. Nonetheless, the turn of events don’t rise to the level of the definition above. The same goes for the iconic ending of Fredo in The Godfather. You hope against hope that Michael will exempt his own brother from the Mafia code of loyalty, but the gasp does dissipate as the cost of doing business.

Closer to the definition, are the opening scene of Jaws, John Hurt’s demise in Alien and Janet Leigh in Psycho. The shock value hold exalted places in movie history but don’t require a central nervous system recalibration. “This is just a movie. It didn’t really happen,” I told myself when the five below unfolded.

Regardless of the films’ quality or relative place in history, they still shook the foundations of my core.

The Hitcher

Jennifer Jason Leigh is fastened between two Mack Trucks with Rutger Hauer on the deadman’s switch. He wouldn’t. He is completely insane, though and has no fear of being captured or killed. Fine, the filmmakers wouldn’t subject us, and Leigh so cute and helpless, her tribulations at Ridgemont High could never end this way. This especially with C. Thomas Howell there to Sir Lancelot his own unrelenting cuteness to unhinge the soulless assailant.

So the pleading screams enhanced between the behemoths must be window dressing that will leave us unscathed for something more palatable. Still revving engines surely can’t be making a case in favor of sheer insanity over common decency. Breathing, this is only a game of chicken, and the writer, producer, and director are sure to blink before searing this image on us forever. Sorry, the blank stare and condescending smirk at Howell’s impotence are meant to be a teachable moment about the limits of horror — so just be warned. Whew!!!

But he’s looking away, the shot goes to the gas petal and the wheels spin in wait of impending acceleration. Yes, that is the sound of rope burns under the piercing screams and sobering dismemberment. The screen goes black, and there’s no mistaking what just happened. Elongated in your seat, words cannot describe the visceral gasp so I won’t even try.

Cliffhanger

I didn’t particularly like Cliffhanger, and I’m not going back to watch all the glare off Sylvester Stallone’s muscles to recall exactly why. Nonetheless, the opening scene hits you hard in the depths of your stomach. The drop starts innocent enough, and the novice in question puts up a brave front to complement Stallone’s poorly acted assurances. Finally accepting invitations to kiss the sky, Sara is one of us, and that obviously heightens the tension. (Sorry, a real cliffhanger falling 1000 feet to his death is pretty much someone who had it coming).

Still, she puts on her game face and goes off without a hitch. What a nice guy. Stallone should be there to help conquer the fears that hold us all back. "Not so fast," said the fastener and suddenly all the bravado the action hero has accrued hangs in the balance. But we’ve seen this movie before. Sly would never let her fall and neither would his marketing team. The everyman screams of, “I don’t want to die,” says as much and the one handed grab is just the setup for a firm footing. She does seem pretty terrified, though, and the boyfriend definitely looks like he hasn’t seen this movie before. Please stop screaming, please top pleading with your eyes and please stop looking like all of us who’ve bitten off more than we could chew. The glove is slipping, I’m falling, I’m falling, this isn’t supposed to happen to meeeeee… And for those left wailing onscreen and reeling in disbelief in front of it, the bottom just dropped out doesn’t begin to describe the sinking feeling.

What Just Happened

This dry, low key comedy does so by going against a long standing unwritten Hollywood and human adage. Must Love Dogs. That said, we’ve all recoiled upon seeing the good guy getting gunned down in cold blood. Sean Penn does the honors here, and as he lays in wait of the final nail, the most hardened conservative probably extends empathy. He even gets points for refusing to beg and putting the onus on the shooter. “I’m don’t care about me, I’m worried about your salvation.”

Well, maybe not but that’s because it’s a corny line from the fictional screened movie that drives the plot. So while the moment elevates, the impending outcome doesn’t actually have you on the edge of your seat. You’re more dialed into Robert De Niro’s voiceover, and his explanation on the importance of a successful screener. Even so, you can’t help join in the drama as the events converge and are intermixed with the audience agitation. But aghast is then positioned as Penn’s faithful dog emerges on the scene to have his say.

The music races, the audience faces twitch and Penn’s final words fall on the deaf ear’s of the menacing bad guys. The incessant barking should only serve to call out the helplessness of the cause and the audience’s pain. Yes, we’ve seen this movie before too — or we thought. Fido steps right into the crossfire and gets shot in the face. We do only see it from behind. But the splattering blood and final yelp remind us that animals should never pay for the sins of humans. Of course, if you can stomach the abomination, What Just Happened is a hidden gem in which Hollywood turns the satire on itself. Unfortunately, shooting a dog will just have to suffice as the collateral damage. 

Se7en

If you haven’t noticed the common thread, it’s innocent bystanders make the revulsion even more unsettling. Hello Gwyneth Paltrow. Forced to share affections with her husband’s police work, she’s lost in the big city and pines for a better home life and a bigger piece of Brad Pitt. She could do worse, though. He comes home, doesn’t complicate his life with a wondering eye and exudes contentment. We should all do so well and can’t help feel a wanting connection. Kevin Spacey for the magnitude of his faults, is with us too. “You’ve built quite a life for yourself detective,” John Doe suddenly throws the arrogant Detective Mills off in the climatic scene.

Oh this can’t be good.

Was that a strand of blonde hair inside the head sized UPS box? No, this is strictly between men, and wives are off limits. Brad Pitt doesn’t seem to think so, and Morgan Freeman can’t seem to sell us otherwise. “What’s in the box, What’s in the box,” our core is totally exposed now.

And there was a baby. Close your eyes, and return to sender but wrath fails to put a dent in the despair that cries out for what is only fair. No such luck, and even without seeing the head, your one shorter for seeing this shocker through.

The Counselor

The last bystander is Penelope Cruz, and you love her sweet innocence as much as Michael Fassbender. But just because we wouldn’t become involved with a drug cartel doesn’t mean Fassbender would pass up the opportunity to give her everything. Of course, we’re not exactly in the same proximity as he is. But this is a one and done so what could go wrong. Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt know from experience, and do what they can to coax him out of their world. Staying the course, his argument has the benefit of delusion. “Life is being in bed with you. Everything else is just waiting,” the counselor professes and has you believing nonetheless.

Not for long as supposed serendipity causes the deal to go horribly awry. “They're a pragmatic lot. They don't believe in coincidences. They've heard of them, they've just never seen one,” Javier Bardem levies a death penalty on Fassbender.

The litigator learns that he should be so lucky, and neither are we. “It's not that you're going down, Counselor. It's what you’re taking down with you,” Pitt coldly gives him the prognosis.

That’s right, this isn’t between men either.

On the run after his beloved has been scooped up, the Counselor receives an envelope containing a disk. The mystery eventually gives way to an earlier conversation about how snuff films are not beyond the cartel’s depravity. “The young girl was looking into the camera, crying when her head was lopped off. Think about that the next time you do a line,” Bardem is also succinct.

Now he realizes her fate, and the subsequent cut forces you to swivel your head away as the said torso tumbles out onto the trash heap. The full interior of your guts don’t do much better and are set to permanent tremble.


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