Total Film’s most violent movies.

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Totalfilm.com puts up features like this fairly regularly. They’re usually a mixed bag but this one that went up last week was more interesting than most others. Their choices were (in no order)

‘The Wild Bunch’*, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’*, ‘Martyrs’*, ‘Rambo’, ‘Ichi the Killer’*, ‘Natural Born Killers’*, ‘Robocop’*, ‘Total Recall’*, ‘A Serbian Film’*, ‘Men Behind the Sun’*, ‘Salo’, ‘Inside’*, ‘Hostel 2’*, ‘Saw VI’*, ‘Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood’, ‘Jason X’, ‘Philosophy of a Knife’, ‘Irreversible’*, ‘Battle Royale’*, ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’*, ‘The Expendables’*, ‘Murder Set-Pieces’, ‘Braindead’*, ‘Oldboy’*, ‘Cutting Moments’*, ‘Switchblade Romance’*, ‘August Underground’s Mordum’, ‘Shogun’s Sadism’, ‘Snuff 101’, ‘Cannibal’

Whenever I see a list like this I must admit I always feel compelled to check how many I’ve seen. In this case 20/30 (the ones marked with asterisks).

I’m quite pleased with that, most of the ones I haven’t seen I don’t have much interest in, though the description made me morbidly fascinated to see ‘Philosophy of a Knife’. Reading a little more about it though it’s repeatedly described as an ‘endurance test’, I think I’ll pass.

It’s a fairly eclectic mix, with established classics alongside acclaimed foreign hits, notorious items both old and new, blockbusters and DTV grot. It also surprised me how many of these are actually very good films (though also there’s plenty of rubbish).

Among the legendarily notorious items, it’s no surprise to see ‘Salo’, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, ‘Men Behind the Sun’ or ‘Natural Born Killers’ featured. Also the more modern controversy baiters like ‘Irreversible’ or ‘A Serbian Film’. However I can’t help but feel that some films were chosen just to represent a particular type of film. ‘Cannibal Ferox’, advertised upon release as ‘the most violent movie ever made’ is just as, if not more violent than ‘Holocaust’. There are probably a few others of the ‘video nasties’ that could have gone on there. Also many Korean thrillers have exceeded the outstanding ‘Oldboy’, in this department ‘I Saw the Devil’ and ‘The Yellow Sea’ being recent examples.

There are a few rather odd choices though, (Total Recall? Really?). ‘The Wild Bunch’ still packs a punch but there’s much tougher (to watch) stuff out there, such as ‘The Proposition’. ‘The Expendables’ is an unexpected inclusion; I found it highly unmemorable but certainly don’t recall a particularly high level of violence. It’s interesting to see a mention of ‘RoboCop’ too, many people seem to forget just how graphic it was, and there have been kids’ toys of RoboCop.

Onto the absentees, it’s interesting that they’ve left out several crime films, ‘Scarface’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Casino’, ‘American History X’, and ‘Gangster No. 1’ that wouldn’t have surprised me had they been included. The most obvious choice I felt would be ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (I recall seeing this uncut on TV once and during every advert break they issued a warning about the contents). It’s follow up ‘Apocalypto’ was also a gruelling watch in places. A film I saw quite recently that really astonished me with its brutality was ‘Ironclad’. I’m sure if I put some serious thought into it I could recall a number of extremely violent movies. The recent ‘Grotesque’, ‘Human Centipede 2’ and ‘The Bunny Game’ all had problems getting UK releases in the last few years (I’ve only seen the latter).

What it really got me thinking about though, was, ‘how exactly does one compare films’ levels of violence?’. You can’t simply use the body count, otherwise, as David Fincher pointed out in the DVD commentary, ‘The Lion King’ would be more violent than ‘Fight Club’. Could you use the amount of screentime concerned with violent activity? In which case ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and, now I think of it ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ feature little else. I guess one must just consider how violent the violent scenes are.

It also made me think back to violent scenes that have genuinely disturbed me. There are several moments in the very mainstream ‘Saving Private Ryan’ that I feel are as brutal as anything I’ve seen in movies. Spielberg can produce truly devastating moments when he chooses to, see also ‘Munich’. I think the film that disturbed me the most though was ‘Scum’, which may have had something to do with being 15 when I saw it. In both cases the level of realism plays a huge part in their impact.

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