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Visual Studies 401: Films You Can’t Unsee


Futzing around on Facebook last night, I had an idea—which turned into a very interesting thread—about teaching a class on “films that can’t be unseen.” My suggestions were Requiem for a Dream, Happiness and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but a number of horrifying suggestions followed, including: Dead Ringers, Oldboy, Irreversible, Dancer in the Dark, Blue Velvet, and Gummo, among others.

Obviously, this is a terrible idea for a class—or a fine way to find myself fired—but those of us not disturbed enough by the prospect of a Romney presidency need something to foreclose the possibility of ever sleeping again. So I wonder what would find its way onto your syllabus, were you to teach this course?

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  • vynotwillplay

    >But the original and best will always be “Eraserhead.”

    I saw it in college and I didn’t understand it at all, plus it creeped me out.

    A Clockwork Orange I also found to be incredibly disturbing and haunting.

  • Halloween Jack

    Categories that I’d suggest you exclude:

    1) Splatterpunk. I’m not sure where you’d draw the line on that, exactly, but you’d probably know it when you see it. Slops over into parody too easily, even when it’s not the auteur’s obvious intent (early Peter Jackson, particularly, which Wikipedia informs me is sometimes known as “splatstick”; Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, as well).

    2) Weird porn. Yeah, yeah, we get it, tentacle hentai is freaky, vore, yiffing, yada yada. Be careful about googling unfamiliar terms, folks!

    3) Exploitation in general, with a few exceptions, depending on how closely you define the term. (There are exploitation elements throughout The Terminator, for example, but I wouldn’t define it as such, as opposed to Galaxy of Terror, which clearly is, and which I mention as a contrast because it’s one of James Cameron’s earliest film credits.)

    In terms of what to include, for Cronenberg I’d overlook some of the more obvious “body horror” films in favor of Dead Ringers, which mostly eschews Cronenberg’s fascination with mutant orifices (I said “mostly”, because the main characters (both played by Jeremy Irons) are twin brothers who are gynecologists, and there’s a brief scene with bizarre custom-made medical instruments for the squick factor) in favor of a blurring of interpersonal boundaries on a less literal level. Oh, and it’s based on a real story.

  • rea

    1959. I’m 6 years old and my parents take me to see Ben Hur first run. There is a scene during the sea battle in which chained slaves are trapped in a sinking galley–one almost tears his leg off trying unsuccesfully to excape.

    It’s now 2012, and I still have that nightmare on occasion.

    • I too saw Ben-Hur first run, & same age. Don’t remember that part ‘though.

  • I’m shocked.

    Not one Polanski film? Specifically Knife In the Water

  • Dianne

    Open Water – a good movie but the most horrifying I’ve ever seen.

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