The term “masterpiece” holds a rather floating definition. True enough, one man’s masterpiece is another man’s garbage; women ditto. However, one term constantly associated with the term masterpiece seems to be “bold.” Critics seem to fall back on this terms time and time again.
In retrospect, it does quickly become clear that most cinematic gems hold one distinct common characteristic – a refusal to pull their punches. There is an audacity to films like “8 1/2” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”. They don’t take the easy road, they challenge us to look at both ourselves and those around us. It is this courage that fosters an admiration for films, one that lingers long after the viewing experience has ended.
Sadly for family relations, however, for many a masterpiece, “bold” means sex, murder, perversion, and lavish doses of nudity. The bond of family is complex, parenthood especially. As such, there are some films that, while brilliant, make the sacred bond between parents and children a more caustic one.
We have all been there – a film you are glad you did not watch in the presence of your cherished elders. You see, decapitations and masks made of human flesh can be wonderful, but only in specific company. These kind of scenes remain the stuff of parental conflict long after childhood.
Here are 15 films that, though brilliant in their own unique ways, are almost certain to be deemed “not safe for parents”. So please, do seek out these films, just not in the company your parents.
15. Hard Candy (2005)
In many ways, Hard Candy is the quintessential cat and mouse tale. Perhaps the most prevalent reason that it may not spring to mind as being so is the sudden shift in roles between cat and mouse. Patrick Wilson plays Jeff, an online sexual predator who bites off far, far more than he can chew when he solicits underage Hayley (Ellen Page) into an intimate encounter.
We are just in the midst of preparing ourselves for a standard victim tale when, suddenly, things take a very profound turn. What follows is an entire feature film that feels like the notorious “Is it Safe?” sequence from Marathon Man. A Marathon Man for our age, if you will.
Indeed, what ensues is brutal. But somehow, throughout all of the carnage, the humanity remains. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson both enjoyed major career evolution on the back of the film, and their portrayals in this case justify the media frenzy.
Ellen Page keeps the brutal Hayley human, and Patrick Wilson’s Jeff enjoys moments of being rather relatable himself, before then injecting just enough venom to remain very much the villain of the piece. There is not much to learn about humanity, even of we learn nothing about cyber predators as such.
But castrations are not for family get-togethers.
14. Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Russ Meyer was a man of passions. Aside from large breasts, he loved black humour, adventure, and onscreen silliness of the first grade. Did we mention large breasts?
Here, we have a film which takes place, as all of Meyer’s work, very much in a universe devised by Meyer. It is a lurid, brash, and witty universe, if not a little vile. The plot revolves three vixens who escape their go go dancing trade to take to the dessert for mischief. Kidnap and murder quickly ensues.
The plot thickens when the opportunity to rob an old man’s stately home arises, the four girls (including one kidnapped) accompany the old man and his son, the “Vegetable” back to the house. The old man is willing due to his lecherous tendencies, the women are willing due to a desire for cash. Thus, one of cinema’s most unholy alliances briefly forms.
It is hard to assess which is more disturbing – the copious incidences of violence and sexual perversion, or the vile nature of simple dialogue scenes. A dinner scene is particularly stomach churning in its content, all horrors made real simply by dialogue. Yet, the craft is ever present. Meyer certainly knows how to frame a buxom lady, so as to make best use of her curvy assets.
The dessert car chases make particular use of Meyer’s cinematic sensibilities. The final sequence was stolen virtually frame by frame by Quentin Tarantino, and possibly bests Tarantino’s reimagining. Meyer may be the most unlikely action director in history.
This film is quite the experience, and may be the jewel of its director’s canon. Yet, viewer discretion is certainly advised.
13. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Such an angelic score for such a barbaric film, the Riz Orlani soundtrack to Cannibal Holocaust is one of cinema’s great oxymorons. Indeed, the sweeping aerial shot of the Amazonian forest as Orlani’s gentle score swells is rather comforting. Of course, this is pure cinematic sadism.
Once this film begins, turtle massacres, rape, and impalement will soon become commonplace. What this film is capable of truly beggars belief. It is, in many ways, a fine example of the “fools gold” plot archetype. As a film crew travels further down river, in spite of their best interests, they head further and further into the hands of an indomitable evil.
There are two important aspects to note with regards to Cannibal Holocaust. Firstly, the film is one of the earliest examples of the found footage genre. The plot is bookended by a professor’s discovery of the ill-fated Amazonian film crew’s footage, unearthing the horrors that had befallen them.
More interesting still is the fact that, like another found footage path paver The Blair Witch Project, many people initially thought that the events depicted in the film really occurred. If this was the case, then the film’s central idea must have been particularly chilling – the cannibals are not necessarily the offending party, it is the Westerners who are intruding, the cannibals are simply happy to defend their turf.
12. Kids (1995)
Bold does not begin to describe the singularity of purpose presented by this harrowing 1995 film. Perhaps Kids’ relentless audacity can be attributed to its teenage scriptwriter Harmonie Korine. The opening scene alone provides a masterclass in creeping your audience out.
Told through a single shot, two teens luy intertwined. The boy, feigning a detestable false sensitivity, busies himself attempting to convince the girl to give him her virginity. There is no sex on screen, yet the opening scene is as explicit as any vivid sex scene. The manipulative words of the male serve to make our skin crawl from the get go.
Dialogue is the principle weapon wielded by Korine’s script. The film sticks fearlessly to its concept of teen discussion as being a profanity infused verbal pandemonium. Use of 1990s slang terms such as “hella” are wielded repeatedly in a rather effective social satire. The scenarios are the stuff of every parent’s nightmare. Teens openly indulging in sex, drugs, alcohol, and violent crime. They are seemingly intent on their own destruction, and we watch almost as victims of the film’s often successful intensity.
The frankness is what chills the blood here. These characters are far from evil, and only a few seem irredeemable, but they are free in ways we would never wish for juveniles to be.
11. Deep Red (1975)
The chiller set on the dark streets, Dario Argento’s slasher masterpiece is a film in which the characters are as pointed as the blades. Deep Red is as masterful as the slasher genre can get, with Argento almost striving to promote the genre to high art. Though, as slasher film will go, camper elements are as present as ever. As evidenced by a dramatic opening sequence in which a children’s lullaby is promptly followed by a brutal murder.
The film brings together a motley clue of individuals during a series of murders in an old Italian town (the film was shot in Turin). A musician who witnesses a murder, a disturbed alcoholic, a psychic medium who can foresee each tragedy. The pieces are aligned in the fashion of a classic murder mystery.
A mysterious nursery rhyme, a shadowy figure, everybody in town is a suspect. Soon, the disturbed drunkard Marco becomes the principal suspect, a wealth of evidence builds against him. But have the authorities spoken too soon.
The film is a stylistic masterpiece, a treasure trove of chiaroscuro lighting and masterful editing. The film’s principal sequences take place at night and are aptly composed indeed. It is almost a pity that one would hesitate to share this one’s parents.
Yet, despite its cinematic value, the film is odd, obtuse, and deeply disturbing. The ending may be a tad ridiculous, but then so is the slasher genre. This film is brimming with merit, urging the viewer’s attention and respect. Still, choose your viewing company wisely.
10. Dressed to Kill (1980)
Hitchcockian rip-off of the highest caliber, here is a film in which the opening shot is sufficient to have your parents reaching for the remote. A frustrated housewife washes herself in a steamy shower, Brian De Palma certainly knows how to start with a bang. From behind the woman, a hand envelopes her, caressing her. Soon, the man becomes not a lover but an attacker, and the woman screams in vain for life.
And, then we cut to a sex scene.
There are extended sequences entirely without dialogue. These range from romantic to violent. Many scenes are ludicrous. All in all, this is a Hitchcock homage that find itself very much in the “who dunnit” vein. De Palma, as ever, relishes in his pulp. The violence and sexual tension is at fever pitch, albeit paced well amidst subdued moments of calm.
The ending may be a frustratingly hack affair in terms of scripting, but the film closes well with some strong sequences to compensate for the second rate narrative conclusion. But then, by this point your parents may well have turned the film off anyways.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The family that eats together and stays together – perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of Tobe Hooper’s horror classic depiction of a murderous family, is that they seem happy. As for the rest of the film, it is hard to even articulate why this simple tale of a group of young friends murdered one by one in a middle American town manages to work on so many levels.
The collective subconscious? Our fears of the unfamiliar? Or does it simply tap into our distrust of each other? Few films have ever celebrated the depraved to such a degree and been embraced so readily.
The obsession with the flesh leaves the film rife for psychological interpretation. Human skin masks, the sound of a meat hook ripping through a girl’s back. The sequences are staged in order to maximise realism, chases take place in real time and at realistic paces. The film’s first major moment of brutality is framed in a medium wide shot, almost documentary-like. The film leaves you with the feeling that this cast and crew really had conviction, though to what may remain a mystery.
Yet, the thrill of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remain as real as ever. it certainly earns its place on this list with disturbing ease.
. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Time has had to catch up with what may well be Stanley Kubrick’s final masterpiece. Opinions differ wildly on Eyes Wide Shut’s pacing, the inability of its recently deceased director to follow his custom of recutting the film after its first screenings, or its rank on Kubrick’s canon.
But one thing has always been unanimous – the film is an audacious spectacle. Strangely hypnotic on both an audiovisual and character conceit level, the film almost trudges along, with one extended sequence after another aimed at unearthing the nature of lust. Sound good for a family night? Hardly.
But it does have its value. An early encounter with a Hungarian aristocrat sets forth the ideology of the piece effortlessly. The bedroom disagreement that serves as the catalyst to the film’s plot is an acting masterclass, and a worrying reminder of Stanley Kubrick’s obsessive rehearsal etiquette.
Often forgotten is a breathtakingly desperate scene between Cruise’s Bill Harford and the daughter of a deceased patient, a sequence that almost represents a summation of the film within itself. There is far more emotion laid bare in Eyes Wide Shut then there is flesh.
Still, be wary of the discomforting array of flesh.
7. Straw Dogs (1971)
Quite simply, this is a film in which a woman is forcefully raped, and she may well have enjoyed the experience. That is all that is required to justify the film’s appearance on this list. Now let’s turn our attention to what is brilliant about the film.
We have here which could easily be misshapen into a convenient excuse for an exploitation vehicle. An American mathematician is met with animosity when he takes a working holiday to his British girlfriend’s conservative hometown. The rivalry with the villagers for his wife’s affection soon turns violent. It seems like the stuff of second rate horror, indeed.
But, what the 2011 remake of Straw Dogs failed to recapture, is that the real animosity of the film exists in the unspoken tension between newlyweds Amy and David. Susan George plays Amy with a delirious ambiguity, at times simply mischievous, at times unfulfilled, and at other times downright suicidal in her intent. The notion that David and Amy have brought the ensuing violence upon themselves is the most fascinating facet of the film.
Much has been made of the right wing implications of David’s eventual rebirth into violence, but, as the climax of the film represents such an acting masterclass for Hoffman, the film appears more the story of the final chapter of a broken marriage than conservative propaganda.
6. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Love is portrayed as an almost universally bizarre force in this curio from curio master craftsman Michael Haneke. Even amidst the odd peer group that is Haneke’s filmography, this film appears strange. The story of Erika, a dangerously suppressed piano teacher in Vienna.
Divorced from the city’s passion, she is an emotionless spinster whose life centers around work, her living arrangements with her controlling Mother, and the occasional dalliance in pornographic movie theatres. Yet, when piano student Walter decides to seduce Erika, her life becomes an experiment in voyeurism that looks likely to become sinister at any moment.
A a filmmaker, one of Haneke’s strengths lies in refusing to provide easy answers. The Piano Teacher’s conclusion is stark, even bleak. It states clearly that mental illness is not easy cured, that Hollywood often oversimplifies in its conclusions. If Erika enters the film with deep seated issues, so too will she leave it that way.
Much is learned, but not all. With Haneke, there are no entirely happy endings, just fitting conclusions. But, the ambiguity does not make for easy viewing, and certainly isn’t recommended for family viewing. But, Isabelle Hupert is outstanding, and the film is as powerful as it is baffling.
Yet, hockey rinks are certainly no place for encounters, as your parents will no doubt inform you.
5. Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Quite simply of the most wandering indulgences in narrative cinema. This is a film that has the audacity to actually spend its opening half hour teasing you with the notion that it may actually contain an intelligible plot. From there, we are left in the cruel, confused world of two lovers bent on self-destruction through the medium of each other.
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider are magnificent as the incendiary lovers Paul and Jeanne. Paul, an ageing hotelier and Jeanne, a naive virginal presence, give to and take from each other equally. And, we follow them down a long, vicious path.
Brando’s improvisations are so ludicrous they verge on the inspired. Sadly, the intensity of the occasional sexual violence left permanent psychological damage on Maria Schneider, who has claimed to have felt “raped” by Brando. The idea of the inescapability of love has rarely been explored so agonisingly.
The film is a downer, the structure is non-existent; that’s precisely the point. It is difficult to know whether any real insight can be gleaned from the film, but the film will leave its mark as an experience imposed upon your consciousness. You may think twice before entering into a relationship.
Anyone who watches this with elder relatives deserves a medal of valour.
4. Deliverance (1972)
No list of this kind would be complete without Deliverance. The image of a toothless simpleton with lust written all over his face will never fade from the public consciousness. The image of a partially disrobed Ned Beatty scrambling unsuccessfully for his life whilst hearing the words “boy, you look just like a hog”, is frightful even to consider for a moment.
And, then, we have “squeal like a pig boy.” For its part, it is possibly the most obscene line to have a ubiquitous presence on lists of iconic film lines. These are murky waters indeed. It is a wonder that the film works at all, let alone bear the title of “classic.”
Yet, the film is utterly brilliant. Brimming with iconic imagery that burns its way into the viewer’s psyche, and making tremendous use of our collective fear of the unknown, the film seems effortlessly effective.
As a deconstruction of masculinity, it is superbly deft. Burt Reynold’s Lewis is the impossibly macho alpha male, Jon Voigt’s Ed the institutionalised product of the middle class, and Ned Beatty as the oafish and charming Bobby, the true victim of the piece. They form quite the trio when things turn grim, more innocent than they thought themselves to be and utterly out of their depth. There is no doubt that the source novel made its points about masculinity in times of tragedy well.
Although, be wary, just because the rape scene is part of a larger tapestry doesn’t mean that it isn’t horrific.
3. The Crying Game (1992)
What begins as a quaint British love story becomes, rather iconically, something so much more in The Crying Game. Arguably Neil Jordan’s masterpiece, this film does a magnificent job of subverting the Cinderella story archetype. Of course, many forget that the film also has a wartime aspect, its opening scenes dealing with Fergus’ (Stephen Rea) Irish Republican wartime exploits.
The murderous nature of the opening scenes, however, manages to not distance us from fergus so much as it does establish him all the more as a man in need of affection. This is a difficult assignment that the film succeeds with fleetfooted ease. And, so, at the strange instruction of a wartime victim, Fergus is off to meet the mysterious Dil.
This is a film that is certainly best viewed without prior research as to its plot or content. It is a film best experienced in ignorance to what has become a most discussed twist. However, shock value aside, what makes the film’s plot twist shocking is the intimacy forged between Fergus and Dil prior to this. The film is the work of intense incite, it is a mature film for mature audiences.
You could say that emotions are the most graphically elements on display here – though many would argue otherwise in light of more literal forms of exposure. Another aspect to be commended is the maturity with which Dil and Fergus decide to part, ambiguous as to their futures but with the promise that there are few hard feelings. Indeed, there is a lot of hope to be taken from this maudlin film.
Dare you find out what this film is best remembered for?
2. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
A chance meeting on a street leads to an erotic odyssey of vulnerability and joy in Abdellatif Kechiche’s masterpiece. Such is the film’s naturalism that its appeal is virtually impossible to describe. Suffice to say that this is an acting masterclass seldom equaled, with two young actresses providing more in method than any textbook could illustrate.
Adele Exarchoupolis’ facial expressions say more than many a novel, with high school bathrooms, park benches, and family dinner tables providing the stage for an overwhelming humanity. The look on Adele’s face as a girl breaks her spirit in a toilet early in the film, or her embarrassment as Lea informs her parents that Adele hates shellfish, these are moments virtually too rich to describe.
Kechiche’s directorial style certainly strived for realism. Adele’s character is only named so because it is the real name of actress Adele Exarchoupolos, and had to be kept because her director would continue to film her between takes, at which point crew members would refer to her as “Adele”. The director would fil his stars as they slept and ate, nothing was off limits. Candid, indeed.
So, what’s the catch? Why is this sensitive film off limits to parents? One word – sex. The sex scenes in this film are not simply uncomfortable, they are excruciating. To refer to them as awkward viewing is simply too big an understatement.
During a near ten minute scene, actresses Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchoupolis express their characters’ love in ways that will make you squirm in your seat, and perhaps even look away. It is as primordial as cinema gets. Those who say the film in theaters will notes the awkward giggles, and knife edged silences. It must be seen to be believed.
How brave do you feel?
1. Salo: Or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Salo is not a controversial film, it is the controversial film. It is an orgy of filth, perversion, and fearlessness that horrifies with every scene. It is virtually impossible to sit through in any kind of comfort. Feces is digested, young boys are married off to grown men, women celebrate childhood abuse. The mind boggles.
It is almost beyond verbal description, you must watch it for yourself in order to believe. Suffice to say that director Pier Paolo Pasolini had a seething hatred of Fascism, because his critic of the abuse of power in Salo, Italy in 1944 under Mussolini is perhaps the most absurdly purposeful satire in cinema history.
Loosely, the film centers around four cornerstone men of power in the Italian state – a Duke, a Bishop, a Magistrate, and a President, who, having married each others daughters, decide to kidnap eighteen teenagers and torture them for four months in a stately home in Salo. This is the film’s plot, though it holds little significance for the viewer once the sadism begins.
Among the “highlights” are Elsa De Giorgi’s monologues during the “circle of shit”, in which she gets dressed in her best to tell stories of childhood abuse and murder. More hideous still, is the “marriage” of the camp runners to young boys of their choosing, and a wedding meal of feces by means of “celebration”.
Why watch this? Well, nobody can blame those who loathe the film. But, Pasolini is not shallow, and he does not make film’s for the sake of popcorn entertainment. This is about the indulgence of the upper class, the superiority of the rich, and the abuse of power that all those in power fall victim to in some form. Indeed, the film even ends on a hopeful note of change, for those who manage to watch it to the end, that is.
Intrigued? Then seek this film out by all means. It has curious virtues. But, do not watch Salo with your parents, under any circumstances. Simply do not.
Author Bio: Ross Carey is a Film Studies graduate from County Cork In Ireland. He is an award winning short filmmaker and is in the midst of writing his debut feature film. Before joining Taste of Cinema he ran a popular blog entitled “Kino Shout! Films”. He will discuss the subject of film at any opportunity.