We’re all attracted to violence, especially on film, which makes for a cathartic and often harmless means to fulfill our base needs as homo-sapiens to exert dominant aggressive behaviour. Sometimes that means enjoying the sight of someone getting a car door slammed in the side of their head, or having one’s head batted around with a baseball bat, or a good ol’ fashioned punch to the face. And so, I’ve compiled this list of gruesome, great and certainly memorable beatdowns, which, for good or bad, will always stick in our memory.
Pistol Whipping the Neighbour – GOODFELLAS (1990)
Martin Scorsese’s name will come up on this list a lot. One of the most shocking moments was Henry Hill’s demeaning punishment inflicted on his douche neighbour for groping his wife. Watch Ray Liotta’s seething rage as he crosses the suburban street before beating down the pathetic neighbour and his lame attempt at verbal confrontation with the side of his gun. Lesson learned from this beatdown – Check who your neighbours are before you grope someone else’s wife.
Garbage Can to the Head – THE GODFATHER (1972)
Even more satisfactory rage than Ray Liotta’s pistol-whipping above perhaps is Sonny Corleone’s reaction to hearing about Carlo’s physical abuse of Connie over the phone. Francis Coppola built up Sonny’s loose cannon character to wonderful effect, exploding in rage with a very public and embarrassing beat down of Carlo in the middle of the street. Lesson learned: self-explanatory.
Head Meets Marble – WILD AT HEART (1990)
A person’s skull and marble flooring are not a good combination, and especially in a David Lynch movie, set to the music of Gwar. Thus is the eye popping opening of ‘Wild At Heart’. After a poor hitman sap pulls a knife and attempts to stab Sailor, Sailor proceeds to beat his head against anything he can find, the wall, the banister and finally, after being tossed down the stairs onto the marble floor, he shatters his skull with sickening overkill. Lesson learned: If you get in a fight use Gwar as your internal soundtrack.
Curb Smiley – AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998)
This key moment in Tony Kaye’s classic film we don’t even see on screen, but the implications of what Ed Norton’s Derek Vinyard character does to the young man that tries to steal his truck is so monstrously cruel I get shivers just writing this. Lesson learned: If someone tells you to open your mouth and bite down on the edge of a roadside curb, take whatever punishment is the alternative.
Fire Extinguisher Meet Face – IRREVERSIBLE (2002)
Shot scene-by-scene in reverse order is more than just a gimmick in Gasper Noe’s controversial ‘Irreversible’. Early on we watch Vincent Cassel march into a nightclub and attack seemingly at random a guy known only as ‘tapeworm’. The tapeworm fights back only to be bludgeoned to death by Marcus’ buddy Pierre with a fire extinguisher. Seemingly without provocation and with such brutality, we think, what could possible justify such action, let alone the director showing the poor man’s face literally caving in with each blow? At the midpoint of the movie, when Noe gives us a scene of even greater barbarism against Marcus’ girlfriend we understand everything. Lesson learned: You can kill a person with just about anything.
Car Door Meet Face – RAGING BULL (1980)
Ever had your finger caught in car door? It hurts eh? Think about having your head caught in a car door, and multiple times with Joe Pesci slamming it with as much force as humanly possible. Lesson learned: If someone has a grudge against you, not even your own car is a safe place.
Billy Batts Stompfest – GOODFELLAS (1990)
Other than blood-curdling violence the commonality of these scenes is that each of them either marks a key plot point in the film, or reveals a violent aspect of one of the characters. In ‘Goodfellas’, the killing of Billy Batts represents the key transition of Henry Hill from the dream world of gangsterism to the sick realism of the lifestyle. The Billy Batts beat down is the climax of a scene which Scorsese draws out magnificently, ringing out buckets of tension like the great master he is. Oh yeah, that’s actor Frank Vincent again from the car door in ‘Raging Bull' getting stomped on. Lesson learned: If you’re in a pub in New Jersey and hear Donovan playing on the radio, call it a night.
Psychoboy vs. Angel Face – FIGHT CLUB
Up until this fight in the film, Jared Leto didn’t do much except hang around the background wearing platinum blonde hair and hardly even speaking a line of dialogue. His narrative purpose arrived when Ed Norton decided to take his sexual frustrations out in the ring. With fist pounding fury Norton sits on Leto’s chest turning his angel face into a mess of flesh, blood and teeth chicklets. Lesson learned: Don't underestimate your opponent.
Moonwatcher Beatdown – 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Maybe it’s not the most gruesome, but perhaps the most famous beatdown. The warring Neanderthal tribes in the Dawn of Man sequence culminates when the so-called Moonwatcher ape with his newly discovered bone weapon claims his territory by killing his rival and getting his other pals to join in the kill. Of course, he rejoices by throwing his weapon in the air… you know the rest. Lesson learned: Bring weapons, and like Sean Connery’s great line in “The Untouchables”, ‘They pull a knife, you pull a gun’.
Bowling Pin – THERE WILL BE BLOOD
For almost three hours I kept wondering ‘where is the blood in this film?’ Daniel Plainview’s final act of vengeance against his nemesis comes after Paul Sunday’s just been told his fortune of oil has been sucked dry. And so with nothing else to ruin him by, Plainview decides to beat Sunday to death with a bowling pin. And notice Anderson’s precise composition and framing which looks like the Moonwatcher's first discovery of his weapon in '2001'… Lesson learned: Sometimes you just have to beat a dead horse.
And I just can’t get out of here without mentioning these honourable mentions:
Robert De Niro’s batting practice with his poor unsuspecting colleague’s head during dinner in THE UNTOUCHABLES.
The 20 guys who get walloped with a single hammer in OLD BOY
Joe Pesci and his brother who become batting practice themselves in CASINO
Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy taking punches like Christ for the sake of his fellow longshoremen in ON THE WATERFRONT
Private Pyle getting beaten with soap in bed in FULL METAL JACKET