As I have stated before, I am not much a movie person. I am a book nerd, and I prefer to read my stories, as opposed to watching them on a screen. Oftentimes, my imagination fills in a lot more details than a movie or television screen ever can.
However, I do enjoy some movies and some television shows. The ones I enjoy the most have a lot of action. But my favorite part of any movie or television show is The Twist. Or The Shocking Moment That No One Saw Coming in a Million Years.
Long before we had Facebook, Twitter or any other medium that allowed a moment in film and television to be a shocker for all of about 30 seconds, people would tune into a movie or TV show blissfully unaware of the shocker or twist, and were actually surprised by it. And the discussions that were had not online, but by the water cooler, outside of class, etc. In other words, we operated differently in pre-history and it was still possible for people to not know of the plot twists for hours or even days before watching the film or TV show…the good old days! And I have no words to describe the feelings I got when I watched something and got to actually be surprised by it…it was just priceless!
All that being said, some plot twists and shocking moments will always remain classic and withstand the test of time. Here are my personal top 10:
10) Hulk Hogan turns heel (WCW)
Yes, wrestling may technically be considered a sport and not a movie or television show. However, we all know that most shows featuring wrestling are as scripted as any movie, so I will count this as a TV show moment for this list.
Hulk Hogan was the consummate good guy. His image was wholesome. He told kids to take their vitamins and say their prayers. He was untouched by any scandal and was someone every little boy (at least the ones growing up in the 80’s and 90’s) looked up to. In fact, he was such a good guy that Bevis and Butthead mocked him.
However, Hogan was not to remain a good guy forever, as he wanted to take his career to another level. And in 1996, he took his career to another level and then some, when Hogan turned “heel.” The iconic good guy of professional wrestling shocked the world by joining NWO (New World Order), teaming with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash and turning into a “bad guy.” The man who reminded the world to take its vitamins and say its prayers would now go on to participate in acts of vandalism and to make obscene gestures on television. Audience members even threw trash into the ring, out of surprise and anger. Hollywood Hogan was born. Hollywood Hogan was just one of many characters who would usher in the edgier, raunchier “Attitude Era” in professional wresting. However, change is never easy, and the fallout from Hulk Hogan turning “heel” is a prime example of that, as Hogan lost many fans when when he decided to take his career to another level.
“Turning heel” is actually quite a common occurrence in the world of professional wrestling. In fact, many fans even suggest it to their favorite wrestlers. But it is rare for a wrestler like Hogan to seemingly out of the blue make such as drastic change, risking losing so many fans and also risking his career. But it was a gutsy move that paid off in the end, and will always be remembered, for better or worse, as the day Hogan turned heel.
9) Hand coming out of the grave (Carrie, 1976)
I like good old fashioned scares that make me jump out of my seat when I watch something that is supposed to be a horror movie. The slasher flickers and “found footage” films that pass for horror movies today are seriously lacking in that area, so as a result, I don’t watch too many modern flicks. If I am going to get my fix out of a horror movie, I will watch something older. Like the 1976 version of Carrie.
Carrie is probably best known for the scenes where the title characters wreaks havoc at her high school prom, and rightfully so. Brian De Palma did a beautiful job filming those scenes, using slow motion and dual shots to showcase the destruction. However, the scene that is likely responsible for many a nightmare, even almost 40 years later is the final scene, where Carrie’s hand comes out of the grave, reaching for poor Sue Snell. This was a dream scene, so it wasn’t “real” but it was terrifying nonetheless. De Palma filmed the scene backwards to give it a dream-like quality, and also included images such as Carrie White’s vandalized gravestone. The result is a surreal quality, but when the hand grabs Sue Snell, the surreal quality vanishes and the viewer is brought back to earth, along with a terrified Sue Snell. This brief scene plays a big role in setting the tone for the entire film, and is still unsettling, even today.
Stephen King himself went to see Carrie when it was released in the theaters. He stated that he watched the film to the end, and knew it was a success because two large men in the row in front of him grabbed each other and screamed in surprise when the final scene was shown. And if its good enough for the master, its certainly good enough for me.
8) Rue’s death (The Hunger Games)
A lot of movies and books have what I call “a shit just got real scene.” The Hunger Games probably can be said to have more than one of these scenes, given the content of the film and the books. But one scene in particular stands out, and that is Rue’s death scene. Rue is an 12 year girl who is an unwilling participant in a reality show mandated by a dystopian society which glorifies suffering and violence. We root for Rue and Katniss Everdeen (the main protagonist) because they are good guys, and good guys don’t die, right? Well, sometimes that may work in the movies, but The Hunger Games brings us back to reality when Rue is killed off, reminding us that good guys do NOT always win, and that they oftentimes suffer more than the bad guys. Rue’s death also drives home that no one in this world is safe, not even children, and that children are often put in danger due to the horrible decisions made by adults that they have no control over.
7) The death of Optimus Prime (Transformers, 1986)
Again, let’s talk about good guys. And how they don’t die. Except in animated movies intended for children…
Yep, reality sets in again but this time in an animated movie about talking robots who transform into different vehicles. Most people look back on Transformers as a bit of nostalgia from the 1980’s (before the one known as Michael Bay took over, anyway) and not necessarily as a reality check. However, we are treated to a reality check anyway with the death of Optimus Prime (the childhood icon to the many of us who grew in up in the 1980’s). Deaths of major characters who are “good guys” are actually not that unusual. What was unusual about this particular death was that it occurred in an animated movie intended for children of an average age of about 9 years old. The Transformers cartoon of the 1980’s was irreverent for the most part (the lessons on morality were left for GI Joe and Masters of the Universe, for the most part). So a death of a major character in this cartoon was a bit jarring, and likely many viewers felt the loss of their childhood after that particular death was witnessed. And were reminded that no one, including their friends, family or even the Autobots were safe from danger or even death.
6) Barf-o-Rama (Stand By Me)
Stephen King has also stated that if he can’t scare you, he will go for the gross out instead, because he is not proud. Of course, gross outs are not uncommon in horror movies and can really add to the movie if done properly.
Where one does not expect to see a gross out is a coming of age movie, even if the movie is based on a novella written by the master of modern horror. The publication of the collection Different Seasons allowed King to break out of mold of “horror writer” and finally be acknowledged a writer, and an excellent one at that. Three of the four novellas were made into movies, and The Body was one of them (also known as the movie Stand by Me). The story tells of four adolescent boys who are on the cusp of adulthood, and have one last adventure together. One of the young men, Gordy, tells the story of the hapless character he calls Lard Ass. Lard Ass seeks revenge on the townspeople who wronged him by inducing a mass vomiting session at a pie eating contest. To the surprise of a few, this scene was included in the movie, with full visuals. Gordy’s voice over describes how the men, women and children of the town (the Eternal Order of Antelopes was my personal favorite), begin to vomit on one another, while the screen shots actually show the vomiting, instead of merely implying it. This scene is just unexpected and disgusting, yet funny at the same time. It is actually able to invoke simultaneous shuddering and laughing. The best of both worlds, in other words.
We often forget that bodily functions can be funny at times. And the gross out, that is not above the likes of Stephen King, can also be funny. Hence, the Barf-o-Rama scene in Stand By Me will always remain one of the funniest and best gross out scenes in cinematic history.
5) The reveal of Two Face (The Dark Knight)
To many, the movie The Dark Knight is about The Joker. And it is. The main villain in that movie is The Joker. Heath Ledger gave a performance for the ages in his portrayal of one of the most recognized villains in the comic book and movie world. In fact, the story line focuses heavily on The Joker and his antics. So heavily that the viewer almost misses the other villain in the movie. One that is almost as iconic as The Joker. Two Face, in other words.
Yes, The Joker storyline almost overshadows the story of Two Face in The Dark Knight. However, the key word is almost. And the nearly overshadowing of Harvey Dent aka Two Face actually works, as the reveal of Two Face takes the story in a new direction, as Harvey Dent had previously been on the side of the good, even putting his life at risk to protect Bruce Wayne’s identity as Batman. Dent also puts himself directly in the line of fire from The Joker. However, Dent’s accident and subsequent mental breakdown pushes him to the other side and open to the power of suggestion from The Joker, and Gotham is now faced with dual threats. Two Face is dispatched by Batman, but the damage has been done, and the movie ends with a manhunt for Batman, while Harvey Dent is still viewed as a hero.
Oftentimes, less is more. The reveal of Two Face in The Dark Knight is a prime example of this, as it allows the development of multiple story lines in what is a true masterpiece of a movie.
4) The killer toy clown (Poltergeist)
People are supposed to be safe in their own homes. Kids are supposed to be safe when their parents are also home. It should also be safe at home after an
escapee from Munchkinland a medium comes over, rescues your daughter from evil spirits holding her hostage and then declares your home free from those pesky evil spirits…
Well, except if your house is actually built on a burial ground because some jerk removed the headstones and not the bodies, desecrating the ground and royally pissing off a bunch of ghosts. Like in the movie Poltergeist…
And let’s face it, clowns are really, really scary…terrifying actually. Why anyone would put a toy clown in their kids’ room and not expect them to not need extensive psychiatric help in adulthood is beyond me, but that’s my personal opinion. And the toy clown that comes to life and attacks the little boy is one of the scariest moments in any movie ever, especially as we are led to believe that the home and its inhabitants are now safe, as the ghosts are supposed to be gone. But they are not, and attempting to kidnap Carol Anne Freeling was not enough for these spirits…now they are after everyone in the house and will not rest until they destroy everyone in the house. The ghosts don’t care that its a family home, and that the parents are home and everyone should be safe in that home. The ghosts will do anything to seek revenge, and that includes possessing a doll and attacking a child. The result is a scene that surely has haunted the dreams of many an 80’s child throughout the years.
People often forget that Poltergeist has a mere PG rating. Somehow a film with no violence, no sexuality and very few swear words still manages to stand the test of time and be one of the most frightening horror movies to date.
3) Darth Vader reveals Luke’s parentage (The Empire Strikes Back)
“Luke, I am your father.” This is perhaps one of the most quoted lines out of any movie, and probably one of the most parodied. However, it is still one of the most shocking lines ever uttered as well.
Human beings like to draw lines to distinguish good from evil. We call good The Side of the White, while the bad is black or red. And bad guys are separate from the good guys, while the good guys don’t have an ounce of bad in them at all…
Except, that’s not how it works. It is said that Lucifer himself started out as an archangel, and was the most beautiful of the angels, until he fell. And good guys are tempted by evil all the time, even good guys like Luke Skywalker. Luke is shocked and unhappy to be revealed as the son of Darth Vader, who is the bad guy he and his friends are fighting against, as it makes him question his own motives. After all, Luke’s own father was once a Jedi, but fell, in much the same way as Lucifer the archangel. And if a Jedi like Anakin Skywalker can fall, that means no one is safe. And that includes Luke Skywalker. When it is revealed that Darth Vader, the ultimate bad guy, is actually the father to Luke Skywalker, the story quickly takes a different direction, and the viewer begins to question Luke and his intentions. Will Luke be tempted by the dark side now? Will Luke break the alliance and betray his friends? After all, he came from the bad so that makes him bad, right? Well, as we all know, Luke and his friends triumphed in the end, with Luke overcoming the temptation and defeating the Darth Vader in the final battle. However, Luke does not forget where he comes from and is still saddened over the fate of his father, proving that his humanity will never leave him and that he will always be a “good guy.”
The fact that Luke was attracted to who would later be revealed to be his twin sister Leia and almost engaged in an incestuous affair with her is an added bonus to the reveal of his true parentage.
2) The chicken baby (M*A*S*H)
On the surface, M*A*S*H was a comedy set in the Korean War, told from the viewpoint of doctors and other medical personnel who are working from the trenches. And that would be a pretty accurate description of the show. However, the writers of the show often managed to tackle tough issues, and make statements in regards to issues that our country faced during the airing of the show (the Viet Nam War is a prime example).
One of these issues that the writers tackled was the effect that war has on everyone, from the soldiers fighting the war to the doctors who work in the trenches to the civilians that the military is supposed to be protecting. This issue was actually discussed several times, but the most memorable time was actually in the last episode of the series, titled Goodbye, Farewell and Amen. This episode was the series finale, and presumably a happy episode, as the war was finally over and everyone would be able to return home. And the episode did deliver on that premise. However, as stated before, the episode also tackled some major issues. These were from the perspective of Captain Hawkeye Pierce. Throughout the series, Hawkeye was a vocal protester of the war in Korea, as he felt many of his country’s actions were wrong. However, he is still dutiful and does everything he can to serve his country, the Korean citizens and his fellow soldiers. But the war begins to take its tolls on Hawkeye (and his friends), and an incident on a bus sends Hawkeye to a mental institution. The incident is re-told through a series of flashbacks to Dr. Sidney Freedman, a military psychiatrist. The re-telling of the incident first takes a comedic turn, as Hawkeye talks of whiskey and chickens boarding the bus. However, Dr. Sidney understands that humor is Hawkeye’s way of trying to process the unimaginable, and is slowly able to get Hawkeye to tell the real story. The story then takes a chilling turn, as the chickens were stand-ins for villagers who took refuge in the bus after their village was invaded. The lady holding a “chicken” was actually holding a human child. Hawkeye tells her to keep the “chicken” quiet, as he and the other passengers on the bus must hide from the invaders. The villager takes Hawkeye’s words to heart, and smothers the “chicken.” However, it is revealed that the villager actually smothered her human baby to death as opposed to a clucking chicken. Again, this reveal reminds us that war can have many consequences, even on those we are supposed to be protecting. It also reminds us that while the soldiers fighting the wars may have it hard, that we cannot forget the doctors who sometimes make enormous sacrifices in order to fulfill their Hippocratic Oath.
Someone once told me that when you laugh and cry at the same time, you are having “a rainbow day.” I often thought of this phrase after I watched M*A*S*H, a show that made me laugh and cry on a regular basis, therefore giving me many rainbows.
And, now for the number 1 shocking moment in television and film history…
1) The reveal of “mother” (Psycho)
Yes, the “master of shock” aka Alfred Hitchcock has a film in the number one spot on this list. Real shock there, huh? (See what I did there).
Alfred Hitchcock can easily be argued to be the greatest filmmaker of his generation, if not the greatest filmmaker in history. Hitchcock was prolific, directing over 50 films in his career. Hitchcock was also not afraid to push boundaries, as his films featured sexuality and violence, which were in contrast to some of the more lighthearted fare of his time. So, many of Hitchcock’s films contained material that was bound to shock his audience.
Psycho is one of those films that was sure to shock Hitchcock’s audience. And the movie is loaded with those moments. The movie begins with the “protagonist” committing an illegal act. Then there is the scene in the shower. The shower scene alone was considered risque for its time, due to the implied nudity. However, the protagonist is murdered while taking a shower, which ups the ante for the shock value. And then there was that old woman who was committing the murders and unable to be stopped by her son (who went by the name of Norman Bates)…
Except there was no old woman. And no son trying to stop her from committing murders. Throughout the movie, we see evidence of the old woman. We hear her talk and see her shadowy figure. Norman also speaks of her often, and will not hear a bad word about her. However, its all a ruse. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that Norman’s mother is deceased and we see her corpse. We then see Norman dressed as a old woman, carrying a knife. Norman was not the innocent son who tried to stop his mother from committing atrocious acts. Rather, Norman was the one committing the murders all along under the guise of his “mother personality.” That personality was so convincing that he manages to fool everyone (including the viewer) up until the last few minutes of the movie. Even more shocking, the “mother” personality has now asserted her dominance even in death, as she did during life, and completely taken over Norman at the end of the movie. In what is one of the most unsettling endings of any film ever, we hear Mrs. Bates voice stating that she “should have put Norman way forever” and that she would “never hurt a fly.” We then see a double exposure of Norman’s face merging with the face of Mrs. Bates, symbolizing the dominance of the “mother” personality.
Psycho is a film that touches on so many taboos: stealing, sexuality, violence and incest are a few. The ending, with its reveal of the true “mother”, manages to take a disturbing film to another level of creepy, with some frightening long term implications. Psycho is truly deserving of the number 1 spot on this list.
Even though I have seen most of these movies and television shows many times, these (and other) moments never fail to get my attention even now, and I still sometimes gasp, even when I know what is coming. Such is the power of good film making.