"It's like a car crash, you can't look away." It's a well-known and simple expression, meaning that something is so appalling that audiences want to look away but are unable to. The concept doesn't seem to make sense on the surface; why would anyone be drawn to disturbing images?
Life-threatening scenarios stimulate the amygdala part of the brain, which controls emotions and survival instincts. People then interpret and evaluate the threat, evoking the fight or flight response. Essentially, people are intrigued by horrific things like torture because it releases adrenaline, so if someone is looking for a rush, these 10 cinematic torture scenes should do the trick.
10 Hobbling – Misery
Before performing it on Paul (James Caan), Annie (Kathy Bates) describes a procedure used to prevent mine workers from running away. Paul is a novelist who spins his car off the road in a blizzard before he's rescued and nursed back to health by Annie, who's a huge fan of his work in Misery (1990).
After Sheldon realizes how psychotic Annie is, he attempts to escape. When Annie catches him, she places a wood block between his feet, then smashes both of his ankles with a sledgehammer in a procedure called "hobbling."
9 Waterboarding – Zero Dark Thirty
In the Oscar-winning movie following the US military's decade-long hunt for al-Queda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after his orchestration of the 9/11 attacks, no scene is tougher to watch than the scene in which a terrorist is waterboarded for information by the CIA.
Expertly shot in a way that doesn't sympathize with the terrorist or his interrogators, the unflinching realism in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) drew criticism from the US government, who claimed they only used "enhanced interrogation techniques," and that the waterboarding and torture depicted was fabricated.
8 The Dentist's Chair – Marathon Man
An interesting and under-watched genre-bending story from legendary writer William Goldman (The Princess Bride, All the President's Men), Marathon Man (1976) follows New York City Ph.D. student Thomas Levy (Dustin Hoffman), who becomes involved in an international stolen diamond conspiracy after reuniting with his government agent brother (Roy Scheider).
No one likes going to the dentist, but everyone's worst nightmare plays out when Levy is strapped to a chair at the hands of former dentist and Nazi war criminal Szell (Laurence Olivier) in an oral interrogation scene that will give you toothaches.
7 The Vice – Casino
When mob enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) is unable to get a name he needs out of an Irish rival gangster after two days and nights of hurting the man, Nicky resorts to his most brutal move – putting the man's head in a bench vice and squeezing.
6 The Reverse Bear Trap – Saw
One could spend days making their skin crawl with the eight-movie Saw franchise's elaborate torture scenes, which provide dozens of examples that qualify for this list, but none more iconic trap the first movie's Reverse Beartrap.
In a flashback recounted by a woman (Shawnee Smith) helping the police, she recalls her encounter with the serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). This involved her retrieving a key from her cellmate's stomach to unlock the large metal device attached to her head, which is rigged to rip her jaw open when its timer expires.
5 The Dotted Line – Oldboy
Chan-wook Park's original Oldboy (2003) had a memorable torture scene in which its main character removes his captor's teeth with the claw side of a hammer, but Spike Lee's remake went more gruesome with his version of the scene in 2013.
When Joe (Josh Brolin) captures the man (Samuel L. Jackson) that confined him in a room for 20 years, he takes his time exacting revenge and begins by drawing a dotted line across the man's neck. Using a box cutter, Joe then follows the dashes.
4 Aversion Therapy – A Clockwork Orange
Only Stanley Kubrick could film a torture scene so brutal that it permanently damaged his actor's eye and required a doctor's participation to ensure safety. A Clockwork Orange (1972) follows delinquent Alex (Malcolm McDowell), who enters an experimental rehabilitation program instead of prison.
Alex's treatment involves him being strapped to a chair with his eyes forced open to watch montages of violence while being administered a drug that induces violent illness. The intention is to condition him to be repulsed by crime, but the therapy yields unexpected consequences.
3 Stuck In The Middle – Reservoir Dogs
A scene so iconic that it's impossible to hear "Stuck in the Middle With You" by Stealer's Wheel without visualizing Reservoir Dogs (1992), the torturing of a kidnapped police officer (Kirk Baltz) by Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) is especially tough to watch because the camera angle puts the viewer in the officer's perspective.
A scene that begins with Mr. Blonde telling his victim that he's going to torture him not for information, but because it's amusing, culminates in the officer's ear being sliced off with a straight razor, all while the sadistic Blonde playfully dances to '70s music.
2 Eye Scream – Hostel
Anyone who's seen Taken (2008) might be wary of European travels, but three years earlier, Eli Roth shocked audiences with his story of three Americans taken hostage while backpacking in Europe in the first installment of the torture-filled Hostel trilogy.
Just as Paxton (Jay Hernandez) has escaped a torture dungeon, he turns back to save a girl he hears screaming. He walks in on Kana (Jennifer Lim) having her eye removed. After killing her torturer, Paxton must save Kana by completing removing her semi-detached eyeball, resulting in a stomach-churning scene that is difficult to forget.
1 The Needles – Audition
Takashi Miike has directed over 100 movies since his 1991 debut, and none are as brutal as Audition (1999). After Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) loses his wife, his filmmaking friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), tries to cheer him up by holding a mock casting call where women "audition" to be Shigeharu's new wife.
Shigeharu is smitten by Asami (Eihi Shiina), who turns out to be a psychotic serial killer. After paralyzing Shigeharu, Asami inserts needles all over his body, including his eyes, as she works towards her big finish of sawing his foot off with a wire.
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