Butcher shop on cutting board
Last week, I watched three movies in a row where someone cuts their finger while cutting vegetables: the Belfast drama Here Before, the whimsical indie The Blazing World, and Silent Night, a British black comedy that earns bonus points because blood drips. on a carrot, which then someone eats. In two recent horror movies, Color out of Space and The Dark and the Wicked, supernaturally grieving mothers get so carried away with chopping vegetables that they cut off their fingers.
I’m calling soundtracks that recycle London Calling by the Clash to announce someone is coming to London, as heard in Billy Elliot, What a Girl Wants, Die Another Day, Get Him to the Greek, Atomic Blonde and The Conjuring 2. The Flower Duet de Lakmé by Léo Delibes has also spent its welcome after an early skirmish between the Scott brothers: in 1983 Tony introduced it to Hunger, then Ridley won it for Someone to Watch Over Me, Tony used it again on True Romance, after which the floodgates were opened and Flower Duets went all the way to the wazoo. It can now be heard on everything from Happy Death Day 2U to Pig. For God’s sake, find some new tunes.
Killer in a box
It is said that Thomas Harris’s real inspiration for Hannibal Lecter was Ted Bundy’s role as a consultant in the search for the Green River Killer. But since Will Graham and Clarice Starling rubbed shoulders with Hannibal in, respectively, Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs, convicted criminals have been brought in in cages or boxes to provide cryptic advice: arsonist Ronald Bartel in Backdraft, Daryll Lee Callum in Copycat, Dr Evil in Austin Powers in Goldmember, Silva in Skyfall, Blofeld in No Time to Die, and Cipher (Charlize Theron) behind Perspex in Fast and Furious 9.
Edwina Lionheart was one of the first outliers, defeated by a Critics’ Circle award at Theater of Blood (1973), but the use of trophies as weapons is now in vogue. In at least three recent horror movies, spiky awards have been used lethally, either by accident (Censor), custom design (Evil), or in self-defense (Us). See also: Menacing modern sculpture, started by Dario Argento at the end of Tenebrae (1982), but still going strong in Velvet Buzzsaw (2019).
Globes of doom
There were early warning signs in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) when a child killer offers one to his latest victim, but the balloons definitely lost what was left of their innocence in the It miniseries (1990), with the most recent two-part adaptation of Stephen King’s novel forever linking them to Pennywise, the evil clown. There are quite a few balloons in A Serbian Film, and black balloons thrown at a funeral at The Lodge, and this week alone I have twice seen balloons presented as omens of doom in situations adjacent to killers (Copshop and Halloween Kills) indicating that They are now deep in cliché territory.
Not all black-and-white movies are pessimistic, obviously, but no auteur offering can be hailed as genuinely bleak unless it’s monochromatic, a reliable signifier of mud, blood, shit, and misery. See the white ribbon, Hard to be a god, The lighthouse, Limbo, The Polish Period of Pawel Pawlikowski and the Complete Works of Béla Tarr. Test number one: The painted bird, which starts by setting fire to a ferret before proceeding to rape, suicide, Udo Kier, enucleation and the young protagonist buried up to his neck with crows pecking at his head. In glorious black and white!
Dice with death
The 1997 movie Cube, which begins with a man cut into CGI cubes by a hidden wire, started a trend. In Resident Evil (2002), commandos are sliced and cut by lasers. Non-creepy security grids appear in heist movies like Entrapment, Ocean’s Twelve, and Muppets Most Wanted, but there’s a super gory cut in Ghost Ship, Final Destination 2, and Thir13en Ghosts. Bonus points if the victim blinks or looks puzzled before the halved body parts slide off. Laser grids are now a cliche that can be used, for example, in Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, and nobody is cut. Which is surely not the point.
Seijun Suzuki created stylized worlds for his hitman antiheroes in films like Branded to Kill (1967), but in the wake of John Wick, hitman movies have given up all pretense of realism and are now routinely set in neon-lit netherworlds. where a billion gangsters can be killed without anyone noticing. Here, hotels, canteens and libraries cater exclusively to murderers and the occasional small child whose job it is to bring a little warmth to a murderer’s sterile life. See Terminal, Proud Mary, Gunpowder Shake, Kate et al.
The car accident
By Claude Sautet Life things (1970) begins with the mother of all car accidents in forensic detail, incorporating jaw-dropping shots filmed inside Michel Piccoli’s Alfa Romeo as he and his unfiltered Gitanes make several turns. But surprise crashes fired from inside the car, with the other vehicle suddenly appearing out of nowhere, have now become such a cliché that any car interior scene where you don’t appear to be much going on can cause you to sweat. See The Descent, Disturbia, Pulp Fiction, Adaptation, Whiplash, No Country for Old Men, Enter the Void, 10 Cloverfield Lane and so on.
Scooby-Doo’s Face Swap
You think he’s the villain, but no! It’s the hero with a fake face! Or vice versa. The Mission: Impossible movies, with Ethan Hunt lugging pockets full of peel-off masks, were always a bit cheeky in this regard, and Face / Off put an even fancier spin on it. But superhero movies featuring the ever-changing talents of Mystique or protein aliens like the Skrulls have turned face swapping into a boring cliche through blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Black Widow. Just as no one really dies in a superhero movie, the actions of all characters can be reversed by revealing that they have been someone else the entire time. Talk about lowering the stakes.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism