Ezra's appreciation of Kick Ass, just below, reminds me of two things. First, this is likely to be a low posting week, so why not fill it with a meaningless list?
Second, I had been meaning to get around to this list in particular. I give you, in no particular order, five supremely violent films which constitute great art:
The Killer (John Woo, starring Chow Yun Fat, the greatest action hero in movie history, 1989) – This is the film that brought non-martial arts Hong Kong cinema to American eyes. An assassin for the Chinese tongs (or mafia, if you like) is stricken by remorse after blinding a woman in a hired killing. In the process of trying to save her, he runs afoul of his bosses, who won't let him go straight. Mayhem ensues.
Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992) – Before The Lord of the Rings, Jackson made indie movies in New Zealand. This is the one that put him on the map. A group of archaeologists return to civilization bearing a slow-burning infection which turns people into berserk killers. If you think you've seen this show before, you haven't. The violence goes beyond horrific, into the realm of comedy. Even George Romero and Sam Raimi never made anything like this. After viewing Dead Alive, you will agree on two things: 1) that Danny Boyle is a cheap hack; and 2) the supreme zombie-killing tool is the gasoline powered lawnmower, if you have the stones to wield it in hand-to-hand combat.
Shogun Assassin ("Robert Houson", 1980) – Quentin Tarantino rightly paid tribute to this in Kill Bill, Volume II. After years of faithful service, the Shogun of Japan's most ruthless samurai retainer grows a conscience, and tries to leave his master's service. His master is displeased and kills the man's family. Sound familiar? Maybe it is, but the awe-inspiring carnage that the man leaves in his wake as he seeks to raise his surviving son while taking revenge on the ruler of Japan is like nothing you've seen. This strangely poignant tale of massacre and horror inspired the wonderful comic book series Lone Wolf and Cub.
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) – Along with Sergio Leone and Mel Brooks, Sam Peckinpah killed the western for a good twenty years. You've probably seen it, but if you haven't, the story of a gang of bankrobbers hanging on for one last score as the old west becomes modern America is, on its own merits, one of the finest westerns ever made, as iconic as High Noon or The Searchers. What sets it apart from the classic western is Peckinpah's obsession with gunplay as a form of dance. The opening sequence, in which the bunch ride horses to rob a bank in a town which already has plenty of cars, and the moments leading up to the final shootout, are two of the best moments in American film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) – Have you actually seen it, or just heard about it? You might be surprised that a film with this lurid title shows less blood than Psycho. Hearing that, you might be surprised to find that it's still far more horrifying than anything that passes for horror movies today. People who see deep meanings in things claim that this is a vegetarian manifesto, but I don't buy that. It is, despite the title, one of the most intelligent horror films ever made, with a gritty, almost documentary feel comparable in fright to Night of the Living Dead.
Please feel free to discuss and supplement this list, in comments.