Quentin Tarantino was born March 27, 1963, meaning he turns 48 today. In the almost two decades he’s been making films, he’s revolutionized independent film, inspired never-ending waves of talentless knock-offs, and made seven utterly fantastic films. Though the violence in Tarantino’s movies has generated a lot of press over the years, that is far from the only worthwhile thing about them; each one is a well-structured, stylish, and suspenseful work of art. No other filmmaker cuts straight to my pleasure center as immediately as Tarantino. Though they are different in many respects, Tarantino and Hitchcock share the knack for creating captivating, instantly iconic cinematic images.
Having said all that, certainly I wouldn’t want to bring it back to the violence…but yeah, I’m going to. Violence is a big part of Tarantino’s work, and just like characters in a musical break out into song when they get passionate, Tarantino’s characters often use violence to express themselves. So it being Tarantino’s birthday and whatnot, right after you watch the most recent episode of Community (granted, it’s more of a My Dinner with Andre spoof than a Pulp Fiction spoof, but still), check out my choices for the most shockingly violent moment in each of his films. And moreover, my thoughts on why they’re as shocking as they are.
Reservoir Dogs – “It’s amusing, to me, to torture a cop.”
If someone asked me to name those movie characters who most embody evil, the first three that would come to mind are Hannibal Lecter, Regan from The Exorcist, and…Mr. Blonde, the gangster psychopath from Reservoir Dogs, played with demented flair by Michael Madsen, a B-grade actor giving one hell of an A-performance. The scene where Mr. Blonde, alone except for a dying Mr. Orange, tortures a cop is one of the most iconic and infamous in Tarantino’s oeuvre. Around the 30-second mark in the video embedded above, “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel starts playing on the radio, and it’s like some sort of clarion call for Mr. Blonde to murder. Kneeling over Mr. Orange’s frail figure, he turns to the cop, smiles, then rises and starts dancing to the song. It’s one of the most casually terrifying bits of acting I’ve ever seen. But in focusing on the scene’s sheer horror, what a lot of people fail to realize is that it’s also fucking hilarious. It’s possible that I’m just a highly disturbed individual, but Mr. Blonde dancing, singing, and smiling his way through ear-slicing and gasoline-pouring is the kind of funny that also just so happens to be pretty damned scary. I remember the first time I saw it, when I was 12 or 13, I couldn’t help but start laughing. Then I immediately began wondering if I was going to go to hell. That’s what Quentin Tarantino movies will do to you.