There is nothing quite like a good film freak out. Whether it is James Cagney giggling with macabre glee before spraying a 1930′s cityscape with gunfire or Nicholas Cage flailing about the inside of a bear costume, a good freak out can light up a movie like nothing else. From the hilarious, to the disturbing, to the just plain outrageous, these are the moments of vociferous spit-spraying that made their respective movies all the more enjoyable.
10. The Godfather Part II– 1974
Like its predecessor, The Godfather Part II is a classic and is flawlessly shot, edited, written and acted. And, also like its predecessor, it features a marvelously restrained and implosive Al Pacino as the demonic Michael Corleone. This scene depicted below is an example of a great and unique film freak out because everything coming from Pacino is so internalized. When Diane Keaton’s Kay delivers the revelation about the ultimate fate of her and Michael’s child we see the complexity of Michael’s internal state just through his eyes. It’s a marvelous feat of acting to be able to convey what seems to be a mixture of rage, heart-break and betrayal by saying nothing. It also makes his final moment of explosive violence all the more powerful.
9. Raging Bull– 1980
One could make the argument for the entirety of Martin Scorsese’s bruising boxing drama, Raging Bull, being one long freak out; I mean, there are like a good two dozen of them in there. Still, nothing beats the climactic jail cell scene, where the enormously destructive ramifications of his actions finally seems to dawn on La Motta. This is the conclusion of the character’s fall from grace, where he literally and metaphorically hits a wall.
8. Paths of Glory– 1957
Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is a definitive anti-war film and one of the legendary director’s great achievements. However, it is rarely included whenever some blowhard blogger or stoned-out film student wants to wax about the late director’s prolific cannon. This great movie deserves to be championed in many lists but earns its position here due to the heartbreaking manner in which Kirk Douglas blows up at his commanding officer.
7. Kindergarten Cop– 1990
There are many films in Arnie’s canon that would strongly own a spot in any list resembling this one (the classic, “Get to da Choppa!” line from Predator immediately leaps to mind). Nothing however can hold a candle to Arnold’s inimitable bellow during his introduction to his kindergarten class early on in the film. Shockingly inappropriate and grotesquely delivered, this primal scream is classic Arnold and one of the great film freak outs.
6. The Virgin Spring– 1961
Bergman made a lot of films dealing with the most primal of human emotions (paired with fascinating examinations of our most complex philosophical attributes). Still, there are few moments in Bergman’s filmography, nay, in all of film that matches the power and savagery displayed during Max Von Sydow’s vindictive assault on the creeps who raped and murdered his angelic daughter. Thematically brutal with an aesthetic that is absolutely painful to watch (check out that shot where Sydow struggles with a man on the ground and the entire screen is filled with flickering flames) The Virgin Spring is a somewhat different type of freak out, where the action is driven by a quiet and violent physicality.
When Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was announced it seemed at best irreverent and at worst an egregious insult. Sharing part of your name with the classic Kietel cop film from the 1990′s was never going to bode well for remake/sequel-weary audience in the late 2000′s. Still, the movie validates its existence through the bizarre direction of the great Werner Herzog and especially because of the presence of a certain actor in the lead role: Nicholas Cage. Now, the Cagemaster could have several lists like this devoted entirely to his work (future project?) but I chose to include this specific freak out because it so perfectly captures a mixture of zany humor and menacing violence. It is an outrageous yet scary scene and indicative of how Cage dominates and drives the movie.
4. Take Shelter– 2011
Anyone who has read my other posts knows that I am a huge Michael Shannon fan, specifically the film Take Shelter and even more specifically the scene depicted below. Now, Shannon is a master of freaking out on film; he does it repeatedly in many films. However, none of them make as great of an impression as the one true freak out from Take Shelter does. Scary, heartbreaking and profound (just like the film that surrounds it) the story of Shelter builds slowly to this scene and when it comes, Shannon delivers.
3. White Heat– 1949
In the annals of great film freak outs, the ending of White Heat should be at the top of any list. The entirety of the movie up this point has suggested that James Cagney’s Cody Jarrett is a cold and calculated criminal who is compromised by the fact that he is totally nuts. Raoul Walsh’s film points out in scene after scene that this is a guy who is just barely holding things together, sanity wise. So, we know that by the time his final disintegration comes it is going to be huge and memorable.
2. Woman Under the Influence– 1974
Gena Rowlands’ performance in A Woman Under the Influence is one of the greats. She earns a place here not because of the manic intensity that is constantly being showcased throughout the film but because each freak out seems to be tied to a deeply emotional place in her damaged psyche. This is a performance that deserves to be included almost more for the effects that Rowland’s freak outs have on her family than the freak outs on their own. Below is one of the tamer scenes from the film.
1. American Psycho– 2000
While he is now one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, Christian Bale’s defining moment will always be his pitch-perfect evocation of 1980′s emptiness as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. This elegantly shot movie by Mary Harron contains scene after scene of pure comedic genius juxtaposed with upsetting social satire. There are many great freak out moments in the film to choose from (it was hard not to include the terrific business card scene). However, it is this protracted monologue which is the climax of the film and also one of the most humorous, shocking and intensely delivered pieces of acting that I have ever seen. Christian, you’re a freak and we salute you.