Tag Archives: Disturbing

CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto P. Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti

PLOT: Four Italian fascists kidnap dozens of young boys and girls and imprison them in an isolated villa to sexually torture them in bizarre rituals of sadism.

Still from Salo: the 120 Days of Sodom

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Salo: disturbing, intense, perverse, depressing, extreme. “Weird” is pretty far down the list. (I did not find any critics who used the word “weird” in discussing Salo). So many of our readers have nominated it for review that I am forced to confess that it may be found lurking somewhere in the outermost penumbra of the weird—but if you want to see a truly weird treatment of the same source material, look at how ended L’Age d’Or with a Surrealist reference to the same novel adapted in Salo.[1] Casting Jesus Christ as Duc de Blangis is less obscene but far more provocative than anything Pasolini could depict in his literal rendition of the book.

COMMENTS: “Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites… and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes… We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never occur again.”

Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom may seem stranger to someone who comes to the movie with no foreknowledge of the source material, the Marquis De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom,” than it does to someone who knows the backstory. De Sade, of course, is the 18th century writer whose name inspired the now commonplace words “sadism” and “sadist.” He was an aristocrat devoted to literature, philosophy, and pornography (not in that order), and he produced some genuinely accomplished works. His most powerful books, such as “Philosophy in the Bedroom” and “Justine: the Misfortunes of Virtue,” mix shocking depictions of sexual cruelty with virile intellectual monologues wherein the characters philosophically justify their depravity and smash moralist objections.

“The 120 Days of Sodom” was not one of those books. It was De Sade’s first major work, written while was imprisoned in the Bastille (for a string of crimes including the beating of a prostitute and consensual homosexual sodomy). “Sodom” is an obsessive catalog of perversions, with almost none of the philosophical speeches that would add meaning and value to De Sade’s later work,[2] arranged according to a mathematical progression: 30 days of orgies in each set of four escalating perversions, moving from “simple” passions (such as urine drinking) to “murderous” ones. The novel was probably intended for De Sade’s own sexual gratification. The result is the Continue reading CAPSULE: SALO, THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)

  1. Henri Xhonneux and also make far stranger references to the book in their twisted De Sade biopic, Marquis. []
  2. “The 120 Days of Sodom”  was unfinished and the ending only sketched, so it is conceivable De Sade would eventually have inserted philosophical reflections later. []

201. BLUE VELVET (1986)

“It’s a strange world.”–Sandy Williams, Blue Velvet

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern,

PLOT: While home from college to visit his ailing father, who has suffered a stroke, Jeffrey Beaumont finds a severed human ear in a field. Though warned by his neighbor, Detective Williams, that the case is a police issue and he should not ask any questions, the curious Jeffrey decides to seek answers on his own, enlisting Williams’ daughter Sandy, a high school senior, in his investigation. The trail leads to a melancholy torch singer named Dorothy Vallens, and when Jeffrey hides in her closet after nearly being caught snooping in her apartment, he witnesses a horror he never imagined, which forever shatters his innocence.

Still from Blue Velvet (1986)
BACKGROUND:

  • Blue Velvet was David Lynch’s comeback film after the disastrous flop of 1984’s Dune.
  • Warner Brother’s commissioned a treatment of Lynch’s basic idea for the film, but in 1986 no major studio would touch the finished Blue Velvet script because of its themes of sexual violence. The film was produced and distributed by Dino De Laurentiis (who formed a distribution company just for this release). De Laurentiis was known for taking chances on risky or salacious movies, whether exploitation or art films. He gave Lynch final cut in exchange for a reduced salary (possibly hoping that Lynch would refuse his insulting offer and chose a more commercial project).
  • Blue Velvet is considered Lynch’s comeback film, but even more so Dennis Hopper’s. Hopper, who became a star when he wrote, directed and acted in the 1969 counterculture hit Easy Rider, developed a serious polydrug addiction problem throughout the 1970s. By the 1980s he had earned a reputation as unreliable and difficult to work with, and landed only minor roles after his memorable turn as a maniacal photographer in Apocalypse Now (1979). He entered rehab in 1983 and was sober for a year and a half before making Blue Velvet. Looking for a role to revive his career, Hopper told Lynch, “You have to give me the role of Frank Booth, because I am Frank Booth!”
  • Booth’s character was originally written by Lynch to breathe helium from his gas tank, but Hopper convinced the director that amyl nitrate would be a more appropriate inhalant for Frank. The actual drug the villain breathes is never specified in the film.
  • This was the first collaboration between Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti was hired to be Isabella Rossellini’s voice coach for her singing numbers, but Lynch liked his arrangements so much he hired him to produce the film’s soundtrack. Badalamenti would work on the score of all of Lynch’s future films until INLAND EMPIRE, and is perhaps best known for the “Twin Peaks” theme.
  • , who played a part in all of Lynch’s feature films until his death in 1996, has a small part here as one of Frank’s hoodlums.
  • Lynch was nominated for a Best Director Oscar, losing to for Platoon. Dennis Hopper’s performance was widely praised, but was too profane for Academy consideration; he was nominated for Supporting Actor for Hoosiers, where he played an assistant high school basketball coach struggling with alcoholism, instead.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: “Suave” Dean Stockwell performing a karaoke version of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” an illuminated microphone lighting his lightly-rouged face.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dream of the robins; candy-colored clown; dead man standing

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Nearly everyone describes Blue Velvet as “weird,” but most of the time, when pressed, it’s hard to pin down exactly why. Yes, there is sexual perversity, a campy and impossibly white-bread Lumberton, and one of the strangest lip-sync numbers ever, but if we were to actually sit down and graph Blue Velvet on a axis of Lynchian weirdness, we would find it closer to The Straight Story pole than it is to the incoherent extremes of INLAND EMPIRE. But despite the fact that Blue Velvet is among Lynch’s less-weird works, it’s one of his greatest. The clear and powerful presentation of key Lynch themes—the contrast between innocence and experience, and sexuality’s fateful role in marking that line—make it a crucial entry in this weirdest of director’s oeuvre. Blue Velvet‘s influence is so monumental that it would be a crime to leave it off the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.


Original trailer for Blue Velvet

 COMMENTS: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet exists in a heightened reality—and a heightened depravity—but essentially it is a Continue reading 201. BLUE VELVET (1986)

74. VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

“Some things are truly strange.”–Father from Visitor Q, preparing to commit an unnatural act

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Shungiku Uchida, Ken’ichi Endô, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: Father is a television reporter who was publicly humiliated when he was sodomized on camera by a gang of punks, Mother turns tricks to pay for her heroin habit, teenage Daughter is a runaway prostitute, and Son beats his mom with a riding crop when he’s not being bullied by his schoolmates.  One day, a strange man conks Father on the head with a rock and moves in to stay with the family.  Thanks to his influence Mother and Father gain confidence in themselves, and the family is drawn together, as corpses pile up in their home.

Still from Visitor Q (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • Visitor Q was made as part of the “Love Cinema” project, where six independent Japanese filmmakers made direct-to-video movies to explore the possibilities of the ne digital video format.
  • According to Miike the film was shot for a mere seven million yen (about $70,000) and completed in one week.
  • There are several times in the film where boom mics are visible.
  • Miike’s  plot owes much to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), in which a mysterious, nameless visitor serially seduces members of a wealthy Italian family.
  • Besides acting, the multi-talented Shungicu Uchida (“Mother”) is also a manga artist, singer, and writer.
  • Visitor Q was one of two winners of the 2010 “reader’s choice” poll asking 366 Weird Movies’ readership to select one film that had been reviewed but passed over for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie full of shock after shock, it’s the very last image, a scene of perverse family unity, that turns out to be the most affecting and haunting.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Visitor Q is a baffling parable of perversity.  What starts out as a
depraved but unhappy family ends up as a homicidal and unified clan, thanks to the intervention of a mysterious, omnipotent stranger who cracks the father on the skull with a rock and teaches the mother to lactate. Along the way, Miike films the family graphically indulging in every act of sexual deviance he can think of, and even makes up some new ones.

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Short clip from Visitor Q

COMMENTSVisitor Q is a confounding, bewildering movie, and not just because of the Continue reading 74. VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

CAPSULE: MARTYRS (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Pascal Laugier

FEATURING:  Morjana Alaoui, Mylène  Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne

PLOT: A girl ventures into unknown territory when she helps her lover, a former torture victim,

Still

seek revenge on her one-time captors, in this unusual, bloody tale of madness and sadism.

WHY IT  WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  You may have heard incomplete descriptions of Martyrs in the media or by word of mouth.  Hushed references and whispered gossip might make it sound like a snuff movie, a sado-masochistic tableau, or a scandalous exploration of taboos.  It is none of these things. While Martyrs is a heavy, very violent film with a grim story, it is not a snuff movie or a sensational expose of torture.  It is an offbeat, horrifying thriller, and nothing more.

COMMENTS: When Anna (Alaoui) and her lover Lucie (Jampanoï) embark on a mission of revenge against Lucie’s childhood torturers, the situation quickly spirals out of control.  The couple locates Lucie’s alleged abductors, but did they find the right people?  Lucie is stalked and victimized by the spectre of the mutilated sister she had to leave behind, and Anna is not so sure where the truth lies.  In the process of exacting retribution the landscape changes dramatically and Anna is swept into an incomprehensible morass of hell on earth.

I’m so underwhelmed!  I was expecting a real stick of dynamite, but instead, I got one of those Fourth of July smoldering snake novelties.  Movie site rumors and an ongoing debate over whether or not Martyrs amounts to little more than “torture porn” made me expect a wild ride.  I had hoped to see the ultimate horror movie, or at least something mindlessly vulgar and sensational, but no dice.

What I got was an extremely well-shot, conventionally produced, offbeat story.  Unfortunately, it consists of two loosely linked plot sequences which, once combined, don’t amount to a sum greater than their parts.  Nor do they deliver any sort of soul stirring revelation.  Ho hum.

I found Martyrs to be intriguing, but, well, kinda boring.  Maybe even a little tedious in places.  Continue reading CAPSULE: MARTYRS (2008)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis

FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Michele Valley, Panos Thanassoulis

PLOT: An alcoholic detective searches for a lost love, presumably dead, and ends up a

Still from Singapore Sling (1990)

captive of two psychotic women. The women (a mother and daughter) ceaselessly torture the helpless and incapacitated victim. He remains mute as they participate in bizarre sexual practices and flaunt their derangement, sometimes literally in his face.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Singapore Sling is one of the rare films where practically every frame is teeming with weirdness.  The imagery, behavior, and even the strange nuances in the women’s dialogue are often over-the-top and perverse, yet even while the viewer is made to feel uncomfortable, there is an overwhelming desire to see what comes next.   Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any weirder it somehow manages to top itself.

COMMENTSSingapore Sling is one messed up film.  It is a twisted take on the film noirs that filled cinemas in the early part of the 20th century.  Specifically, it pays homage to Otto Preminger’s stylish classic Laura (1944).  I use the word homage very loosely here, however.  The original film’s music theme is used sporadically throughout, the detective’s lost lover is named Laura, and the nutcase daughter has a painted portrait of herself like Gene Tierney’s Laura character.  The similarities pretty much end there.  Deviance always played a central part in noirs, but not anywhere close to the degree that is on display here.  I have to smile thinking about a dolled up 1940’s socialite having a night out at the theater, dressed to the nines in her pearl necklace and pillbox hat, witnessing this vulgarity.  “What is she going to do with that kiwi fruit”?  Gasp!

Film noir translates to “black film” and Singapore Sling is the purest black possible.  Actually, the black and white cinematography is surprisingly lush and almost seems too perfect for a film with this subject matter.  The beautiful crispness works to its advantage and the film would not have the same impact if shot in color.  The contrast of the blacks and whites are stark and sets the mood perfectly.  If I have any quarrel with the movie it is with the decision to Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

Due to popular demand, Visitor Q has been re-evaluated and certified weird, and the review has been updated to a full entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Ken’ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: A bizarrely dysfunctional Japanese family—dad is a TV reporter on haitus after

Still from Visitor Q (2001)

being sodomized by interviewees on camera, mom is a heroin addict and part-time hooker, son is bullied at school and beats his mother at home—becomes even stranger and more antisocial after a mysterious stranger shows up in their home.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s bizarre indeed, but Visitor Q is more interested in grossing out its viewers than it is in weirding them out.  It’s more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking.  The film doesn’t lack for surreality, or its own peculiar kind of quality within its type, but it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.

COMMENTS:  Watching Visitor Q, I found myself wishing Miike had the courage to make the hardcore porn fetish movie that he really wanted to make, instead of pulling his punches by wrapping the psychological nudity in gauzily transparent strips of art and satire.  After all, the movie’s prime showpieces are father-daughter for-pay incest, sodomy by microphone, insanely copious lactation, rape, and necrophilia, all shown with as pornographic a level of explicitness as Miike could get away with (there is genital fogging, though unfortunately in a key scene there is no anal fogging).  In a virtually unshockable age, it would have been truly audacious for the bad-boy director to make an out-and-out porn film without artistic pretensions; as it is, by sprinkling his fetish video with a little redeeming surrealism, all Miike risked with the project was being hailed as the Japanese Passolini.

Visitor Q doesn’t lack either for weirdness or technical quality.  Starting with the latter, Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY:  Marina de Van

FEATURING:  Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)

and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTSIn My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition.  It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction.  The lead character seeks a deep psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption.  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open.  Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury.  She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment.  When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement.  At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: DEADGIRL (2008)

DIRECTED  BY: Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel

FEATURING: Jenny Spain, Shiloh Fernandez,

PLOT: Two high school delinquents find an undead young woman and use her as a sex slave.
Still from Deadgirl (2008)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Deadgirl is weird by virtue of its highly unconventional subject matter, which is treated in as matter-of-factly as a conventional drama.  It’s also better than you might think;  Deadgirl is one of the best necrophilia-themed movies I’ve seen.

COMMENTS:  When I read any description of a horror movie that includes the words, “teenager” or “students,” it stops me in my tracks, and I groan in disappointment.  However, it was conducive to the plot of this horror yarn that the two antagonistic protagonists be just that.

The pair are working class high school misfits.  (I must note that they are little more working class than the jocks and cheerleaders at most high schools, who stridently compensate for their ordinariness by engaging in meaningless make-work activities and ardently conform in order to raise their perceived social status.)  The two boys in this film are misfits only in the sense that they aren’t on the football team.   Like all teenage boys (and girls, let’s be honest) they are also dying of horniness.

Rickie (Fernandez) predictably covets a cheerleader possessing no redeemable qualities, who is saving herself to be date raped by the captain of the football team some drunken Homecoming night.  One afternoon, his friend J.T. (Segan) convinces him to skip class to drink beer in an abandoned insane asylum.  Where else?

Once there, they discover an inexplicably re-animated, shapely young dead girl (Spain) Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: DEADGIRL (2008)

CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK (1987)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jörg Buttgereit

FEATURING: Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice M.

PLOT:  A necrophiliac who works for a corpse disposal service loses his job, his perverted girlfriend, and finally his mind.

Still from Nekromantik (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although Nekromantik is indisputably weird—not simply in its bizarre concept, but in its numerous nightmare digressions from linearity—it can’t be recommended as a viewing experience.  It’s a badly made, tedious parade of revolting and nihilistic imagery with no ambition other than to shock the viewer.  When the film does utilize weirdness, it does so shallowly and irreverently, solely in service of its intent to disturb.

COMMENTS:  Like sex, inherently shocking imagery in film can be used well, to explore the human experience, or (more commonly) it can be used badly and exploitatively.  The ironic celebration of evil in A Clockwork Orange disturbs the viewer deeply, but the purpose of the film isn’t to shock us; it’s to provoke us into thinking more deeply about the problem of evil by forcefully confronting us with the paradox of free will.

Too many artists, however, have noticed that offending huge numbers of people is a far easier way to draw attention to themselves than working hard at their craft and creating something thoughtful and meaningful.  Sometimes, artists get confused and adopt a simple logical fallacy: much great art, like Nabokov’s “Lolita” or Buñuel‘s Un Chien Andalou, has shocked and offended large numbers of people; therefore, the purpose of great art must be to shock people.  (This artistic disorder is commonly known as “John Waters Syndrome”).  Most shocking art, however, is made with a more cynical hand, made with the artistic integrity of a freakshow proprietor.  This is the category into which Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik falls.

Un Chien Andalou opens with a shot of a woman’s eyeball being slit by a straight razor, juxtaposed with a shot of a cloud passing in front of the moon.  The image is shocking but artistic, suggestive and numinous.  Nekromantik opens with a shot of panties dropping and urine streaming onto the grass; the image is banal, and, besides breaking Continue reading CAPSULE: NEKROMANTIK (1987)

30. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

“The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical and, what’s most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level.”–Stanley Kubrick

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Stanley Kubrick

FEATURING: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee

PLOT:  Alex is the leader of a small gang of violent, thrill-seeking youths in England sometime in the indefinite near future.  After a home invasion goes bad, his “droogs” betray him and his victim dies, and he is sent to prison.  The government selects him to undergo experimental Pavlovian conditioning that makes him violently ill when he becomes aggressive, then releases him onto the streets as a “reformed” criminal, only to find he is helpless to defend himself when he encounters his vengeful former victims.

Still from A Clockwork Orange (1971)

BACKGROUND:

  • A Clockwork Orange is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess.  Burgess was ultimately unhappy with this treatment of his novel, because in his intended ending for the story, Alex voluntarily reformed.  This final chapter of redemption had been excluded from American prints of the novel—the version Kubrick worked worked from—at the request of the American publisher.  Kubrick’s version ends with evil triumphant.  Although Kubrick had not read the final chapter of the novel before beginning the film, he later stated in interviews that he would not have included the happy ending anyway because he thought it rang false.
  • The title—which is not explained in the movie, only glimpsed briefly as a line of text on a typewritten page—comes from an expression Burgess overheard in a bar, “as queer as a clockwork orange.”
  • Burgess created the elaborate fictional jargon Alex uses by mixing elements of Russian and Slavic languages with Cockney slang.  Much of his original dialogue found its way into the movie.
  • A Clockwork Orange was Stanley Kubrick’s next project after his previous weird masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  It was also young star Malcolm McDowell’s first feature role after starring in a 1968 weird film, Lindsay Anderson’s If…
  • A Clockwork Orange was the first movie to use Dolby sound.
  • The movie was released in the United States with an “X” rating, and was later cut slightly and re-released in 1973 with an “R” rating.
  • The film was blamed for several copycat crimes in Britain and Europe, notably, a gang rape in which the rapists sang “Singin’ in the Rain” during the assualt.  Kubrick, an American who lived in the United Kingdom, was also reportedly stalked by some deranged fans of the film.  For these reasons, Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in Britain, both from live screenings and on video.  The self-imposed ban lasted until Kubrick’s death.

INDELIBLE IMAGEA Clockwork Orange filled with as many iconic images as any film of the last fifty years.  Scenes like the one where Alex and his costumed droogs walk cockily through a deserted city in slow motion have consciously or unconsciously been copied many times (compare the similar slo-mo shot of the uniformed gangsters emerging from their breakfast meeting in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs).  Probably the most instantly recognizable image is the opening closeup of Alex’s sneering face, wearing a huge false eyelash one one eye only.  I selected another memorable Malcolm McDowell closeup, the one of Alex as he’s undergoing the Ludovico technique, with wires and transistors attached to his head and metal clamps forcibly holding his eyes open so he cannot look away from the violent images on the screen, because it works as a perfect ironic metaphor for a film we cannot tear our eyes away from.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Although the plot is simple, and realistic in its own speculative

Original trailer for A Clockwork Orange

way, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is so hyper-stylized with its bizarre poetic language, sets, costumes, music, broadly exaggerated performances, and the improbable karmic symmetry of the plot that it seems to take place in a dream world or a subconscious realm.  The action, which takes the form of an ambiguous moral fable, occurs in an urban landscape that’s familiar, but fabulously twisted just beyond our expectations.

COMMENTSA Clockwork Orange did not have to be weird.  The story could have been Continue reading 30. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)