Horror hounds and gore gluttons aren't usually big fans of Oscar night because their film fare is rarely recognized for its grizzly goodness. The typical George Romero or Takashi Miike fans who crave blood and guts the way a methadone addict craves his next hit usually skip the Academy Awards entirely.
This year, however, some of them might actually tune in since four of the main Best Picture nominees each have a gruesome and gloriously gory hand or arm removal scene in them. So we're picking up where the Academy has let us down. Here are the four nominees as well as my take on each "disarming" scene and a chance for you, the viewer, to vote for the winner, or rather best loser of his or her bodily appendage.
Nominee No. 1: "127 Hours"
The gripping (no pun intended, well maybe just a touch, get it?!?) story of Aron Ralston's harrowing struggle to survive keeps the audience on edge throughout the entire film because they know what's coming. If you don't, try to stop relying on small children and bathroom stalls as your main news source. The climactic scene where Ralston, played by James Franco, removes his own arm with a utility knife is naturally bloody and gory, but the sounds make for the most uncomfortable parts. Hearing bones and cartilage snap, twist and stretch in full Dolby sound could make a deaf man squirm in his folded movie theater seat.
It's uncomfortable both on the surface and on a emotional level. Director Banny Boyle's take on Ralston's amazing story forces you to ask yourself what you would do if you were in that situation, if snapping your arm and slicing it off at the elbow would be worth enduring to save your own life. The true pain and suffering the audience experiences is the taut back-and-forth as they witness the sacrifice they would have to make to save not just themselves, but the people in their own lives around them. It's the ultimate "Zobmondo" question without the live rats.
Nominee No. 2: "Winter's Bone"
It might sound like another film that guys only go to when they are looking to score with the indie-loving art-house chick who dresses like an extra in a Tim Burton movie. But horror fans might be surprised to learn just how dark, sordid and graphic this Oscar-nominated film really is.
It stars Jennifer Lawrence as a troubled but strong 17-year-old Ozark Mountain girl who struggles to keep her white trash home from going into foreclosure after her drug dealing father puts it up as collateral for his bail. Describing the context of the arm or hand removing scene would really spoil the gritty and gripping ending of this very entertaining tragedy, but that won't stop me from telling you what it's like to watch. It'll still make you want to wash your eyes out for a week, just reading about it.
The dismemberment takes place toward the end and it's not anywhere near as gory as you might expect, given the context and implementation used to severe the human appendage. It's definitely a more emotional scene, in which Innocence is lost and lives are forever shaken. And if that still sounds like namby-pamby art-house cinema, you'll be happy to know it involves a chainsaw. Think "Evil Dead II" meets "Remains of the Day" with a splash of "Fargo," minus the woodchipper, unfortunately.
Nominee No. 3: "True Grit"
The Coen Brothers' take on the classic Charles Portis novel and John Wayne movie of the same name is definitely gruffer and grittier than the first original cinemac version. In fact, the first movie didn't have a limb removal scene and barely a drop of blood. Once again, the arm removal scene in question sucks some juice out of the ending but if you've seen John Wayne's Oscar-winning performance or know of the novel, you know what's coming. Even that doesn't make it easier to watch.
This time, we don't actually see the arm or hand being removed, only the cause that leads to the offscreen amputation. The aftermath of the injury is shown and even though it lacks the blood and guts usually associated with severed limbs in movies, it's still pretty hard to look at without feeling sorry for the characters involved. Unless, of course, you're the kind of unrepentant bastard who laughs at the viral videos that can't be shown on "Tosh.0." Ultimately, it does make the character more admirable in a way. Almost tougher or (dare I say) manlier for enduring such pain and sacrifice for strength and loyalty.
Nominee No. 4: "Toy Story 3"
Believe it or not, a children’s film was not only nominated for Best Picture but it also features more than its fair share of leg, arm, eye, nose and even mouth amputation and removal. Does Jigsaw work for Pixar now?
Mr. Potato Head, voiced by Don Rickles, usually goes to pieces fairly regularly in the “Toy Story” films as a quick gag, but the final and most emotional entry in the franchise relies on it as a device to help move the conflict and plot.
The film's opening scene, however, features a clear shot of the "married spud" getting his arm ripped off by Woody, as he tries to hijack the runaway train full of Troll orphans. It's done for comedic effect and probably the least horrific arm severing scene a child can see on film without having to sign them up for therapy, but it's an arm removal nonetheless and dammit, I found it disturbing.
Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, reporter, humorist and armchair movie critic (get it?!?). He can be found on the web at www.dannygallagher.net.