The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time

1983-1986


The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
Film Title/Year, Director
Screenshots

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
D. John Landis

The deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two children during filming prompted an overhaul of safety regulations, but also cast a pall over the movie's release.

Director John Landis' anthology horror film was produced by Steven Spielberg, and was based upon Rod Serling's late 1950s to 1960s popular TV show of the same name. It was composed of remakes of some of the series' episodes, and an additional original story. The film (off-screen narrated by Burgess Meredith) was segmented into parts:

  • Prologue (d. John Landis) (with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks)
  • "Time Out" (d. John Landis) - an original story (although loosely based an episode entitled "A Quality of Mercy" which aired in 1961) (with Vic Morrow and child actors)
  • "Kick the Can" (d. Steven Spielberg)
  • "It's a Good Life" (d. Joe Dante)
  • "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (d. George Miller)
  • Epilogue

During the making of the first segment "Time Out" during the summer of 1982, two child actors (7 year-old My-ca Dinh Le and 6 year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen) and Vic Morrow (the father of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) were killed in a freak helicopter crash, on July 23rd (at around 2:20 am), during the Vietnam-based scene. It was being filmed at Indian Dunes Park in Valencia, California. Pyrotechnics used in the scene caused problems for the pilot and caused the affected, low-flying chopper to lose control and crash land on the three performers (two were decapitated and one was crushed), who were wading in knee-deep water.

As a result, greater precautions would be taken on Hollywood sets through the passage of reformed US child labor laws and safety regulations. The children were actually working past-curfew, and were being paid illegally (cash on the side) to keep their names off the official payroll. It was a dangerous set-up to have special-effects and live explosives detonated so close to a hovering helicopter only 25 feet above the ground. The chopper's tail-rotor assembly was damaged by one of the explosions, and it descended rapidly. The helicopter's main rotor blade struck and fatally injured the three actors on the ground, although none of the six occupants onboard the vessel was hurt. There was substantial damage to the aircraft.

Most reviews were dismal for the film once it was released. The tragic segment was criticized for its heavy moralizing tone. Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss commented: "The story hardly looks worth shooting, let alone dying for." There were no shots of the two tragically-killed children in the finished film.

Vic Morrow's daughters, Carrie Morrow and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, filed suit against Warner Bros., Landis, Spielberg, and others in late 1982. They settled about a year later. The terms of the settlement were never made public. Almost a half decade later in 1987, director John Landis and four others were acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.



Finished Film
(with Vic Morrow)




The Crash Tragedy

John Landis On Trial

Hail, Mary (1985, Fr.) (aka Je vous salue, Marie)
D. Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard's contemporary take on the Immaculate Conception featured copious nudity and was denounced by Pope John Paul II.

French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard's controversial and upsetting film retold the story of the virgin birth and Mary, now demythologized for modern times (present-day Switzerland). It starred Moroccan-born Myriem Roussel as a tall, freckle-faced teenaged basketball player (with jersey number 10) named Marie, representing the Virgin Mary.

The film was condemned and denounced by Pope John Paul II at one time (he said that the offensive film "deeply wounds the religious sentiments of believers"), and picketed at theatres. Outrage came over the reinterpretation of the Immaculate Conception and the fact that Roussel (as the Mary figure) was often in various states of objectively-viewed, non-prurient undress, exhibiting her corporeal flesh throughout the provocative film.

A plane flying overhead brought archangel Uncle Gabriel (Phillippe Lacoste) and a young cherubic girl functioning as his secretary; both were taken by taxi, driven by Marie's platonic, school dropout boyfriend Joseph (Thierry Rode), to Marie's father's gas station where she worked as a pump attendant. At the petrol station, the Annunciation occurred - she was told that she was mysteriously and unexplainably pregnant: "You're going to have a child...You'll have a baby." She asked quizzically: "By whom?...I sleep with no one." Gabriel insisted it wouldn't be by Joseph ("It won't be his. Never!"). When she confusedly asked "By whom?" a second time, she was told: "Don't play innocent!" The little girl advised: "Be pure, be rough. Follow Thy way." Later, Marie mused to herself: "There's no escape."

Maintaining a chaste relationship with the petulant, short-tempered Joseph was difficult, since he pressured her: "What is this? Miracles don't exist. Kiss me. What is all this?" She was resigned to her destiny: "There's no escape, for us." When she continually vowed to not be touched or kissed by him, she added: "You should trust me." Irritated and unconvinced, he couldn't believe she was pregnant without sex, suspicious that she had other lovers: "Be simpler if you said you've seen other men." She responded: "I sleep with no one." He was very upset: "So where's the child from?...Child must come from somewhere. For two years now, I can't touch you. Why?...You must be sleeping around. It's the only answer. Guys with big cocks!" He threatened to leave her: "We're through Marie, ciao!"

During a visit to the gynecologist, Marie told her doctor: "I've got a pain: in the belly." During her exam, she asked: "Does the soul have a body?" but was told she had it reversed - that the body has a soul. It was confirmed that she was indeed mysteriously pregnant (and still virginal) without having had sex with Joseph: "It wasn't with anybody....I haven't slept with anyone. I touch no one. No one caresses me...I'm going to have a baby and I've slept with no man. Joseph won't believe it." She told her doctor as he examined her: "Being a virgin should mean being available, or free, not being hurt. Well, do you believe me?" He was amazed when he found her hymen intact: "It's true that it's true." Joseph was still disbelieving: "It must be mine!"

As she bathed in a tub and examined her own full breasts, she began to accept the miraculous fact that she would bear the Son of God, in voice-over: "Yet I rejoiced in giving my body to the eyes of Him who has become my Master forever, and glanced at this wondrous being. For in truth, He was that, then and always, not for His looks nor what He did, but in the silent power of what He was, the power gathered up in Him, vast as a mountain on the sky, that you can't measure or name, but only feel." Marie continually meditated about the meaning of the soul (or spirit) and the body (fleshly desire): (voice-over) "I think the spirit acts on the body, breathes through it, veils it to make it fairer than it is. For what is flesh alone?...You may see it and feel only disgust. You may see it in the gutter, drunken, or in the coffin, dead. The world's as full of flesh as a grocer's counter is of candles at the start of winter. But not until you've brought a candle home and lit it can it give you comfort." Grumpy angel Gabriel was angered by the choice of Joseph as Marie's boyfriend and called him a "nitwit" and a "jerk," but his young secretary urged: "Have trust."

Joseph asked Marie: "Why does my body repel you?" She admitted she was "scared" because "all this doesn't happen every day. One's better as a pair..." She asked: "Why don't you believe the spirit affects the body?" Joseph stated he believed the opposite. Frustrated, he insisted: "At least say you don't love me. I can't stand the silence." She said that he must love and respect her soul and spirit by remaining chaste: "I know you love me. But it has to be something else...The hand of God is upon me and you can't interfere." She added: "Your body's not the snag, it's your lack of trust." He asked: "Why can't I want the child to be mine? Tell me who you did it with. I don't care, if you stay with me, if I stay with you, sleep with you, wake up with you." He insisted that he didn't love another girlfriend, Juliette (Juliette Binoche): "I don't love her. I love you."

Marie allowed him to touch her through her clothing, to prove her innocence: "You see, I'm sleeping with no one. But I'll still have a child. You must believe it." He vowed to act as her shadow: "I'll only be your shadow," to which she responded: "God's shadow...Isn't that what all men are...for a woman who loves her man." As she undressed for sleep, she said: "Let the soul be body. Then no one can say the body is soul, since the soul shall be body." As she laid down, she promised: "Thy will be done."

Soon, she admitted she could see Joseph's love for her, and he slowly began to stop pressuring Marie to sleep with him and to be sexual with him, but he still wanted to see her naked: "We're getting married: can I see you naked just once? I'll only look." She also struggled with her sexual nature -- "...though I hide it, I'm in pain, like others. Even a bit more." She wrestled in bed with her sheets ("They'll wrest from me that which I dare not give"), and touched her own bare skin - "To be chaste is to know every possibility, without ever straying."

In a scene publicized on the DVD cover and in posters, Marie stood (bottomless) before Joseph as he reached toward her swelling stomach and said: "Je t'aime." Marie replied, "No," and repeatedly slapped his hand away every single time until he said the words respectfully, with the forceful urging of exasperated angel Gabriel. She felt closer to God and asked if he wouldn't leave her, and he vowed to stay: "I'll never touch you."

She then continued to struggle with her own discomforting and painful pregnancy, especially when she was alone at night in bed: "It will always be horrible for me to be the Master, but there'll be no more sexuality in me. I'll know the true smile of the soul, not from outside, but from inside. Like a pain that's always deserved." She tossled more in bed, and arched her back, and resisted the human temptation to masturbate - making an angry fist gesture with her hand over her hairy genitals, although she slowly and clearly accepted her plight ("The Father and Mother must f--k to death over my body. Then Lucifer will die and we'll see, we'll see who's weariest - him or me. Earth and sex are in us...God is a vampire who suffered me in Him because I suffered and He didn't, and He profited from my pain. Mary is a body, fallen from a soul. I am a soul imprisoned by a body. My soul makes me sick at heart, and it's my c--t...I'm a woman though I don't beget my man through my c--t. I am joy. I am she who is joy, and need no longer fight it, or be tempted, but to gain an added joy").

After the child was born in the spring, she mused: "There are no looks in love, no outward seeming, no likeness. Only our hearts will tremble in the light. I can't describe Him as He stood there, but I can tell you how the women looked on seeing Him." When he grew to be a few years old (Malachi Jara Kohan), he was permitted to stick his head under Mary's nightgown at the breakfast table, and point to her various euphemistically-named body parts ("the hedgehog or the lawn" for her genitals, and her breasts were referred to as "bells"). Joseph grumbled: "He's too old to see you naked now," to which Mary replied: "Quia respexit, Joseph" - referring to the Magnificat when Mary in the Bible said: "For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." One day, he announced: "I am who he is...I must tend to my Father's affairs" - and he disobediently ran off into the woods, neglecting his father. Marie was confident: "He'll be back - at Easter or Trinity Sunday." The film ended after Gabriel hailed Marie -- "Hail, Marie." Marie sat in her car, smoked a cigarette and applied lipstick (voice-over "I am of the Virgin, and I didn't want this being. I only left my imprint on the soul that helped me. That's all").

A parallel and contrasting subplot, quite tedious, involved an unorthodox science professor (Johan Leysen) who was soon to have an adulterous affair with one of his college students - a young blonde named Eva (Anne Gautier) - she was first seen manipulating a Rubik's Cube while he explained to the class about the evolution of life on Earth, which he believed came from somewhere else: "Life appeared entirely by chance...What if it wasn't chance?...Since life hadn't time to appear on Earth, then it came from elsewhere, from space. We wonder what an extra-terrestrial looks like. Go to a mirror and look at yourself. It's just a hypothesis, but...in my opinion, this establishes a very strong presumption that life exists in space. We're from there. We are extra-terrestrials." He continued to digress and speculate on life in the past and in the far future with her and her classmates, and talked about life being programmed by a "prior intelligence." When she bit into an apple, a pretentious metaphor of their impending sex together, he commented: "A smoke, a sax solo, that's all a man wants....This is the time. And the place" - and he began to touch her.

In the next scene, she appeared stark naked after sex, with the voice-over of Marie from the next scene speaking about the 'flesh.' Soon, she painfully realized he had used her: "The world's too sad!" and he falsely comforted her: "It isn't sad. It's big." She slapped him and called him a "bastard" ("You really are a nothing") when he dumped her and then departed on a train.















Year of the Dragon (1985)
D. Michael Cimino
Oliver Stone, co-screenwriter

Now all-but forgotten, Michael Cimino's follow up to Heaven's Gate was censured for sexist and racist stereotypes of Chinese-Americans.

This much-forgotten, violent cop-thriller gangster-crime drama was Michael Cimino's first film after the disastrous Heaven's Gate (1980), from a screenplay co-written by Cimino with Oliver Stone. It was criticized for alleged racism toward the Chinese-American community. In addition, it received five Golden Raspberry nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actress and Worst New Star (Ariane Koizumi), and Worst Screenplay. Its tagline described:

It isn't the Bronx or Brooklyn, it isn't even New York. It's Chinatown...and it's about to explode.

Its stylistically-told story followed an angry Vietnam vet and Captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke), a racist, arrogant Polish-American police officer who pledged to heroically "clean up" the violence in mid-80s New York's Chinatown. The crusading, married White staged a relentless, lawless anti-crime crusade against the community and its powerful and wily Asian Mafia (Triad) crime leader Joey Tai (John Lone), who was responsible for the murder, corruption, extortion and drug dealing. He enlisted the aid of reluctant, short-haired Asian-American TV reporter Tracy Tzu (Ariane Koizumi in mostly gratuitous nude scenes) to write an expose and uncover Chinatown's problems: "If it was some white broad, they'd say it's racist. With you, they gotta figure it's on the up-and-up."

White's last line of the film ("Well, I guess if you fight a war long enough, you end up marrying the enemy") was considered un-PC, and was replaced with - "You were right and I was wrong. Sorry, I'd like to be a nice guy. I would, but I just don't know how to be nice." Tracy responded: "You're really cracked. You know that?" before kissing him.

Based loosely on Robert Daley's novel of the same name, Chinese-Americans protested the racial stereotyping, xenophobism ("chinks" and "slant-eyed" and "yellow niggers" were terms used in the film) and sexism before the film opened. Protesters from a coalition of organizations picketed various premieres around the country. Some groups worried that moviegoers would get the notion that Chinatown was unsafe - and feared an economic downturn in the community.

Numerous objections of political uncorrectness led the studio to add the following disclaimer to the beginning of the film: "This film does not intend to demean or to ignore the many positive features of Asian Americans and specifically Chinese American communities. Any similarity between the depiction in this film and any association, organization, individual or Chinatown that exists in real life is accidental."

[Ridley Scott's action crime thriller Black Rain (1989) faced similar protests and accusations of racism and xenophobia, in its story of crooked NYPD cop Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) returning a villainous Yakuza murder suspect and counterfeiter named Sato, and immediately blamed for the criminal's escape by the Osaka police.]





Blue Velvet (1986)
D. David Lynch

David Lynch's look at seething violence beneath the facade of small-town '80s America was denounced for images of bizarre sexual degradation.

Director David Lynch's bizarre, polarizing, and nightmarish film of the dark-side of life was an original look at sex, violence, crime and power under the peaceful exterior of small-town Americana in the mid-80s. Beneath the familiar, peaceful, 'American-dream' cleanliness of the daytime scenes lurked sleaziness, prostitution, unrestrained violence, and perversity - powerful and potentially-dangerous sexual forces that might be unleashed if not contained.

It was considered controversial, shocking, and lurid when released. The compelling film was often criticized for its depiction of aberrant sexual behavior, as well as highly ridiculed and disdained as an extreme, dark, vulgar and disgusting film, especially for its cinematic treatment of Isabella Rossellini - director Lynch's wife at the time.

Its most repulsive scene was the one in which clean-cut, innocent all-American, small-town college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) first voyeuristically watched fragile nightclub singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rossellini) from her apartment's closet. He saw her as she disrobed to a black bra, black panties, and red high-heeled shoes. She stripped naked in the rear bathroom, and then reached for her blue velvet robe from the closet. He heard a drawer open in the kitchen as she reached for a large knife, and then suddenly flung open the closet door where he was caught hiding. She threatened him at knife-point into intimidation and forced him to get on his knees. She cut his face with the knife blade, turned the tables on him, made him her voyeuristic prey, and forced him to undress in front of her, all the way down to his underwear and socks.

She pulled down his underpants to his knees, then began touching, fondling, and kissing (and fellating?) him, and forced him to remain motionless. She asked: "Do you like that?" and then asked a question combining domination, pain, power, pleasure, and humiliation: "Don't touch me or I'll kill you? Do you like talk like that?" Responding with nervous ecstasy, arousal, but defenseless fear, he was led to the couch to lie down where she straddled him and kissed him. Three loud knocks at the door frightened Dorothy. Frantically fearing the man's arrival and with the knife gleaming above Jeffrey, she told him to head back into the closet. They were interrupted by the entry of a monstrous, loathsome, nitrous-oxide sniffing kidnapper - the evil, vile, blackmailing and sexually-depraved drug-pusher psycho Frank (Dennis Hopper).

The scene was disturbing, cruel, sadomasochistic, and kinky. Demanding and condescending to her, Frank quickly established an abusive master/victim relationship over Dorothy as she accommodated his depraved preferences. He used an oxygen inhaler while terrorizing and raping Dorothy as he play-acted being both her Daddy and Baby ("Baby wants to f--k"). As he began to feel her breasts, he sucked, chewed, and bit velvet cloth (part of Dorothy's blue robe). And then after forcefully touching her genitals, he mounted her and started humping her with his unbuckled pants still on. He moved frenziedly faster and faster until climaxing in a brief and brutal f--k. After getting off of her, he slugged her again in the face, hideously threatening her again: "Don't you f--kin' look at me." The 'dark' scene was intercut with a frightened Jeffrey surreptitiously viewing the shadowy, broken images between the slats of the distasteful ordeal from his hiding place in the closet.

After Frank left the scene of victimization, Dorothy pleaded with a consoling Jeffrey to further abuse her: "Feel me. Hit me." He overcame his resistance to abusing her after she begged him to please her - her moist red lips appeared, with sparkling white teeth. Again, he hit her - as the flames grew and the animalistic howling sound intensified during their violent, erotic love-making in the darkness.

One of the often criticized scenes of gratuitous nudity was a later scene in which a naked, vulnerable and battered Dorothy shockingly appeared on the Beaumont's front lawn. Film critic Roger Ebert Ebert criticized how she was misogynistically and degradingly depicted in the film: "degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera. And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film."









Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1986) (released in 1990)
D. John McNaughton

Documentary-style filmmaking and newcomer Michael Rooker's intense performance made this take on Henry Lee Lucas' crimes feel unbearably real.

John McNaughton's highly-controversial, low-budget, notorious 82 minute film was a realistic, disturbing "fictional dramatization" - and his directorial debut film. It was shot in 4 weeks on a budget of about $100,000, and was based on the confessions of famed, pathological, 'real-life' convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas (played by Michael Rooker in his feature film debut), who ended up on death row in Texas and eventually died in prison in 2001. Henry's background partially accounted for his murderous streak - his abusive mother (who Henry claimed he had stabbed to death on his 14th birthday) was a "whore" who forced young Henry to wear a dress and watch her having sex with her many customers in their house.

It was so controversial that it was given an X-rating, and had very limited release in the US. Due to a ratings controversy with the MPAA, its release was held up for a few years. Its release was delayed until 1993 in the UK and even then, two minutes of the film's violent content was spliced out. An uncut version of the movie was eventually allowed for video release in 2003.

The grisly horror-slasher film's detached and amoral documentary style and tone of filming enhanced each brutal, gory and violent killing (over a dozen in the film) in the random crime spree by psychotic murderer Henry, often viewed as a series of grotesque tableaux still shots. Henry was later joined by a partner-in-crime - his own paroled, dim-witted room-mate-prison buddy Otis (Tom Towles), whom he had taught how to commit serial murders. Interspersed in the film's action were still shots of Henry's trail of carnage in Illinois - they were the death poses of many of the murder victims (killed off-screen), sometimes with accompanying sounds of their screams or death struggle.

There were numerous sickening, brutally-violent, cinema-verite off-screen and on-screen murders, including the five opening still images: the death of a young woman left disemboweled and lying in a grassy area, shots-to-the-heads of a storeowner couple (Elizabeth and Ted Kaden), a prostitute (Mary Demas) killed in a bathroom with a broken soda bottle in her face, a partially-clothed female corpse (Denise Sullivan) lying face-down and floating in a body of water, and a female murdered in her living room - strangled with a power cord wrapped around her throat and cigarette burns on her chest and face.

Otis first witnessed Henry's cold-blooded dirty-work when they picked up two Chicago prostitutes (Mary Demas and Kristin Finger) and he murdered them in their car by snapping their necks, and then dragged their bodies into a dark alleyway (Henry later rationalized about his killings: "It's always the same and it's always different... It's either you or them, one way or the other.") Henry also repeatedly stabbed a smart-alec TV salesman/fence (Ray Atherton) with a soldering iron and smashed a cheap $50 B/W TV over his head, after which Otis plugged in the set to end his life by electrocution.

Especially gruesome and disturbing was the beating, torture, sexual assault, and videotaped killing of a helpless family of three (a couple and their son) (Lisa Temple, Brian Graham, and Sean Ores) in their suburban home - and then afterwards, the viewing (and re-viewing) by the two killers (sitting on their sofa) of the grainy, unfocused, and poorly-photographed account of the crime shot on videotape.

The film ended with Henry discovering Otis strangling and raping his sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) - Henry's 'girlfriend.' He murdered Otis (Becky had just stabbed him in the eye with the sharp end of a hairbrush) and cut off his head in the bathtub, and then the body parts were dumped in the river. Otis fled with her, and the two spent the night in a motel. The next morning, Henry left the motel by himself (had he killed Becky in the room and dismembered her body?) and deposited Becky's heavy blood-stained suitcase in a roadside ditch (was Becky inside?)








The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
(chronologically, by film title)
Intro | Silents-1930s | 1940s-1950s | 1960-1961 | 1962-1967 | 1968-1969
1970-1971 | 1972 | 1973-1974 | 1975 | 1976-1977 | 1978 | 1979
1980-1982 | 1983-1986 | 1987-1989 | 1990-1992 | 1993-1995 | 1996-1999
2000-2002 | 2003-2005 | 2006-Present


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