Ultraviolence – the word, not the idea – was invented in 1962 when Anthony Burgess published his novel, A Clockwork Orange. While the book may have raised some eyebrows, reading about the atrocities perpetrated by teen thug Alex and his droogies was one thing; seeing them committed to the big screen by master cinema stylist Stanley Kubrick was quite another. Allegations of copycat crimes followed and the controversy eventually grew so frightening that the film was withdrawn from circulation in England for 27 years, apparently at Mr. Kubrick's request. Meanwhile in the U.S., it was one of only two productions to receive both an X rating and a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Today, we have another word for "ultraviolence" – just another Saturday night at the movies.
Now that a new 40th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is upon us, it seems like a good time to take a look back at what was once considered extreme film violence and what still is considered the outer limits of what you can, or should want to, show on a motion picture or television screen. Yes, graphic violence in major productions had been exploding since the moment Alfred Hitchcock blindsided audiences with the Psycho shower scene in 1960. It would take some time before the kind of extreme shocks once sought out only by the hardiest of grindhouse horror fans could be seen by anyone with a subscription to basic cable.
Stay with us now, as somewhat squeamish but ever-fascinated cinema chicken Bob Westal and hardened connoisseur of the horrific Ross Ruediger take you on a journey through movies that were once called "ultraviolent," movies that are still pretty ultraviolent, and movies that are something well past that. We'll move from a time when the death of a couple of pretty and sympathetic gangsters shocked the sensibilities of many, to the present moment when truly shocking an audience seems to require an ultra-twisted imagination. Viddy this.
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