The 6 Most Disturbing Execution Scenes

Tuesday, August 28 by Joseph Gibson

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The idea of being executed is a pretty scary one, but executions on film are often whitewashed and glamorized. Even more often, they aren't shown at all-maybe because seeing someone, no matter their crimes, go through the ordeal of a state-sponsored execution is bound to arouse sympathy for him or her. Still, some movies don't hold back from the horror of the death penalty. Here are six of the most disturbing execution scenes in movies.

"Changeling"

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Director Clint Eastwood set out to make a truly disturbing execution scene in "Changeling" to show audiences what they aren't used to seeing. And anyone who saw this based-on-a-true-mystery drama agrees he succeeded. Although it's probably unlikely that anyone is losing too much sleep over the vicious child-killer who is sentenced to hang by the neck until dead, this is still one of the most disturbing executions ever filmed.

"The Last King of Scotland"

An execution is scary enough, but when it's being carried out by the truly psychotic Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin, the disturbing factor is considerably increased. With Amin, it wasn't enough to simply kill those who fought against his regime. In one haunting sequence, he cuts off a spy's arms and legs and then reattaches them where they're not supposed to go-legs in place of arms and vice-versa. The grotesque image is one of the most unforgettably disturbing in recent memory.

"Paths of Glory"

An execution scene doesn't have to be graphically violent or brutal to be disturbing. Take for instance the climax of Stanley Kubrick's antiwar classic "Paths of Glory". The three soldiers being placed before the firing squad have done absolutely nothing wrong-they were selected by their superiors to serve as an example due to their commanding officer's insane and inhuman battlefield tactics. Their execution is is incredibly infuriating, which is the point, of course.

"Dancer in the Dark"

Lars von Trier is not a filmmaker who's known for pulling punches, so it's doubtful that anyone was surprised that even his entry into the musical genre, "Dancer in the Dark", features a brutal and disturbing execution scene. The fact that the entire movie leading up to the hanging is also emotionally devastating and merciless just makes the final tightening of the noose all the more disturbing.

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You never know what exactly will make a scene stick in your memory. There's no real reason for the execution of Che Guevara in Steven Soderberg's "Che" to be on par with some of these others, since the viewer is almost led to assume that no other ending to the story could have been possible for Che. And yet, the scene, in which Che is shot down in a run-down cabin in Bolivia, is incredibly haunting. It's shot entirely from Che's point of view, and after the bullet reaches its target, the point-of-view tilts and slowly loses focus-the way you'd figure a filmmaker would imagine death, but not a way we see it in movies very often.

"In Cold Blood"

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Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, the real-life killers that inspired "In Cold Blood", are no one's idea of a compelling argument against the death penalty. They acted in a completely psychotic and senseless manner, killing an entire family for absolutely no reason at all. And yet, there's something tragic about them, which is why Smith's execution in "In Cold Blood" is one of the most disturbing. Soundtracked by Smith's beating heart, the movie shows his hanging in almost documentary-style detail, and it's definitely one of the most disturbing executions ever.