Suggested Audio Candy:
 Nancy Sinatra “(Bang Bang) My Baby Shot Me Down”
 Stanley Myers “The Deer Hunter”
 Ice Cube “The Wrong Nigga To Fuck Wit'”
Guns kill people, fact! Whether brandishing a shiny new AK-47 or vintage musket, you can bust a cap in one’s ass quite effortlessly so long as you know how to squeeze that trigger. It all started back in the 9th century with the invention of gunpowder, before the firearm made an appearance in 13th century China. What started out as effectively a flamethrower, eventually transmogrified as shrapnel was added into the mix and now, hundreds of years later, even senior citizens often tuck a handgun into their stockings before they leave to do their weekly grocery run. The whole world has gone gun crazy I tell you.
Horror isn’t the primary abode for such arsenal which is why it’s referred to as stalk ‘n’ slash. Actually though I’m fairly spoilt for choice when recalling instances of gun play in modern cinema. You see, they’re lethal goddamn weapons. One well placed shot with a gun packing enough firepower can do devastating damage. We’re not talking diminutive blots of deep red like the old spaghetti westerns of yesteryear, more like shattered skulls with gaping exit wounds and, at close range, appendage removal. Indeed, a sniper rifle can fire at a range of around 2000 meters, thus if you are caught in the crosshairs, it’s gonna leave one hell of a mark.
The shotgun in particular is a real obliterator, not when firing down at a senator from a lofty bell tower but up close and personal when you can see the whites of your prey’s eyes. Its wide spread makes for a particularly foreboding piece of gear and my first example can attest to that. William Lustig’s Maniac is no mystery to anyone well versed in my work. The reason for this is simple: Tom Savini. The sultan of splatter has popped a few lids off in his time. However, Maniac will always be my personal darling, due to the guerrilla-style approach adopted and because he pulled the trigger as well as receiving the shrapnel to his very own dome. No permits, precious little time, and limited resources, meant that there was no margin for error. So up jumped Savini as he was never one to shirk a challenge. The impact and aftermath of the blast left nothing to the imagination as Tom’s head popped like the proverbial weasel, in slow motion for extra marvel.
Damien Thorn was a little bleeder. From sperm to senate he caused no end of impish mischief and in Graham Baker’s Omen III: The Final Conflict he found a way to climb the ladder of congress, namely coaxing his rivals to take their own lives. One head he trampled on via his clamber to the summit was the current ambassador who made the infernal error of looking into the eyes of Damien’s hell hounds and blowing an exit wound through the back of his skull, giving his office a fresh lick of paint in the process. Nowadays the Americans have Donald Trump and I’m fairly convinced that he is the spawn of satan as his hair curiously resembles hell fire.
One of the most masterful horror compendiums I’ve watched in recent years is V/H/S/2 and Gareth Evans’ standout segment Safe Heaven featured mass ritual suicide. Actually, as superb as this moment was, it was surrounded by such gruesome brilliance that you literally had no idea what fucked up act was going to transpire next. The collective hara-kiri gave glorious evidence of Evans’ eminence and helped make Safe Heaven one of the finest anthology vignettes since James Woods took an ill-advised vow of smoking celibacy in Cat’s Eye’s entrée segment Quitter’s Inc.
One of the most unforgettable and heart-breaking scenes in cinematic history came courtesy of The Deer Hunter. Michael Cimino’s powerful study of the horrors of the Vietnam war and the subsequent effects it had on its patrons was a stunning achievement in filmmaking. On their return from witnessing the atrocities of a prisoner camp, life-long buddies Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken had very differing experiences. Michael (De Niro) struggled to fit back into his small town existence whereas Nick (Walken) totally detached himself from his.
In a shattering scene, Michael caught up with his friend as he prepared to participate in a round of Russian roulette at an underground gambling den. After frantically appealing to Nick to no avail, it was the moment before he blew a fissure straight through his cranium which resonated strongest. He appeared to recognize his pal, gave a comforting smile, then proceeded to pull the trigger, connected to the sole bullet in the chamber. We all know the rest. That moment when it looked as if he may be able to be talked down, only to double back, highlights excruciatingly that there were no quick easy answers to the psychological aftermath which was left behind for the survivors and their families for unwittingly taking part in a pointless war. Cimino’s film refused to take the easy way out and instead told it as it was, warts and all. The resulting motion picture danced with the angels.
De Niro had plenty of firearms exposure as he battled with Al Pacino to be the finest auteur in his field through the seventies, eighties, and indeed nineties. One instance which shone like a beacon was the bloody conclusion to Martin Scorcese’s iconic Taxi Driver. After rehearsing famously in front of the mirror, Travis Bickle was pushed to the boundaries and retaliated with a brutal exhibition of inner angst. Particularly extreme for its time, it provided inspiration for teams of similarly bleak explorations into mental illness and still holds up today.
Not wishing to be outdone by his opposite number, Pacino had his back firmly to the wall as he introduced his little friend in a bloody showdown against insurmountable odds in Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Whereas Travis got sick of the pimps, pushers, hos and human garbage that adorned Scorcese’s murky fable, Tony Montana was simply looking to get his gun off and he did so in style, culminating in one of the finest face-offs in cinema history. If ever you needed an excuse to say no to cocaine, then his erratic behavior provided it in no uncertain terms.
In between The Evil Dead and Spider-Man, Sam Raimi tried his hand at various genre pieces but his star-studded western The Quick and the Dead enabled him to show his canny knack for splatter as various gunslingers met their high noon in a round robin event to determine the quickest draw in the wild west. Poor Keith David was one such punk. Veering far closer to the dead than the quick, he had a tunnel put right throw his face, large enough to reveal his opponent on the other side, with gun still smoking. Whilst not Raimi’s tour de force, there was enough panache and adept performers on display to not have a good time.
Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop attained blockbuster status in 1987 despite not pandering to the classification board and became known for its scenes of strong bloody violence. It featured a gloriously brutal opening scene whereby Peter Weller took a fair few close-range shotgun blasts from a crew of thugs. This scene left precious little to the imagination as Murphy’s dreams of mastering the harpsichord were shattered in an instant, along with all five of the digits on his right hand.
Another landmark scene featured a malfunctioning Ed-209 prototype which crammed a whole load of lead into the convulsing body of one ill-fated executive. To his credit Ed did provide plenty of warning before busting a thousand caps, in those twenty seconds of compliance time, I would’ve been straight in the nearest elevator, through the revolving doors, and straight down to Starbucks to grab a frappucino and cower beneath the table like Garfield at Crufts.
There are plentiful other examples of gun play from this seventies and eighties exploitation sub-genre. Whether George Miller’s Mad Max, Abel Ferrera’s Ms45, or Michael Winner’s vigilante thriller Death Wish, everyone was getting their gun off around that time, but most famously “Dirty” Harry Callahan wielded an elongated Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver which he used to sweep up the city’s punks. Don Siegel’s film was the first in five outings for this dealer of rough justice and my personal favorite was Sudden Impact, directed by Clint Eastwood himself, as it featured a pug-nosed mutt called Meathead. If I ever get a bulldog, I’m taking dibs on that name.
Elsewhere, a lesser-known 1973 grind house oddity from Bo Arne Vibenius named They Call Her One Eye slowed down the action wonderfully to revel in its gunsploitation, Walter Hill gave us the splendid Sam Peckinpah homage Extreme Prejudice which featured some truly breath-taking gun fights and a stellar ensemble cast, and one of the finest lines in eighties cinema came courtesy of James B Harris’ Cop.
Weathered LAPD detective Sgt. Lloyd Hopkins left his badge on the desk and gunned down a body double bearing no likeness whatsoever to the film’s villain, whilst delivering the immortal line “Well, there’s some good and there’s some bad news. The good news is you’re right – I’m a cop and I’ve gotta take you in. The bad news is I’ve been suspended and I don’t give a fuck.” The screen then faded to black and closing audio was provided by the spent shotgun slugs falling to the ground. Genius!
Speaking of vigilante flicks, in 2007, college boy James Wan followed up his Saw success with good old-fashioned mean-spirited revenge movie Death Sentence. As savage as it was utterly implausible, Kevin Bacon took out the obliteration of his cozy family unit on each and every last one of perpetrators. The authorities meanwhile, presumably chowed down box upon box of glazed doughnuts, as opposed to bothering with either protection or prevention. Eventually, Bacon practically loaded up a shotgun in front of them and set off to right some wrongs. One sorry douche had his leg blown away from its knee-cap in a relentless closing act, again showcasing Wan’s horror leanings. After what Wan put his lead through, it’s no small wonder that he wandered off to become The Woodsman.
I simply couldn’t speak about firearms without a tip of the Crimson Quill to Robert Rodriguez. In From Dusk Till Dawn, pal Quentin Tarantino took one for the team, in the hand no less, blowing a hole straight through his palm large enough to pass a dime through. While it clearly smarted, he was spellbound with his new orifice and flashed it about like a new wristwatch.
Naveen Andrews wasn’t quite so fortunate in Rodriguez’s congenial exploitation homage, Planet Terror, discovering it is sometimes best to keep your head down. The testicle-fixated scientist took one badly timed peek around a corner and BLAM! It was all over for Abby, as his top box was reduced to a bloody pulp quick-fast.
Rose McGowan, on the other hand, or the delicious Cherry Darling to use her über-sassy pseudonym, had oodles of crazed fun with her new-fangled machine gun implant and looked simply dazzling as she annihilated leagues of arriving zombie mutations with nonsensical glee. I’ve seen many sights over my tenure and have experienced many a deviation but can safely say, with hand on heart, that it was the first time I had ever desired to screw a leg stump.
Paired in a Grindhouse double-bill with Tarantino’s Death Proof, Rodriguez also gave a sneak peek to “imaginary” exploitation flick Machete and, in 2010, gave the fans what he had hinted at and, the wonderfully gravel-featured Danny Trejo, a rare leading role in the process. If McGowan is the beauty, then Trejo would invariably wind up as beast and his wonderful face appears to have taken a dash of shrapnel itself at some point. Making Bryan Adams look like poster boy for facial moisturizer, this voracious Mexican vato revelled in the lime light and took out all manner of garbage as he tracked down a powerful drug baron. Even his wheels had guns, gatling guns to be precise and, each time he revved the throttle, another sinner hit the dust.
Gun-mounted motorcycles were one thing but nuns with guns? If there is anything hotter than the image of a sister licking the tip of an elongated Magnum then I’d love to hear it. Lindsay Lohan was thrown a bone by Rodriguez, after falling from grace faster than a big-boned skydiver and ending up incarcerated. I like this dude’s style as he happily plucks black sheep from obscurity and provides them second wind. I made him right with Lohan as, while she may be the last person you would entrust with your milk money, she looked damned fine in a habit. I spent a considerable time in confessional after watching Machete and accepted every last Nail Mary coming to me.
Sticking to the grind house theme, I close with Jason Eisner’s Hobo With a Shotgun which also graduated from a two-minute teaser to full-length feature in 2011. Rutger Hauer was finally relinquished the from the cinematic wilderness, dusted down, and handed a shotgun which, anyone familiar with Gary Sherman’s 1987 vigilante flick, Wanted: Dead or Alive, would know only too well was just asking for trouble. Cue lots of gnashing teeth and a return for those wild Hauer eyes which we had been robbed of for far too protracted a period.
There are so many fine moments involving the firearm and not all confined to horror as you may have discerned at this point. However, every one of them provided pure motion picture plutonium and offered ample reason to celebrate the sexy, trigger-squeezing, barrel-blasting, vigilante-wielding, bonce-bursting death-donating cylinder of dispatch that is the firearm in all its marvelous shapes and sizes. I may just fire off a few rounds myself now, if I can fathom how to take off the safety.
Any opportunity to feature a gallery of chicks with guns is one I will take without dalliance. The following Lethal Weapons put the Dirty in Mary and encourage me to take a bullet for the team. I could carry on with the gun innuendo until blue in the member but would prefer to sing us out instead.
One in the clip and two in the clit
My firearm is loaded my swagger legit
I’ll give you a head start some time to start running
I suggest you don’t dally as I’ll soon commence gunning
Your legs may be fast but my bullets are faster
and I’ve got a full clip backed up in my blaster
I’m shooting to kill and reloading with fury
You can send a physician but I doubt they will cure me
It may sting a little at the point of impact
you may taste some bile in your respiratory tract
but weather this storm and you’ll thank me I’m sure
and quiver as every last slug hits the floor
A load must be shot thus I bring you some chicks
each one has a sleeve fully loaded with tricks
I’m primed now for showdown no reason to push
as a gun in the hand is worth two in the bush