The Big Question is a semi-regular outing where multiple Daily Grindhouse contributors and friends offer their answers to some burning question. The results…may surprise you.
Today’s big question comes from Nathan Smith and it is…
What is your favorite dinner scene in a movie?
With America’s Thanksgiving dominating this past week, today’s Big Question is all about sitting around the table and enjoying food and company. Or…some horrible nightmare version of that. So what is your favorite dinner scene in a movie and why?
Rich Maier — HANNIBAL (2001)
The best dinner scene in a film was probably 1990’s THANKSGIVING DAY starring Mary Tyler Moore and Chicago’s own Jonathon Brandmeier. I’m not here to talk about the best. I’m here to talk about my favorite, which is 2001’s HANNIBAL starring Julianne Moore, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and a slightly brainless Ray Liotta. Near the end of the story, Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) rescues a wounded Clarice (Moore) after she rescues him from the clutches of the evil child molester, Mason Verger. After treating her wounds, he subsequently treats her to a late dinner while her misogynistic rival, Paul Krendler (Liotta) sits at the opposite side of the table.
In both the book and the film, the terrible Mr. Krendler has the prefrontal cortex of his brain removed and sautéed while he sits happily at the table. In the book, the three of them dine on his tasteful (yet also somewhat distasteful) brains. Shortly after this, Lecter and Starling run off, become lovers, and live seemingly happily ever after. The brilliant doctor solves every single psychological problem in the mind of Clarice and then some. In the Ridley Scott film adaptation, only Lecter and Krendler dine on the brains while a drugged yet disgusted Clarice Starling drinks wine. In this version she does not partake of the brains and does not become the lover of Hannibal Lector. She does however get to see her terribly misogynistic rival eat himself to death.
Jeremy Lowe — SHE WAS SO PRETTY: BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE (2017)
There are three types of sub-genres of horror that pluck at my heartstrings like no others. Those three are: slashers, micro budget indie films, and most importantly…horror movies that take place on or around the holiday season. SHE WAS SO PRETTY: BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE checks all those boxes.
Almost every scene in this amazingly produced micro budget film are top notch cinema. The one that sticks out, and is most pertinent to this article, is the dinner scene. Alfie (Jerry Larew) force feeding his female victims canned Christmas dinner is vile, disgusting, and disturbing to watch. This scene is on par with the dinner scenes from TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. So basically, I loved it.
Brooklyn Ewing created the ultimate cult franchise with SHE WAS SO PRETTY and only improved on it with this sequel. SHE WAS SO PRETTY: BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE is a must see for any fan of extreme cinema.
Mary Beth McAndrews — BEETLEJUICE (1988)
My absolute favorite dinner table scene is the dinner party possession in Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE. Delia Deetz (Catherine O’Hara) has transformed the Maitlands’ quaint home into a chic abode where she can host luxurious dinner parties. This scene is impeccably designed, from the strange table and chairs to the bizarre art that lurks in the corners of the room. But the piece de resistance is when Delia begins singing Harry Belafonte’s “Day-o.” Possessed by the Maitlands, the whole dinner party breaks into song and dance, culminating in a horrifying attack by shrimp hands. That moment scarred me as a child and made me wary of shrimp. Regardless of my childhood trauma, this is the scene I think of when I think of BEETLEJUICE. It captures the ridiculous nature of the film as well as emphasizing the creepy and dark undertones that flow under the comedy.
Brett Gallman — ALIEN (1979)
Much has been made of the blue collar ethos underpinning ALIEN. Despite being set in the far reaches of space in a far-flung future, it’s ultimately a film about working class employees under siege by sinister corporate forces. Nothing captures this quite as well as the iconic dinner sequence, wherein the Nostromo crew gathers to celebrate what they believe is a triumph for themselves and the monolithic company they serve. It’s a moment that underscores the crew’s everyman camaraderie, as it features about 45 seconds of everyone shooting the shit between cigarette drags and beer-swilling before an alien creature bursts from John Hurt’s chest, bringing the revelry to an abrupt halt. The celebration warps into a horrific herald of what seems to be an inexplicable horror that’s randomly descended on this crew by happenstance.
Eventually, however, the audience and what’s left of the Nostromo crew learn the alien menace hasn’t terrorized them on the whims of a cold, unfeeling universe. Rather, the real horrors have been lurking amongst them in the form of a company emissary who deems the crew expendable because this creature—which could very well end human life—is too valuable. As I sit down to dinner myself in 2019, I can think of few scenes that capture the dread of knowing our own fleeting moments of peace are also haunted by the specter of a twisted corporate interests that urge us to go out and stuff their pockets once we’re done stuffing ourselves. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Nathan Smith — THE LAST SUPPER (1996)
In most films with a chaotic undercurrent, a dinner with family or strangers can be a recipe for disaster … or death. The latter certainly applies to the first feature film of Stacy Title (THE BYE BYE MAN), 1996’s THE LAST SUPPER. The film revolves around five liberal graduate students who, upon accidentally killing a racist drifter (played by the late, great Bill Paxton) decide to invite the most unscrupulous folks to dinners where they will give the person time to turn their beliefs around, or change their mind and if they don’t … it’s curtains for them, poisoned by a bottle of wine. What follows is an intense suspense film with a wicked course of venom running through its veins and, like all solid black comedies about murderers and their victims, a thick, sloppy gravy of gray morality—it’d go well with Peter Berg’s VERY BAD THINGS or Bobcat Goldthwaite’s GOD BLESS AMERICA. The film has one killer cast including future marquee stars like Cameron Diaz and a buffet of character actors like Charles Durning, Jason Alexander, Mark Harmon, Ron Eldard, Ron Perlman, Nora Dunn, Courtney B. Vance, and Annabeth Gish.
Jay Alary — STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)
The galaxy’s greatest adversaries meet at the dinner table to break bread and Gagh over copious glasses of Romulan Ale in the original STAR TREK cast’s cinematic swansong. Director Nicholas Meyer returns to the Trek universe to guide the galactic glasnost allegory, as the Klingons reach out to their Federation enemies out of desperation. One of the film’s highlights is the dinner scene, which shows the Enterprise hosting the Klingons before a peace conference. What occurs is a series of awkward conversations about political and cultural differences and the Klingons’ love of The Bard: “You haven’t heard Shakespeare until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon,” David Warner’s Klingon Chancellor Gorkon informs Captain Kirk, who looks bemused. Both sides clearly express their disdain for each other, especially Kirk, who’s still angry over the death of his son, David, killed by the Klingons in STAR TREK III. It’s delightful to watch William Shatner and Christopher Plummer (as a Shakespeare-spouting Klingon) spar verbally when they’d rather be using phasers (they’ll do just that in the film’s climactic space battle). The Klingons had been one-dimensional villains in the original series and previous movies, so it’s heartening to see Meyer show a different side of the warrior race that had already been explored in the concurrent Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. Change is difficult, even for Starfleet legends such as Kirk, who gets more than a Romulan Ale-induced hangover as the result of his bigotry. Maybe he should have stuck to Saurian brandy?
Trey Hilburn — BIG NIGHT (1996)
The Campbell Scott-and-Stanley Tucci-directed dining dramedy has an overall warmth to it and is entirely set around food and family. Film of this ilk have a really special place for me, coming from a family that has handed down recipes over generations. In BIG NIGHT, brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) are met with a rival restaurant and ultimately have to come to terms with the very real possibility that they may have to shut down. In a last-ditch effort, the brothers create an alchemy of ancestral, delectable dishes for a dinner party of critics and friends. The dinner is broken into courses by way of Italian title cards. These run from the soup to the main course the almost mythically framed Timpano. The Timpano scene in particular is as well-crafted cinematically as the dish itself. From the brother’s inception to the finished product followed by the dinner guests enjoying it so much that it makes Ian Holm’s character want to commit murder simply because he can’t handle how good the Timpano was, the scene is culinary cinematic genius.
J. Tonzelli — BLOOD RAGE (1987)
BLOOD RAGE isn’t just a slasher favorite, but a yearly Thanksgiving tradition. Frankly, it’s as much a Thanksgiving movie as DIE HARD is a Christmas movie, and I will fight to the death anyone who disagrees because that’s the kind of mood I’m in.
For those unaware, BLOOD RAGE is about an amorous mother (Louise Lasser) who has a penchant for auditioning new fathers for her clingy twin sons, Todd and Terry, with the latter being a homicidal killer even at a very young age. In the film’s opening, which takes place at a drive-in theater, the two young boys fail at sleeping through their mother’s car sex and Terry loses it and carves up another theater-goer. However, the wrong son, Todd, is implicated and he spends a solid decade locked up in a mental hospital until he escapes and beelines right back to his family, who are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. After mom receives a call from the hospital warning her about Todd’s escape, they…decide to go ahead with hosting Thanksgiving anyway, but she asks Terry not to say anything, to which he agrees. Moments later, as they all sit back down at the table, Terry very casually says to his mother’s fiancé and their numerous other dinner guests, “Looks like you’re gonna get the chance to meet the rest of the family—my psychotic brother just escaped.”
Cut to this face:
If BLOOD RAGE weren’t a slasher movie, it would be a sitcom. The laugh track was created for this kind of cutting comedic timing. Still, the revelation of a homicidal maniac coming to dinner is probably less awkward than enduring that uncle of yours who can’t wait to start talking politics.
Samantha Schorsch — INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE is rife with monologues and arguments on morality, the nature of good and evil for humans vs animals vs gods, and Christian guilt. No scene illustrates all of the above better than Lestat and Louis’ argument in the hotel as Lestat slowly feeds on and psychologically tortures a prostitute (after already draining her friend). With every sip and bite and cut, Lestat tries to bait Louis into giving into his feral nature while he looks on in abject, pained disgust. The blood is poured into a wine glass, the woman screaming at the monster in front of her to help her, the coffin at her feet dressed in the trappings of a lovely after dinner social gathering with its wine and lace and gentle candles meshes so well with an esoteric morality play that could easily, and does usually, come off as hollow or over written instead of as the deeply unsettling brain worm its become over time. In forcing Louis to take a hard look at the existence he’d been turning a blind eye towards in favor of pretending killing rats and dogs are any different that any other life, Louis is finally pushed to his first real human murder in the form of Claudia, and the beginning of the descent into his final sociopathic, feral nature. “Take your aesthete’s tastes to purer things, kill them swiftly if you will—but do it! For do not doubt: you are a killer, Louis.”
Andrew Campbell — THE GREAT OUTDOORS (1988)
It’s hard to believe, but 2019 marks 25 years since the passing of John Candy. Candy had supporting roles in a slew of comedies throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, the most memorable to me being HOME ALONE, STRIPES, and SPACEBALLS. His most enduring role is probably his turn in PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES costarring along with Steve Martin. But to me, John Candy will always be Chet Ripley from THE GREAT OUTDOORS, a fun-loving father who just wants to make his family happy.
In a film with a half-dozen memorable scenes, there is none better than the trip to the steakhouse, where Chet spots the Old 96’er on the menu. No diner has ever polished off this six-pound slab of beef, in spite of the opportunity to win a free meal for the whole table, but Chet is up to the challenge. Goaded on by his brother-in-law (Dan Aykroyd), Chet takes it down until there’s nothing but fat left on the plate. Candy’s enduring humor is on display through his physicality in this scene and the look on his face when he’s told he has to eat the gristle is both priceless and nauseating.
Jon Abrams — HEAT (1995)
Dinner scenes in American movies are traditionally about community, the equivalent of what church meetings were to John Ford Westerns. When I say “dinner scene” with regards to HEAT, you’re probably thinking about the diner scene, where Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) invites Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) out for coffee. More has been written about that scene in this movie than probably any other, and rightly so, since it’s the one time Pacino and De Niro meet in the movie without bullets being involved. (Also note calling it “the dinnr scene” is interesting since there’s a diner scene way earlier in the movie, where McCauley introduces Waingro’s face to the table).
But when I think of dinner scenes in HEAT, my mind goes right to the one about fifty minutes into the movie, where De Niro is out at a restaurant with his crew and their wives and families. Kilmer’s got Ashley Judd, Trejo’s got his Anna, and most incongruously Sizemore is there with his wife, being charming with the kids. In the previous scene with the crew, De Niro had made that badass threat to Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) [“There is a dead man at the other end of this line”], but while the other guys are able to switch off their deadliness and take a night off, De Niro is the odd man out. He sees Sizemore joking with the little girl, he sees Kilmer whisper to Judd flirtatiously. Finally he steps away to make that call. You know that kind of call. I know that kind of call. Goddamn do I know that fucking kind of call.
This relatively brief scene is all about the isolation of De Niro’s character. He stands apart from polite society due to his chosen line of work, but even in that context, he’s “the loner,” as Pacino’s character correctly observes from the adjacent rooftop. He’s an isolator even among isolators. Dutifully he attends the social gathering, he even lets a wisecrack and a smile slip, although that much may be a performance. In a wild bunch of vicious career criminals, he’s still the only one who struggles to let any light in.
He does make the call – hallelujah! – but change doesn’t come that quickly, you’ve got to put a different kind of work in, and Neil doesn’t have that kind of time left.
Hey, happy Thanksgiving though!
Terry Mesnard — HEREDITARY (2018)
Back in high school, I was a typical teenager. Well, typical closeted teenager. Ok, typical closeted teenager who didn’t really know how to feel and lived in the center of the country where it wasn’t okay to be gay. It was the time of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The misunderstood AIDS crisis. Matthew Shepard.
Basically, I was often sullen.
And dinners, where I was forced to deal with parents who didn’t understand me, lived in their own heads and would sometimes casually say absolutely dreadful things were the worst. Which is why the dinner scene in HEREDITARY hit me in the gut. The way the conversation seethes with unsaid malice. It’s a masterclass of acting and passive aggressiveness. And it culminates not at the dinner table, but with a dream where Annie (Toni Collette) tells her son, “I never wanted to be your mother.”
As a kid struggling with his sexuality, seeing teenagers like Matthew Shepard get murdered and disowned, that fear is one that struck to the heart of me. And when I saw the aftermath of that dinner and the horrible things we can say to each other, I realized that the supernatural was the least scary part of HEREDITARY.
Shak Lambert — KILLER JOE (2011)
Directed by William Friedkin from Tracy Letts’ script (based on Letts’ play of the same name), KILLER JOE is a film that is equal parts laugh-out-loud hilarious and skin-crawlingly gross. Nearly every character in this world just makes you feel slimy or uncomfortable, from lead “protagonist” Chris (Emile Hirsch) to the cold and calculating title character himself (Matthew McConaughey). Nothing exemplifies both the laughter and the horror better than the extended dinner scene that surrounds the last 25 minutes of the film. After a series of revelations that render Chris and his family unable to collect his mother’s life insurance policy, detective/hitman Joe plans on paying their debt by collecting his retainer—Chris’ sister, Dottie (Juno Temple).
It all escalates in a dinner that begins a rapid swirl of chaos, violence, and an anti-climax that had me laughing harder than most comedies that year. The main reason it all works is due to McConaughey’s transformative performance. Primarily knowing him for his work in romantic comedies until this point, McConaughey turns in a career-best performance by combining aspects of his typical Southern charm with an added remorseless penchant for violence that makes him as one of the more terrifying characters to hit the screen in recent memory. That combination also makes his character one that you curious and worried what he’s going to do next, even when he does some truly evil things, one of which being an already-infamous sequence that will probably make you stop eating fried chicken for a while.
Bill Bria — BATMAN (1989)
There’s a special kind of duality to dinner on a first date: it’s either a delightful experience of sharing a meal with someone you like, or it’s a cringe-worthy encounter with a weirdo. Nobody does duality better than Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), and that’s exemplified by his dinner with Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) in Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Burton and Production Designer Anton Furst make the subtext of Bruce keeping his true self at arm’s length (or longer) explicit by having him and Vicki dining on soup in a room at Wayne Manor that features an absurdly long table the couple sit at opposite ends of. Like most early Burton, the scene’s played for comedy: Vicki has to shout to tell Bruce to pass the salt, and Bruce claims that he’s never even been in the room before. Fortunately, Bruce and Vicki move to a cozier room to have the rest of their dinner, where Wayne’s butler and substitute patriarch Alfred (Michael Gough) wingman’s his master with the photojournalist. The dual experience works: Vicki is immediately smitten with the mysterious rich kook who is both warmly inviting and oddly cold. Batman is a film filled with instances of comparing and contrasting Bruce/Batman and Jack Napier/The Joker (Jack Nicholson), and that dinner is echoed in both a scene of Joker bumping off his crime boss rivals that’s set at a large table and, later, Joker meeting Vicki at a museum restaurant. For better or for worse, having dinner with someone can tell you a lot about them.
What about you, gentle reader? What is your favorite dinner scene in a movie?
Let us know in the comments below!
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Tags: alien, Batman (1989), Beetlejuice, Blood Rage, Hannibal, Heat, Hereditary, Interview With the Vampire, Killer Joe, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Thanksgiving, The Great Outdoors, The Last Supper