Greatest Film Plot Twists
Film Spoilers and
Surprise Endings


Written by Tim Dirks

Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings
Title Screen
Film Title/Year and Plot Twist-Spoiler-Surprise Ending Description

Salt (2010)

CIA Officer Evelyn Salt Had Grown Up in Russia, Trained to be a Double Agent (or Sleeper Mole) To Execute a Secret Russian Plan (Dubbed Day X) Orchestrated by Orlov - to Assassinate the Reforming Russian President, and to Control the US' Nuclear Strike Capabilities. Salt Double-Crossed Orlov, and Then After Her Mentor Ted Winter Revealed That He Was Also a Russian Agent Working Against Her, She Killed Him; Captured, She Convinced CIA Agent Peabody to Release Her to Kill the Remaining Foreign Agents.

This was a quick-paced, escapist espionage action-thriller (fused with Cold War paranoia) from director Phillip Noyce. The convoluted, difficult-to-follow, and twisting tale (with one major plot twist and some minor ones) also left some gaping plot holes by the film's open ending - with the potential for a sequel. The tagline was:

Who Is Salt?

In the film's opening sequences set two years earlier, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) was a captive in North Korea prison, where she was brutally tortured as a suspected spy. Afterwards, after the CIA secretly got involved, she was pardoned and was part of a prisoner exchange at the border. She was saved due to the insistent efforts of her reknowned German arachnologist boyfriend Mike Krause (August Diehl), who didn't know she worked for the CIA. At the border, she was met by her CIA colleague/partner/mentor Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber). She was returned to her desk job at a CIA-front company (Rink Petroleum) in suburban Washington DC.

Then on her second wedding anniversary to Mike in 2011 (the present year), she worked with Ted Winter and ambitious counter-intelligence CIA officer Darryl Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to interrogate:

  • Oleg Vassily Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski), a terminally-ill (cancer) Russian defector

Orlov accused Salt of being a Russian spy, and claimed she was part of a secret Soviet program to plant indoctrinated children into American families. The English-speaking Russian sleeper agents were known as KAs. Orlov claimed that Salt's real name was Chenkov, one of the highly-trained Soviet double agents, named KA-12. She would be part of a Soviet doomsday plan to attack the US from within (dubbed Day X) - with two events that would destroy America and trigger WWIII. The two events would be "to sabotage and assassinate."

[Note: In fact, Orlov was telling the truth. She had been born with the name "Chenkov," who was exchanged (or substituted) for the real "Evelyn Salt," after both of Evelyn's visiting American parents, teachers at the US Embassy, died in a Moscow car crash in late 1988, and their child was injured. Chenkov had been trained and programmed to become a Russian sleeper agent to infiltrate the US as an American where she attended Princeton University. Orlov was the one who had trained Salt to be a Russian spy, and he called her "my greatest creation."]

Salt claimed her innocence, although Ted (at first supportive) grew more suspicious of her. She went on the run as a rogue agent in flight, relentlessly chased and pursued by CIA agent Peabody ("We bring her in or we bring her down"). She discovered that her husband Mike had been kidnapped from their apartment. She eluded capture by her quick-thinking, nimble and clever skills, and a number of disguises (including black-dyed hair).

Her first act was to assassinate reforming Russian President Boris Matveyev (Olek Krupa) as he delivered the eulogy during the Manhattan funeral of the recently-deceased US Vice President Maxwell Oates (the "architect of the new era of Russian-American relations"). She was present at the funeral, collapsed the church altar-floor under where the Russian President was standing, and apparently shot and killed him. As expected, anti-American protests erupted, and the new Russian president promised: "We will strike back."

Salt surrendered, but then escaped a second time, and proceeded to an East River barge - the undercover headquarters of Orlov and about a dozen other sleeper agents (that she had grown up with). To test Salt's allegiance to the Russians, Orlov (who had earlier escaped custody and killed two CIA agents) killed Salt's bound and gagged husband Mike in front of her. She didn't react, although after the test, she killed Orlov (with a broken glass shard slicing his neck) and the other sleeper agents.

Salt's second objective in the Day X plan was to assassinate US President Howard Lewis (Hunt Block) and trigger war. She gained access to the White House disguised as a male NATO officer - Major Vicek. A deadly attack was executed, causing the removal of the President for protection to an underground security bunker eight stories below the White House. She followed down the elevator shaft, and stealthily entered the secured area. In the bunker's control room, the US President readied the US's nuclear missiles, in response to a report that the Soviets had mobilized their arsenal.

And then, within the decision room, CIA agent Winter shockingly shot and killed all of the attending personnel, but spared the President. After announcing his real name, he then shot the President to incapacitate him when he wouldn't follow his directions.

Major revelations occurred:

  • CIA agent Ted Winter was Nikolai Tarkovsky, one of the sleeper agents (he was in the 'class' just before Salt)
  • Inside the control room, Ted greeted Salt in Russian - she responded: "Why didn't you tell me?"
  • But then, Winter was surprised when he saw a TV report that Russian President Matveyev was alive - he had only been injected with a temporary paralyzing drug, derived from a venomous toxin Salt had extracted from one of Mike's test spiders
  • Now that Winter knew that Salt was working at odds with him, he admitted that he was jealously angered over Salt's decision to marry Mike, and that he had ordered Orlov to kidnap her husband
  • Winter was also the one who convinced Orlov to blow Salt's cover at the CIA - he had made her "the patsy" to take the blame, and he would then be seen as "the hero"

Salt was eventually able to break into the sealed control center, to prevent Winter from creating a nuclear disaster. He was set to launch ICBM missiles (using an atomic weapon activation controller dubbed "the football") from Trident submarines into two Middle Eastern cities (Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Tehran, Iran) to trigger WWIII. They struggled and fought each other - and she was bloodied in the face and shot in the process (she was wearing a vest), but successfully aborted the missile firing sequence. However, she was apprehended, blamed, and being transported away when she saw an opportunity to kill Winter - she garrotted him with her handcuff chains, lept over the stairway, and with the weight of her body, she broke his neck.

As she was enroute in a helicopter to FBI headquarters, she told Peabody why she killed Winter ("Because somebody had to") - because he was a trained Soviet agent. She also said she deliberately decided not to kill Matveyev or Peabody when she had the chance. Now only she could hunt down the remainder of the KA sleeper agents (trained and planted by Orlov). A text message confirmed that Salt's fingerprints had been found at the barge (affirming that Salt had killed Orlov and the agents).

In the film's unlikely solution, Peabody believed her enough ("Go get them") to release her to jump into the freezing Potomac River below and escape by running through the woods, to further her search.

Salt Jumping From Helicopter

Released to Hunt Down the Remaining KA Sleeper Agents

"Evelyn Salt" (as child)

Evelyn Salt
(Angelina Jolie)

Salt with Oleg Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski)

Execution of Husband Mike (August Diehl)

CIA Agent Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber)

Salt Disguised as NATO Major Vicek to Infiltrate the White House

US President Howard Lewis (Hunt Block)

Double Agent Winter: "My name is Nikolai Tarkovsky"

TV Report that Russian President Was Alive

After the Fight in the Control Room

Salt Garrotting Winter to Death with Her Chains By Hanging Off the Stairway

"Fingerprints place Salt on barge where Orlov was killed"

CIA officer Darryl Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

Saw (2004)

The Mastermind 'Jigsaw' Killer Had Posed As a Dead Body on the Floor in the Bathroom

This low-budget psychological thriller was the first of a franchise of seven Saw films - highlighting 'torture porn', including:

  • Saw (2004)
  • Saw II (2005)
  • Saw III (2006)
  • Saw IV (2007)
  • Saw V (2008)
  • Saw VI (2009)
  • Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)

In each film, the central character was the figure (either alive or dead) of:

  • John Kramer (Tobin Bell), a married civil engineer who turned into a sadistic mastermind serial killer - dubbed "Jigsaw" or "the Jigsaw Killer"

He was again devising impossible live-or-die situations for victims (who lacked an appreciation for life). They had to make outrageous moral choices to survive in the brutal trap-filled environments, while inflicting themselves with lethal wounds.

In the first installment of the series, two men were kidnapped and imprisoned in a large, sealed industrial bathroom:

  • Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell), a photographer
  • Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), a surgeon and oncologist, who had diagnosed John Kramer with terminal brain cancer

Adam awoke in a bath-tub filled with water, sat up, and accidentally pulled the plug out. Both men were chained by their ankles to pipes on opposite ends of the room. Between them was a dead corpse on the floor lying in a pool of blood from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head (with a revolver in his hand), along with audiotapes to be played by each man on a microcassette recorder. Adam also located a black bag containing two hacksaws inside the toilet tank.

Lawrence learned from his recording that he had to kill Adam within 8 hours (by 6 o'clock) or his wife Alison Gordon (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) would die. Adam learned that he had to escape the bathroom - presumably both would use the hacksaws to saw off their limbs ("He wants us to cut through our feet!").

As the deadline approached, hospital orderly Zep Hindle (Michael Emerson), who was monitoring the two men with video surveillance (and a hidden camera behind a two-way mirror), broke into Lawrence's house and attacked his family. Zep was planning to murder them if Lawrence failed to kill Adam by 6 am.

After the desperate Lawrence sawed off his own leg to break free (believing his family had been killed), he shot Adam with the corpse's gun (but it was a non-lethal wound in the shoulder) and then crawled away for help (and presumably bled to death). When Zep entered the bathroom, Adam grabbed Zep's foot, then reached for the toilet tank lid and bashed Zep to death. A tape recorder on Zep's body revealed that he was also under the control of the "Jigsaw Killer" in order to save himself from a slow poisoning death and acquire an antidote. His instructions had been to kill Dr. Gordon and his family.

The film's twist was that the true mastermind behind the entire scheme was the man posing as the bloodied dead body on the floor. The dead body suddenly rose up, removed some of his makeup (a prosthetic scar on his forehead), and revealed himself as terminally-ill brain cancer patient, John Kramer - the "Jigsaw Killer" (Tobin Bell) (Flashback: Zep: "He's a very interesting person. His name is John. He has an inoperable frontal lobe tumor").

The killer revealed that the key to unlock Adam's chain went down the bathtub drain when Adam first woke up and the tub emptied ("The key to that chain is in the bathtub"). To retaliate, Adam tried to shoot Adam with Zep's gun, but was shocked (electrocuted) by the killer's remote (that shocked both Adam and Gordon) and he dropped the gun.

As the killer left the sealed bathroom and turned out the lights, Adam heard his voice-over flashbacked words: "Most people are so ungrateful to be alive, but not you, not any more...Game over." Adam screamed back: "Don't! Don't! No!"

Dr. Lawrence Gordon Sawing Off Leg

Dead Man on Floor

Adam (Leigh Whannell) Shot in the Shoulder by Dr. Gordon

Dr. Gordon Crawling Away (and Bleeding to Death)

Bloodied Dead Man on Floor was "Jigsaw Killer" (Tobin Bell)

Adam - Attempting to Shoot Jigsaw

"Game Over"

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

The Film Was a Treatise About Drug Abuse and the War Against It: Addicted and Psychotic 'Agent Fred' Didn't Know He Was Bob Arctor, or That Girlfriend Donna Was Posing as "Hank" - Her Undercover Plan Was To Get Him Addicted and Sent to New Path, To Produce Evidence Against It For Growing A Blue Flower-Plant That Addictive Substance D Was Made From

Philip K. Dick's science-fiction novel was adapted by director Richard Linklater for his visually-incredible, black comedy conspiracy-thriller (filmed in computer-rotoscoped style).

It told about the semi-distant, totalitarian, dystopic future where 'Big Brother'-styled surveillance ruled, and a brain-deadening super-drug called Substance D had caused many users to become intensely paranoid with split personalities. The government had instituted high-tech surveillance on the addicted population and the drug producing and distributing underworld, and hired a number of informants and undercover agents.

Keanu Reeves was undercover narcotics cop Agent Fred (his real name was Bob Arctor), who was called upon to reluctantly spy on his friends. He was to report his findings to his senior officer-boss "Hank". One of his targets was:

  • Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder), his cocaine drug-dealing, addicted girlfriend

Agent Fred was equipped with 24/7 holographic surveillance cameras positioned in his own house in Anaheim (Orange County). He was living alone after being abandoned by his wife and two children in the past. As he monitored the tapes of surveillance activity, he wore an identity-blurring, shape-shifting 'scramble suit' to protect himself.

Arctor lived with two lazy housemates, both drug-users who had problems of their own:

  • Jim Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.)
  • Luckman (Woody Harrelson)

Along with his drugged-up roommates, Arctor was slowly losing his identity, burning out, becoming paranoid, having cognitive brain issues, and acting psychotic and crazy because of his own addictive drug use in his undercover position. His drug of choice was the deadly Substance D. And then to complicate matters, as Agent Fred, he was ordered to investigate himself (as Arctor). He was also having problems with Donna who refused his overtures for sex because of her own excessive coke use.

Bob's druggie pal and housemate Jim Barris ratted on him to 'Hank', who was soon revealed, when removing a scramble suit, to be Donna. She was part of a plan to have Arctor become addicted and then committed to the New Path Recovery Center (at the Santa Ana residence facility), where he would be transferred to a farm to work with plants (including a blue flower used to manufacture Substance D). He was to undergo tests, live in a cell marked 4-G, and given a new name - 'Bruce'.

In the final scene set in a General Burger fast-food restaurant, Donna (now code-named 'Audrey') met with fellow undercover agent 'Mike' (Dameon Clarke) (working inside New Path). They discussed how the addicted 'Bruce' ("a burnt-out husk") was being used to infiltrate into the workings of New Path. They could then prove their case, once 'Bruce' was fully hooked and could produce evidence against it, that New Path was manufacturing and distributing the addictive substance ("It matters when we can prove that New Path is the one growing, manufacturing and distributing"). Mike further claimed:

...there's no other way to get in there. I couldn't, and think how long I tried. They got that place locked up tight. They're only gonna let a burnt-out husk like Bruce in. Harmless. You have to be, or they won't take the risk.

However, 'Bruce's' addiction was quite a cost to pay for their undercover work to shut down New Path. Donna/'Audrey' was concerned that Bob /'Bruce' had been selected - without his knowledge:

Yeah, but to sacrifice someone, a living person, without them ever knowing it. I mean, if he'd understood, if he had volunteered, but he doesn't know and he never did. He didn't volunteer for this.

She worried that he would never regain his former self. She also pondered Arctor's sacrifice that she caused, and she asserted: "Look, Mike I gotta get out. I can't do this again. I want it to end...We are colder than they are." Then, Mike espoused 'Bruce's' sacrificial mission:

I believe God's m.o. is to transmute evil into good and if he's active here, he's doing that now, although our eyes can't perceive it. The whole process is hidden beneath the surface of our reality, and will only be revealed later. And even then, the people of the future, our children's children will never truly know this awful time that we have gone through and the losses we took. Well, maybe some footnote in a minor history book. A brief mention with no list of the fallen.

And then out at New Path, when 'Bruce' was working outdoors, he momentarily saw blue flowers ("the flower of the future") hidden and growing in-between rows of corn in the field, he commented:

"I saw death rising from the earth, from the ground itself in one blue field."

He plucked one sample to take with him to give to his friends (as evidence for the authorities? or as a gift?) - he hid it in his boot: "A present for my friends at Thanksgiving."

The film ended with an epilogue from author Philip K. Dick: "This has been a story about people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. I loved them all. Here is a list, to whom I dedicate my love." It listed fifteen individuals by name (one of whom was Dick himself) who were deceased or suffered brain damage, vascular damage, or psychosis due to drug abuse.

In memoriam. These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The "enemy" was their mistake in playing. Let them play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.

Agent Fred/Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves)

Druggie Pal and Housemate Jim Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.)

Housemate Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson)

Boss "Hank" Revealed to be Donna

Bob's Girlfriend Donna Hawthorne/'Audrey' (Winona Ryder)

'Mike' (Dameon Clarke)

Blue Flowers (For Substance D) Noticed by 'Bruce' - Hidden in Corn Field

"A Present For My Friends"

Scream (1996)

Ghostface Was Actually Two Killers: Sidney's Boyfriend Billy and Best Friend Stu

In the opening sequence of Wes Craven's satirical horror/slasher film, "Ghostface" taunted Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) on the phone with "movie trivia" questions, including: "Name the killer in Friday the 13th." When she insisted the answer was Jason, he provided the plot twist spoiler to the original Friday the 13th (1980) film: " should know Jason's mother, Mrs. Voorhees, was the original killer. Jason didn't show up until the sequel. I'm afraid that was a wrong answer."

The psychopathic villain "Ghostface" (due to wearing an elongated Halloween death mask-costume), who was systematically murdering individuals in the small California town of Woodsboro, was actually two individuals who both used a voice-changing device --

  • Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), the psychotic boyfriend of heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell)
  • Stuart "Stu" Macher (Matthew Lillard), Billy's flunky best friend

In the blood-soaked reveal, film buff Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) accused Stu of being the mad killer. His friend Billy responded: "We all go a little mad sometimes...Anthony Perkins, Psycho" (a quote from Hitchcock's Psycho (1960)), and shot and wounded Randy in the right shoulder. Billy explained to Sidney how his bloody T-shirt was covered in fake blood, as he sucked his fingers: "Hmm, corn syrup. Same stuff they used for pig's blood in Carrie."

It was then that Sidney learned that the two (Stu and Billy) had brutally raped/killed her mother Maureen Prescott exactly one year earlier, and framed it on someone else, Mr. Neil Prescott (Lawrence Hecht). In a crazed tone, Billy explained how they had no motive, except for Sidney's mother, who:

"was a slutbag whore who flashed her s--t all over town like she was Sharon Stone or somethin'...Your slut mother was f--king my father. And she's the reason my mom moved out and abandoned me."

Because Sidney's mother had an affair with Billy's father and broke up his parents' marriage, he had sought revenge.

Stu pulled Sidney's bound and gagged father Neil from a closet, and described how they were planning to frame him as the "chief suspect" for the town's many murders: "What if your father snapped? Your mother's anniversary set him off and he went on a murder spree killing everyone." Billy and Stu would be "left for dead...Everybody dies but us" - and to look convincingly bloodied as victims, the two stabbed at each other.

However, Stu's abdomen knife wound turned out to be slowly lethal ("You cut me too deep. I think I'm dyin' here, man"). When the two were distracted, Sidney escaped inside the house, wore the "Ghostface" costume, and injured Billy by stabbing him in the chest with the end of an umbrella. When Stu tackled and wrestled her, claiming: "I always had a thing for ya, Sid," she grabbed a vase from a TV cabinet and smashed it over his head. She then toppled a heavy TV set (suitably playing Halloween) onto him, mocking him: "In your dreams!" - it both crushed him and electrocuted him.

Suddenly, as Randy regained consciousness, a bloodied and unconscious Billy miraculously revived, punched Randy in the face, and lunged at Sidney. He attempted to strangle her to death ("Say hello to your mother!") and as he raised his knife to kill her, tabloid TV newswoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) shot him and he was presumed dead.

As the three survivors staggered to their feet and looked down at his body, Randy cautioned ("Careful, this is the moment when the supposedly dead killer comes back to life for one last scare") - and Billy predictably came to life, but Sidney decisively shot him in the forehead (Sidney: "Not in my movie!").

  • In Scream 2 (1997), Sidney went away to Windsor College in Cincinnati with long-time friend Randy (Jamie Kennedy), but watched as many of her undergrad friends died, because of the revenge plot of Mrs. Loomis, Billy's mother (Laurie Metcalf), posing as local reporter Debbie Salt. She was aided by film-obsessed student Mickey (Timothy Olyphant). Mrs. Loomis' motive for attempting to kill Sidney and her friends was revenge for Sidney killing her son in the first film. Sidney survived by the film's end, while both Mrs. Loomis and Mickey were shot and killed.
  • In Scream 3 (2000), the traumatized Sidney was working in California as a hotline crisis intervention counselor. She learned that she had a long-lost half-brother named Roman Bridger (Scott Foley), her mother Maureen's (Lynn McRee) son from a previous affair, whom Maureen had met but abandoned. Roman was the director of the third film in a horror trilogy, Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro, being filmed in Los Angeles, and characters were being murdered. Roman admitted that he was ultimately responsible and the mastermind for all the murders in the previous films, because he had told Billy about his father's affair with Sidney's mother. He was vengefully planning to blame the murders on Sidney because he felt she had deprived him of his life, but his own life ended when Dewey Riley (David Arquette) shot him in the head.

Opening: Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore)

(l to r): Stu, Billy

Billy With Sidney

TV Set Playing Halloween

Smashed Vase on Stu's Head

Toppling TV Set on Stu

Billy vs. Sidney

Not really dead yet!

Three Survivors

Billy Decisively Shot in Forehead

The Screaming Skull (1958)

While Trying to Cause Rich Newlywed Wife Jenni To Go Insane and Kill Herself, Eric Was Attacked and Murdered by a Screaming Skull

In this B-movie horror hybrid of Gaslight (1944) and Rebecca (1940), the main characters were a newly-wed husband and wife:

  • Eric Whitlock (John Hudson)
  • Jenni (Peggy Webber), Eric's very rich, unstable, neurotic wife

They moved into the isolated Southern country mansion that Eric had inherited from his first wife Marion. The ex-wife reportedly was mysteriously killed when she accidentally fell down a flight of stairs and cracked her skull open on a stone wall, and then drowned in a small pond behind the house.

The film's opening title screen was above a view of a skull emerging from the pond among lily pads.

Plotting to inherit millionairess Jenni's money, Eric tried to scare her, drive her insane and cause her to be suicidal. She had already been declared temporarily insane earlier after watching her parents die in a gruesome boating accident. He planted human skulls around the house and caused screaming noises - and then blamed the strange supernatural events as tricks played by the estate's mentally retarded gardener Mickey (director Alex Nicol).

In the shock ending, Eric prepared to murder Jenni and stage it as a crazed suicide. However, just before he began strangling her, she had seen his ex-wife Marion's ghost (or apparition) at the greenhouse. After grabbing the victimized Jenni by the neck and partially choking her, Eric heard loud knocking sounds at the door. When he opened the door, he saw a disembodied skull wrapped in a robe greeting him. The "screaming skull" ("Marion!") attacked, chased him outside, and murdered him by chewing on his throat, and drowning him in the decorative pond outside the house.

Reverend Snow (Russ Conway) located Eric's dead body in the pond, and then, aided by his wife (Toni Johnson), helped console Jenni after she had regained consciousness. As they departed from the house, Reverend Snow declared that Marion's cause of death would remain a mystery:

Jenni: Why did he do it?
Reverend: Your money. The question is now, did Marion die in an accident? I suppose we'll never know.

Questions inevitably had to be asked:

  • Did Eric kill his former wife as well?
  • Was the screaming skull his former wife's ghostly revenge beyond the grave, or was it just Jenni's own deranged delusions?

[Note: In the William Castle-like narrated prologue and on poster advertisements, the producers promised to pay for the burial of anyone who literally died from fright from watching the film!]:

FREE!! We guarantee to bury you without charge if you die of fright during SCREAMING SKULL!

Eric (John Hudson) Strangling Jenni (Peggy Webber)

Eric Greeted and Attacked by the Skull at the Door and Outside

Rev. Snow (Russ Conway) Discovering Eric's Body in Pond

Sea of Love (1989)

The Killer Was Helen's Ex-Husband Terry, Who Had Stalked and Murdered All of Her 'Lonely-Hearts' Dates

Director Harold Becker's Hitchcock-like, erotic, who-dun-it crime thriller told about an investigation into a series of 'lonely-hearts' murders committed by a suspected female serial killer.

The suspenseful film opened with a close-up of a spinning 45 rpm record ("Sea of Love") on a turntable, as naked James Mackey (Brian Paul) appeared to be making love to a male, but then was shown to have a gun pointed at him by an unseen assailant before he was shot dead. Each of the murder victims was shot in the head and found face-down and naked on a bed.

All of the victims appeared to have listened to a repetitively-playing 45 rpm record of "Sea of Love" by Phil Phillips. There were various clues:

  • cigarette butts with lipstick on them
  • a set of fingerprints
  • singles want-ads (rhyming ads: "Do you remember where we met, that's the day, I knew you were my pet, I wanna tell you, how much I love you...Silver balloons, endless Junes, old rock tunes, let me put it in your moon," and "City streets beneath my feet, 4 AM the longest hour, the hunt goes on till the break of dawn for love, the rarest flower").

The series of 'lonely hearts' murders committed by a female serial killer were being investigated by:

  • Detective Frank Keller (Al Pacino), a 42 year-old workaholic, a 20 year veteran of the NYPD, with a feisty personality, divorced and alcoholic

NYPD Frank Keller (Al Pacino)

Helen Cruger (Ellen Barkin)

In order to catch the suspected killer ("a psycho woman killing guys"), Keller also placed his own lonely-hearts ad in New York Weekly magazine: ("Lady- I live alone within myself like a hut within the woods...") and invited each of the female respondents to NY's O'Neals Restaurant, in an attempt to acquire and retrieve matching fingerprints. Acting as a decoy, he had a number of dinner meetings, including with:

  • Helen Cruger (Ellen Barkin), a carnal seductress, femme fatale and wicked single mother, Keller's mysterious killer-suspect; currently working in an upscale shoe store

During their first dinner encounter, she point-blank told him: "You're just not my type....I believe in animal attraction. I believe in love at first sight. I believe in this, and I don't feel it with you." She abruptly left the table without touching her wine glass to leave prints. Shortly later in the office, Keller also interviewed Cabletone TV cable guy Terry (Michael Rooker), who was in the building's basement around the time of the murder, who reported a suspicious black kid from the supermarket with corn-rowed hair - identified as Quawi Benjamin, nicknamed "Spooney" - an employee who was fired after a week of work.

Coincidentally, Keller again met Helen in a local supermarket, and later that evening, they shared drinks and conversation in a bar. In a "desperate and foolish move," he invited her to his apartment at about 3 am, and in his bedroom experienced a tense, torrid tryst scene together. She ripped off her red jacket, revealing a bra-less white T-shirt as they passionately kissed each other. When she went to the bathroom, grabbing her bag with a gun in it (a "starter's pistol") and commanded "Get in bed," he was both excited and fearful. The female dangerously aroused both his suspicions and lust.

When she appeared from the bathroom in a white bathrobe, he threw her against the wall and frisked her and then tossed her in his closet -- they soon struggled on his bed together as she screamed: "You god-damned son of a bitch...Get off of me." He apologized for his violent reaction to her possession of a gun ("I got scared"), and she ultimately acquiesed. Their rough foreplay led to her frisking him from behind (and lingering at his crotch) as she asked: "What are you looking for, huh? What are you doing?"

3 AM Tryst in Keller's Apartment with Helen

She removed her bathrobe to reveal her nakedness, and then they began love-making against the wall as the scene faded to black. Later when kissing her, he murmured: "You're killing me." By morning, he queried: "Are we still alive?"

Torrid But Frightening Love Making Against the Wall

They were beginning to become a serious couple, but when he visited her at her place of work the next day, an upscale shoe store, she learned that he was a cop, and she was incensed that he had lied to her about his occupation. He remained paranoid and suspicious of her, but also couldn't resist her. A bit later, they met at a grocery store aisle where she was naked under her black trenchcoat. In the very sexy scene set to a jazzy score, she fondled hot peppers as he touched her bare leg, before another night of love-making at her place.

After awakening in the middle of the night, Frank discovered a suspicious tie between her and the murders:

  • she had in her possession a large collection of 45 rpm records, that she claimed she was saving for her daughter

At the same time, his intention was to go a step further in their relationship and invite her to move in with him. However, she became wary of him when he admitted that he was wearing a wire when they first met, and told him: "F--k you!" After a few stiff drinks, he insisted on seeing her again at her place at 1 am that morning, to fib about wearing a wire, and to take a further step with her: "There was no wire. There was no job, no nothin'. I was just sayin' that to push you away from me. Because I was gonna ask you to live with me. And I got scared, you know?" But then another red flag surfaced. He noticed on her refrigerator door that she had put a posting of circled ads, implying that she had dated all of the lonely-hearts murdered men. She told him that she wanted to think about it: "I think I should be alone tonight."

After he told her "Catch you later" and returned home, she then emerged from the dark end of his apartment hallyway. She wondered whether she had been given an ultimatum: "'Catch you later'? Huh? What's that supposed to mean? Is that some kind of brush-off, Frank?" In his apartment after a few kisses, she surprised him by bringing her 45 rpm record of "Sea of Love" to play for him while they danced. This aroused his doubts even further and he thought she was toying with him - he handed her his own gun (after searching her purse and finding her fake one), asking her to finish him off:

"Let's get it over with. I don't want to wait a couple more days. Let's get it over with, right now, Bingo...Do you wanna f--k first and get me face down?"

He quizzed her about the dates he knew that she had - with James Mackey and Raymond Brown. It was obvious he had been "following" her around as a murder suspect, and she responded: "They were just dates." He then ordered her to confess: "Why'd you do it, Helen? Tell me you did it. Tell me why you did it? I want to know everything, all right?" but she was speechless. He accused her of evading arrest by dating him: "The arresting officer was f--kin' the doer! See? It's a joke. It won't go to trial even. You understand?" He ordered her out of his apartment.

Confronting Helen - Offering His Gun: "Let's get it over with..."

Helen Accused of Being the Killer by Frank

Frank: "Tell me why you did it?"

In the film's twist ending, after Helen departed, Frank answered his door where he was attacked by Helen's angry 'creep' ex-husband Terry. He lunged at Frank screaming:

"You f--kin' swinging dick! You got in deep, man. She throws a f--kin' court order at me."

Frank Held Face-Down by Killer, Helen's Ex-Husband Terry

He was the cable TV man that Frank had questioned as a witness earlier. With gun drawn, Terry ordered Frank face-down on his bed and asked: "Did you have a good time with her last night?...Show me how you did it to her....You show me and I'll let you go...F--kin' bastard!" Frank retaliated and in the vicious struggle and bloody fight, Terry fell to his death after being thrown through the window.

In the denouement, Helen described how she hadn't seen her ex-husband in about a year, but Terry had been shadowing her for eight months: (Frank: "She had that nutcase over one shoulder, me over the other"). Frank realized he had made it almost impossible for them to have a relationship: ("I'm going to let her go. I ran her through a wringer, man"). It was revealed that Terry had killed all of his ex-wife's 'lonely-hearts' dates (Mr. James Mackey, and Mr. Raymond Brown - and "Frank Kellogg" (Keller) was undoubtedly next).

In the final scene, Frank felt he must again reconcile with Helen. On a NY street, he told her that she had only known half of him: ("You got to give me a chance, Helen. You never really got to know me, not 100%"). He told her sincerely:

"It's killin' me not seeing you. It's killin' me."

They walked away as she offered to buy him a cup of coffee.

Opening Scene - Male Shot to Death From Behind During Sex

Sea of Love - 45 rpm Record

Frank's 'Lonely-Hearts Ad' to Catch the Killer

Cable TV Guy Terry (Michael Rooker)

Helen and Keller - The Morning After the Frightening Encounter (Frank: "Are we still alive?)

Helen Working at Shoe Store

Helen Naked Under Her Trenchcoat in a Grocery Store

Sleeping Together Again at Her Place - Remaining Suspicious and Paranoid

Frank Noticing Lonely-Hearts Ads on Helen's Refrigerator Door

Helen: "Is that some kind of brush-off, Frank?"

Dancing to "Sea of Love" in Frank's Apartment

Ending: Death of Serial Killer Terry - Thrown Out Window

Reconciling with Helen Afterwards on a NYC Street

The Searchers (1956)

Ethan Didn't Kill His Comanche-Abducted Niece Debbie, But Returned Her Home

Racially-prejudiced Ethan Edwards' (John Wayne) five-year long vengeful and hateful search for his Indianized-niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) finally ended when he grabbed her and lifted her into the air, as she defenselessly expected him to kill her.

But instead, he lowered her and swept her into his cradling, outstretched arms with the words: "Let's go home, Debbie." After returning to the Jorgensen's pioneer home, the tragic outsider stood for a few moments at the outside of the door as the camera pulled back into the darkened inside of the home - the doorway framing the scene.

Standing with his feet astride in a wide stance, he grasped his right elbow with his left hand, and then decided to remain behind. He turned away, and walked off into the swirling dust, as the door to the family home swung shut on him, making the screen black.

"Let's go home, Debbie."

Final Doorway Image

Secret Window (2004)

John Shooter Was One of the Split Dissociative Personalities of Writer Mort Rainey; Rainey Killed the Detective, the Neighbor, and Both His Unfaithful Wife and Her Lover; The Last Two Bodies Were Buried in His Corn Patch

This psycho-thriller adapted from the Stephen King novella "Secret Garden, Secret Window" by director and screenwriter David Koepp, opened with a crucial scene.

Murder and horror story mystery writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) discovered his unfaithful wife Amy (Maria Bello) in bed in Irv's Lakesider Motel with lover Ted Milner (Timothy Hutton). He threatened them with an unloaded gun.

Six months later, Rainey had retreated to his remote, upstate NY, Tashmore Lake cabin, while facing a pending divorce (settlement papers needed his signature) from his estranged wife. He was suffering writer's block (and sloth) when he began receiving repeated, harrassing visits from a mysterious character:

  • John Shooter (John Turturro), a Mississippi farmer, a psychotic and menacing stranger (wearing a black, round parson's hat)

Shooter accused Mort of plagiarism and 'stealing' his 1997 "Sowing Season" story: "You stole my story."

The tale was about an angry man named Todd Downey who had decided to kill a woman who had stolen away with his love, and bury her "in the deep corner formed where the house and the barn came together at an extreme angle. He would bury her where his wife kept her garden. The garden she loved more than she loved him" !

Rainey confirmed that Shooter's story was almost exactly the same as his own late 1994 "Secret Window" story. He also recalled how his wife Amy discovered their home's own secret window: "It's a secret window, and it'll look down on a secret garden." Mort was threatened by the stalker to provide proof of authorship (the original June 1995 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine publication of Rainey's story with his byline name on the story) within three days.

The first signs of trouble were the bloody death of his dog Chico with a screwdriver, and the arson of his own Riverdale Ave (NYC) house where ex-wife Amy was living. Shooter demanded that Rainey replace the ruined ending:

"I want you to fix it...My ending. The one you wrecked...Mine was perfect...'I know I can do it,' Todd Downey said, helping himself to another ear of corn from the steaming bowl. 'I'm sure that in time, her death will be a mystery even to me'."

Rainey suspected that his wife's lover Ted was the one intimidating him: "Maybe that's why the guy calls himself Shooter. Ted wants me to know it's him. He's trying to intimidate me, he's trying to send me a message."

And then there were several more murders - committed by "John Shooter":

  • Ken Karsch (Charles S. Dutton), a $500/day NY detective, axed to death
  • Tom Greenleaf (John Dunn Hill), a neighbor, impaled by a screwdriver to the right temple

Shooter threatened Rainey with violence: ("I will burn your life and every person in it like a cane field in a high wind"). The UPS-delivered Ellery Queen Magazine had pages 83-98 sliced out - the exact location of Rainey's story, another hint about the film's fairly obvious twist --- the deranged and schizophrenic Rainey actually created the character or persona of John Shooter -

"There is no John Shooter. There never has been. You invented him."

Rainey had instructed his demented, invented "Shooter" dissociative personality to kill the dog, commit arson and murder ("You didn't have the stomach to do it yourself, but you knew I did") - and his final task was to "Fix the ending" of his ruined story.

When Amy arrived at the house, she found the word "SHOOTER" carved into his desk, other surfaces, and into the wall (SHOOT-HER) - an expression of his inner desire to murder her. Mort stood threatening her as southern-accented "John Shooter." He pursued her to her car, dragged her back into the house, and stabbed her in the leg with a screwdriver. He stood above her and said that his demented plan was Mort Rainey's idea: "I got a place for you...I got it all picked out." When Ted arrived, "Shooter" killed him with a shovel, and then while narrating the changed ending to his story, he killed Amy (off-screen): "'I know I can do it,' Todd Downey said, helping himself to another ear of corn from the steaming bowl. 'I'm sure that in time, her death will be a mystery even to me'."

Weeks later, the town's Sheriff Newsome (Len Cariou) was suspicious of Rainey, but admitted that he had no proof -- "but eventually, we'll find those bodies. We'll tie you to them, and you're going away." Rainey responded: "The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story, the ending. And this one is very good. This one's perfect."

His revised "perfect" ending mirrored real-life - he had buried Amy and Ted's bodies in the garden of corn outside and below the secret window of his cabin. Their burials were revealed by the film's final tracking shot out the window and into the garden, and the repeated story's ending heard in voice-over (with the additional inserted words: "every bit of her will be gone"):

"'I know I can do it,' Todd Downey said, helping himself to another ear of corn from the steaming bowl. 'I'm sure that in time, every bit of her will be gone, and her death will be a mystery even to me.'"

Rainey crunched into an ear of corn grown in his garden.

John Shooter (John Turturro) with Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp)

With a Dissociative Personality


Rainey as Shooter

The Secret Window

Biting into another Ear of Corn

Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings

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