Kenneth Branagh on the one 'Dead Again' scene that made audiences scream

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Kenneth Branagh speaks during Q&A at Special Screening Of Kenneth Branagh's "All Is True" at The Landmark on May 08, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)

Looking for a sure-fire way to ensure that your kids never pick up a cigarette? Just sit them down and watch Dead Again. Kenneth Branagh’s 1991 thriller depicts the horror of smoking in memorable fashion with a scene towards the end of the film where private eye Mike Church (Branagh) meets with former reporter Gray Baker (Andy Garcia).

As a young newshound in the 1940s, Baker used to smoke like a chimney and the scars are still with him, literally, now that he’s an old man. At some point in the ensuing decades, Gray’s habit resulted in a serious case of throat cancer that required surgical intervention.

But he isn’t going to let a little thing like that get in the way of enjoying a good smoke every now and then. As Mike watches, horrified, Gray sticks a cigarette directly into the tracheal tube at the base of his neck and takes a puff.

Read more: Stephen King hates Stanley Kubrick's The Shining — but why?

If just reading that makes you cringe, trust us — it’s twice as gross onscreen. And Branagh got an earful from freaked-out fans at the Dead Again premiere in August 1991.

Kenneth Branagh at the 6th Annual American Cinematheque Award Honoring Martin Scorsese, Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

“I shall never forget the reaction of the preview audience the first time we played that [scene],” the director tells Yahoo Entertainment, mimicking the noise that the 500-plus person audience made in unison while watching that scene. “We thought, ‘Listen, we’ve got their attention!’ And then, ‘My god, that’s what smoking can do to you.’”

That’s not the only way that Dead Again proved to be a teaching tool. No less a scary movie expert than Jordan Peele has cited the film — which moves back and forth in time between the ’40s and the ’90s and switches between black-and-white and colour with each decade shift — as a major influence on his own horror blockbuster Us, specifically in Branagh’s memorable use of scissor imagery.

“I was very thrilled that Jordan Peele cited Dead Again as a picture, amongst many, that had an impact on him,” Branagh says. “It was bold of Paramount to let us do it, and let us use black-and-white and colour to help tell the story in the past. I loved working in that thriller mode.”

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh during The 9th Annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards at Hollywood Palidum in Hollywood, CA, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Branagh also loved the opportunity to direct and act alongside a pair of Hollywood greats: his then-wife, Emma Thompson, and Robin Williams who has a small, but memorable role as a former psychiatrist who traded his office for a meat locker after being stripped of his license.

“He was very funny, and very serious — as many great comics are,” he says of the actor, who died in 2014. “I personally regarded him very highly as an actor.

He brings vulnerability and depth and a sort of emotional weight. It was a significant factor to have him in Dead Again. It was my second film...and to have that kind of support was really critical. So I thank him for that.”