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Claws: A history of nail worship in film and TV

We’re here to look at the best nail worship scenes that have slipped their way into our favorite shows and movies over the years.

Claws: A history of nail worship in film and TV

Your appointment at the nail salon has been booked, ladies and gentleman – season three of TNT’s gloriously garish crime drama Claws is set to drop on June 9. Described by The Guardian as “Breaking Bad meets Steel Magnolias”, this visually stunning female-fronted saga mixes flashy, trashy, glammed-up settings with a truly gripping crime-filled narrative, following a group of hardworking manicurists who mesh acrylics with crime to keep their business afloat.

Desna (Niecy Nash), Polly (Carrie Preston), Annalise (Judy Reyes), and Jennifer (Jenn Lyon) will be returning. We have no confirmation about Virginia following that crazy S2 cliffhanger. We do know however that one of Jenn’s babydaddies, EJ, is out of jail and desperate to get to know his daughter.

Nails have been used in various ways on screen over the years – for comical effect, flirtatious fun, and even to bring on the scares. We’re here to look at the best nail worship scenes that have slipped their way into our favorite shows and movies over the years. Fingernails at the ready, folks – it’s time to get beautified.

Fun fingers 💅

Coating those finger- & toenails in outrageous colors and patterns is just a bit of fun, right? So it’s no surprise this costume detail has been used to great effect to enhance the comedic satire of a movie scene. A fabulous example is in Beeban Kidron’s cult classic To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, where the claws are out and on point.

Following three drag queens – played by Wesley Snipes (Blade), Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing), and John Leguizamo (Spawn) – as they travel cross-country until their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in a small town, there’s no denying the brilliance of the scene in which Snipes’s Noxeema uses her nails to show that you can be violently feminine while still kicking a guy’s ass (or in this case, breaking his balls).

In a totally different but equally enjoyable scene in Paul Verhoeven’s iconic 80s sci-fi thriller Total Recall, the receptionist’s (Alexia Robinson) manicure moment is used as a plot device to show the viewer just how damn futuristic the world had become, where people were able to change their fingernail color with a freaking digipen! Which, by the way, we’re still waiting for someone to invent. We’ve got e-cigs – when will we be blessed with the e-manicure?

Then of course, you’ve got the outrageous claws – the characters who completely rock acrylic extensions with all the sass of a mobster’s wife. Speaking of which, you know Carmela Soprano’s manicure was always on fleek. However, in Comedy Central’s Broad City we see Ilana (Ilana Glazer) suffer the perils of taking the nail extensions too far when she decides to go for “what she’s having” at her fave nail salon.

After getting the longest possible extensions on the menu – hands and toes – we see Ilana struggling to get by with her new talons in what is probably the only time on TV we’ve ever seen a character use their nails to rip open a dress they’d just shit themselves in.

Speaking of too far, we feel Ice Cube’s girlfriend Joi – with her talon-like red nails and blonde synthetic braids – in the cult classic Friday deserves a special shoutout for rocking her look and using it to deliver dangerous doses of sass.

Kinky claws 💅

Foot fetishism is a common kink. As such, we’ve seen many gloriously painted tootsies make their way into shows and films over the years. If you’re after a grossout reminder of Quentin Tarantino’s peddie preferences (like you needed reminding), women’s feet often feature in the director’s films, from Pulp Fiction to Kill Bill to Death Proof. But there’s one particularly disturbing account from Rose McGowan (Charmed) regarding his fetish, who said the iconic director would frequently reference the scene in which she paints her toenails in the 1999 film Jawbreaker.

The first time I met Tarantino, and for years after, every time he’d see me, he said, ‘Rose! I have your movie Jawbreaker on laserdisc! I can’t tell you how many times I used the shot where you’re painting your toes!’

By “used”, McGowan inferred that he pleasured himself – we’re sure that was not the intention Darren Stein had in mind when shooting that scene.

On the lighter side of foot fetishism (no Tarantino’s allowed), our fave stoner cult comedy The Big Lebowski features a scene showing Bunny (Tara Reid) using her freshly painted, green toenails in an attempt to entice The Dude. “You want me to blow on your toes?”

Macabre manicures 💅

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty, folks. Forget cute, pink acrylics and sexy purple peddies – we’re here for the claws that are used to disturb. Us horror fans are known for being strong stomached, but some things can still get under our skin (or in this case, right under those fingernails).

This minor bodily feature was used well in David Lynch’s TV masterpiece Twin Peaks. As you’ll remember, the BOB-possessed Leland (Ray Wise) placed a tiny paper letter cut from the issues of Flesh World under the left ring finger nail of his victims to spell out the name ROBERT, adding suspense to the whodunit narrative as Special Agent Dale Cooper tries to crack the code.

We see this referenced in Lynch’s 1992 film Fire Walk with Me, during this sinister scene in which Leland taunts Laura (Sheryl Lee) for her “dirty hands”, pointing out the dirt under her left ring fingernail.

Of course, horror films have used fingernails to produce some truly repugnant scenes too. Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan is a great example of this. Even the hardiest of stomachs flipped when witnessing Nina (Natalie Portman) ripping off the biggest hangnail during one of the film’s many gross outscenes (which thankfully turned out to be a hallucination).

Finally, we’re going to finish on an absolute doozy, folks – the nail scene to end all nail scenes. Takashi Miike’s entry into Showtime’s Masters of Horror: Imprint, which was so messed up, it was pulled from the first season due to concerns over its graphic nature. A climatic scene sees a young prostitute (Michié) tortured after being accused of stealing a jade ring from her Madam. The punishment? Having needles pushed under her fingernails. Yikes!

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Daisy Webb is an outspoken, opinionated writer with a passion for all things horror and cult comedy. When she's not watching films, she likes listening to music, cooking too much food, and writing short stories with unhappy endings.


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