Warning: Spoilers Ahead
1. Martyrs This French horror film is one of the most brutal films I have ever see. One of the things that makes it so brutal is the reality of it all. Very little of what we see in Martyrs is outside the realm of possibility. The film resolves around Ana and Lucia, two childhood friends tormented by Lucia’s past. Things start out bad and only get worse. Is the creature tormenting Lucia really only in her mind? As brutal as the film is throughout, the last twenty minutes or so is almost unbearable as Lucia’s past catches up with Ana. The ending is as bleak as a film has ever been. It was originally rated 18+ the equivalent of a X or NC-17 rating in the US. On appeal it was changed to a 16.
2. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer The film that made Michael Rooker a star was based in large part on the real life killings of drifter Henry Lee Lucas. The film is so disturbing that even co star Tom Towles has only seen it once. The world of Henry is a bleak cold world. No policeman is ever seen on camera which was done on purpose to help preserve the idea that Henry and Otis lived in a lawless world. What makes it disturbing? The brutality of the murders, especially the home invasion scene, as well as the overall bleak atmosphere. At the Telluride festival an audience member reportedly went up to the director and complained “You can’t do that,” referring to the fact that Henry escapes justice in the film. It was originally given an X rating by the MPAA and is one of the films responsible for the creation of the NC-17 rating.
3. I Spit On Your Grave One of the most controversial exploitation movies, I Spit n Your Grave is the story of Jennifer a female author on a writing retreat in a small country town. While there she is kidnapped and brutally gang raped by four locals. She manages to escape but they follow her back home, rape her again, destroy her book, and leave her for dead. The local left to kill her is developmentally slow and can not bring himself to kill her. This comes back to haunt him and his friends as she recovers and systematically kills each of them. It too was originally rated X in the United States and is still banned in many countries. Film critic Roger Ebert called it one of the worst movies ever made in large part due to its violence against women. Other critics see it as a film of “feminist wish fulfillment.” Whatever your opinion of the film, the discomfort level while watching it cannot be denied.
4. Freaks Freaks is the movie that effectively ended Todd Browning’s career. Browning had gained fame as the director of Dracula in 1931 and followed that in 1932 with Freaks. Freaks is the story of a group of circus sideshow freaks and the other members of a traveling circus. The leader of the freaks falls for the beautiful trapeze artist. She however is only interested in him because of his money. They are married and she begins to poison him. When the other sideshow members find out, they take their revenge on the evil beauty and her muscle man boyfriend. What caused so much controversy and still makes the film disturbing is that Browning used people with real deformities as his freaks. The wedding scene is eerily surreal. Even though the film is dated, the scene during the storm as the freaks crawl toward their victim is still creepy as hell.
5. Cannibal Holocaust Probably one of the most controversial films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust remains banned in many countries to this day. Originally rated X it has been reduced to a R rating. The film’s director was arrested in Italy and accused of actually murdering his cast. He was forced to produce the cast to escape potential prison time. What makes the film so disturbing among most viewers today is its use of animal slaughter. Several animals were killed expressly for the making of this film, including a extremely brutal slaughter of a giant turtle. The plot follows the search for a group of lost “gonzo” journalists who disappear into the Amazonian jungle. Upon finding the groups video tapes they realize that the journalists were more savage than the group of cannibals they set out to film. Besides the animal slaughter the Cannibal Holocaust contains graphic scenes of rape, murder and dismemberment. Though it isn’t widely known the film does contain scenes of actual human murder. In the documentary The Last Road Out of Hell, the scenes of execution are real. Even with this the most criticized part of the film is the animal slaughter. The concept of animals killed on camera was not exclusive to Cannibal Holocaust, yet it is the most vilified of the Italian cannibal films.
6. Audition What starts off as a somewhat tender search for new love turns into a brutal torture film. As intense as the torture is, one thing that makes the film so disturbing is the sudden switch in tone. A widowed Japanese business man is urged to start dating again by his friends and his son. He is perplexed at how he will find a decent, traditional woman in modern times. His friend comes up with a plan, hold a series of fake auditions so he can interview the girls before he dates them. There he meets Asami, who seems to be the perfect girl. Around the halfway point things begin to turn weird and we learn that Asami might not be all that she claims. Then it goes from strange to pure torture. Audition is directed by Takashi Miike who is no stranger to disturbing film. He is also no stranger to extreme symbolism and surreal situations. At the end we are left wondering if any of it really happened.
7. Aftermath Aftermath is a short film from Spanish director Nacho Cerda merant to be viewed alongside his other short film Genesis. The films opens in a morgue as two workers perform a gruesome autopsy. As one of the workers leave for the night we begin to realize that the opening scenes barely scratch the surface. The lone mortician takes a female corpse and begins to have sex with her while taking photographs. When he finishes he takes her heart home with him and feeds it to his dog. While necrophilia always hit’s the disturbing mark, what pushes this onto the list is the complete destruction of who this corpse once was. She goes from being a person with a name, a name the audience is given, to just fodder for a dog. She is less than a sex toy to the mortician and it is this utter lack of humanity that makes him so horrendous and this film so horrific. This is one of a select group of films that I am glad I have seen but will never watch again.
8. Seed Seed is a film I regret watching and will never watch again. Directed by Uwe Boll it is for the most part one of his less putrid attempts at filmmaking. The story is a dark and depressing film and like most Boll films is horribly acted. The plot is full of holes and really makes little sense. It is however unrelentingly dark and somber. What brings this film to the list is the reason I will never watch it or recommend it to anyone else. It isn’t really in the movie per se. It was tacked on at the beginning to gain shock value and allegedly to gain funding from PETA. The scene in question is the skinning of live animals reportedly in China. The scene is revolting as it is and has no redeeming value beyond PETA’s desire to shock people into supporting them. While Cannibal Holocaust is disturbing and the animal slaughter is vile, at least the animals were used as food by the locals. Cannibal Holocaust also manages to have a social commentary and some worth as a film. Seed has little to offer, but that little on its own could have elevated it above most of Boll’s work. AS it is the inclusion of the skinning was a cheap shot at un expecting audiences and the movie is utterly irredeemable.
9. Midnight Meat Train I am reluctant to add recent films, especially recent American films but I can’t ignore Midnight Meat Train. From its scenes of murder and field dressing of humans, to its depressingly fatalistic ending, this is a disturbing film. It is also one of the most faithful retelling of a Clive Barker story. Midnight Meat Train refuses to look away, ignoring the old idiom that what is not seen is scarier than what is seen. Here the blood and splatter is presented right in front of the viewer, realistically and sometimes in excruciating slow motion.. We watch or hero fall deeper into his own world of madness as he dooms himself and his friends by his obsession with the cities disappearances.
10. The Exorcist Considered by many the best horror film of all time, The Exorcist caught America and the world by surprise. It was shockingly gory for its time and it is still disturbing now. The plot involves the demonic possession of a young girl, played by Linda Blair. The acts the demon makes the underage girl perform are what make it so disturbing especially to Christian viewers. It is bloody with lots of profanity and most shocking a masturbation scene with a crucifix. While a stand in for Blair was used in many scenes the general audience did not know this at the time. The masturbation scene was simulated but is still graphic enough to be hard to watch. The Exorcist is overlooked as a disturbing film by many due to the fact is such a great film. It is rightfully become recognized as a film classic and is part of pop culture and film history.