Every genre of film has its own outliers, movies that burn a hole into your brain for all the wrong reasons. They are the movies that scar you, make you cringe when brought up in conversation and make you never want to see them again. People as a whole have always had a fascination toward the macabre, gruesome or tortuous things. Examples of this would be people paying to see pictures of dead bodies, going to freak show circuses and playing with a Ouija board in a cemetery. The following list is full of movies that had shocking themes, gross outs or emotionally charged moments. These types of films are important culturally, because they are often the conversation starter, “I know exactly where I was in my life when watching that crazy movie.”
For a movie to make this list does not mean it was bad. On the contrary, for the most part, it might mean that it played with your emotions the way it was supposed to and deserves more accolades than it has received. Most of the movies on this list deserve to be seen in multiple viewings. This list includes anything from bloody murders, to worldwide tragedy, to cannibalism and everything in between. If the “water cooler” type of discussions still takes place, these are the movies we all bring up and then whisper about as the boss walks by. All that said, these movies are downright disturbing and maybe one viewing is enough.
15. Straw Dogs
Straw Dogs came out in a tumultuous year for violence in film. It came out the same year as A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry and The French Connection. Seeking a more peaceful life, a young American mathematician, David Sumner, played by Dustin Hoffman, and his English wife, move to a Cornish village. Underneath the seemingly peaceful isolation of the rustic village lies a violence and savagery that threatens to obliterate the couple, culminating in a brutal test of David’s manhood and a bloody fight to the death. One of the most controversial films ever made, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is an upsetting and intense look at masculinity and the forces of violence. The film is noted for having a violent culmination and tough, prolonged rape scene. Hoffman’s violent character turn in the movie can be seen as a celebration of vigilantism. This is another film on the list that faced numerous edits and censorship upon its release.
14. I Spit On Your Grave
Roger Ebert famously reviewed this film giving it a 0 out of 4 stars rating and called it, “The worst film ever made.” In the film, an aspiring writer is repeatedly gang-raped, humiliated and left for dead by four men whom she methodically hunts down as she seeks her revenge. I Spit On Your Grave, though not a good movie, incited conversations as well as controversies, getting released when aspects of the Feminist movement were really hitting its stride. The plot alone is what gets people riled up. That being said, the men portrayed in the film are disgusting and the idea that a man could look up to their actions seems very far fetched. If one feels like they have to take a shower after watching a movie, it is probably pretty hard to translate any part of that movie into one’s daily life. It is best to forget. Seriously, forget.
Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire was released to a consensus of positive reviews. Why is it so disturbing? It is the depths of sadness and despair that its main character, Precious, must go through. Precious had to grow up way too quickly: She is subject to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Her father raped and impregnated her, resulting in a child that she takes care of in a section 8 housing unit, while she lives with her abusive (on many levels) mother. The movie has a semi-happy ending for Precious as she tries to get her GED and become successful enough to care for her child, creating an independence from her mother. However, a lot of the imagery that sticks with the viewer is that of her mother, Mary, verbally and physically abusing Precious. The movie won numerous awards and praise for Mo’Nique who played the horrible Mary. Roger Ebert called the performance “frighteningly convincing.”
A man is imprisoned for fifteen years, released and never told why any of his experience took place. That is the premise of Oldboy and man, does get crazy from there. During those fifteen years, the man, Oh Dae-suh, trained his body and is focused on revenge. Throughout the film Oh Dae-suh goes on a methodical journey to find the person responsible for his imprisonment. Somewhere around the middle of the film however, the tone changes from thriller to tragedy. Oh Dae-suh learns about his past through “mental and physical anguish and poetic justice (Roger Ebert).” Is the end of Oldboy shocking and horrifying? Yes, but it is also a cautionary tail about the mistakes that we make when we are young. Sometimes our actions do come back to bite us, even if it takes countless years. The ending is improbable in its intricacy, but it is not impossible and it is not unmotivated.
11. Hard Candy
A pervert’s ultimate nightmare. The 2005 film, Hard Candy, focuses on the psychological and physical torture of an online predator when he meets what he thinks will be his prey. As cliché as it sounds, the hunter became the hunted. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson give amazing performances as the 14-year-old Hayley and 32-year-old Jeff. Hayley tricks/drugs Jeff and he wakes up tied to a table. Hayley knows he has secrets, senses he has tried this with other girls and it’s pretty obvious she is right. He is remorseful, but it is definitely too late for simply asking for forgiveness. The most chilling part of this film involves Jeff lying on the table and being told he is going to be castrated. The shear terror the Patrick Wilson sells on his face and in his voice is award worthy:.The moments that follow are shocking and too disturbing to want to watch again.
10. The Road
The Road is a movie that’s atmosphere and mood make it hard to watch; yet the way it is directed also makes it extremely immersive. The film is based off the Pulitzer Prize-winning book with the same name by Cormac McCarthy. The film received fairly positive reviews from critics, however, it took a while to recoup its initial budget. Why did no one want to see this film? It looks miserable! A father and son walk a post apocalyptic world in search of a hope, safety, a new beginning. Tom Chiarella of Esquire writes, “People like to see certain components in movies concerning the end of the world. Asteroids. Alien visitation. Angels. Nuclear war. Tidal waves. Climate change. Giant robots.” The Road gives the audience none of that. What we get is bleak. Everyone is living for himself or herself, for a dark survival. The father has to teach his son life’s lessons in a terrifying world with no hope.
9. Inland Empire
A movie that feels like you are living a nightmare is anything more terrifying to watch. An actress, played by Laura Dern, begins to slowly adapt the person of the character she is playing. The world she is living in starts to become nightmare-like and surreal. Adding to her confusion is the revelation that the movie being worked on is a remake of a doomed Polish production, 47, which was never finished due to an unspeakable tragedy. Director David Lynch shot the film without a complete screenplay. Instead, he handed each actor a couple pages of freshly written dialogue each day. He truly just winged it, having actors, like Dern, never truly at ease. Fans of Lynch will find the movie deep and sexy while the general public might see it as pointless and impenetrable. A lot of this film hinges on one’s love of Lynch and the way he creates. Things are going to get weird.
8. The Passion Of The Christ
The Passion Of The Christ is Mel Gibson’s Christianity epic. The movie grossed over $600 million during its box office run, breaking numerous records, like highest grossing religious film. Whether one is religious or not it’s pretty difficult to want to watch a man get tortured for almost an entire film’s length. The Passion depicts the final 12 hours of Jesus of Nazareth’s life, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Everything is as bloody and agonizing as one might think: From the scourging, to the crown of thorns, to the crucifixion itself. The last moments of Judas, being killed by his own paranoia essentially, is tremendously creepy. Another jolting aspect of the movie is the portrayal of the devil, which may be the scariest unisex person in the history of film. Yes, the film is preachy, heavy-handed and probably a form of Gibson’s propaganda, but it is still down right disturbing.
Keeping with the Christ theme … Antichrist tells the tale of a couple who, after the death of their only child, go out to a cabin in the woods where the man experiences strange visions and the woman manifests increasingly violent sexual behavior and sadomasochism. The film is interlaced with cut scenes of their child’s death, which ultimately culminates with the viewer seeing that the death could have been prevented. The movie is full of savage and gruesome imagery, like genital mutilation, which is a big reason why critics were divided about it. Antichrist is the first film in Lars Von Trier’s unofficial “Depression Trilogy,” with his other two films Melancholia and Nymphomaniac. According to Von Trier, he wrote Antichrist while battling an epic bout of depression and conceived the tale as a form of catharsis. The audience for the movie can practically guess this without Von Trier telling us. As the talking fox in the film says, “chaos reigns” and it definitely does in Antichrist.
6. Schindler’s List
This film is probably the only film on this list that one might have seen in school. Schindler’s List is based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally. The story centers on Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand refugees during the Holocaust by employing them into his factories. In Spielberg’s masterpiece, actors, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley, give standout performances. This film makes the list because it is so real and that is what makes it a must-see. The film, primarily shown in black and white, is full of symbolism, like the girl in the red coat and lit candles. We are all aware the Holocaust happened and it’s ever-present in our world history. That being said, seeing the horrific things taking place in concentration camps is something that isn’t easily wiped from one’s mind, nor should it be.
5. The Machinist
Christian Bale is famously known as an actor that is willing to transform his body for a role he has chosen. In The Machinist, Bale takes this mantra to a whole new level. Bale plays a factory worker named Trevor whose severe insomnia has taken an extreme toll on his body and mental health. Bale lost a ridiculous amount of weight for this film. He looks completely different. He looks like a skeleton. After a work accident, Trevor’s paranoia starts to sink in. Is everyone out to get him? And speaking of skeletons, it’s pretty safe to say that Trevor has a few of those waiting to be unearthed. They may just need to be shown to him again. The culmination of stress and bad accidents leaves Trevor a shell of himself and the viewer hardly able to look at this unfamiliar screen persona. Bale not only lost fat, but eventually muscle tissue as well. Right after filming Bale added 60 pounds of muscle to play The Dark Knight.
4. Requiem For A Dream
Darren Aronofsky wrote the screenplay for Requiem For A Dream based on Hubert Selby Jr.’s book of the same name. The film follows four different forms of drug addiction that all lead to a similar ending point. That ending point is each character becoming trapped in their delusions that eventually take complete control of their lives. These characters’ lives are ruined and they become hollow shells of their former selves. That being said, director Darren Aronofsky didn’t want the film to be considered a “drug movie.” “The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, ‘Oh, my God, what is a drug?’ The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person’s head when they’re trying to quit drugs (salon.com).” It doesn’t matter the addiction, it is a terrifying road to go down, especially when one is about to hit rock bottom.
This unsettling Japanese-made thriller follows Aoyama, a widower who decides to start dating again. Aided by a film-producer friend, Aoyama uses auditions for a fake production to function as a dating service. When Aoyama becomes intrigued by the quiet, strikingly beautiful Asami, they begin a relationship. However, he begins to realize that Asami isn’t as reserved as she appears to be. All of that leads to increased tension and a brutal, BRUTAL, ending. Asami is crazy. She isn’t interested in love as much as she is interested in torture, death and possible sadomasochism. Our main character is trying to understand and follow the new girl he is swooning over, but doesn’t comprehend the ramifications. This movie is a weird romantic comedy until the end when Aoyama realizes he’s in for a rude awakening. Asami acts like a giggling schoolgirl as she amputates with piano wire. Nuff’ said.
2. The Last House On The Left
Wes Craven’s directorial debut is gut wrenching from start to finish. After attending a concert, a young girl and her friend are kidnapped by a group of escaped convicts. It is quickly realized that these convicts have much more sinister intentions for the young girls. Rape, murder and disembowelment is the bloodbath that awaits. The tension and disgust never lets up. There is no hope for these girls and the local police are too dumb to figure anything out. Will there be any justice? Well, even in the most macabre films there is still a semi-happy resolution. The sadistic killers end up making themselves guest at the house of one of their victims. The mother and father eventually realize what has happened and devise an equally malicious revenge plan. The advertising campaign included the infamous tagline, “To avoid fainting keep repeating ‘It’s only a movie…’” The film was well received by critics; censored/banned in some countries and in 2009 spawned a remake.
1. Cannibal Holocaust
Is it actually real? Cannibal Holocaust is one of the original found footage genre films. During a rescue mission into the Amazon rainforest, a professor stumbles across lost film shot by missing documentary filmmakers. This movie has been made notorious due to its graphic violence. After its premiere in Italy, the director was arrested on obscenity charges and accused of making a snuff film. It was rumored that some of the actors were actually killed while filming their scenes. Although the director was later cleared of the charges, the film was banned in Australia, Italy, and several other countries due to its portrayal of sexual assault, realistic brutality and real depictions of violence toward animals. The violence toward animals is the thing that still resonates with a lot of people today. We are desensitized to humans hurting other humans, but often times people can’t handle a harmful act toward the world’s most innocent.