When it comes to the movie watching experience, we as audience members can be highly affected by what we see on the screen. Whether it’s a tragedy unfolding that brings tears to our eyes, romantic comedies that make us laugh, or moving dramas that make us think, the medium of film is a powerful one. We might not be scared to go to bed alone at night after a horror film, though; with so much regular blood and gore and an often predictable plotline, horror movies have become increasingly diluted and these days it’s more about the fun in the experience.
But what about those movies that really shake all to our cores, leaving us that bit more permanently horrified by humanity than we were before?
When it comes to these sorts of movies, of course, the accolade of ‘disturbing’ debatable, as it’s a subjective idea. With so many taboos already broken in mainstream media, movies goers have become almost immune to Hollywood’s version of torture and gore. However, some stand-out movies have been consistently cited as some of the most truly horrifying pieces of cinematic art in history.
This is the top ten list of disturbing films that have shocked many citizens of the general public – the ten movies which have been most commonly reported to be the ‘most disturbing’. There’s not a slasher flick or serial killer in site; rather, these films make even the most inured horror fans think twice about the boundaries of human resilience. Be warned, some descriptions here contain spoilers, and are not for the faint hearted…
10. The Exorcist (1973)
It’s not the fact that the sweet-faced Linda Blair is transformed into a grotesque demon. It’s not the fact that there’s an exorcism being performed. It’s not even the puking scene that made audiences so sickened to the point that movie theaters were handing out barf bags. That explicit crucifix scene and foul language is one of the more upsetting aspects of this movie, which was revolutionary for its time and broke more taboos in one go than any other horror movie before it. This film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel disturbed and terrified audiences so much that church attendance being at its peak in the 70’s was partly credited to “The Exorcist”.
9. Eraserhead (1977)
Made over the course of four years, David Lynch’s first film “Eraserhead” tends to have audiences with chills up spines and writhing in disgust. Several film critics discussing the most disturbing movies ever mention “Eraserhead” for the iconic scene where the lead character reveals a terrifying sight after removing the swaddling from a baby. It seems that anytime you mix horror and the grotesque with more innocent imagery it becomes all the more disturbing, as it’s a profound juxtaposition.
8. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
If you thought that “The Blair Witch Project” was the first movie to incorporate the “found footage” style of filming, then you’re wrong. “Cannibal Holocaust” was the first of its kind telling the story of a search team trying to find a lost film crew in the Amazons working on a documentary. The murder scenes in the film were so realistic that the director, Deodato, was arrested on suspicion of murder. But what makes this film truly disturbing is the fact that they really killed live animals. In total, about six animals were killed, and there’s a particularly disturbing scene involving the killing of a large turtle. The movie remains, today, ethically questionable and there’s still some mystery surrounding its filming.
7. Audition (1999)
We couldn’t make a list of the most disturbing horror films without adding some notorious Japanese horror into the mix. This movie starts out like a love story, when a widower is ready to get back into dating and adapts an unconventional method of finding his next mate; he holds an audition. The movie take a truly sadistic and disturbing turn halfway through when his elected woman turns out to have a very rotten history with men – having been hurt and harmed by many since she was young – and is seeking revenge. The most sickening scene involves a hungry maimed man, vomit, and a dog bowl… This is a film where you definitely need to get your gag reflexes prepared.
6. Irreversible (2002)
While this movie is incredibly disturbing, it earned Monica Bellucci some serious accolades for her performance. This film encompasses the darkness of humanity with an intense assault scene that doesn’t hold back on censorship. The story is told with a warped time sequence and the film’s iconic scene is actually the ending where a man’s head is beaten with a fire extinguisher to the point it becomes unrecognizable. Gore isn’t anything new, but what makes the scene stand out is the fact it seems to have been done with one camera, uncut and unflinching, as there isn’t a moment where the camera cuts away from the action. In fact, the most crucial and disturbing scenes in this movie are notable for looking as though they’re done in one seamless take.
5. Deadgirl (2008)
Definitely not for the faint of heart, this movie tells the story of two high school boys who find a woman naked and imprisoned in an abandoned hospital. But instead of calling the cops, the boys proceed to keep her where she is and assault her. After attempting to kill her, the boys find that she is in fact undead.
The content of the movie is dark but artistic, an odd psychological study of violence. In addition to the disturbing and vomit-inducing assault on the woman, the dead girl also bites off a boy’s (ahem) appendages. The movie has sick moments that will make both men and women twitch in sympathetic pain. This film wasn’t a hit with critics, but it succeeds in disturbing.
4. The Human Centipede II (2011)
The film’s predecessor “The Human Centipede” was such a huge “hit” (and we use that word lightly) and made so much money, the natural thing to do was make a sequel. Of course we expect many true horror fans to roll their eyes at the inclusion of this movie on our list, but despite (or perhaps because of) its questionable artistic value, this is a truly revolting movie. The film centres on a man named Martin Lomax (played by Laurence R. Harvey) who obsesses over the original film so much that he tries to emulate it and outdo it. So we see many people tortured, lips stapled to rear ends, forced to eat the remnants of each other’s digestive tracks…
3. Martyrs (2008)
This French film is not for those with a weak stomach. The movie tells the story of a girl who thinks she’s killed the family that held her hostage when she was a child. This movie takes quite a violent turn about halfway into the movie, and the turn is so sharp that you might almost think of “Martyrs” was two films in one. With a touch of religious zeal and a bit of breaking the boundaries of human existence, this movie definitely makes audiences wince, especially in the final scene where the “heroine” is beaten and skinned so that she can bear witness to the afterlife experience.
2. Antichrist (2009)
It’s safe to say that “Antichrist” probably shows just how kooky director Lars Von Trier actually is; there is a running joke that this film’s profits probably went towards his therapy bills. The film tells the story of a couple who retreat into the woods to cope with the death of their child, but get much more than they bargained for. Instead of therapy and time away to heal, the couple is thrown into a world of mental instability and sick acts that involve a rusty pair of scissors slicing off an essential female appendage as well as a wooden log smashing the male equivalent and a lot of blood where it shouldn’t be.
1. A Serbian Film – UNCUT (2010)
Even self-proclaimed tough guys have a hard time watching this film. In fact, while this movie was included in several reviews of most disturbing movies, authors admitted needing several days just to get through the film and finish it.
“A Serbian Film” tells the story of a retired adult star looking to get back into the business who gets an offer he can’t refuse. Unfortunately there’s something darker and more sinister to the offer than meets the eye. With the sexual acts in the movie becoming more and more depraved and inhumane, the finale involves an unspeakable act that really pushes the film over the edge – making it almost unwatchable for most viewers.