I want to thank everyone that has made and continues to make the original article I wrote on this topic one of the most visited pages on the site. I appreciate the comments there and hopefully you all will engage this article in a similar manner. I have a a massive love affair with Horror Films. I love the schlocky, the cheesy, the downright ridiculous films in the genre as much as I love the ones that push the factors of genuine fear. I can have a lengthy conversation on the cultural impact of Halloween, The Woman, and A Nightmare on Elm Street on our society … and would love to. The thing is that although I love the genre there are sometimes films that fall outside the lines for me. I don’t pretend to have some incredible constitution for watching these flix. I don’t get a rush from managing to suffer through these films but if a film is twisted, dark and engaging I will still recommend them to an audience … with the caveat that I take no responsibility for your emotional state after the film is over.
First things first, everyone has their own definition of a Disturbing Film. For some people something like Saw or Grindhouse are too much. I’ve come to expect that if I write an article like this I’ll find plenty of people that think many of the films aren’t disturbing enough. So please remember, if you’re a gore aficionado then there’s a chance you’ve seen all of these films already and nothing I say will surprise you. On the other hand if you flinch during Final Destination then you need to know that this list will probably be more extreme than your basic Friday night multiplex Horror experience.
Compliance (2012) - I wrote a review of this film earlier this year but this movie was so under the radar that the majority of people have never even heard of it let alone had a chance to see it. Based on the true story … this is an account of one of the absolute worst days in a fast food restaurant EVER! The fact that this film is not overt and everything is done with a level of decorum and subtlety might make some feel its not disturbing. But you have to remember that this scenario wasn’t only a true event but part of a series of crimes that occurred all over the country.
- Premise - Sandra, the manager of a fast food restaurant, gets a phone call from an Officer Daniels in which he claims that a young female employee, Becky, stole money from a customer during her shift. He instructs the Manager that her boss is on the other line with him and that she is to detain the young woman in question until he can send an officer to pick her up. What follows is an hours long exercise in humiliation and degradation in which Becky is subjected to the various punishments devised by Officer Daniels.
- Biggest Offense - There are a lot of things that happen to Becky in this film that are disturbing. Many are shot in a way you can’t see what’s happening, while some are not. Forcing her to accept an internal cavity search from a man, perform naked jumping jacks to see if anything ‘shakes out’ of her, or the method she is forced to ‘thank’ her main tormenter to show she is willing to do anything to prove she is cooperating are all fairly disgusting. Again, remember these things actually happened to someone in real life.
- Redemptive Quality - This is a true story. Except for changing a few things like the names, location and fictionalizing the fast food restaurant, the director pretty much followed along with the surveillance video footage of the event. He didn’t sensationalize this story … he just took what happened and streamlined it into a film. This stuff actually happened to someone and instead of making fun of everyone involved the film goes so far, and its performances have such an impact, that unless you mentally check out before the ending you won’t question how these things could happen.
The Loved Ones (2009) - This film because its probably the closest to a traditional horror film most people would expect. This horror flick from Australia features high school teenagers on prom night, our lead character has a tragic back story, and there’s plenty of traditional horror film hide and seek. Don’t let these traditional elements dissuade you. There’s enough new stuff and a pretty lovable horror movie villain.
- Premise - Brent is a formerly happy young man who has turned into a troubled teen. Six months ago his father died in a car accident while Brent was driving. In that time he’s become sullen and a self mutilator. His girl friend, Holly has been working for months to try and get Brent to feel better and he has agreed to go to the dance with her. Problem is Holly isn’t the only young lady in school with an interest in Brent. Lola Stone,a pretty but strange girl, asks him to the dance only to be turned down. A Lot of young ladies would consider this a problem but not Lola Stone.
- Biggest Offense - There’s a couple of ‘fun’ moments to select from but lets go with Lola’s father hammering a knife into Brent’s foot to keep him from escaping.
- Redemptive Quality - There is a lot to enjoy about this flick. It’s a modern take on a classic style horror movie. Teen drama taken to extremes, a creepy father and once you meet Lola’s ‘Loved Ones’ you realize how dangerous the Stone Family really is. Its a short film coming in at under 90 minutes but if you’re looking for a classic style horror movie that goes past the typical slasher film this is a good one.
Mother’s Day (2010) - One of the most nihilistic films I’ve ever seen. Director Darren Lynn Bousman goes past JigSaw and the Repo Man to create one of the scariest characters he ever has. If you feel good before watching this flick you probably won’t still be in that mood when you’re done. A remake of a Troma film from 1980 that is made fairly brilliant by utilizing the housing market collapse as a plot device.
- Premise - Three men, The Koffin Brothers take part in a botched robbery where the youngest brother is shot and their partner escapes with all the cash. With no where else to go they decide to head home to their Mother. This is unfortunate, for the house’s new owners; who are throwing a housewarming party with all of their friends. They are extremely angry when they find their Mother gone and that someone has bought their childhood home when it was foreclosed by the bank. They break in and take over the party holding everyone hostage and calling their Mother. Instead of being a calming influence on her sons it becomes incredibly clear that the psychotic and sadistic Koffin Brothers are the pride and joy of their Mother’s Eye.
- Biggest Offense - It’s pretty tough to pick from the messed up things that occur in this film. When Mother Koffin fears that her youngest will die a virgin she needs one of the married women being held captive to solve the problem for her. When none of the women volunteer she has her sons select for her. They decide to have the top two choices husbands’ fight to protect their ‘honor’. What follows is as vicious a fight as you can imagine between two friends trying to protect their wives from being raped at gunpoint. There is definitely worse stuff in the way of gore in the film but … if I have to explain why the above is disturbing then I don’t know what to tell you.
- Redemptive Quality - Rebecca De Mournay and Jaime King put in two incredible performances. This is one of the more tense films I’ve seen and its somewhat hypnotic. This is likely Darren Lynn Bousman’s best film overall, its not the most enjoyable he’s ever made but its a good film.
V/H/S (2012) - This is a tough one to put on the list. I had heard from a lot of people how great this film is and I appreciate that there are some good parts of it but like any anthology film its only as good as its weakest entries. There are some intriguing portions of the film but you have to ignore the frame tale and try to give the filmmakers benefit for good ideas. This film isn’t going to haunt your mind but there are some things you’ll wish you didn’t see. For some this might disturb you but its definitely not the most damaging film in the list.
- Premise - A group of young men who have a contract with some kind of reality video internet site are contracted to break into an old house and steal a VHS tape. When they arrive they find a dead old man and over a hundred tapes. Not knowing which tape they need, they collect all of them and have one of the guys watch to find the one they need. They were told that it would be apparent when they saw it. The tapes viewed contain the short films we see as an audience.
- Biggest Offense - Each film has its own moments but I’d probably go with the harvesting of a living creature from a woman’s body.
- Redemptive Quality - This film has some really intriguing story ideas. I am sort of sad that some of these weren’t explored better or given more time. Of the five vignettes I’m a fan of the last one, second to last and the first. That said the third one had the best concept. In fact, done correctly they could have made a feature film with that idea. I would think this would be better viewed in a group in a party atmosphere but I don’t think anyone “HARDCORE” is going to find it too disturbing.
Megan is Missing (2011) - I briefly mentioned this film in the last article but I didn’t give any kind of significant breakdown on the piece so I’ll do that here. This is a fictional film made based on actual events. Not on one singular true story but on the facts collected from several different internet based abductions.
- Premise - 2 young girls disappear after going to meet a boy one of them met online.
- Biggest Offense - The pictures. I’ll leave it at that.
- Actual Biggest Offense - 22 minute rape sequence in which the victim eventually goes catatonic.
- Redemptive Quality - I know that this film was made by a filmmaker intending to change the habits of young women and parents regarding internet chat. I’m fairly certain that he has been effective at doing so. Its brutal but not fun at all. Its going to probably affect your mood and possibly even your sleep. Some people have said it is more disturbing than A Serbian Film. Some people claim they are equals for varying reasons. This film is made with a specific purpose in mind and actually seems to have been doing some good. People have reported changing their own and their children’s internet habits after watching this film.
The Bunny Game (2010) - Okay so yeah. This is NOT RECOMMENDED. This barely qualifies as a film. It is offensive to both your eyes and ears. Its justification is that it’s a piece of performance art and ‘extreme’ filmmaking. There are quite a few issues with this filck because alot of the worst things that happen actually happen to the actress in question. My biggest filmmaking based argument against the film is the fact that everything goes on a little too long. Everything is an extended shot and in a film that’s about 80mins long that seems strange. Its kind of disorienting to watch something happen on screen, see that its over for the characters involved and then the shot continues for another minute or more. This may be because the film had no script and was mostly improvised.
- Premise - A drug addicted prostitute is kidnapped by a sadistic truck driver and spends the next three days of her life being sexually assaulted and tortured.
- The Moment of Pause - The Truck Driver brands the prostitute. Why is this such a big deal? Its such a big deal because the branding isn’t fake. The actress was actually branded twice for this scene. That said this isn’t the worst thing that happens in this film.
- Redemptive Quality - There is only a redemptive quality for the actress who is the co-writer of the film because she was actually kidnapped and tortured and used this film to exorcise the demons of that event. It took her 2 weeks of physical and mental therapy after filming to restore her mental state. For the rest of us there’s no redemptive quality. This is an assault on you meant to revile you. If you hate the piece the filmmakers don’t care either. So if you see it and are upset don’t complain to them. This film is BANNED in the UK. A Serbian Film isn’t banned. Its censored greatly by the BBFC but its ban was reversed after editing. They don’t even suggest that the filmmakers cut this film for a chance at a ban reversal. I’ve seen it … Its not bloody its just a horrible viewing experience.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) - I felt the need to mention this particular film for wasting what could have been an excellent feature, but was let down by poor film making and specifically lying to its audience. Again this is not a contender for being a truly disturbing film although some may find it to be.
- Premise - The most successful serial killer of all time not only is still on the loose but he’s managed to successfully document his reign on thousands of hours of tapes.
- Biggest Offense - Forcing one of his victims to kill for him.
- Actual Biggest Offense - Lying to the audience before each public screening and telling them this is an actual documentary.
There are Spoilers that will follow in my discussion of the failures of this film.
The biggest failure of this film is that it is totally unbelievable as a documentary. Aside from having some lesser known character actors in the film portraying “real people” its narrative structure is completely incorrect for creating a pseudo-documentary. The filmmakers spend an inordinate amount of time on the killer telling you over and over again that he’s brilliant and devious and managed to escape identifying himself in any meaningful way even though he’s taped himself ad nausea committing horrific acts.
The story should have followed the tale of his seemingly one long term kidnapping victim. If we’d followed that storyline and used that as the frame tale of the film I might have believed it was a documentary. Also, here’s my biggest issue. If the film was able to make you believe it was real then its whole ruse about telling you it was real before each screening would have had a William Castle ‘Percepto‘ type effect.
The big reason they warned everyone this is a real story is that in the end of the film one of the FBI profilers says that because this man escapes pathology and is incapable of being profiled they would need to cheat in some way. So they were going to be monitoring all screenings of the film as it traveled the country. They claim the killer would be magnetically drawn to all screenings of the film and would repeatedly appear in the audience. The whole thought is to make the audience feel like they might be in the theatre with the worst serial killer in history. That’s a long way to go for a flawed film. That’s a gambit I can respect, but I’d need a film much better than this one to pull it off.
So there you go. A brand new set of films to put images of a demented nature in front of your eyes. If you watch these films and can’t sleep anymore, it’s not my fault. If you don’t think this list has anything that qualifies as disturbing on it I’m genuinely worried about you. I’ll see if I can pull together another list of films this messed up again next year. Be on the lookout for Modern Grindhouse films and in depth looks at specific films from years past that are worth your time.
– Mr. Khon