Hello g33ks, m33ks, Ms. Halloway (not Joan… Lee) and any other masochists out there. Welcome to an article I’ve been contemplating for quite some time but also one I dread. I love films, all kinds. Good, bad, well intentioned or insanely deluded. Orson Welles, Ed Wood, Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, John Ford and Eli Roth all have a space on my movie shelf. But there are some directors out there who have made films (sometimes a term used loosely) of which I have no love, interest, desire, or inkling to watch. That said I believe in a totally free creative space in the artistic world.
To begin I’m going to list some disturbing films that I think are good worthwhile films in some regard. These are all films that depict either extremely gruesome or emotionally jarring events; and while disturbing could actually go on a recommended list of sorts. These movies are only for those that can handle extreme films. Know that these might have been difficult for me to sit through but generally I have done so and turned out mostly alright. They are not for just any day of the week watching.
Hostel 2 – After all that lead up you’re going… WHAT?!? Khon are you kidding? I could show that movie to my 12 year old cousin over breakfast. Its not that bad and I’ve already seen it. Well ladies and gentlemen I submit to you that Hostel 2 is not only a disturbing film but a GOOD disturbing film.
Premise – Three young American women, meet a woman from a small Eastern European village on a train. She convinces them to come to her hometown to visit a hot spring and festival. At the same time two, wealthy American men are drawn into a secret society where for a price you can torture and kill another human being in any manner you desire. It turns out that you can essentially order your victim from a menu and of course the most expensive; and desired, are young American women.
Biggest Offense – A circular saw rips the scalp off of a young woman.
Redemptive Quality – This is a complete film, unlike the first one which had 45 minutes of idiot Americans treating Europe like God’s blindspot. In this film we follow three young ladies who are kidnapped after using their Eurorail pass to spend a few days relaxing. We also follow two men who are being indoctrinated into the Factory’s Elite Hunting secret society. So we actually learn about the victims and the men who are paying massive amounts of money to kill them. A film stealing performance by Roger Bart makes this movie worthwhile. If this was the only movie titled Hostel it would have been a watershed film in the horror genre like Saw, Scream or Halloween.
Irreversible – Man that was a hard title to type. This film is tough for anyone with human emotion to watch. It is extremely brutal, and unflinchingly violent. It is so difficult to watch that when it premiered almost all of the audience left the theatre.
Premise – A woman is viciously assaulted by an infamous man known as “The Tapeworm”. Her boyfriend and ex-boyfriend spend the evening tracking him down to get their revenge.
Biggest Offense – A 9 minute rape sequence. Followed by a brutal beating of the victim.
Redemptive Quality – This is actually a real film. Told in reverse the film follows an unraveling mystery in which the true level of the destruction is only realized at the end. Just when you think each sequence could not be more unfair wait until you reach the final scene.
Truly Redemptive Quality – There is no sexualization of the rape sequence. This is a disgusting act. It is stomach churning and the audience is totally helpless which is why so many people left the theatre or turn the film off. Its 9 minutes you’ll wish you never saw but it’ll definitely make you do something if you ever saw it in real life. Other films like Straw Dogs, either mistakenly or for some unknown reason on purpose, sexualize the act. This is sort of a big defining point for me in this type of film.
Funny Games – This film shows you how sadistic you are when watching a horror flick. Both versions of this film are acceptable. Although, I actually do prefer the Michael Pitt version as seeing actors you recognize will have more of the desired effect.
Premise – A family on vacation in a lake community are held hostage and forced to play ‘games’ for their survival by two, initially, harmless looking young men. The young men dress all in white and act gentlemanly as much as possible, while the family (mother, father, son) tries to escape.
Biggest offense – They shoot the kid …
Redemptive Quality – The fourth wall in this film is consistently broken, it is actually not a horror movie as much as its as satire of horror movie audiences. Two of the best moments are: 1) The Rewind. When Paul doesn’t like the results of a particular game he searches for a TV remote and, literally, rewinds the scene until he can intervene and gain the desired result. 2) Peter & Paul (the killers) have a discussion while boating on a lake with a tied up victim. The substance of the conversation is actually a dissection of the audience watching this film. Basically, the argument is whether the murderers in horror films are the killers or the audience watching them kill.
The Woman – This is 2011’s most disturbing film of all time. A moniker thrown out several times a year to highlight (or hype) a film. Sort of a harkened throwback to the drive-in movie days, where everything was the ‘most’, ‘scariest’ or ‘never before seen’. That said this film is actually pretty disturbing and disorienting. Its made by a director I really respect, Lucky Mckee, and based on a Jack Ketchum novel. It is something that didn’t completely disturb me but I get why it would disturb others.
Premise – A small town lawyer comes across a feral woman while out on a hunting trip. He decides that it is his mission to ‘civilize’ The Woman, but his motivations may not be entirely noble. Even after proving herself incredibly dangerous he subjects his family to her care and upkeep.
Biggest Offense – Lets go with the dogs ripping a person totally apart… although there are plenty of other options.
Redemptive Quality – Once the craziness starts the movie is an exercise in devolving to the basest human state. It is however a slow burn; life seems idyllic and at first it seems like the introduction of this feral woman into their lives is the first sign of trouble for this family. It is only once you’ve spent some time watching them that you realize how long this family has been disguising the evil they live with every day. Its not pleasant but it is a good film.
The following films are NOT RECOMMENDED … I know I might as well hand them directly to you after writing that but I don’t want to be responsible for your nightmares. Instead of talking about the worst moment in the film … I’m going to highlight the moment when I paused the film, stopped watching momentarily, or simply just stopped watching. That or the aspect of the film is so widely discussed that it kept me from watching at all. If you watch these flicks, Google them, or have someone explain them to you … its on you.
Premise – A young woman falls at a party and badly injures her leg on a piece of metal. She then begins to disassociate her mental state and her body causing her to lapse into a kind of madness. She becomes obsessed with mutilating herself, reopening the wound time and time again.
The Moment of Pause – She cuts open her leg and begins to consume her own flesh.
Redemptive Quality – There are a few things that redeem this film. Its an extremely abstract, surreal movie in which some of the more terrifying actions are kind of obscured by the visual style. That doesn’t mean every time she eats a piece of herself its obscured … just some of the time. The other aspect that might help you through the film is that at the end of the day its a psychodrama and dark comedy more than its a horror film.
Premise – Three sisters (homemaker, businesswoman, free spirit) from suburban NJ watch their lives fall apart/come together as they deal with the men in their lives.
The Moment of Pause – The Son of the housewife confronts his Father about rumors of his being a pedophile and the Father admits to drugging and assaulting two of his son’s friends. The Father then admits he’d do it again if given the chance but he’d never hurt the Son. Instead, he just … self-gratifies.
Redemptive Quality – Its extremely hard to defend this film. It is basically a dark sitcom without a laugh track. The punchlines are conversations like the one above. Some people think its brilliant, its won awards and been recognized at film festivals. Dylan Baker’s performance is extremely brave but its still pretty revolting.
Premise – A young woman who escaped abuse as a child brutally murders the family she holds responsible for her captivity. She calls her friend, also a survivor of abuse, to help her bury the family. This leads to a much deeper mystery involving a conspiracy of abusers in a psuedo-religious secret society.
The Moment of Pause – Flaying (skinning) a person alive.
Redemptive Quality – It represents a new level of horror from the French genre community. Like High Tension and Inside it is a fairly unique genre offering but it’s also unbelievably hard to watch.
A Serbian Film – Well obviously it was going to end here. I could have gone with Cannibal Holocaust which features actual animal killing, I could have put Megan Is Missing of which the last 22 minutes actually cause people to question calling the police, I could have gone with Salo or Human Centipede 2 with all their human waste eating glory. In the 90s Charlie Sheen once reported the film Flowers of Flesh and Blood as an actual snuff film. I could have even gone with Audition because (pun intended) you never see that kind of brutality coming … but honestly nothing can beat this movie for moment after moment breaking its contract with the audience. The actual most disturbing film of all time no matter what the year.
Premise – A former adult film actor is contacted by a former performing partner to star with her in one last film for a private director/collector. After the first day of shooting he is drugged and he wakes up days later with no memory. He returns to the studio and screens the last three days of footage. This also restores the memories he’s repressed of the unbelievably traumatic acts he’s been forced to perform.
The Moment of Pause – I’ve never watched this film because of a single scene in which a woman gives birth, then the man who helped her give birth, rapes the baby.
Redemptive quality – There is none.
In the ‘horror’ viewing community there’s often pride attached to watching certain movies. Even whole websites dedicated to rape revenge, torture, and splatter films. Can someone top this film as the most disturbing of all time … yes. Would someone want to … I can promise you that someone out there wants to top it and will consider it a point of pride to beat it. This film is actually banned in several countries around the world and Netflix dropped its listing and availability without explanation. The filmmakers would have you believe that it is because the film is being censored and I would agree. I think that banning films, censoring films that do not feature actual crimes and arresting distributors who show the film (which happened in Spain) is wrong. That said I think that this film is made in bad taste, has no point but to disgust anyone watching it, and is made by a wannabe artistic genius. My “serial killer with a camera theory” is no more evident than A Serbian Film.
So there you go. Enjoy … or not … Just don’t blame me if you watch something and it scars you for life. Feel free to add and discuss your own most disturbing movies lists below.
- Mr. Khon