within modern cinema, the goal of any film is almost always one of two things: to entertain or to educate. whether it’s schindler’s list, roger & me or mission: impossible, the purpose is one or both of those things. it’s an unspoken agreement between filmmaker and audience that we rarely think about, and often take for granted. if you go to the theater to see the latest die hard sequel, you know what to expect. there will be explosions, bullet wounds, and perhaps a somewhat graphic death for the main bad guy at the film’s climax. you also know what you won’t be seeing — you won’t see the bad guy throwing babies off rooftops for fun or see puppies being crushed in a hydraulic press for minutes on end. even the saw or hostel franchises wouldn’t show such images, and we know this without even seeing them.
in truth, those behind the films we see, even those of graphic horror films, usually have the audience’s best interests at heart. they want you to enjoy their movie. like the creators of a rollercoaster, horror directors may want to make a scary ride… but not one so scary that it actually injures or traumatizes.
but what if this were not true? what if a horror filmmaker set out to make a film not to entertain, but simply to disturb or harm? a film that didn’t just push the envelope of the acceptable, but blatantly crossed the line? over the last few weeks jon and i have watched dozens of ‘extreme’ horror films in an effort to put together a list of films that we believe attempt to do just that. you will find part one of that list, and our brief impressions of each film, below.
now, what one person finds disturbing another might not. for example, you might find evil dead 2 to be a riotous comedy, while your grandparents would probably be a bit freaked out by it. these are not those kind of films. while it’s arguable that they were created to entertain on some level, there isn’t a film on this list that won’t disturb you in some way. these are films so f’d up that if you did decide to show one to your grandparents, they wouldn’t just be freaked out — they might tie you to a chair and call the police. consider yourself warned.
Faces of Death
some of our love of horror may come from a need to face our own mortality. in no film is this so clear as in faces of death, a ‘documentary’ that seems to have no purpose other than to serve evidence of our own impending deaths up on a pseudo-philosophical platter. it’s well known now that much of the footage was faked, but at 13 years old, i bought the premise of this film hook-line-and-sinker. not even the host’s name (dr. francis b. gröss) clued me in that maybe this wasn’t all ‘on the level.’ i still have my certificate of survival from seeing part 4 of this series in the theater, one of the few film screenings to leave me nauseous afterward. this is a film best viewed in your mid-teens, when you still feel invulnerable, carry little sense of your own mortality and viewing faces of death seems incredibly taboo. back then, this film was the cinematic equivalent of sticking your tongue on a 9-volt battery, jumping off your roof or sneaking a peak at your dad’s playboy collection… you watched it because it was forbidden, someone dared you to or so you could brag to those that hadn’t. while i’m nostalgic for the time when i first saw faces of death, watching it now, the obviously fake scenes are a bit amusing, overall there is little to enjoy due to the fact that some of the footage is authentic (in particular the slaughterhouse and autopsy scenes are tough to get through).
I remember watching the original Faces of Death in middle school because all the kids were talking about this crazy documentary that had real death scenes in it. I liked scary films, so my friend and I rented it from the local video store, smuggled it into my basement, and as we watched it, I remember realizing, for the first time, that films aren’t just Saturday night fun and entertainment—they can be unpredictable, maybe even dangerous, experiences. I had already seen movies with graphic death scenes in them, but nothing prepared me for seeing an actual, real execution on film, or watching someone really being mauled to death by guard dogs. It wasn’t entertaining, and it wasn’t something that satisfied my curiosity, or helped me to explore the darker side of the human condition. It was simply and purely disturbing. I only saw this film once, and I’ve since learned that many of the death scenes are fake, but I’ve never thought about films in the same way. Truth be told, this film is one of the reasons I became a horror fan. No other genre comes close to that strange mixture of initial fascination and ultimate repulsion that characterizes my reaction to this film. Of course, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want the real thing, and that I’m very happy to settle for the safer pleasures of watching people fake it. ~ Jon
is one of the most grueling half-hours you’re likely to experience watching a film. the director appears to think it’s a quiet philosophical meditation on mortality, but art school bullshit aside, this is little more than a necrophiliac’s wet dream — an attempt make the audience sick, not make them think. and if making the audience sick was the director’s goal, then he succeeded admirably, largely due to the incredibly realistic special effects. except for a few moments here and there, the effects seem so real that you may find yourself saying “why yes, that is exactly what i think a man having sex with the internal organs of a corpse would look like if it was filmed by a pretentious douche-bag.” some fun can be had with the film by watching it with a friend and seeing how many times you each have to turn away from the screen, yelling “oh, man!”… but make no mistake — aftermath
may think it is far smarter than it is, but it is a damn disturbing film no matter how you cut it. far more graphic than you’re probably imagining, this is the only film where i had to find a different cover shot because the original was just too f’d up
to show directly. ~ corey
Hostel is a violent and nauseating film. But I love it, in part because of its intriguing character development and tongue-in-cheek gore gags. Likewise, films in the Saw franchise assault the audience along with its characters in just about every frame, but I love those films as well because of their compelling and intricate story arcs. Then there’s Aftermath. I suppose I’m hard-bellied enough to watch a scene in which an insane mortician has rough sex with the corpse he’s just mutilated, but there HAS to be at least a little in the way of narrative, characterization, or something to justify it. Aftermath offers absolutely nothing to justify itself. But what makes it far worse is the fact that its director, Nacho Cerda, seems to think that this film is a poignant exploration of the more sad trajectories of human condition along the lines of Paul Haggis’s Crash. It’s not. It’s a repugnant and pretentious slap in the face that makes Blood Sucking Freaks seem like Shirley Temple’s Curly Top. ~ Jon
Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood
i heard somewhere that not only is it illegal to own or sell the guinea pig
series in japan, you can’t even make a new film called guinea pig
. maybe that’s not true, but it’s not that hard to believe after seeing part 2 of this series, flower of flesh and blood
. presented as an actual snuff film, there’s not a lot of plot to be found here. a serial killer kidnaps a girl, ties her to a bed and slowly dismembers her. all while wearing a samurai helmet and reciting bad poetry (the killer, not the girl). similar to aftermath
, this is a tough film to get through. the special effects range from impressive to mediocre, but where this film really excels is in its presentation. while the over-stylized camerawork and editing of aftermath
make it clear you are only watching a movie, the blair witch
, ‘found footage’ style of guinea pig 2
lends a disturbing sense of realism which could lead one to believe what they’re watching is real. given how things turn out for the female victim in question
, it’s a good thing for her that this is all fake.
This film is legendary because Charlie Sheen reportedly called the cops after he watched it, thinking he had just seen a genu-ine snuff film. I don’t know how much of that story is true, but it was enough to prompt me to watch it. The story is familiar enough to horror fans. A crazy man hunts down a woman and then has his way with her in his dungeon lair. He then proceeds to cut her up, piece by piece, for 45 minutes. The special effects are stunning, and the entire thing is filmed with shockingly detailed close-ups and presented as a kind of video diary. Forcing the audience to be voyeurs in the violence on screen is a staple of horror films, but Flower of Flesh and Blood takes it to a new level that left me feeling as if I’d been victimized. And what makes it all the more unsettling is the way the gore and violence is presented as an aesthetic experience, complete with artsy camera angles, carefully selected lighting, and some nutty dialogue full of psychedelic metaphors involving plumes of blood red petals. Dario Argento flirts with the idea that violence can be both strange and beautiful, but he knows where to draw the line. This film does not. ~ Jon
the films we’ve listed this far all feature gratuitous depictions of death and violence with little talent behind the presentation. neither of these attributes apply to funny games, perhaps the most mainstream of the films on our list. restrained in its use of on-screen violence and directed with a meticulous sense of pacing, this film is disturbing in a different way than most of the ones we’ve listed. the script’s callous disregard for human suffering, the film’s ability to subvert expectations at every turn and the brave performances from naoimi watts and tim roth make watching this film an uncomfortable endurance test. many of the films on this list are disturbing on a visual level, but few achieve the level of moral and psychological offensiveness as funny games. ~ corey
Funny Games is a terrific film, featuring one the best performances of Tim Roth’s career. And it isn’t especially graphic or violent in the traditional way, but it’s one of the most unsettling films I’ve ever seen, and after watching it, I’m convinced that Michael Haneke knows just how to manipulate his audience into making them uncomfortable. And I don’t mean the good kind of uncomfortable in the way some films make you squirm when you see something really gory, or jump when you’re expecting the killer to appear and a cat leaps from the window instead. I’ve seen dozens of films that feature a well-meaning couple who somehow get in over their heads and have to endure the torture of a psycho killer before they find the strength to escape. It’s the sort of narrative that can scare, but offers its audiences just enough familiar signposts to guide them through the experience. Beginning with the creepiest scene involving a neighborly request for eggs ever put to film, Funny Games offers no refuge in terms of a stable narrative, motivation, or moral compass. With its relentless villains, odd pacing and enigmatic dialogue,Funny Games gets under your skin and in your head in a way that really isn’t pleasant at all. ~ Jon
The Last House on the Left
few horror films have the notoriety or as rich a back story as the last house on the left. originally intended to be a porno and screened in theaters as rated-r because wes craven cut out and pasted the rated-r symbol from another movie’s poster, this film is as hardcore and genuine an example of exploitation horror as they come. many films lose their ability to shock as time goes on, but this is not one of them. the rape scene is potent enough on its own, but the humiliation and degradation surrounding it make it even worse. the violence in the film is gratuitous and plentiful once the revenge story kicks in, but i always found the events before any murders take place to be far more affecting. in particular, the bizarrely inappropriate music and slap-stick humor with the sheriff and his deputy juxtaposed against the brutality of the rest of the film always leaves me disoriented and unsure of what the film’s intent is. are these groan-worthy humor moments genuinely intended to lighten the mood or, similar to the married with children-esque scene with rodney dangerfield in natural born killers, are the bad jokes supposed to be so horribly inappropriate that they make you even more uncomfortable?
I always feel like I need to take a shower after watching Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. The story itself is scary enough, but it’s really an age-old cautionary tale about the perils of the city and the power of revenge. What really makes the film horrifying is Wes Craven’s uncanny mixture of folksy wholesomeness and youthful exuberance put in direct odds with all the filth and depravity that he can muster from his nightmarish vision of the modern urban gutter. No scene better captures this than the one involving Mari’s desperate, but naïve attempts to win her captor over with a peace symbol necklace, while her girlfriend is being systematically disemboweled by the rest of the drug-crazed gang. And maybe it’s the fact that the film was originally intended to be a narrative-driven porn film involving rape, but it’s just plain sleazy in a way that I think is unique to the 1970s. In fact, at the recent Fangoria convention in New York, I heard David Hess, the actor who plays Krug, say that the film’s 2009 remake couldn’t possibly work because you can’t take the film out of its original context. And I think he’s right in that the film is, in one sense, Craven’s bleak testament that the hippy-drippy good vibrations of the 60s counterculture and flower-power movements could not withstand the darker human instincts that inevitably consumed them. When the film was released in 1972, Both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been dead only three years, and the Vietnam conflict would last three years more. It was a bleak moment in American history. And somehow, The Last House on the Left taps into these anxieties and brings them uncomfortably home.~ Jon
stay tuned for part two of this post when our list concludes with beautiful psychopaths, peckish cannibals and the oddly titled german gore-fest dard divorce. same bat-time. same bat-channel.