Warning: This post contains some of the most upsetting films available and may be considered offensive and NSFW.
Earlier this year, IGN published its list of what it claimed to be the fifteen most disturbing movies. Here’s how they introduced the list:
What’s the difference between scary and disturbing. Can a film be one and not the other? Which movies really make you go home from the theater in fear or cower into your couch considering some awful truth, squirming uncomfortably at some hideous sight or sound? We here at IGN Movies have put together a list of the 15 Most Disturbing Movies, looking back over the last few decades of cinema to find the films that made us feel dirty or voyeuristic or ashamed to be human, offered to you here in no particular order.
Its a mediocre collection of films, but quite frankly either the author has no clue about ‘disturbing’ or he’s lived a rather sheltered life. Yes, some are gory and touch on uncomfortable situation (i.e. rape), but the ‘most disturbing?’ — we beg to differ. Here is their list with summaries by IMBD. Afterwards we take it up a few notches and introduce you to the really vile experiences.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006) – While traveling in a trailer to California through the New Mexico Desert, a family is misled to a shortcut going to nowhere by the owner of an isolated gas station and wrecks the car in a rock. Along the night and on the next day, they are attacked by a group of deformed cannibals, fruit of the atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by USA from 1945 to 1962 in that spot. Absolutely trapped by the psychotics, they have to fight to survive.
The Exorcist (1973) – Something beyond evil is happening in a little girl’s room. Regan has brutally changed both in the way she looks and the way she acts, with violent outbursts on everyone who comes in contact with her. Her worried mother gets in contact with a priest who comes to the conclusion that Regan is possessed. The top priest who can deal with an exorcism, Father Merrin, is called in to help save Regan from the demon inside her.
A Clockwork Orange (1971) – In a futuristic Britain, a gang of teenagers go on the rampage every night, beating and raping helpless victims. After one of the boys quells an uprising in the gang, they knock him out and leave him for the police to find. He agrees to try “aversion therapy” to shorten his jail sentence. When he is eventually let out, he hates violence, but the rest of his gang members are still after him.
Audition/Ôdishon (1999) – Seven years after the death of his wife, company executive Aoyama is invited to sit in on auditions for an actress. Leafing through the resumés in advance, his eye is caught by Yamazaki Asami, a striking young woman with ballet training. On the day of the audition, she’s the last person they see. Aoyama is hooked. He notes her number from her file, calls her and takes her to dinner. He hesitates to call again, worried that he’ll seem too eager. When he does, Asami knowingly lets the phone ring for some time before answering. She’s alone in her darkened room – alone, that is, apart from the writhing victim she has tied up in a sack on the floor. Finally, the first one in the list that would make my list of disturbing films. The horrible things near the end of the movie are pretty stomach churning, but are made more so because of the context. Throughout this movie, things were quiet and understated. It is so much more jarring to see the guy that we’ve spent over an hour and half with slowly tortured. Not only that, he didn’t deserve it; he was just a lonely widower trying to find happiness.
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma / Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) – Set in the Nazi-controlled, northern Italian state of Salo in 1944, four dignitaries round up sixteen perfect specimens of youth and take them together with guards, servants and studs to a palace near Marzabotto. In addition, there are four middle-aged women: three of whom recount arousing stories whilst the fourth accompanies on the piano. The story is largely taken up with their recounting the stories of Dante and De Sade: the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. Following this, the youths are executed whilst each libertine takes his turn as voyeur. This film is definitely one of the most vile things ever put on celluloid. Despite being 35 years old, Salo is probably the most cruel and repulsive film ever made, not just in Italy but in the whole world; It depicts the worse atrocities inflicted to humans by humans. I saw this film fifteen years ago (criterion version) and I don’t want to see ever again.
El Topo (1970) – The gunfighter El Topo (“The Mole”) and his young son ride through a desert to a village, whose inhabitants have been massacred. Bandits are nearby, torturing and killing the survivors. El Topo rescues a woman (Mara), who leads him on a mission to find and defeat the four master gunmen of the desert. Leaving his son with a group of monks, El Topo and Mara complete the mission, accompanied by a mysterious woman in black. The woman leaves El Topo wounded in the desert, where he is found by a clan of deformed people who take him to the remote cavern where they live. Awakening years later, he goes with a dwarf woman to a nearby town, promising to dig a tunnel through which the cave-dwellers can escape. They find the town run by a vicious sheriff and home to a bizarre religious cult. El Topo’s son, now a man, is a monk in the town. The completion of the tunnel leads El Topo, the townspeople, and the cave-dwellers to a bloody and tragic end. Bizarre,surreal and amazingly violent – yes, most disturbing – no.
Hard Candy (2005) – After three weeks chatting with the thirty-two years old photographer Jeff Kohlver in Internet, fourteen year-old Hayley Stark meets him in the Nighthawks coffee shop. Hayley flirts with him in spite of the difference of ages and proposes to go to his house. Once there, she prepares screwdriver for them and Jeff passes out. When he awakes, he is tied up to a chair, and Hayley accuses him of pedophilia. Jeff denies, and Hayley begin to torture him, in a mouse and cat game. This movie is about torture, castration and extreme violence against men. Five foot tall Stark first appears to be a cute, naive 14 year old who arranges to meet a mysterious adult man called Jeff. After drugging him she reveals her true colors as a psychotic paedophile vigilante complete with superhuman strength and the torture skills of a terrorist. Interesting movie, but I wouldn’t classify as ‘most disturbing.’
Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Drugs. They consume mind, body and soul. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. Four lives. Four addicts. Four failures. Doing their best to succeed in the world, but failing miserably, four people get hooked on various drugs. Despite their aspirations of greatness, they succumb to their addictions. Watching the addicts spiral out of control, we bear witness to the dirtiest, ugliest portions of the underworld addicts reside in. It is shocking and eye-opening but demands to be seen by both addicts and non-addicts alike.
The Last House on the Left (1972) – After kidnapping and butchering two teenagers, a gang of rapists and murderers unknowingly seeks refuge with the parents of one of the victims.
Day of the Woman / I Spit on Your Grave (1978) – The film follows Jennifer, a writer who is working on a new novel and needs to get out of the city to finish it. She hires a riverside apartment in upstate New York to finish her novel, attracting the attention of a number of rowdy male locals. They catch Jenifer one day and strip her naked for the village idiot (Matthew) and rape her. Jennifer is later attacked and raped a further two times by the four degenerates, and her novel is also destroyed. But Jennifer slowly recovers and in her now-twisted, psychotic mind, she then begins to seek revenge on the four men who raped her.
Oldboy (2003) – An average man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a shabby cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released, equipped with money, a cellphone and expensive clothes. As he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, he soon finds out that not only his kidnapper has still plans for him, but that those plans will serve as the even worse finale to 15 years of imprisonment.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990) – New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Although his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain. Jacob’s Ladder?!?! Really? Oh please.
The Strangers (2008) – After returning from a wedding reception, a couple staying in an isolated vacation house receive a knock on the door in the mid-hours of the night. What ensues is a violent invasion by three strangers, their faces hidden behind masks. The couple find themselves in a violent struggle, in which they go beyond what either of them thought capable in order to survive.
Videodrome (1983) – The president of Civic TV Channel 83, Max Renn, is always looking for new cheap and erotic movies for his station. When his employee, Harlan, decodes a pirate video broadcast showing torture, murder, and mutilation called “Videodrome,” Max becomes obsessed to get this series for his channel. He contacts his supplier, Masha, and asks her to find the party responsible for the transmission. A couple of days later, Masha tells that “Videodrome” is real snuff movies. Max’s sado-masochistic girlfriend Nicki Brand decides to travel to Pittsburgh, where the show is based, to audition. Max investigates further, and through a video by the media prophet Brian O’Blivion, he learns that that TV screens are the retina of the mind’s eye, being part of the brain, and “Videodrome” transmissions create a brain tumor in the viewer, changing the reality through video hallucination.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – A New York anthropologist named Professor Harold Monroe travels to the wild, inhospitable jungles of South America to find out what happened to a documentary film crew that disappeared two months before while filming a documentary about primitive cannibal tribes deep in the rain forest. With the help of two local guides, Professor Monroe encounters two tribes, the Yacumo and the Yanomamo. While under the hospitality of the latter tribe, he finds the remains of the crew and several reels of their undeveloped film. Upon returning to New York City, Professor Monroe views the film in detail, featuring the director Alan Yates, his girlfriend Faye Daniels, and cameramen Jack Anders and Mark Tomaso. After a few days of traveling, the film details how the crew staged all the footage for their documentary by terrorizing and torturing the natives. Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most disturbing motion picture ever made. This film is one that we can all agree on: The brutality shown and the unbelievable disregard for emotion portrayed is enough to make you shudder in revulsion. Some of the displays in the movie are hard to even believe a human being could think up such vile and putrid acts. Of course it’s perverse, and of course it’s repulsive and objectionable, but despite all this, it’s still an incredible film. Similar films from the Italian cannibal subgenre include Mangiati Vivi / Eaten Alive(1977), Cannibal Ferox / Make Them Die Slowly (1981), and Natura Contro / Cannibal Holocaust II (1988).
Well, that’s IGN’s list. As you can see, they had a few hits but for the most part their choices are less than stellar. Now onto the really nasty ones:
The Girl Next Door (2007) – The story revolves around two girls who have recently been orphaned and are sent to live with their aunt who has three young sons. She is a middle aged woman obsessed with feminine purity who sees the new arrivals as a potentially corrupting influence on the masculine world she presides over. She actively encourages her sons to perpetrate more and more severe acts of bullying and sadism against the older girl who is eventually tied up in the basement and used as a play thing by all the neighbourhood children. Only the boy who lives next door, who has become friends with the girl, has a growing sense of unease about the “games” which are taking a very sinister turn, yet he is powerless to change the course of events.
Nekromantik (1987) – Robert Schmadtke works at a streetcleaning agency. He has a strange kind of hobby; he collects body parts and preserves them on alcohol. His girlfriend adores him, for because his job and attraction to corpses. One day Robert brings home a complete corpse. Betty gets really excited… until Robert looses his job.
Nekromantik 2 (1991) – The sexy nurse Monika has a problem, she is torn between two lovers one alive and one dead. The living lover is handsome and trustworthy, but is he as good in bed as the dead and rotting Rob?
Hei Tai Yang 731 / Men Behind The Sun (1988) – Story of a Japanese terror camp in the end of WW2, where the Japanese are using the Chinese as guinea pigs in terrible experiments to develop deadly bacterial-plagues. This is the first movie to be rated “III” (equivalent to the US rating NC-17) in Hong Kong. This film, based on a real camp (Unit 731, Japanese Experimentation Camp, 1937 – 1945), has some of the most revolting gore I have ever seen. This is definitely not an enjoyable movie. Any Italian cannibal movie I can think of is more upbeat than this.
Murder Set Pieces (2004) – Set against Sin City, Las Vegas, “Murder-Set-Pieces” tells the story of a fashion photographer whose vocation is murder – a voyeuristic nightmare of blood, sex and brutality. What is called the most graphic and disturbing horror film ever made is nothing more than gore for the sake of gore, violence for the sake of violence, and vicious bloodshed for the sake of vicious bloodshed.
Ginî piggu 2: Chiniku no hana / Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985) – A woman walking home late at night is attacked by an unknown assailant who knocks her out with chloroform. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself tied to a bed in a blood- spattered dungeon, at the mercy of a white-faced man in a samurai helmet who wants to turn her into a “flower of blood and flesh.” He then proceeds to slowly dismember and disembowel her as the camera records it all.
Cutting Moments (1997) – In the center of a monotonous suburban existence, Sarah lives silently and in subservience to her icy husband Patrick. They have been together far too long, and Patrick’s affections for his wife have all but vanished. Instead, his sexual urges are tempting him to lust after their own son. Realizing how far gone her husband is, Sarah undertakes drastic, shockingly sickening measures to salvage some sense of her life and purge her years of festering resentment.
Aftermath (1994) – When the others leave for the night, the last mortician begins to fondle the corpses. He quickly moves to the corpse of a young woman who died in a car crash, tearing her clothes off and mutilating her body. He then mounts her and rapes her corpse while taking pictures with a camera and timer. He brings her heart back home to his dog for food. One of the hardest to stomach movies you will ever see. The footage is as shocking as it sounds, trust me.
Schramm (1993) – Lothar Schramm is a simple man with complex problems, yet he seems like such a nice guy. He works as a taxi driver and lives by himself where he is happy to answer his door to strangers and kill them outright. As with many shy loner types he has a problem dealing with woman so he drugs them and photographs their nude bodies for sexual stimulation. He then murders his helpless victims and so goes the life of a deranged serial killer.
Begotten (1990) – Based on the nihilistic philosophy that life is nothing more than man spasming above ground, this contains the most intense and grisly imagery you’ll ever see in a film. There is no dialogue, only image after image describing the cycle of life. The film’s combination of stark black and white photography compounded with some truly creepy background sounds work to drive home the maker’s message. My advice, don’t watch it: Begotten (a horrifically blasphemous film) will stick with you for the rest of your life, like it or not.
Pink Flamingos (1972) – Sleaze queen Divine lives in a caravan with her mad hippie son Crackers and her 250-pound mother Mama Edie, trying to rest quietly on their laurels as ‘the filthiest people alive’. But competition is brewing in the form of Connie and Raymond Marble, who sell heroin to schoolchildren and kidnap and impregnate female hitchhikers, selling the babies to lesbian couples. Finally, they challenge Divine directly, and battle commences.
Koroshiya 1 / Ichi the Killer (2001) – When the Yakuza boss Anjo disappears with e fortune of his gang, his sadomasochist number one and lover Kakihara and his men search for him. The mysterious Jiji arrives in their office and accuses the rival Yakuza Suzuki of abducting Anjo, and Kakihara tortures him trying to locate the boss. When Kakihara realizes that he has committed a mistake, he pays with his tongue to the Yakuza and sooner he finds that the responsible is the psychopath and mentally deficient Ichi, who was abused in his childhood and is sexually repressed, and is controlled by Jiji using his skills in martial arts and blades to eliminate the gangsters.
Sweet Movie (1974) – The intercut story of two women: a nearly-mute beauty queen who descends into withdrawal and madness, and another who captains a ship laden with candy and sugar, luring men and boys aboard for sex, death, and revolutionary talk. The beauty queen passes from a wealthy husband whose honeymoon delight is to urinate on her, to a muscular keeper who punches her, stows her in a suitcase, and ships her to Paris, to a lip-synching rock idol with whom she has a love spasm, to an Austrian commune complete with a banquet of vomit, urine, feces, chopped dildos, and wet nurses.
Philosophy of a Knife (2008) – The true history of Japanese Unit 731, from its beginnings in the 1930s to its demise in 1945, and the subsequent trials in Khabarovsk, USSR, of many of the Japanese doctors from Unit 731. The facts are told, and previously unknown evidence is revealed by an eyewitness to these events, former doctor and military translator, Anatoly Protasov. Part documentary and part feature, the story is shown from the perspective of a young Japanese nurse who witnessed many of horrors, and a young Japanese officer who is torn between his sincere convictions that he is serving the greater purpose, and the deep sympathy he feels for an imprisoned Russian girl. His life is a living hell as he’s compelled to carry out atrocious experiments on the other prisoners, using them as guinea pigs in this shocking tale of mankind’s barbarity.
Bijitâ Q / Visitor Q+ (2001) – A father, who is a failed former television reporter tries to mount a documentary about violence and sex among youths. He proceeds to have sex with his daughter who is now a prostitute and films his son being humiliated and hit by classmates. “Q”, a perfect stranger somehow gets involved and enter the bizzare family who’s son beats his mom, who in turn is also a prostitute and a heroin addict.
August Underground’s Mordum (2003) – Two deranged friends bring along another guy to go on a random murder rampage. They kidnapped lesbian lovers, couples and they torture them in any way that the viewer can imagine. What happens in Mordum is so over the top and grotesque, that it no longer seems real. Although not a great film, Mordum will nevertheless find an audience amongst gore-hounds and fans of extreme cinema thanks to stomach-churning effects and a few taboo-busting scenes: a man is forced to emasculate himself with a pair of scissors; a woman makes herself vomit over her two screaming victims; a man guts a woman, then drops his trousers and proceeds to ‘bang away’ at the dead woman’s abdominal cavity; and then there’s the notorious bath scene which takes sexual deviancy on film to a new level.
Updated 12/16/2009: Added additional information to Cannibal Holocaust entry
Updated 12/17/2009: Added thumbnails for each movie