Five Disturbing Films, Plus Five More For Good Measure
I'm going to the unrated remake of I Spit On Your Grave next week. The original, I should point out, was rated "R", though I still doubt the new one will pack the same punch the first one did back in 1978 (Roger Ebert described sitting through it as "one of the most depressing experiences of my life.").
I've seen a lot of unpleasant movies this year, for some reason. Chalk it up to a combination of friends with similar unhealthy tastes and my being on the screener lists for a lot of horror studios. Honestly, I didn't want to admit how much those kind of flicks had permeated my subconscious until I was writing this week's Glee recap. So, just in time for Halloween, I decided to share my list of (some of) the films I have personally found disturbing.
Now, these aren't films that use "gotcha" shots and sudden dramatic orchestral cues to elicit scares, like...say, most of the American horror movies released in the last 20 years. To be truly disturbing, a movie has to hang around, returning unbidden to your consciousness while you're doing normal things, sometimes not even knowing how you've triggered an unwelcome flashback.They stick with you.
Bullshit, you say? Whatever. Don't blame me for ruining date night.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Pre-Blair Witch Project, Ruggero Deodato caused a stir with his "is it or isn't it" documentary about a group of missing filmmakers who meet a grisly fate in the Amazon rainforest. Italian authorities believed Deodato had made an honest-to-tortoise snuff film and charged him with murder until he proved the actors were still alive. Even then, the movie continued to be widely banned for its depictions of actual animal butchery. 30 years later, it's still not for the faint of heart. And what the hell, here's the whole movie. Merry Christmas.
Or You Could Watch: Jaws (1975) -- If the definition of "disturbing" is "something that sticks with you," then I think a movie that made me afraid of taking a bath for several years certainly qualifies.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
It's easy to look at the relative lack of gore, the Z-level production values, and the John Larroquette voiceover and snicker behind your black painted nails. Try to bear in mind, however, that this scene came before Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and even that stupid shark.
Or You Could Watch: I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
Rape exploitation? Female empowerment fantasy? Opinions vary, but all agree: that bathtub scene is some fucked up shit.
I'm not one of these people who "doesn't walk out of movies." Life's too short for me to sit through, for example, the entirety of Date Night and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. That said, I didn't walk out of Irreversible, thought it was a near thing. The underpass scene is...tough, I won't lie, but many people forget about the arguably more intense scene in the gay bar at the beginning of the film. Fun fact: director Gaspar Noé included a low-frequency background noise to induce nausea during the first act. Like it was necessary.
Or You Could Watch: Funny Games (1997)
Director Michael Haneke twists the traditional horror narrative around and breaks the fourth wall to bring us a nasty little flick that leaves you equal parts depressed and pissed off. I haven't seen the 2007 version (also by Haneke), but I understand it's pretty much a shot-by-shot remake. And it might be easier to find.
Look, if you didn't grow up during the late 70s/early 80s, you might not have developed the crippling fear of nuclear war that so informed my childhood. I got to spend my formative years enjoying uplifting entertainment like The Day After, Testament, and this BBC movie (which aired on PBS in 1985), arguably the most harrowing of all of these. And what's that? The whole movie's available online? Enjoy your afternoon.
Or You Could Watch: Grave of the Fireflies
Yes, firebombing civilian populations is certainly an effective military strategy. Now excuse me, I have a few things in my eye.
A Serbian Film
Writer/director/lead actor Srdjan Spasojevic insists the movie is meant as an allegory for the recent Balkan experience. I maintain there was probably a way to get the themes of exploitation and betrayal across without...well, without doing what he did. My friend and I had to pause this at least three times to debate whether we wanted to keep going. We gutted it out, but I wouldn't blame anyone for turning it off around the halfway mark.
I can't link the red band trailer here for fear of getting fired. It's out there if you want it, as is the film itself. Knock yourselves out.
Or You Could Watch: August Underground Trilogy
Before A Serbian Film, this would be up there in contention for the most revolting movie I've seen. Another faux snuff movie, this one from Toe Tag Pictures. Again, I can't really recommend it, but if you're going to take the plunge, go with Mordrum, the second one.
Finally, here are a few that didn't make the cut.
Salo, Or 120 Days of Sodom: Oh, it's still pretty grotesque, but watching it now it's hard to get past the exaggerated art house feel, tongue slicing and coprophagy aside.
The Guinea Pig Series: Probably most famous for prompting Charlie Sheen to call the FBI and report it as a real snuff film. They were certainly shot in that fashion, but I had a hard time taking these very seriously.
A Clockwork Orange: This might have caused some disquiet when I saw it in high school, but I think any movie that's been repeatedly referenced in The Simpsons has probably lost a good chunk of its shock cred.
Men Behind the Sun: What the Japanese were up to in Manchuria during WWII was truly abhorrent, which is why I don't need a "dramatization" and a cheesy exploitation soundtrack to be horrified. Hell, just go watch the History Channel documentary about Unit 731.
Slaughtered Vomit Dolls: Yes, that's what it's called. Yes, it still sucks.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.