It's Halloween, that magical time of year when (increasingly obscure) jack o'lanterns start making their appearance on front porches, when every possible costume now appears to have a "sexy" variant (and we do mean every), when parents beseech the weather gods for a cold snap so they won't look like negligent monsters for dressing their offspring as a felt ladybug.
Some folks prefer to spend Halloween enjoying holiday-appropriate movies, and you're in "luck" because October is that one month when networks like AMC and TCM trot out gems like Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Critters 2: The Main Course.
And then there are those of us who prefer scary movies of the more...upsetting variety. "Jump" scares and topless sorority girls in peril are all well and good, but sometimes we aren't content with a brief jolt followed by laughter. Sometimes we want a movie that's going to get in our heads, and not in a good way.
Oh lighten up, they're just movies.
In case you're wondering, yes: We did cover this a year ago. For those too lazy to click, here's what made my initial list of the top disturbing films:
Cannibal Holocaust The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Irreversible Threads A Serbian Film Jaws I Spit On Your Grave Funny Games Grave of the Fireflies August Underground Trilogy
Please bear that in mind before you angrily comment, "Where the hell is Irreversible? Your list sucks!"
Anyway, here are 2011's five disturbing films (and five more for good measure).
Man Bites Dog (1992)
The premise of this Belgian film is pretty grim: A camera crew follows loquacious serial killer Ben around, recording a documentary based on his crimes. They become gradually drawn into his world, eventually crossing the line into active participation when they run out of money and Ben agrees to finance them. There's some black humor here (Benoit Poelvoorde is one charming fella), but it's a defense mechanism against the real questions raised about blurring the boundaries between reality and entertainment.
Or You Could Watch: Aftermath (1994)
Ever want to know what those morticians are really up to? No, you don't.
I generally steer clear of torture flicks. It sounds hypocritical, but movies that do little more than showcase the bad guys' sadism (see also Hostel, Men Behind the Sun), grotesque as they may be, aren't very interesting. However, this one takes a hard left into What The Fuck-ville at about the halfway mark, injecting some emotional (and supernatural) horror into the mix.
Or You Could Watch: À l'intérieur (Inside)
Just as you could populate an entire list of disturbing movies with nothing but the works of Takashi Miike (see below), so could you (almost) fill one up with selections from the French "new wave" of horror, like this charming little locked-house film about a woman trying to escape a mysterious woman bent on taking her unborn baby, sans epidural.
Miike is one of the reigning kings of Mess With Your Head Cinema, and I kind of had a hard time choosing between Visitor Q (family therapy through lactation sex and necrophilia) or Audition (hey...what's in that bag?). Better yet, surprise the fam at Christmas by playing this instead of Miracle on 34th Street or It's A Wonderful Life.
Or You Could Watch: Pink FLamingos (1972)
It's downright tame by the standards of today's extreme cinema, but everything from "2 Girls, 1 Cup" to Slaughtered Vomit Dolls owes its existence to John Waters's feces-covered middle finger to middle America.
The Exorcist (1973)
"What? It's just some little girl puking up pea soup, you pansy." Yes, yes, we're all jaded and too cool for school and would never allow ourselves to be freaked out by a movie that's almost 40 years old, yet that context of the early 1970s -- the death of flower power and the rise of new global threats -- is precisely what gives The Exorcist its oomph. Admittedly, some people are never moved by it, but it's one of the only movies I've found (and you can chalk this up to fatherhood or the uncertainties of advancing age or whatever) that gets more disturbing the older I get.
Or You Could Watch: Picnic At Hanging Rock (1974)
This Peter Weir-helmed mystery about the disappearance of three students and a teacher during a girls' school outing is both frustrating and deeply disquieting, suggesting the boundaries between civilization and wilderness are best left uncrossed.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Not sure how I forgot about this one the first time around. Henry was one of the first attempts to counter the glossier, goofier slasher flicks of the era with something more realistic. And Michael Rooker gives one of those "can't take your eyes off him" performances.
Or You Could Watch: The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
This "found footage" exercise (wait, don't leave!) follows police as they comb through hundreds of videotapes left by a serial killer who's been terrorizing Poughkeepsie, New York, for a very long time. It's Z-budget, and the acting is...not always good, but writer/director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) paces things well and keeps the tension going.
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And then there are those that, for whatever reason, didn't make the cut.
The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2009) -- I'm sorry, was I supposed to take this seriously? I laughed my ass off.
Antichrist (2009) -- Part of what makes many of these films so disturbing is their use of no-name/unknown actors. It heightens the realism of stuff like the August Underground and Snuff series to use people you've never seen before. Lars Von Trier is a weird cat, but even during the testicle smashing/blood ejaculation sequence, I kept wondering why Sgt. Elias was just sitting there and taking it.
Blue Velvet (1986) -- See Antichrist. Also, I saw this on a first date in high school and so will always have a soft spot in my heart for it. She was a nice girl, too. I hope she eventually found someone to watch America's Funniest Home Videos with.