We recently took a look at the 10 most disturbing books of all time, and it seemed natural enough to do a movies counterpart. We here at PopCrunch completely regret this decision. While there are certainly some depressingly disturbing books, there’s just something so much more visceral about seeing something grotesque on screen. As we researched this topic we realized that there’s an endless supply of torture porn and sick movies out there; this list could have easily been a top 50. Instead we’ve kept it to 15, with selections from different disturbing “genres” if you will. You’ll have your obvious torture filled movies on the list, but we also have movies that run the gamut of weirdness, from suburban twistedness to mainstream psychological horror that just happened to be really well done. We normally finish the openers to these by saying that we hope you enjoy the list, but that doesn’t seem appropriate here. You’d almost certainly be a better person to not watch all of these selections.
(**Spoiler Note** Although most of these films are old, we’ve still done our best to avoid spoilers that would ruin the plots of any of the movies listed. The ones that have plots to ruin at least.)
Threads actually wasn’t a feature film. It was a BBC mini-series that aired in 1984 that detailed in excruciating detail the after effects of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia that escalated to include the UK. The movie follows two families as they all basically die for various reasons (medical, economic, etc.) in the months and years following the attack, culminating in the devastating conclusion that showed a UK with a completely broken civilization where kids can’t even read just thirteen years after the bombs dropped.
Re-reading the above paragraph I realize my words really aren’t doing justice to how incredibly bleak Threads is, you really need to watch the movie to get the full effect. Luckily, (or not depending on how you want to look at it) the full film is on Google Video.
14. Requiem For A Dream
The book version of Requiem was included in our disturbing books roundup, but the movie might be the rare adaptation that actually packs a more devastating punch. The film had top notch talent involved, from director Darren Aronofsky to actors Ellen Burstyn, and Jennifer Connelly, and that’s not even mentioning the beautiful, haunting score penned by Clint Mansell. The anti-drug message is a little goofily over the top, but it’s still horrible watching people go all the way down the rabbit hole. Like most of the movies on this list, Requiem for a Dream doesn’t have a ton of replay value, and yet I’ve somehow still managed to see this four times. Each time has made me feel pretty somber for at least a day or two, and I also usually manage to kick the heroin habit for like two weeks. Thanks Darren A.!
13. Last House On The Left
It’s easy to forget now that he’s determined to make a bunch of crappy PG-13 movies (and endless Scream sequels), but there was a time when Wes Craven was kind of a badass. Back in the 70’s Craven directed some genuine classic horror movies, and the best of the bunch was probably Last House On The Left. The film is pretty non-stop with torture and gore, and even today is pretty shocking, especially when you reflect upon the fact that the movie was made all the way back in 1972. Last House was pretty controversial, having been banned in the UK for years. A remake was recently released, but it should go without saying that you are better off checking out the original (if you’re so inclined).
12. Hard Candy
Hard Candy isn’t a horror film at all, and it doesn’t rely on blood to get a rise out of the audience. It actually could have been performed as a play without losing much of it’s power, something that couldn’t be said about any other film on this list. I won’t spoil the plot too much, except to say that the film is extremely uncomfortable throughout, and it’s fair (although perhaps controversial) to say that both of the movie’s characters are monsters, to different degrees. Men in particular will cringe spectacularly at one particular scene (those that have seen Hard Candy will know instantly what I’m talking about).
11. Jacob’s Ladder
I first saw Jacob’s Ladder alone in a dark room in the middle of the night, and if I recall there wasn’t much sleep to be had once I finished. The movie features tons of disturbing imagery as Tim Robbins spends the film in a nightmare-ish state where you’re never really sure exactly what is going on. Director Adrian Lyne used a film technique in which an actor is recorded waving his head and body around at a low frame rate, resulting in pure nightmare fuel when played back at normal speeds.
Irreversible is a French movie presented in non-chronological fashion. Specifically the movie contains thirteen scenes and starts at the end of a night, going backwards to the beginning. The film is particularly famous for a Monica Belluci rape scene that is extremely graphic and just goes on … and on … and on, clocking in at over nine minutes. That might not sound horribly long, but you will think otherwise when viewing. Still one of the most graphic and intense things I’ve ever seen in a film.
Director Todd Solondz is an odd duck, and while Happiness isn’t the only disturbing movie he’s ever made, I would definitely say it wins the title for most. Unlike most of the movies on this list, the cast of Happiness is relatively star studded and includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Flynn Boyle, Jon Lovitz as well as Jane Adams and Dylan Baker, names you might not instantly recognize but whose faces you’ll definitely know.
The plot, without going into too many specifics, involves three sisters and their extended families. The movie seemingly centers on a child molester (a scene where he discusses his psychosis with his son is one of the most cringe inducing things I have ever seen), but has many sub-plots including Philip Seymour Hoffman having a fetish for making bizarre obscene phone calls . There’s no happy ending here, just a pit of suburban despair that will stick with you for years.
8. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a 1986 low budget film shot for just $110,000 and is, as the title would indicate, about a serial killer’s crime spree and eventual education of another killer. This is well covered ground, but Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer still manages to get to you by showing Henry to be completely and utterly without empathy. There’s a realness here that most slasher movies lack, and the critical response to the movie reflects that. It’s even certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes with an 88% rating, an achievement these sorts of movies rarely attain.
7. I Spit On Your Grave
The 70’s had a lot of gory horror, and one of the best examples is probably I Spit On Your Grave, a movie centered around a woman’s rape and eventual revenge. The rape sequence rivals Irreversible’s in length and intensity, but the rapists certainly do get what they have coming to them, in all sorts of brutally graphic ways. The bathtub scene in particular will stick with you. I Spit On Your Grave was banned in many countries and was censored for many years in the US. Roger Ebert called the movie “a vile bag of garbage…without a shred of artistic distinction,” and further said that “Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.”
6. Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Holocaust really is one of the most controversial films ever made. It has a long history of being banned just about everywhere, and the director was arrested in Italy and charged with making a snuff film – that’s how realistic some of the deaths and dead bodies are in Cannibal Holocaust, the local magistrate couldn’t believe the scenes weren’t real. Cannibal is one of the best examples of Italian horror/exploitation, and while you might think certain cultures are a little strange (Japan!) Italy certainly has some weird stuff going on to have produced some of the films they produced in the 70’s and 80’s. While the director obviously didn’t really kill any of his actors or actresses there are several genuine acts of animal cruelty in the film, including the very real killing of a large sea turtle. This has caused Cannibal Holocaust to be banned in several countries even to this date.
Audition is still one of the weirder movie watching experiences I’ve ever had. I popped it in honestly expecting horror and mayhem, and instead got some sort of bland romantic drama for the first half of the movie. But it eventually took a 180 into insanity with one of the most visceral endings I have ever seen. Takashi Miike could have filled several spots on this list (think Ichi the Killer or Oldboy, amongst others), but instead I decided to just pick what I think is his most disturbing, which to me was most definitely Audition.
Much like Takashi Miike, David Lynch could easily occupy several spots on a list like this. In our eyes however, Erasherhead narrowly edges out the rest of his oeuvre to be the most disturbing Lynch film of all time, and one of the most disturbing movies of all time period. Eraserhead is about a printer named Henry Spencer who has a deformed baby with his girlfriend who soon leaves him, forcing him to take care of the bizarre creature on his own. The pacing of the movie and it’s use of white noise both contribute to the immense feeling of dread that clings to you the entire time you are watching it, and like most Lynch films the entire thing is so confusing and dreamlike that you are never sure exactly what is happening, leading to a feeling of disorientation. If you are actively seeking out disturbing movies Eraserhead should be pretty high on your list. It will give you a weird night, but there won’t be too much mental scarring, something I can’t necessarily say about the top three coming up on our list.
Salo is another movie based on a book that made our most disturbing books list, and I’ll just reprint what was said about the book here, as it also applies to the movie only x10:
The 120 Days of Sodom was a work by Marquis de Sade, who had to have at least one work on this list. The book deals with four wealthy men who want to have the ultimate orgy. To accomplish this they seal themselves away with a bunch of young men and women. The sex quickly turns sadistic and matters quickly turns to humiliation, pain, and killing. Pretty much every debased and bizarre sexual fetish is explored in detail in the book, with much of the work crossing lines that even today would be declared obscene in many parts of the US.
Salo the film actually has a viewpoint, showcasing in extreme detail the lack of morality of fascists, an opinion that may have gotten director Pier Paolo Pasolini murdered shortly before the film’s release. And yes, that’s a Criterion Collection cover you see up there, making this one of the more distinguished films on the list, a fact that might be hard to believe following an actual viewing.
Nekromantik is a 1987 German horror movie that centers on a character named Rob Schmadtke who works for a cleaning company that cleans up crime and death scenes. But this isn’t an early Sunshine Cleaning, because Rob likes to take the corpses home and have sex with them, something you might have guessed from the movies title. It’s not just Rob though, he has a girlfriend who if anything is more enthusiastic about necrophilia than her boyfriend. Copious amounts of blood, gore, and outrageousness are pretty much guaranteed to have you reaching for the stop button on your DVD remote control over and over and over, and if you can actually make it through the entire film you have a stronger stomach than I. In a saner world this would be the most disturbing movie ever made, but alas we still have one to go.
1. August Underground Mordum
August Underground’s Mordum is a direct to DVD movie that was released in 2003. I genuinely feel sorry for anyone that has seen it, as I’ve seen short scenes and wanted to pour Listerine in my eyes to feel clean again. Most of the movies on this list stick with you, but most have value as well, either by making social commentary, or if nothing else helping to understand the time in which they were made. I suppose it’s possible August Underground’s Mordum has some sort of merit, but try as I might I can’t imagine what it might be.
The movie is a simulated snuff film that is ostensibly about a love triangle between two men (one of whom is the film company’s owner) and a woman. There’s really no plot to speak of though, the movie is shot with a handheld camera to enhance the faux-reality of it all and, much like porn, any plot is just there as a vehicle to get the viewer to the “good stuff”. Which in August Underground’s Mordum’s case includes infanticide, pedophilia, necrophilia, and lots and lots of extremely graphic and brutal murder. The movie literally has no reason to exist, except perhaps to show off the special effects capabilities of the production company. I am extremely liberal and anti-censorship and while I wouldn’t go so far as to make an exception for August Underground’s Mordum I definitely think the world would be a better place without it existing.
So yeah, I wouldn’t actually recommend watching it. Seriously, unless you want to mentally scarred. But that being said, it easily tops our list of most disturbing movies ever made. I genuinely hope there’s nothing out there worse.