I’ve watched what most people would consider an excessive number of horror films in my life, beginning with Universal monsters as a child and kicking into overdrive by the time I was in college away from parental supervision renting Faces of Death videos and working my way through my roommate’s prodigious Stephen King VHS collection.
By the time DVD was a thing, I believed I’d exhausted most options in horror cinema. Then the internet came along and I saw how very wrong I was. There was a whole world of underground cinema past and present so hardcore it hardly saw the light of day until the advent of digital media. I had work to do. Even today, old cult classics come out of the woodwork and independent filmmakers are pushing the genre towards further extremes. It’s a good time to be a horror fan.
Having grown up with monsters and actively sought out every fright I could find since, I would have thought that there was nothing left that could shock me. Sure, I could get creeped out, startled, and even a little scared if a film was really effective; that’s why I love the genre. But after the credits rolled I was over it. To literally make me lose sleep or upset me on a level that it affects me even after the film is over and done with? That is almost impossible. Nonetheless, it’s been done. Here are five films that left me shocked and disturbed after viewing them.
Prior to watching this one, I always read the title in my head using the late Isaac Hayes’ voice. Doesn’t really inspire fear. But if you are looking for a new way to be psychologically terrified by watching a fairly tame horror film, won’t somebody please think of The Children?
Here’s a thing you maybe don’t hear very often: being a parent is TERRIFYING. Being responsible for something so helpless that absorbs every ounce of your love and adoration means you are biologically and psychologically compelled to worry around the clock about what terrible things could happen to your family’s bundles of joy. Nothing in the world is more upsetting in human nature than the thought of something truly horrible befalling your children.
That said, flip that fear around. What parents never think about is what if our child was the truly horrible thing befalling us. The Children captures the dynamic of an extended family vacationing together with the requisite tribe of young cousins playing together and being completely out of control. Just how out of control do they get? You don’t want to know.
This is somewhat of a reimagining of the 1976 Spanish film Who Can Kill a Child? But while that one took place in a very 70’s horror movie atmosphere with a childless couple in a remote village, this 2008 film goes straight for the jugular by making family the focus. Even seeing a child harm somebody else and advance on you, could you look into those little puppy dog eyes and do something about it? Even if it was your child? And even if you could, would anybody believe your story? Humans just aren’t wired that way, and I can even go so far as to say I’d rather be hacked to bits my son, nieces, and nephews then harm any of them in self-defense and that is why The Children upset me so much. What if?
France has an undeserved reputation in America as a country of stuck-up wimps. The people who believe that have probably never watched French horror films. They don’t dick around. One of the most unpleasant is 2007’s Inside. It’s arguably the best home-invasion film ever made, and considering that is a well-worn classic horror subgenre, that’s a good title to have. It beats most in terms of sheer intensity and brutality, but that’s not why it disturbed me as much as it did.
The protagonist in this film is a pregnant woman whose husband is recently deceased. A mysterious woman appears on her doorstep one night and unlike most idiots in horror films, our heroine plays it pretty smart, being suspicious and even phoning the cops. But what can they do when the cops show up and nobody else is there?
Who is this strange woman so desperate to get into the protagaonist’s house? What does she even want? Inside is particularly effective due to the added stress of the woman being pregnant. The fragile life in a woman’s belly inspires both additional feelings of vulnerability in the expectant mother and frustratingly impotent protectiveness in the audience.
The intensity and stress of the situation and one of the most extreme climaxes I’ve ever witnessed left me shell-shocked by the end. There are multiple meanings to the film’s title, and one of them is that it definitely got inside my head.
While I’ve heard that there are more extreme Italian cannibal films out there, I can honestly say I have no desire to see them. Ever. Cannibal Holocaust kept me up at night after watching it. It made me wonder what the f**k I was even doing with my life seeking something like that out. It disgusted me and impressed me at the same time.
If you thought that the genesis of the found footage film was The Blair Witch Project, you would be wrong. This film had the format down pat back in 1980. Normally a story this effective with such a fresh idea would kick off a frenzy of imitators. But in this case, most people who saw it would rather forget Cannibal Holocaust ever happened.
The DVD release began with a disclaimer informing you that they only released it as a documentation of the kind of film that should never be made again. It was banned almost worldwide for years. Why? Well, let me put it this way: the films creators were actually brought to court and charged with making a snuff film. They had to produce the entire cast in public to clear the allegations. That’s how graphic it is.
I’m not going to get too much into the content because even describing would be unpleasant, but the story is composed of documentary footage filmed by a group of people who went into the jungle to study indigenous tribes and never came back. The things they did on camera were…unscrupulous. Pretty much everything you see happen on camera looks very much like what is was meant to look like: a documentary.
Italy is the all-time heavyweight king of convincing horror film gore and Cannibal Holocaust is exhibit A. But apparently the 100% convincing fake brutality against their fellow humans didn’t cut it so they turned to gleefully butchering live animals on-camera (legal there at the time) on several occasions during filming. Anything for the audience.
Cannibal Holocaust is simply the most vile thing I have ever sat through. You’ve been warned. Gore hounds refer to it as “The Caust”, rejoice at its mention, and scoff at those opposed so if you think you’re hardcore enough, feel free to give it a try, but do yourself a favor and watch it by yourself before you allow anybody you care about to view it.
The Girl Next Door
No, this is not the 2004 B-grade sex comedy about the kid who has a porn star move in next to him. This one is a 2007 adaptation of of Jack Ketchum’s novel based on actual events and represents one of the most difficult reviews I ever had to write (I was coerced into it).
I say it was difficult because I had no idea how to rate a move like this. Did I enjoy it? Not in the least. Do I give it points for portraying horrific realities of human nature or for one of the most skin-crawling onscreen villains ever? It was based on a true story so do I slam it for an ending that was utterly devoid of any narrative cathartic release and vindication or applaud it for sticking to its guns and being one of the most depressing things ever? Does achieving that aim successfully cancel out the sheer unpleasantness of that aim? I argue about these things with myself to this day.
The story follows an adolescent boy whose neighbors take in two young sisters after their parents are killed in a car crash. They probably should have been in the car as well. The Girl Next Door captures the helplessness of youth in contrast with the cruelty of adulthood and explores the fearful fact that children are at the mercy of their elders until the second they are able to strike out on their own.
That terrifying realization that some children have no place else to go and nobody to stand up for them coupled with the fact that children witnessing cruelty without being subject to it themselves can be taught to derive pleasure from suffering and even be eager to participate made this a really difficult one to forget after I shut it off. The premise is psychologically sound. If art is the lie that helps us realize the truth, The Girl Next Door undeniably succeeded on that front, but as entertainment…no, thank you.
I Spit on Your Grave
Now here’s a flick we’ve probably all at least heard of. It even got a remake a few years ago, which baffles me. In 1972 Wes Craven released Last House on the Left (also recently remade), which was a nasty story with graphic rape scenes followed by equally graphic vengeance. Six years later, somebody thought “I can do that better!” and the Day of the Woman came. The title was eventually changed to something a little more grindhousey and a cult classic was born.
The inspiration for this film actually came from real life when the director happened across a nearly-dead rape victim in New York crawling naked through some brush. After delivering her to the hospital, he noted that the police gave exactly zero shits about what the woman had been through and made I Spit On Your Grave to express his thoughts of street justice in a society that just didn’t care about violence against women.
This was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had watching a film. Craven’s disturbing debut had nothing on this. NOTHING. The film is 110 minutes and about 45 of those minutes is graphic rape. It never seemed to end. Just when you thought it was over and you couldn’t possibly be subjected to more, it starts all over again.
Even the impressively brutal revenge spree (including the most effective castration I’ve ever seen) that closes the movie is robbed of some of its bloody satisfaction by the fact that one of the rapists is mentally retarded. Yeah, it goes there. Like a true work of art, I Spit on Your Grave doesn’t even make justice cut and dry.
Say what you want about The Simpsons, but they will awesomely mock ANYTHING.
The horror genre often fails to live up to its name. The word is defined as “an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust” but how often do we really feel that when Jason and Michael Myers are stalking their next victim? Do we not actively seek out and even applaud their rampages on some level? Shouldn’t true horror make us want to run out of the room screaming?
If you’re a casual horror movie fan up for some next level shit, you’ve got your assignments. The underground has been coming on strong for years and it has served up some sick and twisted stuff. When something pushes a hardcore horror fan to the edge of his own sanity, even if just for a minute, you know it’s good.