Top 50 Most Disturbing Films of all time.
50. Naked (1994)
An anti-social neo-horror movie which may as well take place in the alleyway right next to your house; Mike Leigh’s darkly humorous drama gets some incredible power by its bleakness; also the fact that you won’t know what to make out of David Thewlis’ character; a drifter who escapes Manchester in a stolen car to London, whilst there he meets and converses with many odd characters lending them his own personal philosophy on life and religion. The pitch-black cinematography and deep documentary-like shooting style maxes up the realism on this unsettling, chilling independent masterpiece.
Defining moment: Greg Cruttwell’s king pervert freezing over bones in every scene he’s in.
49. Bully (2001)
Nothing can quite crank up the disturbance like a true story; in this case this film takes its story from an event that occurred in Florida a few years back when a pack of teenagers murdered one of their own who had been too much of a bully to them. Disturbing for its portrayal of teenagers drinking, taking drugs and having sex (put forward during some graphic sex scenes); this gets most of its power from a deeply unsettling performance from Nick Stahl as the titular bully of the film; a rather nasty young tyke guilty on multiple counts in this film of women-beating and rape.
Defining moment: Stahl’s murder scene.
48. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover (1989)
A controversial, brutal film on release; this darkly comical, slightly fantasy-driven thriller is a random episode of infidelity, revenge and murder. Michael Gambon plays the disturbingly evil gangster Alfred Spica, whose wife (Helen Mirren) runs off with a random man and embroils in several sexual affairs with him whilst her husband is dining at his favourite restaurant. Apart from Gambon’s character doing some of the most unsound things (smearing one of his victims with dog faeces, suffocating a small boy by making him eat a book), this film boarders completely on its succeeded attempts to shock.
Defining moment: Mirren holds a gun to her husband and rolls in her lovers corpse; cooked and served on a platter, forcing her husband to eat his genitals.
47. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Vanity comes with an ugly face in this; the most popular low-budget horror of all time and one of the genre’s most respected additions. Director Tobe Hooper’s tale of a group of teenagers being stalked and slaughtered by a family of cannibals is increasingly disturbing when it’s also at its scariest; there are some horrors like The Shining which are scary, but TCM is scary and disturbing frequently both at the same time. The realism, infused by the documentary-style realism and cheap camera equipment cranks up the reserved notion that you are right there where the action is all happening.
Defining moment: Leatherface makes his first appearance; he knocks a man out and drags away his twitching corpse into his meat cellar.
46. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The genius of Stanley Kubrick is best introduced with this marvellously poetic classic; a film that charges discomfort at the fact that just about everything you will see in this film you won’t find in real life (ie: the milk bar, giant genital sculptures) up until its break-off point: in which gangster Malcolm McDowell is captured by police following a murder and is sentenced to a rehabilitation program. The lack of real-life situations in its first half are one of the things that make this such a masterpiece of controversy, brutal beauty and insomniac grace.
Defining moment: McDowell is served a meal by the very man whose wife he raped and murdered.
45. Crash (1996)
So controversial was the original source novel of this film was that English majors all over the world were calling the author psychotically disturbed beyond help. People who loved it because of that will be pleased to know that this adaptation from body-horror master David Cronenberg is just as insane. David Spader’s jaded journalist goes out on the streets and discovers a cult of weirdo’s who find themselves become sexually charged by car accidents. It’s not so much whats on screen that’s disturbing; let the uncomfortable, disturbing storyline ensnare you.
Defining moment: Spader stumbles upon a room of people watching car crash footage on a TV and touching themselves in somewhat elaborate ways.
44. Scum (1979)
“I’m the Daddy now!” screams a 21-year-old Ray Winstone in director Alan Clarke’s cult TV drama which was originally turned away by the BBC when it was first written two years previous; but once it found its way to screen, its caused nothing but trouble. Winstone stars as a delinquent in a detention centre as he attempts to assume his position as top dog there. The unflinching violence was shocking for its time and as its shot in documentary-esque realism, it makes one hell of an impact. Not forgetting of course that a certain percentage of that impact comes from Winstone’s often terrifying turn.
Defining moment: Winstone pockets a few snooker balls in a sock and beats a man to the floor with it.
43. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
No one can tell you who Brandon Teena is, but this film sure as hell seems intent on telling the story; although not a particularly fascinating one, it’s still got a razor-sharp edge put onto it, becoming some sort of grim modern fairy tale. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for playing the Southern teenage girl who disguised herself as a man and fooled her friends and girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny) for years before a bloody rampage saw Teena – among others – murdered. This ain’t no Hollywood story, if something shitty happened to Brandon Teena in her life, this film will tell you about it for sure.
Defining moment: Teena is kidnapped by the two hicks who were once her friends shortly after discovering her real gender and rape her.
42. Freaks (1932)
Instead of putting effort into shocks, director Tod Browning deals this one by making it a disturbing classic fused only by the frightening appearances of the mentioned “freaks” as promised by the title. Taking place in a circus, this touches base at first on several characters who are physically handicapped; including a limbless man (looking like a stuffed sock with a head poking out of it), a few people with rapid-aging disorder and a couple of dwarves, who star in this story as a beautiful trapeze artists pretends to be in love with the rich dwarf in order to gain his inheritance. The shocking appearance of the movies “freaks” never manages to lose its power, it only gains it as it edges nearer and nearer toward allowing you to wait from this celluloid nightmare.
Defining moment: “One of us! One of us! Gooble Goble, Gooble Goble”, the most effectively surreal “wtf” moment in all of cinema.
41. Spanking the Monkey (1994)
Three Kings director David O. Russell debuted in 1994 with this controversial festival favourite; although it’s a coming-of-age tale about adolescent angst, its viewed by all as the mother-son incest movie. Jeremy Davis (Saving Private Ryan) stars as a shy, awkward teenager coaxed back home by his bullying father to take care of his bed-ridden mother (Alberta Watson), which soon enough, leads on to an incestuous relationship. The film is a funny and heart-warming one up until the first signs of the films infamous plotline begin to appear. Despite objections; Spanking the Monkey, although sounding crass with its story of incest and tasteless title (a slang term of masturbation) is a moving, humorous experience. Although there’s no ignoring the films main area of controversy.
Defining moment: Davis gives his mother’s injured leg a harmless massage, she turns over and guides his hand up in between her legs and gives him an expressionless but seductive look…
40. Romance (1999)
It’s an interesting one, Romance is a bad film. Its senseless, crass and exploitive, but then again it does what it says on the tin; France are known as true romantics, but in the area of erotica, it can sometimes be a little undecided. The Romance in the title is a little ironic of course as school teacher Caroline Ducey goes out on random sexual liaisons with different men, one of which is an infamous sex scene between Ducey and porn star Rocco Siffredi, a scene that looks completely genuine although we won’t quite know; Siffredi says it was real, Ducey says its wasn’t. The sex scenes are given the main, un-romantic factors; no music, long shots and of course the fact that they are much more explicit than the average love scene. Although love rarely comes into the equation with this queasy psycho-sexual film.
Defining moment: Ducey imagines the bottom half of her body implanted in a wall, where men can have sex with her. One of the few scenes in cinema to successfully show an ejaculation shot.
39. The Idiots (1998)
Only two years after his incredible debut, Breaking the Waves, director Lars Von Trier went on to create this defining film in the dogmé school of 1995 and essentially one of the most controversial films of its decade. Here Von Trier tells a story of a bunch of Danish burn-outs living in a mansion together as they all go out and experiment with the general public by pretending to be mentally retarded to see how far society would go to tolerate them. The documentary-style realism, prompted by handheld cameras; keeps the audience engrossed thinking that they are there with these people enjoying these discomforting acts which isn’t just graphic because of its controversial storyline, but also because of the alarmingly high level of sexual activity.
Defining moment: The gang all take their game to the local swimming pool.
38. Frenzy (1972)
The penultimate Alfred Hitchcock film and the only one of his films to receive an 18 rating, this shocking thriller shot like some sort of bleak documentary broadcast is as far away from normal Hitchcock as the man himself could possibly get. Jon Finch’s grumpy London drifter goes on the run when police believe him to be the infamous “neck-tie murderer” a man who rapes women and strangles them with neck-ties. Plenty of Hitchcock films have dealt with wrongly accused men on the run; North by Northwest, Saboteur etc, but this is his most adult film; dealing with a controversial subject matter which looms over the whole feature like one big fat shadow. Those who love Hitchcock’s more softcore films won’t be distracted fortunately by the dark subject matter here.
Defining moment: The diabolical, nudity-laced rape scene. Only a year after Straw Dogs.
37. In the Company of Men (1997)
This one is a special case; no violence, no sex, no drug abuse. So whats the big deal? Director Neil LaBute was branded a “woman hater” following the release of this controversial black comedy. As Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy’s white-collar office workers are sick of woman always getting the upper hand, so in an exercise of revenge against the opposite sex, they plan to both date deaf typist Stacey Edwards at the same time and both dump her to infuse critical emotional pain. Disturbing simply for the comical take on this story, it’s most uncomfortable when Edwards’ character appears; an innocent woman with a hearing disability and speech impediment being emotionally tortured by the main characters as they sit in their offices and laugh like hyena’s at the whole idea.
Defining moment: Chad (Eckhart) confesses to Edwards of the whole plan, he laughs it off and leaves her to cry herself to sleep.
36. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Drugs are bad. But in the case of Requiem for a Dream; drugs are fucking horrible. If there was ever any film you should show to your kids to keep them away from hard drugs, this film is it. From Ellen Burstyn’s tortured apartment-dwelling old woman addicted to diet pills to Jared Leto’s desperate heroin addict; none of the characters have anything going to them by the end of the film. Even Leto’s friend (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) fall into the mix and the only thing they could tell you they experienced by the end was pain and loss. Manipulating the audience with a sickly visual style (very sharp edits during the portrayal of the characters drug usage), this eye-opening modern classic for indie cinema comes complete with the unhappiest of happy endings.
Defining moment: Connelly’s cringe-inducing “ass-to-ass” scene.
35. Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Not the Nicolas Cage/Werner Herzog film of the same name, but an original shocker from director Abel Ferrara which see’s Harvey Keitel in a role that could have either made his career or broke it. Keitel’s career-best performance here as a scumbag cop fuses the situations as The Lieutenant (simply as Keitel’s character is credited) goes about his life taking bribes and sexual favours and struggles to feed his drug habits. When Keitel hears of the opportunity to find the rapists of a local nun, he spots himself redemption for catching the rapists. A simply lose-lose case of human garbage portrayed on screen at its worst; Ferrara has crafted a neo-horror film which is from beginning to end; the most anti-God film you will ever see. The most disturbing scene is a hard one to decide.
Defining moment: Keitel see’s a vision of Jesus covered in blood in the church, he screams and begs to this vision who does not a move a single muscle.
34. The Bridge (2008)
The most popular suicide location in the world; The Golden Gate Bridge is filmed for a whole year in 2006 to document the 23 successful suicides that occurred on the site. However director Eric Steel’s methods of obtaining his information here remain somewhat questionable. First he lied to the Golden Gate committee about what his crew were filming and interviewed the family members of the people who killed themselves without telling the interviewed that they had footage of their loved-ones’ suicides. He may have broke some hearts and made some enemies during the making of this film, but Steel has ended up creating one of the most powerful documentaries in a long time; its not simply because what you are watching are real suicides, its powerfully matched by its score and editing.
Defining moment: Slowly and surely opening on a man pacing the bridge a few times, he then casually leans over the railing and plummets into the river as the title chillingly appears out of the mist.
33. L.I.E (2001)
Films about paedophilia are often so met with controversy and this one is no exception. Director Michael Cuesta infuses an uncomfortable film about the relationship between 15-year-old Paul Franklin Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will be Blood) and ageing paedophile Brian Cox. What happens through out the film is all left up the to disturbing atmosphere that is infused; as Cox attempts to fight his temptations when he begins to confide within the young boy to give him a real life. This unflinching portrait of inner-city violence and sexual awakening was met with just as much critical acclaim as it was controversy and although it sounds weird, this is one of the best roles Cox has had in a long time despite the fact all of his friends and family advised he didn’t take the role.
Defining moment: Cox has a chilling first encounter with Dano, he puts a single hand on his knee and tells him he can give him “the best damn blowjob you’ve ever seen”.
32. Ichi the Killer (2001)
If Audition has taught us anything; it’s that Japan’s own Tarantino, Takeshi Miike can truly deliver the goods to people who like their movies noisy, violent and very messy. If you’re one of those people, then this’ll be your porn. Tadanobu Asano plays a very disturbed man; a gangster whose boss goes missing one day, the dedicated assassin goes out and begins to murder and torture people for information on his bosses whereabouts. A man is held up in the air by meat hooks while boiling water is poured on his back, a mans face is cut off and splattered against the wall, a mans whole body is even cut neatly in two by a razor blade. Ichi the Killer is probably the most violent film ever made; and skilfully enough, it does so with visual beauty (as insane as it sounds) and a manipulatively acid-tinged edge. It’s not as much disturbing as it is in the violent way; it’s more disturbing in the way The Holy Mountain is; frighteningly senseless to the point where you’re discomforted from reality quite badly.
Defining moment: Asano pays a debt he owes to the mob by cutting, no- hacking off his own tongue.
31. Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Dancer in the Dark is a musical, so how can it be one of Hollywood’s saddest stories? Musicals are usually rather cheery right? Singin’ in the Rain and Sound of Music will tell you that, but director Lars Von Trier (The Idiots) is the man on board this operation; a film so gloomy, it’ll make you want to appreciate life more. Bjork, in her only film performance is extraordinary as a Czech immigrant on death row for the wronged murder of a cop who stole the money she has raised for an operation for her son. At times, the film makes a skew into an alternate reality, the one going inside the main characters own mind as her love for music has her looking on the bright side of all these bad situations by singing. Disturbing simply because you’re being kept in a constant state of worry, fear and general grief for the tortured main character as she takes this long, agonising road only for her friends to abandon her, everyone to think she’s a cold-blooded murderer; and finally killed.
Defining moment: Selma (Bjork) sings a final song moments before she falls through a trap door and the noose breaks her neck…
30. Audition (1999)
Audition just has to make any sort of list if the list titters on something to do with general disturbance or terror; beginning as a sort of love-story as a rich widower begins to feel the effects of being alone, so he holds a fake movie audition to find himself a new wife. He finds his new wife in the shape of Eihi Shiina; a cute wannabe actress who seems to fall smitten for the man instantly. But when she finds out that the whole audition was a set-up, she plans revenge. Known mostly for its torture scene, this chilling horror-thriller is an uncomfortable, deep dig into the female psyche which soon goes pear-shaped when it’s revealed that this woman is completely batshit insane. The torture scene may be the only iconic thing about this film, but then again the edge it provides is so blunt, that it almost literally hurts to watch the scene and will induce as many cringes and fist-bites in just 10 minutes as Ichi the Killer provided in 120.
Defining moment: What do you think? What have we just been discussing for the last few lines?
29. Zero Day (2003)
The amount of films made on the inspiration of the Columbine school shootings of 1999 is pretty large; Bowling for Columbine, Target for Rage, Duck etc. But this is one of the better ones; a mix between The Blair Witch Project and Elephant. Two school students document themselves as they prepare to storm their school and shoot up the place. It’s particularly freaky because these mindless murderers we are watching seem like typical, happy students who seem to think that through their preparing weapons and plans on who to kill that this is some sort of fucking adventure for them. Of course they reveal their true colours once the films climax comes into view. This is a film of menacing importance; most films that base itself on the “found footage” plot like [REC] and Cloverfield belong in the horror genre, but only a few passionate people will be able to see the true horror behind this one. Columbine was a tragedy, and if Michael Moore can’t make you see that, this sure as hell will.
Defining moment: The two students say their cheery goodbyes to the cameras, then (as told through security camera view) they storm the school and slaughter everyone they can find.
28. The Human Centipede (2010)
One day, Tom Six got drunk and made a joke about child molesters, saying that a suitable punishment for them would be having their mouths stitched to a fat, sweaty truck driver’s asshole. It wasn’t long after that did Six write and direct this already cult horror. Here two slutty American tourists and a Japanese tourist are kidnapped by a totally wacko European scientist, they are then knocked out cold and are operated on. This scientist rips all their teeth out, dislocates their kness forcing them to crawl whilst they are stitched together mouth-to-anus. Just the premise itself is horrid, but the film doesn’t take advantage of it in a macabre or dumb manner. It enforces all these disturbing tricks into one galactically chill-bound journey of discomfort and disgrace. Six has created a film that was probably bound for glory in its disturbing premise from the very beginning; but the way its shot, written and directed, its one of the best kind of horrors; the quietly vicious one. Like a bulldog with a muzzle.
Defining moment: The human centipede’s front man can’t hold it… “Oh shit… I have to shit” he says, your bones freeze over as the woman behind him gags and hits him as he defecates.
27. The Last House on the Left (1972)
This is where Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream director Wes Craven first started; with this virtually budgetless horror classic. Craven never went this hardcore later on in his future even though he made sufficiently better films than this; something of a lousy rape and revenge horror which was made purely so the shock value would make it popular, and it worked. This touches base on two teenage girls who attend a rock concert while their parents (and rightly so) worry back at home. The girls are kidnapped by a bunch of hicks who humiliate, beat and rape the girls. But afterwards, the parents of the victims plan revenge. Like Audition, it’s not a film that’s disturbing through-out, it can mainly be traced back to a single notorious scene; in this case it’s the rape scene in question. But its not just rape, the girls undress eachother, urinate on eachother and cry in eachothers arms whilst the very wrong sort of music (quite disturbingly, inspirational, almost romantic music) plays in the background.
Defining moment: The scene mentioned.
26. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Every so often, a film comes along that assaults taboo’s and completely blunders controversy; but who would have known that at this time it would be a student film? This crassly made mock-documentary is another film on the list about the absolute lowest of human existence. A trigger-happy serial killer is followed around his daily business by an innocent film crew, who try their best not to weak out on this mans tail; his random pot-shots at innocent people and rebels against authority are either scaring the film makers to death or bringing them to a whole new era of a disgraced life. The realism is incredible here; maybe because production costs were so low that even the camera work looks more 1920’s than 1990’s. As the film starts out a little menacing and dark, it becomes a full-blown feast of human neurosis; a journey that isn’t more deserved of a happy ending than anything else. Try and watch this with a clean soul and an empty stomach.
Defining moment: The film makers and their serial killer friend get drunk and break into a couple’s house, they take it in turns brutally raping the wife and then gut the two like fishes.
25. Natural Born Killers (1994)
During this films reign in the cinema, people were captured fresh from slaughter sessions yelling “I’m a natural born killer!” So obviously this came with its own controversy; however it’s most probably the most controversial film ever made. This acid-dripped cult classic is about a Bonnie-and-Clyde esque story of a white trash couple (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) who find they have a thirst for blood as well as eachother. Its then they skip across the country murdering people at will. This film stops at no line; the mindless slaughters and torture sessions (as well as making a sitcom set-up out of a scene involving domestic abuse) are all put forward in very different ways; around 18 different film formats were used and it’s the pukish switch between these coupled with the deranged violence that makes this a truly horrifying watch for those with any sort of dignity. This film has had the notorious reputation for feeding murderers a God complex, however.
Defining moment: The prison break-out scene, similar to the worst acid trip you’ve ever had.
24. Breaking the Waves (1996)
Director Lars Von Trier (The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark) has been known for making films where he tortures his female characters to the point of tears, but this is the first time he seemed to experiment with psychological woman beating. Emily Watson also made her debut too in an Oscar-nominated performance playing a shy, innocent woman who thinks the world of her husband (Stellan Skarsgaard) and prays for his safe return back from a large oil rig, but when he comes back paralyzed from an accident. Skarsagaard is unable to fulfil her sexual needs and he then encourages her to go out and have sex with random men and then tell him about the encounters. Watson’s character is the most disturbing part; a clean-cut religious girl thrown into these horrific sexual situations in which she ends up being abused, thrown-around and eventually murdered by one of her abusers. All just before her husband miraculously recovers from his illness…
Defining moment: Tess (Watson) stumbles around in fishnet stockings and short red skirt as children follow her, verbally abuse her and throw things at her as she cries.
23. Nil by Mouth (1997)
Just when Ray Winstone had The War Zone and Scum to freak us out, he dons another evil persona in this powerful directorial debut from actor Gary Oldman. Winstone plays the abusive husband of Kathy Burke as she attempts to live through his violent temper tantrums without the courage to speak up or the courage to leave him. Again, the naturalistic realism is what makes this such a difficult watch; the subject of domestic violence being a very touchy subject for some is put on the marker with this film and maybe it’ll do its duty in making this sort of thing known. While Winstone terrifies in his role, Burke is guaranteed to break hearts with her portrayal of the suffering housewife imprisoned in a cheap council estate with her alcoholic monster of a husband. Unfortunately, this is to date the only film Oldman has directed, despite showing an incredible talent for weaving an infectious, fascinating but incredibly painful story of the sort of suffering that could be happening right next door.
Defining moment: Winstone accuses his wife of cheating on him, so he beats her black and blue.
22. Sex: The Annabel Chong Story (1999)
Who’s Annabel Chong? Originally born Grace Quek, she adopted the stage name of Chong when at 22-years-old, the Singapore student had sex with 251 men in 10 hours, setting a new world record. Director Gough Lewis follows the tortured adult film star on her perilous journey through the record-breaking feat which is consistently hard to watch and hard to stomach. This documentary begins with Chong’s appearance on Jerry Springer; showing her attitudes towards sex and having every answer from her mouth be met with gasps from the studio audience. Her attempts at a life are shadowed constantly by the fact that her parents (who make up a great deal of the documentary) have absolutely no knowledge that their daughter is a hardcore porn actress. That is until the film nears its end, as Lewis somehow manages to film a heart-breaking, tear-inducing conversation between Chong and her mother, moments after she discovered about her daughters career.
Defining moment: Annabel slumps down on her couch and gibbers to the camera whilst she cuts her wrists with a razor blade.
21. Antichrist (2009)
Directors Lars Von Trier has had quite a few films on this list, but Antichrist is the definitive film in his circus of psychological tampering. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gangsborough play a normal couple whose toddler walks out of a top story window and dies whilst they are having sex in the shower (accompanied by some real scenes of hardcore penetration, acted out by doubles). It’s after this they retreat to a cabin the woods in order to forget their worries but the forest around them (possibly stolen from The Evil Dead) begins to bend to Satan’s will and things start to toy with the couple emotionally and psychologically. No matter how far into the mainstream Von Trier digs, he’s always going to be true to his original commitment; to shock and offend, and Antichrist does that job perfectly. While it manages to chill and thrill (sometimes quite skilfully at the same time), it does so with a middle finger pointed at the BBFC and an evil scowl at the audience being put through such psychological torture. The beginning scene of course will raise some eyebrows, but the chilling scene of the film is the talking fox; a mutilated creature who utters those immortal words: “Chaos reigns”.
Defining moment: Two words:… Genital Mutilation… Now enjoy.
20. The Holy Mountain (1973)
The Holy Mountain is one of either two things: the greatest head trip of all time or the most biblically brash film ever made. Either way, it’s an unforgettable, psycho-religious film which doesn’t particularly belong in any genre. The storyline is pretty much indescribable in that there is none; just a series of taboo’s being obliterated whilst religious symbolism becomes involved. The messianic Haracio Salinas – at the beginning of the film – is saved by a limbless dwarf and witnesses an amphibian reconstruction of the crimes of the Conquistadores; so whats the big deal? Well, it’s not quite as visually abrupt as director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s earlier cult western El Topo, but its just as confusing and straining to watch. Most of the things that happen here couldn’t possibly follow anything except for pure gracelessness; the man in the film takes a shit in a jar and his shit is melted down into gold. Why? For the love of fucking god, why? Who the hell knows? Try not to figure out its message; doing that very action could severely punch a whole in your brain. However if you were to check this out, be sure to watch El Topo first so that comparison could be an interesting pastime.
Defining moment: Too hard to pick, its all pretty messed-up.
19. I Spit on your Grave (1978)
This is basically just a lazier rehash of Last House on the Left and in the years that followed; has become something of a cult classic. Camille Keaton plays a novelist who goes to stay in the woods but is cornered by a bunch of hicks and is brutally raped 3 times by all of them. After she recovers, she goes on an expected rampage of revenge. Critic Roger Ebert calls this “the worst film ever made”, and hey, who are we to argue? This is a cheap, daft film which – much like Last House on the Left or August Underground – generates uncomfortable terror even though it’s in no measure a good film. Keaton’s revenge scheme is pretty sickening; one of the rapists (a mentally retarded man) is coaxed into having sex with her whilst during she puts a noose around his neck and hangs him, while she gives another one of the rapists his just deserts by seducing him and cutting his penis off in the bathtub. Shot on cheapish 8mm, this is wannabe grindhouse cinema at its most pathetic; director Meir Zachari clearly had no initiative to make this a decent watch; instead he just aimed for shock value. This is currently receiving the remake treatment, God knows why.
Defining moment: Keaton struggles back to her house naked, blood oozing down her leg and struggling to walk after suffering twice through rape. But she’s pushed to her limit when raped once again.
18. Mysterious Skin (2004)
This is a film about paedophilia that is disturbing enough to make L.I.E. look like the Care Bears. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet give remarkable (not to mention, incredibly brave) performances as Neil and Brian, two teenagers both messed up by sexual abuse they suffered as children, when they were both molested by their baseball coach; whilst Levitt becomes a gay hustler, Corbet is obsessed with the notion that the few hours of his childhood which he lost his memory to, he was abducted by aliens. Both of their journeys are painful to watch, as Levitt sells himself out to every fat, washed-up pervert in his home town, the a-sexual Corbett attempts to figure out his own sanity around the time he befriends a woman who also claims she was the subject of alien abduction. It’s essentially a film about how a traumatising childhood can destroy someone from the inside and out. As we we’re guided through this explicit, discomforting journey without being offered any sort of happy ending. Levitt’s scenes are particularly brash to watch; one of his clients gets rough and rapes him in a bathtub as we see blood washing down the drain; an unmissable albeit tyrannical indie masterpiece.
Defining moment: An 8-year-old Neil plays video games and eats junk food at his perverted baseball coaches house, his spandex-wearing coach watching his every move with a toothy grin.
17. Straw Dogs (1971)
Unfortunately, Straw Dogs has only become a classic because of “that scene”, the scene we all should know about by now. In which Dustin Hoffman’s wife Susan George is raped by a countryside hick, the twist here that she stops struggling during this act and begins to enjoy it. However it’s a one-off scene, the film itself is about Hoffman’s attempts to keep these tykes out of his house by any means necessary; even if it means blood has to be shed. Hoffman is terrifying in the most beautifully subtle way; his eyes mostly abstracted by his large-lensed glasses giving his emotional grievance some much needed mystery. Director Sam Peckinpah may be popular for his classic westerns during his earlier career (like The Wild Bunch and The Ballad of Cable Hogue), but his name is firmly planted on a film that generated as much controversy as A Clockwork Orange (released the same year). Hoffman came off to a promising start with The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy previously, but with the release of this film, he was believed to be black-balled for his participation. However its one of the most poetically disrupting psychological head-trips you will be able to find.
Defining moment: Susan George’s rape scene; she struggles at first but then begins to give a sigh of ecstasy with every violent thrust.
16. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Another film that became legendary for its controversy, this classic grindhouse horror from Italian director Ruggero Deodato almost landed the film maker in jail when its was seized by Italian law enforcement and the film was believed to have been a genuine snuff film; since the scenes of violence were so convincing, that Deodato went to court to prove that the murders in the film were just the work of special effects. One thing Deodato is guilty of however is the animal cruelty; in that a river turtle, a snake, a spider, a piglet, a muskrat and a monkey were all slaughtered on screen for real, some of them blood-curdling to watch. The plot is half Blair-Witch and half Scooby-Doo as college professor Richard Kerman ventures into the jungle to find some students of his who went missing whilst making a documentary about cannibalism in the rainforests of Africa. When their footage is found, we get to see what happened to these people. The disturbing thing is the fictional film-maker characters in this film and their descent into evil, they storm a tribal village and slaughter the inhabitants by burning the village down and then the men take it in turns raping a native women in the mud.
Defining moment: Kerman and his guides watch in horror as a native woman is punished for adultery; viciously raped by a tribal chief and a ball of mud and sharp twigs stuffed into her vagina.
15. Aftermath (1994)
When you say “necrophilia”, the entire room pretty much goes quiet. So what happens when a whole (well, 30 minutes anyway) film is made on the subject? Well, cult horror cinema pretty much takes a step up and the “line” that’s previously mentioned through smut cinema is crossed once again. It’s the chilling atmosphere that could well get you in this one, as this cult short film begins on a high note. A nameless man working in a morgue takes his time to dismantle a corpse for work. But when he is left alone for the night; he rolls out the body of a young woman, he mutilates her, shags her, completely rips her to pieces and then brings her heart home with him and feeds it to his dog… Obviously the guy who calls the necrophilia movie a good watch is going to be met with weird looks, but you have to hand it to this freaky little film; its pretty scary. The complete lack of dialogue, still cinematography and brooding musical score only up the thrills and spills (of which there are many) until this leaves you with your jaw on the floor. When this guy actually gets up on the tray and starts fucking the corpse; you’ll have a look on your face that mixes disgust and shock with offense and rage.
Defining moment: The wordless morgue worker drags a knife gently up and down his prize corpse, he gets faster and faster and finally jams the massive, razor-sharp blade into her vagina.
14. Eraserhead (1977)
No other film can toy with you psychologically more than Eraserhead could; the film that made director David Lynch a household name and proof that your worst nightmare could certainly come to life on screen despite limited budget. Jack Nance plays a whiney coward who is told by his girlfriend that she is pregnant, but this baby that is soon birthed is a mutant (and in real life, an unborn cow fetus) and its uncontrollable screams and gargles soon send Henry’s girlfriend out of his life. Its then the film takes a Mulholland Drive-type swerve into other realities, most of them senseless, strange and completely horrifying all in inventively subtle ways. The high-frequency sounds worked into the soundtrack help to cause nausea whilst the imagery is also increasingly difficult to comprehend. The “lady in the radiator” scene is particularly chilling; simply a woman with abnormally large cheekbones singing a song on stage before the film again swerves into another demented reality. Lynch has proven here to be the ultimate mind monster; offering up a cult masterpiece of superb originality and frightening grace.
Defining moment: Henry, in a state of violent restlessness rids himself of his mutant child…
13. Grotesque (2008)
This is basically the film that Hostel wishes it was; a truly teeth-gritting addition into the now seemingly popular “torture porn” genre which drops any sort of storyline and/or dialogue (of which there is very little) and simply congregates itself on the grounds that it’s a complete and utter bloodbath. Japan have been some neat proprietors of unflinching violence (Ichi the Killer, anyone?) and this is no exception; as a normal, run-of-the-mill couple are attacked, knocked out and imprisoned in a man’s cellars as he slowly tortures them. At first it starts off cringe-inducing, but then it starts to go out completely insane. The torturer at one point develops a fascination with cutting off the fingers of his victims and making necklaces out of them, but that’s not where this stops; the victims heart-breakingly begging for their lives with their words obstructed by gags, but the torturer wouldn’t give in to simple begging as he seems too infused in his sick games here where he – without motive – experiments with hardware tools on his victims. So violent and disturbing it makes most other torture films look like Disney.
Defining moment: The torturer masturbates his victims as they involuntarily ejaculate on eachother as a result; its not sexy, it’s just extremely fucking disturbing.
12. Pink Flamingos (1972)
John Waters went PG with Hairspray after making this cult comedy, and after you watch this; you’ll wonder how he did it. Waters claimed to have smoked cannabis whilst he was writing this film and it becomes obvious whilst watching that whoever wrote it must be completely insane and completely addicted to some completely insane drugs. Waters’ “muse”, gross transvestite Devine plays him/herself living in a run-down trailer with her hick family and embraces her title of the “worlds filthiest person”, until two upstart perverts attempt to gatecrash this title and reclaim this. So basically, these characters are just doing a bunch of disgusting, vile, horrible shit for the sake of it. Devine performs explicit oral sex on the man playing her son, there’s artificial insemination, there’s sex between two people with a live chicken crushed between them… Christ, it all goes down in history as some of the most horrendously filthy acts ever committed to celluloid and its thanks to the vile mind of Waters and the dirty mouth of Devine that brings this to life. Its not clever or original (ok, its slightly original), hell, its not even funny. But you won’t get it out of your mind for a while.
Defining moment: The infamous sign-off of the film; Devine scoops up a freshly-laid dog turd and chomps it down (for real) with a fat grin on her face.
11. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Henry is not Hannibal Lector, he’s not a calculating, smart serial killer; he’s a white trash hick living in a cheap apartment with his friend Otis and Otis’s visiting sister. Henry’s main love (in case you haven’t guessed) is to murder people at random and without empathy whatsoever, however the film takes a brutal twist when Henry lets Otis in on his gruesome hobby. Henry and Otis’s adventures through their random slaughtering and infused by their purchase of a video camera which they use to videotape their violent acts; including an unforgettable scene where they break into a family’s house earlier Christmas Day and then go on to rape and murder the family. Another discomforting plot device is also the incest; Otis constantly attempting to have sex with his sister with only Henry around to intervene. This film – based on a true story – does miss out on the more disturbing parts of the story this is based on; Henry and Otis in real life were homosexual lovers and Otis’s sister was only in her early teens at the time; but despite this, this incredibly disturbing, extremely depressing horror film manages to maintain extraordinary power through its cheap camera-work and matter-of-fact performances.
Defining moment: Henry goes out to the local store and comes back to find Otis anal raping his sister, Henry then proceeds to gut Otis like a fish…
10. Funny Games (1998)
An incredibly skilful examination of on-screen violence, director Michael Haneke’s quietly brutal cult classic has enjoyed a love/hate relationship with film-goers. Those expecting a violent film, don’t bother looking, but those looking for a film which will emotionally and psychologically toy with you to no end; this is a perfect night-in. Essentially another episode of torture, this one does so with very little violence occurring on screen and its only through the characters blood curdling screams off-camera do we get even a taste of the dread that is taking place. Two polite youths break into the house of a small family of three (consisting of a mother, a father and their young son) and begin to harass and torture them for no purpose. The lack of music and elaborate pauses from the action increase the effect of a film that has yet to be matched in its brash tactics. In one scene, the mother of the family manages to kill one of the kids doing the torture but in a sense of complete helplessness, the other one picks up a remote and literally rewinds the scene. There’s no helping them, and once you get a taste of that inevitability, you’ll find it hard to continue.
Defining moment: “But if I still have the golf ball… Then what did I hit with the club?”
9. Kids (1995)
A purposefully stirring wake-up call to America; this is one of the first times that the AID’s crisis has been conflicted in film and on its release, it became of the decades most controversial films for its portrayal of New York teenagers taking drugs, having unprotected sex and drinking alcohol. As teen shagging-machine Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) goes on a personal voyage to bed as many virgins as possible, but one of his former conquests (Chloe Sevigny) attempts to track down Telly to tell him that he has been spreading the dreaded disease all around the city. Its genuinely upsetting simply because director Larry Clark says “fuck you” on multiple occasions to the thought of any sort of clarity or happy ending, as Telly continues to infect innocent girls with an incurable disease, his best friend Casper (Justin Pearce) rapes Sevigny whilst she is passed out at a party. Nothing in Kids is pretty; its no cautionary tale, it’s a film about the lives of teenagers nobody thought was true; while films like Kidulthood pathetically try and re-hype the shock of teens on the streets today, they only fail miserably and quite rightly, don’t have the social stamina to carry on the tradition. Kids is a one-of-a-kind film, exposing all that is ugly about street life in a tucked-up corner of New York; the realism is incredibly justified, all done by using handheld camera-work and non-professional actors.
Defining moment: Casper wakes up in a daze on the morning after a drunken house party, he sits next to Sevigny, passed out and slowly pulls her clothes off, proceeding to have sex with her slowly as she groans in her sleep, Casper whispering: “It’s OK…It’s me, Casper”.
8. August Undergrounds Mordum (2003)
If you’re planning to watch Mordum, then you may want to pack a healthy supply of sick-bags. No matter who you are or what you may have stomached before, this is certain to attack your inner-workings at a vicious rate. Some people are still deeply convinced that this is a snuff film and you can understand whilst watching; as a sick psycho with a video camera catches his girlfriend having sex with her brother and afterwards, during a forceful argument, they go out on one of their killing sprees. They then catch up with a 3rd person to join their games of murder, rape and stealing. Mordum is probably the most realistic horror film of recent years; it was made on relative peanuts despite the fact that the special effects are too good to be fake; every stab, throat-slice and beating is decorated with sickening amounts of blood and as its shot like a home video; it just increases the sheer terror you’ll be feeling whilst watching. Its known for making other films labelled “violent” look like ealing old comedies; the unbroken shots, bad continuity and complete lack of regulations will only infuse the look of shock that will constantly be on your face. August Underground also did another, very similar film, Penance. But it’s Mordum that has stricken many a people with its series of brainless, ultra-violent and incredibly disturbing mass-slaughterings... It’s on Google Video by the way…
Defining moment: More rape? Er… yeah, one of the psychopaths murders a small child and rapes his corpse from behind in a bathtub.
7. Earthlings (2007)
Earthlings is disturbing simply because every bit of footage is very very real; often labelled as “the vegan maker”, this is probably the most powerful documentary ever made. Shaun Monson writes and directs this brooding expose on animal cruelty; in which animals are used and abused for things such as food, fashion and simple game hunting. Going through difficult chapters of ecstasy; this casts an evil eye on the sick, disgusting corporations that do these sorts of things; the most disturbing prospect being that animals these days are put to death in painful, slow ways without being given any sort of painkilling medication. A film designed and guaranteed to induce tears and fits of rage, Earthlings is a masterpiece of sheer power and is one of the few films in the documentary field that could truly make you want to change your life. Powerfully narrated by the soft-voiced Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix (a dedicated animal rights protester), this film does not allow any breaks of interventions; it carries on telling you the naked truth up until its anti-climatic final curtain. Unfortunately this film is no-where near viewed enough, only really showing at festivals around the world to a few select people. However people like Dennis Hopper and Woody Harrelson have themselves praised the extraordinary power of this deeply disturbing but remarkably impactful film which will make you hate your own species.
Defining moment: Baby pigs are castrated without given painkillers… Their squeals will haunt you.
6. El Topo (1970)
How this film got away with being so graphic in its time; it’s a mystery sure, but despite objections and despite the fact its 40 years old. El Topo is the film all right-wing religious groups call the Bible in action. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky followed this up with the brash fantasy The Holy Mountain, but it’s this distracting, violent western which started the whole chain of brutality. There’s no explaining the plot, but its disturbing images are all designed and guaranteed to shock and offend; with endless references to directors like Fellini and Bunuel and Marcel Marceau, you won’t be able to make head-or-tale of what this is supposed to represent; whether its trying to make a point about humanity or simply just destroy any previous thoughts in your mind in one clean slate. Hell, even if you were to ask Jodorowsky himself, he probably wouldn’t know what his film is supposed to be telling the audience; but then again it probably had no previous initiative to inform, overpower or compel; but was simply made on the ground that your mind is easily manipulative and Jodorowsky could probably do well in a boxing ring with the likes of Ken Russell or David Lynch. Marilyn Manson called Jodorowsky “the greatest film maker who ever lived”, and if Manson enjoyed it, you most probably will if you share the same messed-up brain.
Defining moment: It’s certainly too hard to choose the one.
5. Irreversible (2002)
Director Gaspar Noe tied up his own reputation in France with this shocking, evil film that was shot on hand-held cameras and built up one un-broken shot for each scene which is told in backwards order similar to Memento. This begins with Vincent Cassell roaming a gay bar looking for a man known as “The Tapeworm” and when he finds him, he attempts to kill him until Cassell’s friend intervenes and smashes the accused man’s face to pieces with a fire extinguisher (which we get to watch). However we learn that Cassell had gone on this mission of revenge after his girlfriend (Monica Bellucci) had been brutally raped and beaten almost to death; a scene of pure horror which lasts around 20 extremely painful minutes. Irreversible is not like I Spit on your Grave or Mordum, it’s a film of incredibly disturbing power that also manages to be a socially adored and extremely important film. Those even with a strong stomach should heed warning; that this isn’t for lightweights; most people who have had previous experience in brutal on-screen violence still have trouble getting through this in one piece. Noe cleverly manipulates the audience in the first 20 minutes of the film by placing extremely high-frequency sounds into the soundtrack to create a sense of disorientation and nausea. However all that can be reached simply by viewing the startling, brain-melting imagery.
Defining moment: Bellucci’s notorious rape scene, stretching on screen for a painful amount of time, but when the rapist is finished, he smashes her face against the ground several times before making off.
4. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Very similar to Irreversible in that it’s both disturbing and something of a categorical masterpiece; Mel Gibson proves he is still the brilliant director he was when he did Braveheart. Here the underrated Jim Caviezel plays Jesus Christ during the final 12 hours of his life, as he was tried for blasphemy despite objections from his followers that he was the son of God. Christ is forced to carry a heavy wooden cross to a crucifixion zone after being tortured by piggish Romans several times. By the time Jesus reaches his area of execution; every part of his body is covered in painful open wounds caused by whips and any other blunt instrument the Romans could find. It’s violent yes; in fact its one of the most violent mainstream films of all time. But then again it is unadmittedly very necessary; only through the sheer pain did our lord and savour suffer can you truly appreciate his actions; sacrificing himself to cleanse the perverted of their sins. The violence is not the only disturbing thing by watchable intent; but it also helps us to understand the overblown pain that this man was put through in a time of political and religious chaos. It’s a defining film in independent cinema and despite Gibson’s reputation these days as a crass, woman-beating alcoholic; people forget through such disgusting media manipulation that he’s a man of incredible directorial talents.
Defining moment: Feeling pain everywhere on his body, Jesus screams to the heavens; begging his father to forgive his offenders.
3. Happiness (1998)
This film cleverly opens on a defining scene; as Jon Lovitz and Jane Adams sit down to dinner, it seems normal up until Adams dumps him. But then Lovitz shows his true colours when he verbally abuses her in a rather explicit, uncomfortable way. Then the film begins. Director Todd Stoltz’s aching black comedy about the lives of a few sexually psychotic people is made up of 100% pure discomfort. Dylan Baker leads the wacko characters as a psychotherapist who is in secret, a paedophile. Adams plays a vulnerable teacher who becomes a sexual pawn in men’s games and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a horrendously perverted loser who masturbates whilst making obscene phone-calls to random people. We are introduced to the characters with unsettling grace; Baker’s character generating some truly spine-tingling chills as the child molester with his own preteen son, who begins to discuss his own sexual awakenings with his own father (Baker offers to show his son how to masturbate) and its all executed like an everyday occurrence. Hoffman’s character looks like the sort of person you see when you turn around in a dark alley too. Stoltz’s masterpiece of morality and psycho-sexual relationships plays on well as it starts, but then it ends on a pretty dumbstruck note: When Baker’s son ejaculates for the first time and approaches a packed dinner table and pronounces to every: “I came!”.
Defining moment: After Baker’s kiddy-fiddling ways are exposed; his son asks him if he would have sex with him if he got the chance. “No” says Baker “I’d jerk off instead”. His son bursts into tears.
2. The War Zone (1999)
A virtually unheard of film in the independent British cinema scene; this is the directorial debut of actor Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) which touches base on a family of four living in a run-down cottage in the countryside. Ray Winstone plays the dominant father of the family with Tilda Swinton as the freshly-pregnant mother. It all kicks off when their teenage son Freddie Cunliffe stumbles upon a dark secret; that his father has been sexually molesting his sister (Lara Belmont) since birth. His investigations lead him to some truly horrific witnesses; whilst Belmont attempts to hide the savage pain she feels after her father brutally sodomizes her. This film does not hold back at all; if there’s sex of any kind going on, it will show you first-hand. Obviously meaning that some scenes are sure to give you the chills and make you lose all possible belief in family dynasty. Winstone had already played a monstrous family figure in Nil by Mouth, but it makes it all the more frightening that here he plays a loving parent, who becomes increasingly disjointed once his son confesses to him what he has witnessed. It’s not violent or particularly explicit in terms of sex, but that doesn’t make it any less of a nerve-raking masterpiece that has not been seen or understood by enough people. Like Irreversible latter to it, it’s a film that disturbs around the same time it entrances.
Defining moment: Cunliffe follows his father and sister to an abandoned bunker and watches him anally rape her forcefully as she cries and splutters.
1. Men Behind the Sun (1988)
Haven’t heard of this one have you? The public and social response to this film has not been large and it’s still very rare today; but once seen, it can’t be forgotten. The top honour of the most disturbing film of all time goes to another Japanese film which is made all the more chilling that’s its based on a true story. During the Second World War, Japanese soldiers in a remote bunker test biological weapons on their prisoners; some of which don’t seem to have much use in battle but make for some truly horrific scenes. A woman’s arms are frozen solid, dipped in hot water and her skin is ripped off to reveal her skeleton, a small toddler has an autopsy performed on (accompanied by real footage of a real autopsy on a real boy who hasn’t even reached puberty yet), a cat is thrown into a pit of starving rats and eaten (then the rats themselves are set ablaze). But is it all for artistic integrity? Is it for historical information? Is it for shock value? Its most probably the latter, but once you get a sniff of Men Behind the Sun and its blundering controversy, you’re going to want to see it; however try not to get too wound up in it: This is disturbing because of the story its based on, the testimony’s its taken from, the violence that occurs and that some of the more ghastly things that happen are very real. An unflinching, nightmarish masterpiece? Or an exploitive piece of filth? You decide.
Defining moment: Again, it’s hard to pick with this one. It simply can’t be narrowed down.