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How do we define a movie that’s disturbing? That, in particular, is a hard note to hit, for both the viewer and those who made the actual movie. I’m sure we can all name movies that scared us, as children, and perhaps as adults. But scary and disturbing aren’t necessarily the same thing, are they? For example, when I was about seven years old, my dad let me watch Halloween. It scared me senseless, I’ll say that much. But, whenever the word, “Disturbing” comes up, that movie doesn’t come to mind. However, if you search the definition of the word “Disturbing,” you’ll soon find that it is viewed primarily as a synonym for “worrying,” or “causing anxiety.” But now, isn’t that the same thing as being scary?
No. I don’t think so. In my opinion, what separates a scary film from a disturbing one is this: movies that are scary tend to frighten us while we are watching them, and perhaps for a little longer afterwards. However, movies that are disturbing stick out in our long term memory. We think back on them often, we ponder their meanings, if there is one. We cringe when we think of them, but at the same time, we are unable to stop thinking of them because they managed to be so utterly impactful. They are, in a strange sense, fantastic pieces of cinema.
However, disturbing movies are often, I find, confused, these days. People tend to take a movie that’s overly disgusting, or gory, and to call it disturbing. But it’s not, simply because all the scenes which do not feature gore and bloodshed, simply put, are utterly forgettable. Eli Roth’s Hostel movies are an excellent example of this. They are mindless and incoherent. I challenge you to name a single scene in Hostel that you can remember that doesn’t involve some form of mutilation. In order to be disturbing, I think, a movie must, as a whole, be memorable not only for it’s shock, but for the way it makes us think with that shock.
With that said, I’d like to indulge in what I consider to be some of the most disturbing movies ever made. Before I begin, however, I’ll say this. I’m no expert on the matter. I’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of horror films in my life, and thousands of movies in general that include some manner of sex, violence, or otherwise supposedly offensive material, but of course, there are many, I am sure, that I have missed. Let me know in the comments section what the most disturbing movies you’ve ever seen are. Talk about them. I’ll be sure to include your thoughts in the Commenter's Choice Section of this blog.
Disclaimer: Some of the mentioned scenes below have links to videos which may contain gore, sexuality, and other offensive content. Discretion Advised.
Rob Reiner’s work as a director has seldom been more evidently brilliant than it is with Stephen King Adaptations. Just take a look at Stand By Me. However, unlike that beloved childhood classic, this is a take on his much, much darker work. It’s almost as if King, as a novelist, thought to himself what his worst nightmare would be, then wrote it all down and published it as a bestselling book, which Reiner faithfully adapted. What is that worst nightmare, I hear you ask? To be an author like himself, hopelessly trapped in the hands of an obsessive (and psychotic) fan, who’ll do anything to make sure she gets what she wants: In this case, for her favorite main character to live. Kathy Bates’s performance is absolutely terrifying, and she rightfully won an oscar. She would continue to portray frightening characters later in American Horror Story. Particularly Season 3, Coven.
The Silence of the Lambs
Another book adaptation, this one from Thomas Harris. There’s something particularly disturbing on the topic of serial killers. And this movie has not one, but two, very realistic and well portrayed psychopathic murderers. In one corner, we have Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic, genius psychiatrist who delights in eating only people who he finds rude. In corner number two, we have Buffalo Bill (Also known as Jamie Gumb), who is technically a transsexual, but would rather kidnap, keep, kill, and skin young girls in order to make a “Woman suit,” than apply for a sex change. Unsurprisingly, the latter was inspired by real life serial killer Ed Gein.
Most Disturbing Scene- I was originally going to go with Hannibal’s escape scene, but ultimately decided that the “Put the fucking lotion in the basket!” scene was the better choice, just because of the complete realism that depicts the depravity of Jamie Gumb’s twisted mind.
This is ultimately considered to be the movie that inspired the entire Urbanoia subgenre. That is, movies in which city slickers anger primal country rednecks and then must tap into their inner savagery in order to survive an array of vicious attacks. Although the third pick down on my list (Wink, wink, nodd, nodd), was the one to popularize the genre. I won’t spend too much time talking about this one, because… well, there’s one scene in particular that’s especially disturbing and really pushes the limits. And if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Now that that’s over with, here’s my ten personal favorite disturbing films, ranked in order of least to most volatile.
Ladies and Gentlemen! I give to you… one of the most criminally underrated horror/urbanoia/slasher movies ever made! Seriously, I’ve yet to see this movie talked about on a wide scale on the internet or anywhere else for that matter, which is a damn shame, because it’s a great little movie, and harbors a lot of beautifully messed up fun. The plot concerns a group of youngsters who get stranded on an island in the middle of the Pacific Northwest. They are soon met by a seemingly kind old couple who house and feed them, but not all is as it seems. What could possibly be wrong? To start, psychotic family members, a dead baby, and fifty year olds pretending to be children.
MartinWe all know that George A. Romero is an innovator of shock and violence. After all, he was the first director to ever show the act of cannibalism on a movie screen with Night of The Living Dead. He’s had many of highlights in his impressive repertoire of gore. Day of the Dead, anyone? However, Martin seems to be the movie of his that everyone overlooks. Which is quite unfortunate, because if you ask me, it’s one of his best works. The power of this story comes largely from the development of our main character, Martin. His hostile family, as well as those around him, have labeled him an outcast and a monster, and it appears as if he himself has given into these insults, as he is completely convinced that he is a vampire. His morbid, monochromic fantasies and violent rampages in which he rapes, murders, and drinks the blood of his victims can be particularly hard to watch. But, hey, it’s all in the name of great character development.
Most Disturbing Scene- The scene which most struck a nerve with me is the opening in which Martin drugs, rapes, and murders a girl on a train before making her death look like a suicide. But hey, judge for yourself.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
After talking about a couple of movies that have been largely overlooked, it seems only fair that I should mention one of the famous ones. Tobe Hooper’s biting, ferociously harsh piece is now considered to be one of the best horror films ever made, and for good reason: Because it’s awesome. The grainy look of the movie somehow serves to make it feel very realistic, and the rustic soundtrack and sickening visuals gives the entire movie a unique feel. I’m kidding myself though. The best thing about this movie is Leatherface, a skin clad, sledgehammer wielding killer who will lumber out of his bone strewn house and chase you down with a chainsaw held high over his head. Insane props to Gunnar Hansen for playing the role amazingly.
Most Disturbing Scene- The scene in which Sally is tied down to her chair and surrounded by laughing family members. What makes this scene so memorable is that you can truly see how terrified the character really is, as well as the complete hopelessness of her situation (The cannibalistic family just laughs when Sally offers to “Do anything.”)
Before I start raving about how awesome this movie is, I’d like to say that the book is way more disturbing than the movie is. Seriously, if you haven’t already, read the book. It’s a genius work by Bret Easton Ellis that has since been made into not only a movie, but also a play. Anyways, American Psycho is probably one of my all time favorite films, due, in large part, to the single best Christian Bale performance ever, portraying one of the most fascinating characters ever. That’s right. Don’t let all the violence, rape, and sexual activity fool you. This movie is a character study. Of a psychopath. What makes this movie so shocking, I think, isn’t the tasteful offensiveness. Rather, it’s the fact that this movie has the balls to imply that a crazed psychotic would fit in perfectly fine as a businessman on Wall Street. The social commentary here is more sharp than the blade of Bateman’s ax.
The Devil’s Rejects
I made this perfectly clear in my last blog, but I’ll say it again. I love Rob Zombie, I loved White Zombie, I loved it when we went solo, ect. The point is, he rocks. And that greatness really carries over into his movies. House of 1000 Corpses was an awesome tribute to old school slasher movies, such as the above mentioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but The Devil’s Rejects is another monster altogether. For me, this is less of a horror movie and more of an extremely vile western.All the classic elements are there: The vividly realistic setting, the gritty sense of tension, the troubled town sheriff, and of course, the “heroes,” who you really shouldn’t be rooting for, but you do anyways. Given though, I can’t remember the last time I saw a western in which a woman was coerced into giving tear soaked oral sex by having a pistol shoved into her panties.
It’s time to talk about another horror masterpiece! Or, well, that seems to be the general consensus. I’m pretty much solidifying my chances crucifixion in the comments by saying this, but heregoes: I don’t think The Exorcist is nearly as good as everyone says it is. I guess I just didn’t enjoy it very much personally. I’ve often found that the reason why everyone says it’s so terrifying is because it’s something that can really happen. I guess it’s just not scary to me because I don’t really believe in that kind of thing. Oh well. In any case, it’s certainly disturbing. A twelve year old girl, once the perfect portrait of innocence, being skewed in favor of a lacerated demon possessed girl with pornographic dialogue, truly is just a bit unsettling (“Your mother sucks cocks in hell Karras, you faithless slime.”) And things get even worse when more… extreme, actions are brought about. Let’s just say it’s no surprise this movie caused such an uproar back in the 1970’s.
A Clockwork OrangeKubrick, no stranger to disturbing movies (The Shining, Full Metal Jacket,) reached the height of his disquieting career with this little classic, which has been officially dubbed as the most controversial movie ever made. If you’re a fan of the book, like me, you’ll be able to fully appreciate this movie for all it’s greatness, and you’ll understand that the subjects tackled, in fact, were handled in a very straightforward manner. Nothing is romanticized or really even redeemed. This movie shows it like it is. We ask, what’s it look like when a girl is being raped? Well, she screams, cries, and struggles to escape a lot, Kubrick replies, hiding a whip behind his back. The story itself focuses on a young teenage sociopath named Alex DeLarge, who spends his night time hours beating, raping, and killing others with his gang of droogs. However, when Alex’s gang betrays him, he’s subjected to an intense form of brainwashing that makes him ill at the thought of sex or violence. It begs the reasoning that, if a man has no free will, he ceases to exist as a man.
The Snowtown Murders
The first thing you need to understand about this movie is that through the entire two hour runtime, you probably aren’t going to smile even once. This movie was not written, directed, shot, or made to please or entertain you
in any way. It was made to be as bleak and depressing as possible while also telling the story of one of Australia’s most well known and reviled serial killers, John Bunting, and in that respect, it does an excellent job. It’s like one of those movies with the last names of serial killers (You know what I’m talking about. Gacy, Gein, Dahmer,) except this one is actually good. Not from a standpoint of enjoyability, but rather, from a standpoint of cinema.
The Cannibal Holocaust
The last three movies on this little list of mine all have a problem in common. Because of the fact that they’re so horribly disturbing, people often write them off as disgusting torture porn flicks and don’t give them a second thought (Or, at least, they try to). However, they are all three very well made movies that don’t get the credit they deserve. In this second to last slot, we have The Cannibal Holocaust. I know what you’re thinking. The title alone screams “Write-off, lazy gore movie!” And you’d be right about that. But, if you take a look at the film itself, it's’ really pretty good. The movie is essentially a brutally honest metaphor for how western civilization sees the need to conquer and control all those around us. We view the people we don’t understand as “Mindless savages,” when, ironically, we’re the biggest savages of them all! The movie is brilliant in this sense, but it gets it’s point across in a way that’s so shocking that many are unable to handle it, and as a result, the film has been bannedin several countries. There’s also the unfortunate fact that a few animals were killed for the making of the film, which I’ll leave to the debate of the commenters.
And finally, the number one most disturbing movie ever (in my opinion)...
A Serbian Film
I don’t even have any words for this movie. Actually, no, you know what, scratch that. I do. Aside from certain Cattle Decapitation music videos this is the most disturbing thing many of you will ever see… should you choose to watch it. And yes, as a matter of fact, I am encouraging you to watch it. Why? Because it’s a good movie, plain and simple, that’s unfortunately been overshadowed by a blinding amount of controversy. The plot follows a retired porn star as he’s slowly manipulated back into joining the business. As it turns out, the company he’s working for is a lot shadierthan he thinks, and the director has plans for him that descend from normalcy into immorality. I love this movie because it exposes the sick sexual desires that lurk within us all, no matter how much we’d like to keep them covered up. It depicts humans as sexual monsters who think only about the act and pleasure of reproduction, which is largely why it’s grown so hated. But really, are the filmmakers so wrong in this depiction? Again, I leave it up to the commenters.
What's the most disturbing movie you've ever seen? Let me know in the comments and I'll attach the poster and a qoute from you here!
Martyrs (Suggested by Jay Ten)
"A quality film, in my opinion, that is not only disturbing but also has some legitimate scares in it. Its reputation for extreme violence has sadly overshadowed all other aspects of the film. Be careful with which version you get; I didn't do proper research and bought the unrated version, not realizing that there were three minutes missing. (Enjoyed it)"
"I watched Bravo’s countdown of the 101 Scariest Movie Moments, and the one they showed for this movie was a scene involving a zombie with a severed head performing a sex act on a naked, screaming woman who was strapped down and clearly not consenting to this. I was just appalled."
Re-Animator (Suggested by Raidra)
With that said, I'm all out for the night. Happy commenting!