For the month of October I will put out a list of Top 10’s on a number of subjects each day, this should be fun as I would enjoy feedback and discussion on my list and will welcome feedback on how to improve the list as I plan on featuring them on my website.
Ten Truly Disturbing Films
Dir- Pascal Laugier
After being imprisoned by an unknown group, a young woman and her friend seek out clues to the mysterious family who tortured and abused her. As she seeks her revenge, she finds that all the preparation in the world may not be enough to help her overcome her former captors. Martyrs was part of the New French Extreme movement that featured extreme violence, sex, and psychological issues. Martyrs is a highly divisive film, rejected by some studios and actresses due to the intense level of gore and nature of the film. In the decade since its release Martyrs has attracted the attention of horror movie fans who consider the film one of the best and most intense movies ever made. Martyrs push the boundaries of extreme cinema and are considered the best film of the New French Extreme movement.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Dir- Ruggero Deodato
Like the spaghetti westerns of the sixties, Italian cannibal films were the rage in the seventies. Like many of those westerns, these films had similar plots as well as the same tragic conclusions. A group of white explorers would enter the dense jungle of the Amazon rain forests and meet up with seemingly friendly cannibals who were only looking to have these guests as their next meal. With the many films made one wonders why no one noticed the very similar techniques and stories. We see women gang-raped, and men getting their testicles cut off or having their skulls opened up for a dessert of fresh brain. Everyone seemed to be a potential meal for each other. What sets this film apart from the other cannibal stock is the brutal nature of both the cannibals and the explorers. The addition of a genuine animal death is quite unsettling and resulted in the film being banned in Italy. It may have been put into suspending our belief, but little can divert the fact that this is still a cannibal movie and a ruthless one at that. The filmmakers revel in showing us that the explorers are at times just as cruel and brutal as the savages they are visiting. Cannibal Holocaust is considered by many to be the most graphically intense and brutal film ever made even when compared to its grotesque contemporaries.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
Dir- Peter Greenaway
From its violent and disgusting opening to its even more disturbing ending Peter Greenaway's THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER sets itself apart from any movie you may have encountered. In a gourmet restaurant, the film details the lives of the four title characters, the dutiful yet tortured chef, the mobster owner, his abused love-starved wife and her bookworm lover. This film in many ways is a parable for every emotion from love, greed & revenge. The desire of the mobster and his control over everyone sets the film up for its shocking yet appropriate ending. The actors involved have portrayed important characters in Shakespeare plays, their training, and delivery raises this movie above the freakish elements that would be exploited in any other film. This is far from any freak show, and it's a beautifully shot and well thought out the movie with very believable and sympathetic characters. They are asked to do things that few human beings would have the nerve or the stomach for. The subject matter may be unsettling, but this is because humans are every bit as corrupted; on or off screen.
Last House On The Left (1972)
Dir- Wes Craven
Wes Craven has made a name for himself as a leading director in the horror genre with such notable films as A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Serpent and the Rainbow. His directorial debut will always remain one of the most perverse and vile movies to recognized as a horror classic. Joined by Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th), Craven used Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring as a loose guide in this film that has two young girls out for a good time meeting up with a trio of murderers. The gang brutalizes, rapes and murders both girls. Afterward, the trio somehow finds their way back to the house of one of the girls and when caught face a wrath far worse than anything committed by the trio. This film is a compelling look at revenge and the day-to-day violence with which we have become blind to in our daily routine. What also adds to the film's shock value is that it was a shoestring budget with a cast of unknown actors, making it feel more like a documentary than an exploitation slasher flick. Usually, a piece of cheap exploitation like this would be hidden away or fall into the abyss of rental hell, yet with Craven's reputation and a surprisingly positive review by none other than Roger Ebert (I kid you not, this was a personal favorite of the critic). The Last House on the Left has found itself to be a milestone of splatter flicks and as one of the most disturbing revenge films made.
Dir- Takashi Miike
A widower decides to find a new romantic partner with the help of a friend who is a film producer. He conducts auditions and is intrigued by a young dancer who attends the mock audition named Asami. His new lady reveals to him that she had a troubled background and the two begin a relationship only to have her seek revenge after she feels betrayed by him when she learns of his past relationships. Asami is sadistic, manipulative and a total psychopath. Audition shocked films goers when it was released and remains one of the most disturbing movies to come from Japan. Asami is portrayed by Japanese fashion model and actress Eihi Shiina, and her portrayal remains one of the scariest villain roles in the recent decade.
Dir- E. Elias Merhige
Begotten, which has been both praised for its artistic originality and condemned as a "metaphysical splatter film" for its gruesomely chilling images, has taken its place as one of the nightmare cult classics of the 90s. Told without dialogue, Begotten opens in an unknown land during a strange time, where a single God disembowels himself with a razor. A new spirit, a goddess full of energy and mystery, arises from the inert remains of the self-immolated God and dances through the woods. To described any further would rob the viewer of the experience of this incredibly bizarre and visually unique film. This is by far one of the weirdest, creepy and all out whack films ever put on screen and may require multiple viewings to get a grasp of what is going on.
Salo, 120 Days of Sodom (1977)
Dir- Pier Paolo Pasolini
The Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini was known for controversial material, and the last film he directed was easily his most vile. Salo is a modern adaptation of the works of the Marquis de Sade. Set in Fascist Italy during World War II, Salo is the story of a group of perverted fascists who indulge in their demented desires and prey upon a panel of adolescents. They are stripped, dehumanized and told not to pray or engage in normal sexual urges. Violations of the rules result in swift and painful punishment followed by a cruel and prolonged execution. Pasolini has made this movie more of an homage to Sadism then he has in trying to condemn it as if he is attempting to show us visually how disgusting de Sade was in print. The Fascists engage in every perverted and disgusting manner that their imagination can bring forth. If Pasolini was trying to show us the sick parallel between de Sade and these fascists, he is relishing in their depravity than he is in trying to condemn them. The film is full of sodomy and rape, both heterosexual and homosexual. The audience is also subjected to such disgusting scenes as people being forced to eat cooked feces, razor blades and urinating on one another. We also see the prisoners praying on one another as each transgression leads them to their ultimate and final act of punishment. Whatever Pasolini is trying to say about fascists and de Sade is not clear, but Salo is so deep in its filth that we are forced almost to choke over its content. It is well filmed, and each scene of torture is shown in full color and shocking detail. It is hard to imagine the utter shock of this movie without realizing that the adolescents were probably underage.
Santa Sangre (1989)
Dir- Alejandro Jodorowsky
Picture a movie that crosses Psycho with Freaks, and adds a little Fellini for cosmetic charm. The gifted Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky brings forth yet another typical trip into genuine horror. We meet a young man named Fenix, who is confined to a mental hospital and through a series of flashbacks we are witnesses to many brutal events. His parents were circus performers, his mother an aerialist and his father a tattooed strongman. His mother was also the leader of a religious cult that worshiped a limbless saint; the saint was a poor woman who attacked by a man and had her arms severed. The blood of this saint is "Santa Sangre," holy blood, and is collected in a pool in a church that is scheduled to be bulldozed. Fenix is close to a young mute girl named Alma, the two share a special bond, and it is his relationship with her that he can handle the problems with his family. Later we witness a horrible event transpire, his mother sees his father having an affair with another carnival performer, and she tracks them down and attacks the woman and fatally injures her husband. During the assault she loses her limbs, much like the saint, she worships. All of this is supposed to have happened years before but did it transpire. We return to Fenix at the asylum, and he is met by his limbless mother who uses him as her "Limbs" in a series of gruesome murders and acts of revenge. We also find a grown-up Alma wandering the streets looking for Fenix; she may be the only person who can bring him to reality. Along the way we are witnessed to a multitude of images and powerful scenes that may or may not be real, all the while we must consider that we may be seeing the delusions of a person with a mental health condition. Like his previous work, El Topo, Santa Sangre is a powerful and violent film that does not follow standard conventions. Its style is unique and wildly imaginative. Director Alejandro Jodorowsky has again created another wild ride in the weird world of Mexican horror. Available in NC-17 and a toned down R version.
Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Dir- John McNaughton
This sick little number came onto the scene rather quietly, made in 1986 but released on video in 1990 where it received a cult following in the horror video market. The MPAA had tried to slap the movie with an X rating that was used mainly for porno's but may have been done to stigmatize this intense and shocking film. Michael Rooker plays a man loosely similar to famed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Henry seems to be an average looking guy, and except for the occasional dead body, he may have left behind he is a pretty cool guy. Working with a scummy partner named Otis, the two enjoy kidnapping and brutalizing woman, often raping and mutilating their bodies. What makes Henry unique is that for such a small budget and graphic plot we have a well-made and well-acted film that is above the level of most video store fare. The producers have stymied the viewers by delivering a great movie with fantastic direction. What comes across even more significant is that by showing the viewers the life and feelings of a sociopath we find ourselves looking into a dark mirror and staring at a sad reflection of ourselves. I strongly recommend this film but must warn you to be cautious as this is pretty strong stuff.
Dir- Tod Browning
Tod Browning gives the viewers a look at a carnival sideshow and shows us the world where the freaks are every bit as human as we are. A little person inherits money and is seduced by a greedy aerialist into marriage. From there she hopes to poison him and run off with her lover yet is caught and hunted by the freaks for hurting one of their own. Browning wisely portrays genuine carnival performers as circus freaks and shows the audience that it is the seemingly normal humans who are the monsters and the freaks as normal. The film was released to an unfavorable audience and banned in Britain for almost 50 years. The real tragedy was that Tod Browning found himself shunned by Hollywood for some years due to the film's controversial content. The film is a real treasure that has finally found its recognition in recent years even inspiring a season of American Horror Story.