Top 13 Most Disturbing Horror Films I’ve Seen

Some people like horror movies that they can watch, get spooked by, and then put aside, only remembering if there was a deep social message or a particularly cool kill or villain. It’s a valid desire, and one I frequently have myself. As a collector of deep cut, so-bad-its-hilarious horror films, I can’t help but praise movies too such as Zoltan Hound of Dracula, Race with the Devil, and other “trashy” horror.

But sometimes, there’s horror that burrows into the soul. It stays there, rotting away at a tiny corner, ready to surge back out from the recesses of memory at any notice. Certain scenes, lines, concepts clawing at the back of your mind waiting to ruin your day with remembrance.

Those are the movies we’re covering today–those films I’ve seen in my life that just got into my brain and stayed there.

DISCLAIMER: As per usual, this only covers films I have seen. There are movies out there I refuse to see for my own mental health, and I think more people should have that level of care with themselves as far as self-love and personal responsibility. Certain films such as Irreversible, Antichrist, and Serbian Film are not ones I will ever see! Period! Therefore you will never see them as more than a passing mention on my lists.

….Human Centipede just makes my tummy feel icky so yeah I won’t watch those either. Not sorry :<

Onto the list!

Creep (2014)

Creep follows a cameraman (Brice) filming a series of uncomfortably intimate interviews with a man (Duplass) he met via online marketplace. The man claims the films are for his young son to know him better after his soon-to-occur death from terminal cancer. However, as the tension and awkwardness rises, it becomes apparent that nothing that the man says can be trusted.

Mark Duplass is a spooky bastard! Patrick Brice plays the foolish too-polite cameraman so well! As the writers and director, it was an inspired (and likely budgetary) choice for them to also be the sole actors of note in the film, but it paid off in spectacular fashion. That said there were parts in the film where my body literally folded up with my knees up my chin like a small child from the level of awkward tension provided by the film. It’s not an easy watch, even before the violence occurs, and I think that’s incredible. Nothing gets to me as a neurodivergent viewer like awkward tension, and this film is a much better masterclass in how to pull it off well than any of the million cringe comedies on television or big screen.

This film lingers in the mind beyond that–how many of us, femmes especially, have stayed in awkward potentially dangerous situations out of societally implanted politeness. How many disasters have we just avoided? The concept burrows deep, and honestly? These films made me better about escaping when I sense danger signals. So props for that!

Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

It takes a lot for my husband to stop watching a movie in the first ten minutes but this one sure did it for him. I first watched the faux documentary based on tapes of a serial killer uncovered in his basement after his escape. The film is dark, painful, and uncomfortable in how realistic it is. I have never had such a visceral reaction to a film. In fact, the first time I watched it was in my 20s…I just couldn’t finish it. Nor did I finish it until my 30s.

I’m glad I waited. I’m not sure how badly the ending would have messed me up at age 21, nor do I wish to know. It’s not just unsettling; it’s horrifying. 

It’s horrifying because it’s so painfully real for how misogynistic killers out there utterly destroy women.

Content warnings on this film include so many moments that I recommend please looking up a plot summary or triggers list beforehand. It is in no way an easy film.

Martyrs (2008)

This is one that anyone could predict would be here. Martyrs is a frequent flier on such lists, but for damn good reason–it’s not only violent and difficult to watch due to it, the cliffhanger of a philosophical ending haunts the viewer after the credits roll.

After a young woman performs revenge on the whole family of the people who held her captive, it soon becomes clear that a dark, occultic cabal was behind her torture and cpativity. The young woman and her girlfriend are soon put through a living hell, particularly the girlfriend. The violence is beyond the pale, making this film an absolute masterwork if not the most quintessential of the New French Extremity Horror wave.

To be honest, there is not much I can say on Martyrs that has not been said always, so analyzed is this film, so I shall say this: it’s incredible, uncomfortable, and not for everyone. But if you are wanting to be haunted by images and uncertainties, then give this a watch.

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary is one of the most deeply affecting horror movies I have seen in my life that doesn’t–on the surface–directly have much in common with other movies that have garnered such a reaction from me. However, the story of an emotionally volatile intergenerational relationship with mother and grandmother that culminates in a loss of identity and autonomy?

….maybe a bit relatable.


The shocks of the script and fraught emotional performances of this cast as they suffer loss after loss orchestrated by mysterious forces is an excellent film–shocking for a feature length debut from director Ari Aster. 

El Orfanato (2007)

This movie about a mother living in a haunted orphanage after her son goes missing isn’t the scariest Spanish language horror film per say. It isn’t even del Toro’s scariest film. However, it is the most emotionally devastated I had been at any film up to that point in my life, and for that reason, it takes a spot on this list.

The atmosphere is perfectly gothic, and the set pieces and costume design truly sells the seeing reality of this film. It truly immerses you in the story, which makes its “twist” all the more soul-destroying. I won’t ruin the movie for y’all, but it absolutely will ruin your day.

Suicide Club (2001)

Y’all old enough to remember when they sold Japanese language films at Hot Topic? I’m sure old enough. I got quite a few films there–everything from the lighthearted if oddly named comedy Kamikaze Girls to Ghibli animated features to this and another entry on this list.

Suicide Club is one of the strangest movies I have ever seen in my life. I don’t think that I could adequately interpret it on my own even now, unless I read from someone more knowledgeable, yet multiple scenes of it stuck so thoroughly with me over the past 15 years that I included it on this list.

Whether it’s the branding scene, the leap from the tower, or the group massacre on the bullet train platform…well. I suppose it’s not shocking that a movie with the title Suicide Club is a bit of a gut punch huh?

Obviously this has trigger warnings even in the title. 

Tusk (2014)

While the idea for Tusk was born of a podcasted comedy bit, that doesn’t make the movie less disturbing to me personally. While I understand the many people who (rightfully for them) think the film is unfunny, not scary, and a mess, as someone who has lost a good deal of bodily autonomy to disability, Tusk’s story of a man kidnapped and slowly disfigured and mutilated by forces beyond his control hits uncomfortably to home.

Justin Long and Michael Parks both play over the top characters, yet within the context of the story, it only works to make my pain as an outside viewer worse. 

While I completely and entirely understand viewers who found the entire thing a waste of time, I wished I didn’t watch it for entirely different reasons. I’ve spoken before on body horror and bodily autonomy in horror, both as disability/chronic illness metaphor and bodily autonomy for people who can get pregnant, but maybe one day I ought to talk about Tusk and medical horror.

Inside (2007)

Even as I’m not a person who would ever (intentionally) get pregnant, there’s something particularly horrifying about horror involving the victimization of a pregnant person. When a young widow takes a retreat to prepare for the impending birth of her and her late husband’s child, she is stalked by a crazed woman who is determined to steal the newborn for herself. With a set of shears and a demented smile, the killer simply known as La Femme is a force of nature.

Another part of the New French Extremity genre of horror, this film sets the tone for the movement. It’s deeply disturbing, overtly violent, and conceptually horrifying beyond just the premise. The actresses involved in the film all sell their roles in the tragedy with a verve.

Ichi the Killer (2001)

Based on a series by mangaka Hideo Yamamoto and adapted by master director Takeshi Miike, Ichi the Killer is a gangland yakuza bloodbath that one might expect from a manga or anime but wouldn’t get made as a live action film in the west most likely. It’s heavily sexually charged in the worst possible ways dealing with themes of rape and sadomasochism regardless of consent. The film follows the highly unstable yakuza enforcers Ichi and Kakihara on a spree of terror across Tokyo.

The titular Ichi becomes violently sadistic when aroused and enraged, so you can see why this movie may get intense for most viewers. It’s themes of sexual assault and rape are what lists it as one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever viewed.

Funny Games (1997 and 2007)

This home invasion horror is both one of the best of the horror genre and the most shockingly unsettling. When two seemingly clean cut young men invade a family vacation home, things obviously go horrifically wrong. The movie was filmed twice by the same director (Michel Heneke), both in German and in English with an American cast. Both films are spectacular and soul destroying.

Some of the incidences of violence are more shocking than others, but ultimately the most disturbing part of the films is that it’s so realistically within the realm of possibility–home invasions happen. Killings without motivation happen. And young men who look like the ones in Funny Games? Are the most likely to get away with it.

Don’t Deliver Us from Evil (1971)

This is probably the deepest cut on my list, so bear with me. Don’t Deliver Us from Evil is another French entry onto this list. Are the French okay? We just don’t know. 

Two rebellious young girls go out into the countryside to get away from the eyes of their families only for one of them to be raped in an eerily shot and overly long scene in which her friend confuses the entire situation and does nothing to help. After both realize the full weight of what happened, they make a pact with each other and the Devil himself in order to have their revenge not only on the rapist but on all who have attempted to control them.

The scene of sexual assault in this film is deeply disturbing, not for the violence, but for the acting. The choice to make the friend misconstrue the situation and not act made my stomach roil, and while I appreciate the reasoning, I definitely would not recommend this film for most.

The House that Jack Built (2018)

The House That Jack Built is the only Lars von Trier film I have seen. It will be the only Lars von Trier film I see. The story follows Jack, played with utter brilliance by Matt Dillon, as he goes on his serial killer/architect life all while trying to build the perfect house. Once this is achieved he enters a strange world that may or may not be–well you’ll have to see.

The direction of von Trier is great, but Dillion truly sells this movie for me. The way he acts Jack makes me skin crawl, particularly the scene on his date with a single mother. It gave me similar vibes as Jake Gyllenhal’s performance in Nightcrawler for sheer ability to make me tense up so hard my whole body almost inverts.

Dahmer (2002)

While Dahmer is in the public focus and controversy due to the Ryan Murphy helmed, Evan Peters starred “Dahmer”, there was another Dahmer first as a film that was all the more disturbing to me. Starring Jeremy Renner as the titular human monster, his performance is so deeply unnerving that I had to start and stop the film multiple times and my husband couldn’t finish it at any point. The scene where the police return the child victim was particularly heartbreaking and skin-inverting.

Of all the films on this list, this is probably the one I am least likely to watch again. Because for all the other films might be more violent…

I can remind myself they were only movies.

But Dahmer was a very real monster. And that’s what makes me lose sleep the most at night.

What other list style articles would you be interested in seeing my opinions on? Please let me know in the comments below!

13 Most Disturbing Horror Books I Have Read

There’s something to be said for the horror novel–unlike the horror film, everything in the novel is up to the imagination of the reader, which can sometimes be more devastating. To quote Indian actor Hrithik Roshan, as stated in an instagram video: 

“I’m so curious about knowing the unknown; it can be scary, but I see it as a game.”

So many of us see the art of horror films and novels in such a way. How scary can it really be? How deeply can it really affect us? And usually, there are a few that linger in the mind as frightening or intriguing beyond the norm. Few, in my experience, actually disturb too deeply.

But they exist. They very much exist; and once they crawl and burrow their way into the mind of the reader, they become very difficult to get out. I’m including a disclaimer with trigger and content warnings ahead of the article. I am also including honorable mentions first, with the reason I did not include it on the final list.

DISCLAIMER: The following books are listed as disturbing for a reason. I absolutely respect that everyone is going to have triggers or be upset by certain content, and therefore I am warning ahead of time and encouraging anyone who might be interested in a book to dig further before reading. I am giving you the tools needed to help with your mental health but past that, the choice is in your hands. The following books contain these triggers (though not every book has all of them):

  • Sexual assault
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Murder, including lynching and femicide
  • Torture and abuse
  • Misogyny and misogynistic violence
  • Racism and race based violence
  • Cannibalism
  • Homophobia
  • Transphobia
  • Body horror
  • Trypophobia
  • Hybristophilia
  • Stockholm Syndrome
  • Emetophobia
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Sex worker abuse

I believe this should cover everything, but again I encourage anyone interested in a title to read ahead and read in depth looks online for more information.

The following are honorable mentions with a brief line as to why I did not include them on the list. There are also plenty of disturbing books that I just won’t read due to certain contents that I know will trigger bad thoughts in me, and I am ultimately the one responsible for my own mental health and well-being.


  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: Whereas this book is disturbing, I didn’t feel the same visceral reaction to it that many seem to have. The narrative voice of the mother is a bit too alien to me.
  • Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik: Honestly seemed mostly written for shock value. Was gross to me, but not disturbing?
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: I think if the narrator were a bit different it would have disturbed me more, personally; but I also admit that the narrator being exactly who he is is what makes it effective and proves the point. A good read, just not for me.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Just…didn’t disturb me? Depressed me, but didn’t linger with me other than vague distaste which put me off reading more McCarthy.
  • Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov: Much like later similar books which I did not bother to read, I just…don’t read books where the main disturbing quality is that the narrator is a predator of children. 

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

I wanna say I was about 21 when I first read this. I loved horror already, of course, but as far as adult horror reading I had done in my life, I wasn’t particularly ahead of the curve. King, Lovecraft, and House of Leaves by Danielewski as a community challenge on livejournal. I’d read some Barker, but none of his horror–rather one of his fantasy stories with darker elements, Imajica, had gripped ahold of me. I curiously wondered what else horror might have to offer to me as a curious reader in the lgbtq+ community. There were other works by Barker, of course, but another list of horror with gay characters listed the works of Poppy Z. Brite. 

Oh, I thought naively. I like Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon and other movies about killers. I’ll be fine.

…y’all, I was not okay!

Andrew is a serial killer, who fakes his own death to escape execution. As he flees to New Orleans, he meets the bored, wealthy, and secretly sadistic Jay, who quickly determines that Tran would be the perfect victim for the horrifying couple to murder together. Tran himself is on the run from his abusive ex Lucas. The four collide in one explosive night that will undoubtedly leave readers traumatized and put off the exceptionally dark for quite awhile.

There are quite a few authors who get well into the heads of dark characters, but Brite’s narrator Andrew Comptom is a twisted atrocity of a man matched only by his eventual love interest Jay. Lucas is terrible in his own way, as well, and the victim, Tran, is the only character in the novel worthy of sympathy. Though outside of sympathy…damn, all of them are compelling characters. 

That said, no one writes a villain protagonist quite like Brite, and I find his writing incredibly influential to my own. 

Gone to See the River Man by Kristopher Triana 

What I went into assuming was a story about a delusional yet ultimately sympathetic serial killer groupie dragged into a nightmare by her obsession, turned out to be one of the darkest character reveals I’ve ever witnessed in fiction.

Gone to See the River Man follows Lori, a 39-year-old true crime junkie and serial killer groupie, who is in a rapidly turned toxic dynamic with convicted killer penpal Edmund Cox. Cox requests Lori go to a cabin in the woods of Killeen, retrieve a key, and deliver it to a mysterious figure called the River Man. But as Lori goes on her journey, dragging her disabled sister in toe, it becomes starkly clear that there’s more darkness to Lori than we could ever imagine.

Despite this novel being labeled “splatterpunk”, it’s less the bloodiness of the story that stains your mind–rather it’s the incredibly dark reveal of who Lori is slowly leaching its way into the nooks and crannies of your mind like an oil spill. Long after I’ve forgotten the admittedly affective scenes of gore or brutality, I still remember Lori. And I’m not sure I want to.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

‘Iain Banks has great sci-fi novels, lemme give this a try–’ I thought to myself when I got my copy of The Wasp Factory. Later that week, after I’d finished it. I returned it to the used media store for store credit and determined to stick to the Culture novels instead of…whatever Wasp Factory had been. Startlingly misogynistic for one thing, though that’s the characters and not Banks himself using them as a mouthpiece for his actual beliefs. In fact, one could and should successfully be able to argue he is critiquing such thoughts.

Frank lives with his father in a remote Scottish village. Their lives are ones of bizarre rituals, bound to the father’s obsessions. The monotony is broken up by Frank’s outbursts of violence, which only worsen when his brother returns to the tiny village, having escaped a psychiatric facility. As the story unfolds, revealing one horrifying truth after another, it becomes clear that no one in this terrible family is free from the curses of violence, sadism, and toxic masculinity (this is text btw, not subtext) that bind them together.

This is…a helluva first novel from Iain Banks who went on to write the fascinating but far less horrifying Culture series of science fiction novels. It’s incredibly difficult to make it through a lot of the parts, and even though it is a critique of toxic masculinity, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia in so many ways, it’s still potentially triggering to read. That said, the despicable characters crafted by Banks are fascinated. Once you’re caught in the wasp factory, it’s only a matter of which path you choose which decides your fate.

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Technically not a horror novel, this crime and mystery novel from Japan is still disturbing enough to qualify for this list. One of the defining texts of the “iyamisu” genre (translating literally to “ew fiction”), Out is a white knuckle murder mystery–a story of four desperate women both helping and destroying each other in devastating ways.

The tale follows four women working at a bento factory, exploring their interpersonal dynamics both before and after the conflict occurs. Things are already tense and depressing at the start, but when one of the women murders her abusive husband in self-defense and the group plots to dispose of him, things go truly haywire. As the murder is discovered from bodily evidence, the group begins fighting, trying to blackmail each other, and trying to ensure that everyone takes the fall but herself. The climax is shocking but thematically fitting (in my opinion), cementing this novel’s place on the list even as parts stretch credulity.

This is ultimately a very socially thematic novel, with each woman representing and critiquing an aspect of Japanese society and its repressive roles for women. The author does this brilliantly, showing her deep and personal understanding in each of the main female characters. For fans of mystery who want something a touch darker, without diving into the sheer horror of other texts on this list, Out is a great doorway to disturbing fiction.

Confessions by Kanae Minato

Another entry from the iyamisu subgenre of Japanese horror-mystery, Confessions is a story of vengeance, violation, and body horror that is difficult to describe without spoiling it. However, the shocking premise is revealed in the first few pages, and the rest of the novel follows the devolution of the characters in such a way that haunts the reader.

Widowed young teacher Yuko announces to her class that she will be leaving the teaching profession once break is over. Her young daughter was found drowned in a pool, and she cannot take the heartbreak of it. Slowly, she reveals that the drowning was not an accident, but a cruel murder by two students in the class who she does not name, but admits are protected under the  Juvenile Law of 1947. This law ensures that the punishment for their crime would be light, which Yuko cannot accept. She has contaminated the drinks of the two students with the blood of her late husband who died of complications related to HIV. 

And that’s just the opening chapter. 

The remainder of the book only gets more unhinged.

I won’t say more though, just that this book utterly ruined most of the mystery genre for me from here on out cause it was so damn good. There’s also a film version of the novel that is very faithful and well done, and I highly recommend it.

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

A spooky kid novel? Really? You might be asking yourself this, which is totally valid. I’m not normally one to be that freaked out by disturbing kid books, especially after teaching. Yes, some kids are dangerous and scary (see honorable mention of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shriver), but after years of teaching, most “scary” kids are just…weird. Or worse, abused, and have become scary through no fault of their own. As a former “scary” kid, who was really just repressed and undiagnosed as neurodivergent, more of than than not my sympathies are with the scary kids.

I have no sympathy for Hanna. The book goes out of its way to show that her poor mother is NOT imagining things, that Hanna IS evil, and that she is actively gaslighting everyone around them both to convince them that it’s her poor mother Suzette who is insane. This hurts as a reader, especially since we see how damn hard Suzette is trying to be a good mother.

There were a lot of complaints I saw about the internal monologue of Hanna being too mature, but I personally enjoyed those sections, finding them intensely disturbing. It’s less of a looking into Hanna’s actual wording, I felt, and more a translation of her thoughts to the reader. As someone who worked with seven year olds, I don’t understand the desire for writing for them in fiction to be developmentally appropriate–barring some advanced students, their writing isn’t really readable, and should be more an example of progress than actual literary quality?

Overall, I highly recommend this freaky Bram Stoker Award finalist as the ultimate Scary Kid Book, save for maybe the more realistic We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

This is a book about lots of things. Factory farming. Misogynistic objectification. Commodification of the working class.


There’s no easy way to describe this book, other than labeling my read of it as one of the most deeply unpleasant experiences I have ever had while reading a book that is actually well written that I tentatively agree with the premise of. The ending is hyped as the most disturbing last line of a novel/novella, and you know what? FAIR. 

This book is deeply sickening though, so even though I do totally think it has so much socio-political and artistic value, PLEASE be careful of your own mental health going into it.

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

Technically an iyamisu novel, there is no real mystery in this terrifying and disgusting tale from an author who calls himself “the other Murakami” with a sardonic grin. We know the criminal. We know the crimes. We just live in suspense of the increased brutality and the unknowable quantity of where he’ll strike next…and whether our narrator and his significant other will be the next victims.

Kenji is a morally gray protagonist, living life in the 1990s as a tour guide for sex tourists in a Japan increasingly shutting down the practice due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When he’s contacted by a creepy American man, he shoves down his misgivings–after all, most of the guys he guides around are real creeps anyway, right? But something is…wrong with Frank. More wrong than anyone else he’s ever met. As blood begins to spill and Kenji is held hostage by threats to his and his girlfriend Jun’s life, we’re on the edge of our seats as readers watching the depravity through his eyes. 

This book does NOT hold back on brutality. With Murakami writing this story as a metaphor for consumerism and the emptiness thereof, it’s clear that he thinks of it as an act of destruction. This work can also be read as a critique of the exotification and commodification of women–in fact, it’s difficult to not read it as such, even though the blood-streaked lenses one views the story through. 

I devoured this short book in one sitting and still think about it to this day. I highly recommend it.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The first three whole times I tried to read this book, I couldn’t make it past the first fourth of the text. While the film does more justice to building tension through slowburn and implication, the novel leaves no room for imagination on exactly every horror of the vampire Eli’s story, the monster that aids them in finding victims, and the fate of Oskar as he slowly falls for Eli.

This book has graphic mentions of child molestation. I cannot and will not beat around the bush on that. There are other graphic abuses in other books listed here, but the ones in Let the Right One In are what kept me from completing the novel for years. 

That said, it is a wonderful tribute to the horrific and brutally realistic experience that a being like Eli would experience. If you can get through it, it’s very much worth a read, but…

I don’t blame you if you can’t get through it.

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

Jordan Peele produced, Nia DaCosta directed adaptation WHEN?

Mira hasn’t returned to her hometown in over a decade, when her (white) high school best friend calls her, gleefully announcing she’s engaged to marry the local wealthy heir to a tobacco fortune. The wedding? To be held at the gorgeous plantation house in the woods, its blood-soaked history hidden by white paint and scroll-topped columns and now converted to a historical touring location. As Mira collides with her ex-friend Jesse–one of the only other Black women from the town–memories resurface both from the womens’ pasts and the bloody past of the plantation. 

This book deals with racial dynamics that I have not experienced and therefore cannot dissect, other than to say McQueen deftly handles every aspect, creating a compelling horror story with a message. It’s an incredibly dark and disturbing historical horror that also pushes forward and centers Black queer narratives in a way that the genre needs. Despite being scary as hell, I very much encourage folks to read it.

The Cipher by Kathe Koja

Kathe Koja writes like no one else and I mean that in the best possible way–she takes a mix of the cosmic, the folk, and the analog horror genres and somehow makes it work in the most disgusting and horrifying way possible. The Cipher is the most excellent example of that, with some reviewers even saying it made them feel ill (and me too, tbh, I’m reviewers). 

When a video store clerk and his friend find a cosmic portal in the back of the movie store, they begin to experiment with its powers. However, as they slowly experiment, the portal seems to be experimenting back. It soon devolves into a cosmic flavor of body horror like no other.

It’s difficult to describe without getting into spoiler territory, but please give this under-appreciated gem of a novel a chance!

Uzumaki by Junji Ito

When a town slowly becomes infected by spirals, it devolves into cosmic body horror that is simultaneously disgusting and visually iconic. Ito’s stories, writing, concepts, and art are impeccable and none of his manga emphasize that like Uzumaki.

The inclusion of a manga instead of a straight up novel may raise some eyebrows, but y’all.

Y’all, I threw up twice reading this manga. Heaved a few other times. Not even exaggerating. This book had me MESSED UP.

It’s odd, perhaps, as this is one of the most iconic on this list, that it provoked such a visceral reaction in me (and others), but for those who haven’t been initiated to the world of Ito yet….whew boy, he is worth it.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca

Two lonely hearts connect online, and things rapidly begin spinning out of control.

This book got a lot of hype on tiktok for being a queer horror story, and while this description is technically true, it disgusting and divided many readers with just how intense the story was. While I adored it, it’s definitely not one for the masses, as it blends an already divisive social media/internet-based epistolary style of writing with some of the most disturbing content I’ve ever seen put to this style.

Body horror? Check. Fungal horror? Absolutely. This book is queer in all sense, not just in the characters’ identities but in the identity of the book itself. Definitely one for stronger stomachs and a willingness to read unapologetically disturbing content.


So what do y’all think? Do you agree with these choices if you’ve read them? Disagree? Are there other novels you think should have been included (or would have, rather, if you’d written this list)? Leave a comment below to start the discussion!

13 Most Aesthetically Pleasing Horror Films

Horror is a genre often associated with the disgusting and vile, as opposed to anything approaching the aesthetics of beauty. In fact, one could argue that many films of the genre focus on the destruction of the concept: a once beautiful house falls into decay and becomes haunted, a gorgeous young woman is disfigured or destroyed by the forces of darkness, even institutions such as marriage (which should be positive) are oft corrupted by evil and betrayal. In short, anything seen as aesthetically valuable and pleasing in mainstream thought is annihilated.

There’s something to be said about horror as iconoclasm, especially in the context of the ongoing “culture wars.” From the “video nasties era” and “Satanic Panic” to today’s weird repeat cultural obsession with Satanic conspiracy in all aspects of culture that they conveniently disagree with, horror has responded in a reactionary way. Whether it goes far enough even is debatable, but that’s not the focus of the article today.

Today, we’re looking at those films which buck the norm and have a sublime sense of beauty about them or at least a unique and pleasing aesthetic vibe that contrasts greatly with the horror of the story and the aesthetics of the genre as a whole.

DISCLAIMER: As with all lists going forward, all of my choices are subjective and personal to my own experience! It’s possible that if you think a film should be here, that it would fit, but I just haven’t seen it or didn’t enjoy it personally. Art is a personal thing, and my dislike of something isn’t a condemnation of anyone else’s like or love of something.

Also these aren’t in hierarchical order, I just kinda threw em all on there. They all fit the prompt!

Love Witch (2016)

The Love Witch (2016, dir. Anna Biller) has a richly vintage aesthetic that does a wonderful job of throwing the viewer out of time and having any sense of surety or balance on when the film is actually taking place. Set in modern-day southern California, the film follows a recently widowed young witch on her increasingly unhinged journey of using spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her.

The Love Witch, 2016, Elaine absolutely serving.

One of the last movies to be filmed on 35mm Technicolor to invoke the most iconic horror films of the 60s and 70s, The Love Witch also leans into the vintage aesthetic through costuming, set design, and makeup. The vibe is so immaculately convincing that the inclusion of modern elements such as forensic DNA analysis throws the viewer off via a sense of anachronism–despite the film fully taking place in the 2010s!

In addition to that, the film is steeped in feminist analysis with Biller confirming that The Love Witch uses camp as a genre staple to examine the inherent narcissism of the femme fatale trope. The witch Elaine is the dissection of Biller’s deep dive into women’s self-help books wherein she noticed a common theme of advice: never love a man more than he loves you. Biller examines the logical if over-the-top conclusion of obsessive love at the consequence of loss of self, and does so in such a beautiful way that it’s almost easy to overlook some of the more viscerally disgusting elements of the film, particularly the murders.

Suspiria (1977), (2018)

Look, I know that the two Suspirias have such vast aesthetic disparities that it’s almost a cop out to judge them on one bullet point. But….both pretty. That’s it. That’s the entire argument, and no I will not be taking counterarguments at this time. Both the original Dario Argento film and the “reimagined” update directed by equally Italian director Luca Guadagnino have entirely different aesthetic sensibilities while both injecting a sense of otherworldly beauty into the world of witches, occult, and dance as artform.

Suspiria, 1977

The original film was shot using anamorphic lenses to emphasize the set pieces. The color theory of the 1977 version is the truly iconic element of it though, which the use of imbibition Technicolor prints only enriched. It was one of the final feature films to be processed in Technicolor, using one of the last machines available in Italy. In addition, the set pieces themselves contribute to the film’s aesthetics in a massive way; dripping with colors like everything else, every room of the Tanz Dance Akademie has a sinister vibe to it, even if it is only the setting for “safe scenes.”

Suspiria, 2018

In contrast, the 2018 version of Suspiria uses color sparsely and with deliberate intention, particularly the rich red that Argento used as a primary thematic color in the original film. By taking the film and placing it in more modern times, without it being contemporary, Guadagnino uses the gloomy brutalism and stark utilitarian designs of Soviet occupied East Berlin to make the pops of color…well, pop! The updated film is also more brutal, but still sticks to this aesthetic choice of rationing red; one of the most upsetting moments of violence in the film contains no blood (or so little that my brain didn’t register it upon viewing).

Despite seeming to be aesthetic opposites, the two versions of Suspiria are actually two partners in an odd waltz of visuals, and I couldn’t discredit either in favor of the other.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

The fashion industry is cutthroat, a well-known fact if the two fashion based horror films on this list are anything to go by. The OG fashion house horror though, is Blood and Black Lace directed by Mario Bava, another master of the giallo horror film. One could describe the film as a mass market crime thriller novel cover come to life, with a pulp sensibility grounding the film amongst the otherwise glamorous world of haute couture.

Blood and Black Lace, 1964

Whereas Suspiria (1977) created a genre-defying style for a giallo horror, Bava’s Blood and Black Lace worked more as genre-defining. Even Martin Scorcese would credit the crime noir horror as being foundational for his future directional and aesthetic choices.

Helter Skelter (2012)

Based on the manga of the same name by Kyoko Okazaki, Helter Skelter follows the story of Ririko, a supermodel who has undergone head to toe plastic surgery to stay on the cutting edge of her modeling career. However, her body soon begins to break down, causing Ririko’s mental state to do the same. As police close in on a potential medical trafficking ring behind the dangerous and deadly plastic surgeon’s office, an unhinged Ririko begins lashing out at other women who present themselves as rivals.

Helter Skelter, 2012, Ririko living the dream of a tub where you don’t gotta pull up your knees.

The film is saturated in bright colors and rich with symbolism surrounding beauty as industry. Without the same preachiness found in lesser horror films, Helter Skelter asks its audience to consider: how complicit are we as consumers in the gradual destruction of the influencers we’ve commodified?

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Fairytale reimaginings have a large following, particularly fans of dark reimaginings. Company of Wolves is a 1984 British gothic fantasy horror film, directed by Neil Jordan, which was adapted from the fairytale reimaginings of British literary icon Angela Carter. The story tells Red Riding Hood with more sympathy for the wolves, reminding the human viewers that we are not above monstrosity ourselves through a series of acted out parables.

The Company of Wolves, 1984

The set and costume design beautifully mix the delicacy and femininity associated with fairytales while still incorporating the darkness and harshness of the gothic and beastial, sometimes in very creative ways. The wedding reception with the wolves is one of the most iconic images from the film and beautifully summarizes its overarching aesthetic.

Midsommar (2019)

While I tend to roll my eyes at anyone who says Ari Aster’s 2019 horror film Midsommar was so unique because of its use of broad daylight horror (Texas Chainsaw Massacre anyone?), that isn’t to sell its aesthetic beauty short. Aster has a way of setting a scene that makes it very clear why he’s one of the most watched and applauded new directors in the genre.

Midsommar, 2019

Going well beyond just the choice to film in daylight, Aster chooses to take the bright and happy aesthetics of the Scandinavian countryside, mix them with bright colors and lurid floral pieces, and still give us one of the most intense and visceral works of the last several decades. The way the film shifts from dull and dire at the beginning to almost neon brightness by the finale camouflaging the sinister ending with the scent of smoke and flower petals.

The Cell (2000)

What can I say about director Tarsem Singh that hasn’t already been said or wouldn’t devolve into a Mean Girls-inspired Regina George praise segment for the director?? He has some of the most iconic looks of film based on storyboards alone, with a visual sensibility that rivals (if not surpasses in some ways) that of Alejandro Jorodowsky.

The Cell, 2000

While this film is often overlooked due to the presence of Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn in the starring roles, it is still powerfully a Singh film, utilizing the film’s narrative to create extraordinary visuals for the dreamscape Lopez’s psychiatrist enters to psychoanalyze Vince Vaughn’s killer character.

Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992)

I couldn’t overlook this film: between the well planned storyboarding and direction of Francis Ford Coppola, the iconic costume design of Eiko Ishioka, and the amazing team behind the set production and photography, it’s no wonder that the film is looked to as the second most iconic Dracula film, behind on the 1931 adaptation which introduced the world to stage actor Bela Lugosi.

Dracula, 1992

The film defined an aesthetic for any gothic horror film to follow, as well as many other films both as homage and parody. Without it, we wouldn’t have a ton of media or at least not the same way we ended up getting it. For that alone, this film’s aesthetic is iconic!

Mandy (2018)

What can I say about Mandy besides “psychedelics sure are a thing”? Not that director Panos Cosmatos was on them during filming or during any part of the process, just that the entire two hour run time of the film feels like everything those old anti-drug PSAs warned me about. The vivid colors of the film swirl chaotically around staging and set design that feels straight out of surrealist art pieces. Is the movie any of the things critics claim regarding interpretation? Maybe? I’ve seen it three times, and I sure don’t know!

Mandy, 2018

But it’s so pretty and chaotic and almost dadaist in the level of nonsensical yet compelling visuals, that one almost doesn’t care what else can get out of it. Beyond that: what each viewer gets out of it will be different but due to the anarchy of it all. The only agreed upon premise? A mad drug lord brutally kills Nic Cage’s character’s wife, who then embarks on an apocalyptic, blood-soaked journey of revenge.

The Color Out of Space (2019)

I’d ask what it is about Nic Cage that lends himself to such unhinged films, but I have long ago decided that Nic Cage just does what he wants and I respect him for that artistically even if some of his decisions in and out of film are questionable. However, I have to say his decision to work with infamously deranged auteur filmmaker Richard Stanley on his return to the director’s chair? Inspired. Especially considering how utterly perfect the ensuing adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s standalone horror novella The Color Out of Space actually ended up being.

The Color Out of Space, 2019

The special effects and the aesthetics are pure Lovecraft, adapting the insanity of the indescribable perfected by that weird ole racist Rhode Islander who took his phobias and prejudices and somehow still defined a genre. What was previously thought to be unfilmable came to vivid life on screen in a cosmically terrifying and beautiful way, and it needs more recognition than it currently has.

Vampyr (1932)

One could argue that there are other more visually stunning or unique German horror films, both of this era and afterwards. However, there’s something almost ethereal about the filmmaking aesthetic of Vampyr, the whole film feeling like a dreamscape punctuated by moments of nightmare.

Vampyr, 1932

It defined the aesthetics of horror for decades afterward even into the modern day with the camera tricks it utilized. Film in general, really, was changed with the unique for the time ways that actors were framed by principle photography and lens tricks.

The Village (2004)

Okay so, hear me out. Hear me out. Is the movie actually that good? Not really. The twist isn’t terrible, but so much of the movie relies on lazy writing and outright ableism (a terrible trope that permeates so many of Shyamalan’s films) that I can’t actually praise it overall as I have the others. But visually? It’s a gorgeous movie, and probably the most visually interesting of any of M. Night’s films.

The Village, 2004

With the rich color symbolism, unique costuming, and interesting framing (which admittedly falters in the ending), it’s probably the most “film” instead of “movie” of the director’s oeuvre, which is why the disappointing twist ending and the ableist tropes that continued to plague his works are so disappointing.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

Ana Lily Amirpour directed this modern Iranian feminist take on the vampire legend with such a unique vision that many who view it can recognize some of the specific shots without any other context. The girl in hijab riding a skateboard under stark streetlights, the antagonist guy driving a car with his cat just hanging out in the backseat, focus on putting everyone’s eyes in the most sharp focus possible–even the cityscape of the fictional Bad Town is full of character.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, 2014

Despite being in black and white, the film oozes a vitality normally only associated with use of vivid colors, and it’s to the point I truly believe that color would have made the film overwhelming because of how powerfully framed Amirpour’s shots and vision are. That she throws in many cultural touchstones such as music posters, record sleeves, and recognizable-yet-not cosmetics add to the uncanny valley vibes of the real-world adjacent Bad Town.

Darling (2015)
The Neon Demon (2016)
Kwaidan (1964)
The Shining (1980)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

What do you all think? Do you agree with these choices? Disagree? Have additions that I may not have thought of? If you would like to discuss it, leave a comment! I’d love to hear from y’all!