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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!