After seeing many movie countdowns such as the ‘Top 10 best horror movies,’ or the ‘Top 5 scariest movies,’ my fellow horror writer friend Death of Sanity and I decided to make our own list. So often we’re left dissatisfied with some of the movies listed in a few of these countdowns, we thought long and hard. Well actually not too long because we both came up with some of the same titles so had to choose which ones we’d want to write about, what ensued was a brief but bloody war, but hopefully you’ll enjoy our assortment.
So without further abo, we bring to you our 20 Most Scarring Films, a title of which Death of Sanity came up with because while there are many scary and horrific films out there, some have probably affected you. We hope to have covered at least some bases but please feel free to let us know if you have any suggestions.
Enjoy for now!
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
Desperately uncanny, this film really made me stare on in disbelief for its accurate profile of the psychopath. When Henry is released from prison, he goes to Chicago and stays with his former prison mate Otis. Soon after moving in, Otis’s younger sister Becky comes to stay after escaping from her abusive ex-boyfriend. Director John McNaughton does a magnificent job of continuing the circle of abuse by following three unstable people trying to live in the outside world, whilst forming very dysfunctional relationships.
The ending will leave you feeling deflated even if predictable because it does a wonderful job of leaving a stain of realism upon your conscious.
Quatermass and the Pit (1967, US title: Five Million Years to Earth)
To many reading this list such a title would seem out of place. An alien selection for a list of films that scarred. But in a way for me, this cinematic wonder had a profound impact. I originally watched this film when I was about 6 years old. It was a late late screening on television, so while my family slept I was up to watch it. At a young age I was fascinated by it’s story, a fusion of Science and Theology. That the notion of Hell was a psychic imprint seeded in our collective subconscious millions of years before.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
This was the second Wes Craven movie I ever watched and at the time of its premature viewing, I was in America staying in one of those highway motels on route with my family. The deeply unhinging reverberating score alerting me that this wasn’t a Disney movie. Soon I was watching ghastly hillbilly rape scenes and acts of cannibalism as humanoid monsters tore apart the Carter family. There were no exceptions in this film: acts of violence and nastiness were boundless from one heinous act to another. The remake was in similar vein, but it never replaced the shock experienced the first time around.
ABC’s of Death (2012)
Yet again another film that seems like it shouldn’t belong but for this list it’s not the the whole film I’m talking about, it’s 2 of the shorts. “L is for Libido” and “R is for Removed”. If you’ve seen this anthology you might have a good memory of these two short films nesting in that petrifying grey mass of a brain. So I shall deal with the second one first.
R is for Removed: This addition to the 26 shorts that make up the first ABC’s film was created by a director quite a few people might recognise, Srđan Spasojević. If you don’t well, I’ll explain, Srđan Spasojević was the man who gave us ‘A Serbian Film’. But while ‘R’ isn’t quite as brutalist and cruel it still offers a very interesting subtext. The short is about a man, bound in bandages in a special hospital. Every now and again he is taken into surgery where layers of his skin are removed and then processed into sections of 35mm film. These pieces of film are then edited together to make wondrous films. ‘R’ is feels more like a commentary on the film-maker and their art. That film often now is made for instant gratification, while the filmmaker wants to achieve something greater, but by doing so it will inevitably destroy them.
L is of Libido: This short was directed by Timo Tjahjanto, who made the ‘Safe Haven’ segment of V/H/S 2 and 2014’s Killers. I usually like Thai films but this one unnerved and disgusted me to my very core. While I happily admit that I watch some pretty nasty stuff there is one area that I really don’t like to much. The sexual abuse of children. For those who haven’t the short revolves around an underground ‘to the death’ contest where contestants must masturbate to the performance on stage. Whoever climaxes first wins and the loser gets a barbed spike up through the backside and out of their mouths. Stage 13 is where it happens and is designed so that the main character cannot win. I’ll admit I actually had to skip this end the first time round and then forced myself to watch it the second time to find out how it concludes.
Hellraiser (1987) 1 and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
This is probably one the first horror movies I secretly consumed. Yes, a young me cowering in front of the TV and slotting the VHS into the tape recorder. I can’t figure out whether it was the graphic sex scene between Julia and Uncle Frank or the putrid rebirth of Uncle Frank and fathom which followed. There’s so much to Clive Barker’s mind that goes beyond what we can handle in a single sitting. Just as you think there’s no more to come, the din begins and the cenobites make their appearance. It’s absolutely terrifying and still haunts me until this day.
In Hellraiser 2, after the events of the first film, Kirsty Cotton is trapped inside a mental asylum with a doctor who has an unhealthy obsession with the Lament Configuration. In fact he has amassed a collection of these puzzle boxes and uses his patients to crack its code. Exploring the link between those who have lost their minds or may have a connection and ability to access a parallel universe (or hell).
Audition (1999; Original Japanese title: Ôdishon)
I will admit, the director, Takeshi Miike, is one of my favourite Japanese directors and I regularly search for new projects he’s working on. He helped bring MPD Psycho to television screens, taken Yakuza movies into very dark territory with Ichi the Killer and Gozu, and even his more mainstream projects like 13 Assassins have been very enjoyable to watch. Even his most recent ‘As the God’s Will’ is the perfect antidote for people who’ve had to sit through Pixels. But one film in particular was what got me fascinated by him as an auteur. This film is an incredibly slow burner that draws you in with a sense of unease. But it’s the film’s finale that sears itself into your consciousness. The slow, agonising torture scene with the acupuncture needles, piercing his immobile body as waves of pain tore through his nerves. His silent screams as she draws her body up, bending and twisting the needles in his flesh. Then comes the the gentle whispering as she inserts the final batch of needles around his eyes, nostrils and in his gums. For this entire sequence you feel the sympathetic pangs of agony teasing your nerves. Then the most grotesque sound effect as she starts to saw his legs off with a wire saw. You don’t see it but the sound effect is more than enough to make you throw up the semi-digested popcorn and beer.
Human Centipede 2 Full Sequence (2011)
Two words. Baby. Pedal.
Despite meeting Laurence R. Harvey who is a delightful man, he’s very convincing as a social degenerate in the Human Centipede 2 which is by far worse than number 1 and 3. After all, Tom Six is known for taking his movies to the worse possible level with his perverse and degrading ideologies. But hats off to him for making his movies and pushing forth his beliefs even if a little difficult to understand beyond the depravity.
Inside (2007; Original French title: À l’intérieur)
This amazingly engaging home invasion film, directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (their first film, later they would make Livid, ‘X is for Xylophone’ in ABC’s of Death 2 and are currently working on Leatherface, a prequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre chronicling the teenage years of the killer). “Inside” is another regular on many lists of horror films where its violence is highlighted but for me, what left its mark was not so much the violence, but the motives of the antagonist. The story revolves around a young pregnant woman named Sarah as she approaches the birth of her first child. While home alone she is attacked by the mysterious ‘Le Femme’ (yes that’s all she’s ever known as) who torments her and murders anyone who comes into the house. The woman wants but one thing, Sarah’s unborn child. But as I said earlier it wasn’t the violence that left it’s mark, it was Le Femme’s motives, in a way it was easy to sympathise with her and why she does what she does, a woman, who’s only desire was to have a child. Only to have it stolen from her in the crash that stole Sarah’s husband away from her. It was this sympathy that shocked me, that I would relate to someone whose notion of revenge, of justice is to cut an unborn child from the womb of the woman she believed killed her child.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Some people will do anything for love, and in this early Lars Von Trier movie, the test of love comes from the highly controversial demands of husband Jan in Breaking Waves. When oil worker Jan becomes paralysed, he demands that his Christian wife Bess sleeps with other men and shares her experiences with him as he’s unable to satisfy them both sexually. Bess is understandably distraught but believes that adhering to her husband’s requests may cure him. Von Trier is known for his explicit filming style which has in the past been referenced as pornography. He also shoots movies as trilogies. For example Breaking Waves was part of the Golden Heart Trilogy which follows the female heroine who through all the tragedy experienced, manages to remain unbreakable. Another favourite trilogy of mine is The Depression. I still haven’t been able to re-watch Melancholia since it was released. Von Trier has a way of making you feel deeply affected after his movies.
What would such a list be without this film being mentioned. Directed and written by Pascal Laugier who also has directed The Tall Man and House of Voices. This film as a whole is pretty disturbing in the level of violence it portrays. From the opening assault on the family all the way to the final torture sequence. But one of the main parts that left its mark was again the motivations behind such horrific torment. However I don’t want to reveal it as it ties directly to the ending. If you haven’t seen Martyrs I heartily suggest you do, it is well worth the nausea and the mental scarring. If you have then okay, good.
This film teaches you all you need to know about equal opportunities. Do not cross anyone from the circus and take advantage of any freaks kind nature. In Todd Browning’s Freaks, trapeze artist Cleopatra conspires with Strong Man Hercules to marry Hans: a baby-like midget and then kill him for his wealth. She begins poisoning Hans, but in a drunken stupor reveals that she’s been having an affair with Hercules. After his ridicule, Hans seeks vengeance with the help of his fellow freaks, resulting in an ending you’ll never forget.
It just goes to show how politically correct the movie industry has become. Freaks was fantastic and yet we haven’t had a movie that challenges such themes in a long time. Perhaps there are many movies of a similar nature, but they too have been banned as this movie was for 30 years. There have been homages with American Horror Story: Freak Show and then Under the Skin which uses actor Adam Pearson who suffers from neurofibromatosis. But there’s so much more to explore with many stories to tell which need to reach the wider audience.
Salo: 120 days of Sodom (1975; Original title: Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma)
I have but two words to say here, THE FEAST also known as the Circle of Shit. If you haven’t seen it then good, I can’t, I won’t explain it. If I even try I’ll likely start dry retching.
I wrote a review on this movie which you can find at Horror Talk here.
You don’t realise the impact of this movie until a few days later where you’ll experience the last few scenes tumbling around in your mind. It’s an easy film to bypass with its low budget aesthetic, but the characters and unusual perspective is what makes this film quite unique. Found is a story about a serial killer told through a young boy’s eyes. Unfortunately for the boy, the killer is his older brother and as a result he finds it difficult to establish the difference between good and bad. It’s learning curve for the boy in an unconventional coming of age film. There’s even a film within a film called Headless displaying equally disturbing scenes. Headless has actually been made into a film and recently won an award for the Best International Extreme Feature at Feratum Film Festival. You get the point.
13 Game of Death (2006, Original Thai Title: 13: Beloved)
Another Thai entry, this one is directed by Chukiat Sakveerakul. Ok some of you might not necessarily agree with the inclusion of a Horror Comedy in this list. But when you think about it, it is a very interesting example of how far would you go for money. But there is one challenge that left it’s twisted and funny mark on me. The Washing Line. The challenge sounded so simple, to help the lady hang her washing. Shame the washing line is steel wire, pulled taut across a major road by the lady’s house. You expect it, you can see it happening but it still doesn’t ready you fully for the level of carnage this simple task manages to achieve.
Burnt Offerings (1976)
Besides from Oliver Reed being fiercely handsome, he was one of the greatest actors to grace our screens. He’s convincing in his role as a family man trying to keep his family together when the summer house they’ve moved into starts possessing them all. He’s particularly worried for his wife Marian as she becomes unhealthily obsessed with the house and a mysterious old lady by the name of Mrs Allardyce residing in a room upstairs which nobody ever sees. This film appears quite forward for its time. One scene in particular demonstrates the changing relationship dynamic between husband Ben and wife Marian.
He loves his wife so much and wants to be intimate with her, but she can’t do it. The heart wrenching struggle between man and woman is tense, his desire to feel Marian, yet she drives him crazy and he accepts her refusal because he loves and respects her. But it’s actually the pan ultimate scene which is again ahead for its time and will leave you with your mouths gaping and saying ‘Did they really just do that?’ For me it’s so refreshing when the ending isn’t happy because it further adds to the realism of the story.
Baise-Moi (2000; Alternate title: Rape Me)
A film where the title literally translates to mean “Fuck Me” this hardcore Thelma and Louise tale marks the period where full penetrative sex was allowed in films. The film revolves around 2 women. After one is sexually assaulted and the other seeing a friend killed end up coming together and burning a line of sex and carnage across the country. It’s grainy film and brutal sexual and physical violence will leave a blackened stain on your mind.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Director Lynne Ramsey is known for directing socio-dramatic films, often based on real people which is why Lionel Shriver’s novel was a perfect match for a woman with a flair for working with difficult subject matters. Additionally a brilliant performance by one of my favourite actresses Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin follows a mother coming to terms with her sociopathic son. Not only has Kevin killed his fellow schoolmates, but he’s slaughtered his father and younger sister too. The film is told through flashbacks and is almost like a study of a sociopath. It throws questions at the audience: for example, could Swinton’s character actually be the cause of her son becoming a sociopath, or was he like that from birth? The film reveals two sides of the story, both the mother’s and son’s that it’s impossible not to feel compassion for both parties despite the heinous acts of violence executed.
Well a Cronenberg film needed to be added to this list, though in this case not David. This film was a creation of his son Brandon Cronenberg. Very much in the body horror tradition of Videodrome and eXistneZ. But instead of it being an examination of the human relationship with technology and interpretation of reality, Antiviral examines society’s relationship to celebrity, from the consumption of grey slabs of flesh grown from star’s genetic code, and even the trade in celebrity illness. So your favourite celeb catches a cold you can buy the same cold and infect yourself with it. This film shocked me because of how it relates to the notion of celebrity, and examining the core obsession in an incredibly unique manner while still being rooted in the body horror subgenre.
For Coloured Girls (2010)
Although this is not a horror movie, it’s horrific on many levels. I regard Tyler Perry as a feminist filmmaker, he’s passionate about portraying strong women and also playing them himself from time to time even if it’s as the audacious Madea in his Diary of a Mad Black Woman films.
For Coloured Girls was originally a 1974 stage play by Ntozake Shange. In Perry’s version, the film follows 9 black women and their struggles in life. Their stories are interconnected as they live in the same apartment block. The film is a beautiful but shocking ensemble piece told through poetry, song and dialogue. There are many difficult scenes and very little joy in this film which makes it harder to consume. Janet Jackson, Whoopie Goldberg, Thandie Newton and Kerry Washington are amongst the strong cast and pull off some of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
You will leave feeling shocked, hurt and saddened, but when a movie can conjure such emotions, then you know it’s done its job, and in this case Perry has yet again breathed life into characters that the audience are able to connect with.
Frontier(s) (2007 Original title: Frontiere(s)
A straight up murderous family out in the middle of nowhere. This film by Xavier Gens (yeah, the same guy who directed Hitman and another ABC short X is for XXL). A great film with characters stuck between Paris tearing itself apart and a clan of Neo-nazis innkeepers. While the film bristles with violence there is one sequence which stands out for me. There are two scenes woven together that work perfectly together to create a truly tense sequence. The two I refer to are the Steam Cooker and Pig sty. Being slowly steam cooked, flesh melting from your body. Cut to clawing through pig crap to escape leaving someone you love behind. Even now this film always finds itself into my movie marathons.