6. Begotten (1990)
From the director who would go on to direct ‘Shadow Of The Vampire’ (2000) is a strikingly bizarre surrealist film – probably the closest on this list to a horror film. Begotten is a minimalist (both in budget and plot) vision of hell trapped in a seventy-two minute capsule; it appears to be set in a time before existence as we know it began where the ghastly spectre of a God disembowels themselves and hooded ghoulish figures drag a fully grown newborn around only to burn them alive.
Edited in post-production to crank the contrast right up so that the visuals are barely discernible to the naked eye and with no dialogue and a score that basically consist of human grunting and cricket chirping – it is a truly grim experience – one that undoubtedly echoes surrealist films such as Un ChienAndalou (1929) and reinterprets the story of Gensis with macabre results. Begotten is a hideous, but intriguing little film.
The Most Uncomfortable Scene: It is hard to actually pinpoint a specific moment in this one, but the figure of Mother Earth ‘stimulating’ the corpse of God and then ‘impregnating’ herself is enough to question your own viewing of Begotten merely 10 minutes in.
5. Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead (1988)
‘Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead’ immediately hits you with Nick Cave’s absolutely terrifying score – one of the most unsung creepy film scores ever. It unsettles the viewer straight off the bat with the black screen credit sequence not even being over. The film quashes any predispositions that prison might actually be a ‘cool’ place by showing unglamorously raw prison beatings, rape, self-mutilation and abuse from the guards. That said, it is not overtly violent – it is more about the oppressive atmosphere which is somehow so immersive that you find yourself completely hooked for its bleak ninety minute duration.
Central Industrial Prison on the surface looks eerily serene, but the often heard noises of inmates screaming through prison walls is thoroughly distressing; the matter-of-fact CCTV footage of violence is also put to use as it increases the intended documentary approach thus making the whole experience all the more harsh. ‘Ghosts…’ is simply one of the most uncompromising prison dramas ever made.
The Most Uncomfortable Scene: As with ‘Begotten’, it is hard to pinpoint a specific moment in ‘Ghosts…’ that is most uncomfortable – the whole film seems to be one big mass of distastefulness. Watch it and see.
4. Ladybird Ladybird (1994)
An arresting and emotionally pulverizing British drama by Ken Loach – a director highly regarded for his gritty films and their focus on social realism. ‘Ladybird Ladybird’ tells the true story of Maggie, a vehement young woman whose four children have been taken by social services and who is attempting to settle down with her new mild-mannered Paraguayan partner.
Crissy Rock clearly threw herself into the central role on her film debut and Ray Winstone’s scenes (totalling less than five minutes of screen time) as her violently abusive ex-husband are utterly devastating. The film leaves it to the viewer to decide if Maggie should be blamed for her situation – she is as much a victim as she is sometimes her own worst enemy – but regardless of which side of the fence you sit, this is an undeniably tough film to sit through.
The Most Uncomfortable Scene: The scenes of domestic abuse at the hands of Crissy’s ex-husband in the presence of her children are particularly upsetting.
3. Snowtown (2011)
Inspired by the gruesome “Bodies in barrels” killings in Adelaide during the 1990s – ‘Snowtown’ is an unflinching look at what seems to be every evil and depraved act a human being is capable of committing. After a group of young brothers are sexually abused by a neighbour, a charismatic man named John enters their lives and acts as a father figure whilst letting one of the eldest in on his malevolent and murderous behaviour. The film on the whole, aside from detailing the lives of the killers, seems to be an exploration of control on the young and impressionable – always the subject matter to arouse anger and hatred in the viewer.
Daniel Henshall’s performance of real-life serial killer John Bunting is one of the most chilling performances of recent cinema; his warm, accommodating surface conceals an absolute monster underneath. It is not a film that is littered with violence (although the few scenes depicting it are horrific) but ‘Snowtown’ will undoubtedly stay with you for a long time.
The Most Uncomfortable Scene: Pretty much whenever John is on screen. But also, after James painfully witnesses his brother being tortured he goes outside where kids are playing in the street, unbeknownst to the horror which is happening inside – incredibly unsettling.
2. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Truly horrific and infamously disturbing, this is undoubtedly the most extreme film on the list. ‘Salò’ was tellingly inspired by Marquis de Sade’s novel but places its source’s events in a fascist gripped World War II Italy where a small group of the bourgeoisie imprison eight teenage girls and eight teenage boys only to degrade, abuse and torture them for their own pleasure.
‘Salò’ is a film that is essentially exploring the abuse of power and the corruption of certain politics – it is even supposedly having a dig at the explosion of fast food with the notoriously disgusting “Circle Of Shit” sequence. The fact that the director, Pier Paulo Pasolini was murdered under somewhat dubious circumstances before the film was released also adds to its already unpleasant reputation.
The Most Uncomfortable Scene: Every frame of the near two hour running time is uncomfortable in some respect, but the “mangiare” scene is particularly horrible, as is the climactic orgy of gruesome torture.
1. Happiness (1998)
‘Happiness’ explores a small circle of people who are linked intrinsically; they reveal themselves to have dark secrets, sociopathic habits or to be simply lonely individuals. One man is literally addicted to making explicitly obscene phone calls, another simply loses the lust for life – but most controversially, there is the psychotherapist family man who has paedophiliac fantasies that lead to the most insufferable father-son talks on screen.
To paraphrase the cult director John Carpenter, Happiness “rides the line of taste”. Now, Carpenter actually spoke these words when discussing ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’(1974) during a 1991 documentary ‘Fear In The Dark’, so it just goes to show how impacting this film is when those words can apply to it despite it being a comedy (the blackest of the black). Happiness is so awkward, so cringe-inducing and so disturbing, and yet, somehow it manages to pull off the miracle of making us feel an ounce of sympathy for characters who have committed such unforgivable acts – it really does go right down that line between what must be commercially unacceptable and what is actually considered ‘funny’.
The Most Uncomfortable Scene: Undoubtedly the conversation that Bill has with his 11 year old son about hisrecent allegations of his paedophilia. “No, I’d jerk off instead.” Shattering.
Author Bio: Liam Hathaway has a lifelong passion of watching and reading about any/every sort of film which has lead him to be a Film Studies student at Sheffield Hallam University. His favourite directors at the moment are John Carpenter, Ben Wheatley, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese.