10. Ils (Them) (2006)
Ils (Them) is a French-Romanian horror from 2006, directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud with Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen playing the lead roles. The film dauntingly opens with the assurance that it has been ‘based on real events’.
Lucas (Cohen) and Clementine (Bonamy) are a young couple in love, living in a large, isolated house surrounded by forest. Late one night Clementine is woken up by unfamiliar loud noises from outside the property. When Lucas discovers that his car has been moved he goes to investigate but as he approaches, the car lights turn off and the vehicle is driven off by an unknown assailant.
Upon his return to the house, he is conscious that an intruder has also entered the building and it’s not long until violence breaks out. With the couple being terrorized by a totally unknown source and without reason, they have no choice but to run and hide from this unseen attacker.
An impressively scary thriller, Ils excels in its intensity and execution of suspense. With nail-biting tension and an unpredictably startling conclusion, this is a gripping, low-budget horror, that will leave you questioning the security of your own home.
9. À l’intérieur (Inside) (2007)
The French have a reputation for generating some of the best movies in the horror genre. À l’intérieur is no different. Released in 2007 and directed by Alexandre Bastillo and Julien Maury, the film stars Alysson Paradis and Beatrice Dalle.
The movie opens, in devastating, if not spectacular fashion, with a fatal car crash injuring the pregnant Sarah (Paradis) and killing her husband. We travel months later to Christmas Eve and the still-grieving Sarah is putting the final steps in place for the birth of her child the following day. When a strange woman in black (Dalle) arrives at the door, insisting she enters the house to use the telephone, the shocked Sarah rejects her advances and calls the police. When the police arrive and with the would-be intruder out of sight, Sarah can get back to her labour preparations.
As part of the youthful New Wave of French horror, À l’intérieur, is an extreme, gory and twisted film, shot on a typically low budget. A graphic and relentless splatterfest, this is an emotionally draining piece of French cinema that is not for the faint hearted (or those pregnant/suffering Aichmophobia).
8. In Cold Blood (1967)
Based on what is arguably the quintessential crime novel, which was written by Truman Capote, In Cold Blood is a chilling account of the murder of an innocent family. Despite approaching 50 years old, this film still sets the bar for any up and coming crime drama.
Two ex-cons, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, decide to act on a robbery tip off from Dick’s one time cellmate, Floyd. A seemingly straight forward job, the aim is to gain access to the farmhouse home of the Clutter family, locate the safe containing $10,000 and escape safely with the loot. In Dick’s own words, it was a ‘sure-fire cinch’.
However, instead of this routine heist, the two men wound up slaughtering the entire family, consisting of mother and father, brother and sister, after no safe or money was found. We then watch the two immature and unstable criminals, as they go on the run, dodging police and border jumping back and forth from USA to Mexico. With a stunningly powerful conclusion, we witness the downfall of the felons as both guilt and justice close in on the killers.
Hauntingly filmed in black and white, with sensational cinematography, (particularly the scene with Perry discussing his childhood, whilst the rain on the window reflects his tears) In Cold Blood is a compelling and emotional portrayal of a shocking story.
7. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
From powerhouse director Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 crime drama starring Malcolm McDowell. Set in a dystopian Britain, we follow the lead character and his self-titled ‘droogs’ as they wreak havoc on innocent people and their homes.
Alex DeLarge (McDowell) pilots ‘the droogs’ through London, tricking their way into people’s homes and terrorizing them through shocking, barbaric acts. Eventually, having been caught and arrested, Alex’s reign of terror is finally ceased and he turns guinea pig, attempting experimental rehabilitation therapy. When released, Alex by chance, encounters some of those from his delinquent days, all of which meetings are now under much different circumstances and with much different outcomes.
A notorious and disturbing tale of behavioural and conditional psychology, A Clockwork Orange was controversially withdrawn from UK cinemas by the director himself. Nevertheless, with Malcolm McDowell in scintillating form and Kubrick at his forceful best, this masterpiece is a thought provoking, social satire that should not be missed.
6. I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
One of the most notorious films of all time, I Spit on your Grave, is an American rape-revenge movie released in 1978. So controversial for its time, it was banned in many counties. With scenes of extremely graphic violence, nudity and gang rape, what this ‘video nasty’ lacks in dialogue, certainly makes up in its shocking images.
A young, stylish woman named Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) leaves her New York City home to go on vacation. With her plan to write her first novel, she seeks the tranquillity of a rented cottage in the countryside. It is not before long however, that she attracts the unwanted attention of four lowlife admirers. The thugs proceed to terrorize and humiliate the young writer through sickening and depraved acts. When they have finally finished with their victim, they nonchalantly go back to their everyday life, unbeknown to them, a brutal, malevolent storm is brewing and it’s heading their way.
Obviously not for the faint hearted, I Spit on your Grave is a brutal, exploitive and disturbing watch. Whilst rape and castration was always going to ruffle a few feathers in the cinematic world, it should be reminded that this film is not promoting violence or rape in any way. What director Meir Zarchi depicts here is exactly what these acts are in real life; shocking, saddening and gruesome to say the least. Nevertheless, I Spit on your Grave is still a powerful revenge thriller that has earned its stars as cult status.
5. The Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven should be well known to all fans and cinephiles of horror alike. His 1972 directorial debut The Last House on the Left is easily his most shocking and disturbing to date. Certainly no stranger to bloodshed, this is an extremely heavy handed approach to a horror classic, which has been considerably influenced by Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.
Mari and Phyllis are two young friends desperate to attend a concert for the former’s 17th birthday. With Mari’s parents somewhat reluctant to let her go, they finally relent, albeit begrudgingly. Whilst the two girls are en route to the concert, news breaks of a local prison escape, involving four sadistic criminals, several of which are convicted murderers. Before the concert begins, Mari and Phyllis attempt to find someone that will sell them marijuana, which proves to be an ill-fated decision to say the least.
When the girls unwittingly stumble upon the escapees, who are holed up in an apartment, life as they know it is immediately and terrifyingly turned on its head. With the girls subjected to violence and rape, the tormentors travel to nearby woods with the new recruits in tow, where matters only get worse for the poor victims. Needing a new hideout, the thugs search and locate their refuge, in what would be, The Last House on the Left.
This is another film that had to contend with the ‘video nasty’ tag and was subsequently banned across the globe for a number of years. Still exceptionally violent and depraved, even for today’s standard, The Last House on the Left is an iconic horror that feels like an assault on the senses. You have been warned.
4. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Adapted from the extremely well-written and successful play of the same title, Dial M for Murder stars Ray Milland, Grace Kelly and Robert Cumings. Under the expert direction of Alfred Hitchcock, the film is almost entirely shot in one location. Well known for what many describe as one of the best murder mysteries of all time ,Dial M for Murder is one of Hitchcock’s more subtle tales of suspense.
Tony Wendice (Milland) is an ex professional tennis player, living in a stylish flat with his well-off and beautiful wife Margot (Kelly). Seemingly already having all you could possibly ask for in life, Tony devises a plan to kill his wife, in order to inherit her money. With the plan taking effect when her close friend Mark (Cummings) comes to visit, we witness every angle, in Tony’s bid to execute the perfect murder.
A complex and scrupulous thriller, Dial M for Murder is perfectly scripted and performs impeccably, as the compelling, claustrophobic classic that it is. Containing immaculately constructed dialogue, this 60 year old masterpiece continues to get better with age.
3. Funny Games (1997)
Funny Games is a 1997 Austrian crime drama directed by Michael Haneke. Notorious for breaking the fourth wall of film, the audience here, is invited to join in on the games and are challenged through how much we want to involve ourselves. An American version was made by the same director in 2007 however never hit the heights of the original.
The Film opens with the journey of a young family making their way to their lakeside holiday home. The family consist of Georg and his wife Anna (Ulrich Muhe and Susanne Lothar), their son Georg jr and dog Rolfi. Upon arrival at the holiday home, the family are introduced to two unfamiliar young men (named Peter and Paul) by the neighbour Fred. When the two seemingly pleasant visitors turn up unannounced at the property, Anna is more than willing to provide them with what they need. However, when both the guests start to become a nuisance, clearly intent on causing aggravation, Anna demands they leave.
And so the games begin…..
The movie that made Michael Haneke universally known, Funny Games is a disturbing and cruel tale of two psychotic young men holding an innocent family hostage. An important and controversial piece of cinema, much has been made over the meaning of Funny Games and of violence in the media in general. So now it’s your turn, watch it and decide whose side are you on?
2. Straw Dogs (1971)
Directed by the brilliant Sam Peckinpah, 1971’s Straw Dogs, is a notoriously controversial film, renowned for its scenes of violence and rape. The film stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as a young married couple who make plans to renovate their newly acquired property. With a fascinating and thrilling climax, we witness the transformation of a man, seemingly trampled upon his entire life, turned into a maddened guardian, involuntarily pressurised into defending not only his property but his pride.
David (Hoffman) and Amy (George) hire several local men to renovate their new residence, an isolated cottage-like building, surrounded by the lonely countryside. Despite this being Amy’s hometown, David is met with hostility and being the introvert that he is, does not retaliate to the natives’ adolescent jibes. Things however, begin to get serious, when social boundaries are broken; confrontation inevitably leads to catastrophic circumstances. Very much the case of the wounded beast being at its most dangerous, the inner David is unleashed, with explosive and savage results.
Regarded as one of Peckinpah’s best, this film confirms that anyone is capable of violence when their constraints are breached. Straw Dogs is a violent and gritty cult favourite that is both thought provoking and emotional.
1. Martyrs (2008)
Another French entrant on this list is 2008’s Martyrs. Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, this Gallic horror again pushes the boundaries of French extremism in cinema. It’s both an emotionally and psychically violent film that has divided opinions amongst critics and viewers alike.
Lucie and Anna are two young girls who have befriended each other in an orphanage. With the former suffering from severely traumatic hallucinations, Anna becomes almost a mother-like figure to her. Fast forward fifteen years later and chaos ensues. Another film better to go in blind, so to speak, Martyrs can be divided into two halves. The first half is an ultra-violent, fast-paced, bloody onslaught on an unassuming family, with the second act, a sickening and sadistic twist in this rollercoaster of emotions.
Those bloodthirsty viewers baying for non-stop gore will be slightly discontented, as Martyrs contains much more graphic and realistic violence, it’s certainly not easy to watch, however it does have a remarkably moving and sympathetic closing. Another experience for the stronger stomachs, Martyrs is an unforgettable watch and is a true masterpiece in horror cinema.
Author Bio: Andrew Lowry lives in Bangor, Northern Ireland. He is a government worker by day, and cinephile by night.