23. In My Skin (Marina de Van, 2002, France)
Marina de Van wrote, directed and starred in this, her first feature film. Esther is a woman who cuts her leg while in a friend’s backyard at a party. Esther begins to fall in love with her own body, and scenes of self-mutilation result, many of which are highly cringe-worthy, as she re-opens the wound and things get worse from there.
This is more of a dark drama than a horror film, but a fascinating one. Not for weak stomachs or delicate sensibilities, In My Skin will take you places that Polanski’s Repulsion never would have. Dark depths which even include cannibalism. You’ve been warned.
22. The Chaser (Hong-jin Na, 2008, South Korea)
The Chaser is based on the gruesome true events of a serial killer, Yoo Young Cheol, who was finally caught. Interestingly, it was a pimp who caught him. The acting is top-notch and Hong-jin Na provides several well-directed tense scenes. The film’s popularity with critics reinforces that this is one of the very best examples of modern Korean cinema. Some very dark humor is sprinkled throughout, several sub-plots, and disturbing but visceral scenes of brutal violence.
The director also takes liberties with the time structure, keeping the audience thinking throughout. The plot is also memorable, centering around an ex-detective turned pimp, trying to find out why his girls are disappearing. So he begins chasing the serial killer. But the results are never predictable, with plenty of original thrills, violence and a truly evil villain. There is enough here to keep any fan of the genre highly satisfied. Get ready for an upcoming American remake just around the corner.
21. Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008, UK)
Another solid entry in the realistic-horror experience. Because this is not a Hollwood movie, don’t expect everything to work out neatly in the end. The source of the horror is a group of deranged adolescent monsters led by Brett (played convincingly by Jack O’Connell).
What starts as a romantic getaway for a couple (well played by Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender) to a remote beach escalates into a battle between the two adults and the band of teenage thugs. These teens, when angered, will stop at nothing to dish out their own brand of evil, and James Watkins builds unrelenting tension is his debut as a director. Eden Lake is memorable, filled with suspense and terror, and the ending will leave you in shock.
20. Strange Circus (Sion Sono, 2005, Japan)
Twisted and twisty, Strange Circus will have you in awe of Shion Sono’s incredible imagination and visual gifts. What begins with a 12-year-old girl witnessing her parents having sex, moves into various taboo themes and dangerous extremes, including the long-term effects of incest on a family. And this family is about as dysfunctional as they come.
You may need to see this more than once to truly grasp the complex story within a story, or is it a dream? One of the more complex family dramas you’re likely to see, but very much over-the-top throughout. We have the aforementioned incest theme, along with transvestites, dismemberment and self-mutilation. You name it, Sono is unafraid to include it. A tapestry of the beautiful transposed with the repellent. If you can get through it once, you will want to see it again.
19. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (Fabrice Du Welz, 2004, Belgium)
There is a scene in Calvaire (The Ordeal) where local villagers in a nightclub hear a strange piano and begin dancing, almost zombie-like in what appears to be a ritual in this town. This scene will no doubt have the viewer wincing in astonishment, and despite all of the other creepy scenes throughout this odd horror film, it is the one that will stay with you the longest.
The film enacts one man’s worst nightmare-come-true, although few could dream up anything as nightmarish as this. Even David Lynch himself might find some chills in this ordeal starring the well-known French actor Laurent Lucas. The horror is not created with gore, but with the unexpected.
It all starts when a well-intentioned man gets lost off the beaten track on a foggy road in rural France. In the hands of director Fabrice Du Welz, you can get ready for some truly demented circumstances. Depending on how you view this series of oddities, it can be thought of as sad (as in loneliness), deranged, or just a thrilling and bizarre ride.
18. The Woman (Lucky McKee, 2011, U.S)
If you’re looking for a savage American horror film without the Hollywood clichés, this is for you. Take Jack Ketchum (The Girl Next Door), possibly the most disturbing of all horror writers, and bring some of his most merciless details to the screen.
Top it off with some daring direction from Lucky McKee (May and Red), convincing performances (featuring a psychotic husband/father played by Sean Bridgers), a beaten wife (the always-creepy Angela Bettis), and you have an unforgettable combination. But wait, there’s more. We also have The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh in a difficult role). She is a wild woman, literally raised and removed from the wild.
If you know the work of Ketchum, you will understand. In the end, we root for the savage woman as she battles a demented wife-beating husband and his son. This is a disturbing ride which moves into some twisted and dysfunctional areas, none of which is easy to watch. It’s a powerful horror film to be remember long afterward.
17. I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-woon, 2010, South Korea)
What happens when you take the star of Oldboy and the director of A Tale of Two Sisters? You get some pretty intense results. This is a fascinating study in violent revenge by way of South Korea, with an interesting premise. Secret agent Byung-hun Lee’s fiancee is murdered by a serial killer, so he seeks revenge. The hero systematically wades through four suspects before his vengeance is complete. But a quick kill would be too easy.
The secret agent takes two weeks off to hunt down and dispatches each in the process, and bringing the real killer to within an inch of his life multiple times, but this serial killer doesn’t die easily. He enjoys extreme violence and keeps coming back for his own vengeance. In one of the scenes, the antagonist swallows a GPS tracking device so that Lee knows his location.
This idea sets in motion a cat and mouse game between two brutal killers with traits in common feeding off each other. As revenge thrillers go, I Saw the Devil is the best in class.
16. Ex Drummer (Koen Mortier, 2007, Belgium)
An adaptation of controversial Belgian author Herman Brusselmans’ novel, Ex Drummer contains something to offend everyone, bringing to mind memories of Trainspotting. It can be thought of as a series of darkly-humorous and pretty hard-core scenes.
The plot centers around a garage band looking for a drummer, so they recruit a rich and well-known writer to join them. He proceeds to manipulate each of the band members, turning them against one another. Meanwhile, the audience gets to witness some truly depraved behavior along the way.
All of the main characters are despicable in their own right, but the most articulate of them all (the drummer) is ultimately the worst, having no reason for being so amoral. With an ending that is ultimately satisfying, and a bizarre, surreal style all its own, there is really nothing like Ex Drummer.