15. Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997 & 2007, Austria & US)
Funny Games is far from being the most extreme or violent film on this list. But it ranks quite high because of its influence, including the theme of torture, and bringing the viewer vicariously into the experience. There are also scenes where the killers speaking directly into the camera. For any horror fan wanting more than just gore, this brings you into the same house as the victims, yet you’re powerless to do anything but watch.
Director Michael Haneke takes a different route, displaying contempt for his audience. Funny Games features a now-infamous scene where the two all-white-wearing psycho-kidnappers even have the power to turn back time, in one of the most excruciatingly-maddening scenes ever put on film.
We watch as an entire family is psychologically, as well as physically, tortured in their own home. Michael Haneke did the American remake 10 years later nearly shot-for-shot with an English-speaking cast. While neither version of the film is as violent or graphic as others gathered here, its extreme nature and no-way-out tone is more psychologically long-lasting overall. Regardless of why it was made, Funny Games played a major part in extreme cinema and its sub-genres: home invasion and torture porn.
14. The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2009, Australia)
While The Loved Ones is anything but a comedy, it does have a fun and cathartic tone to it. Again, we watch someone get graphically tortured.
But this time it is a popular high school boy (Brent) who turns down a much less popular girl for a prom date. Awkward Lola, complete with bright florescent pink prom dress, has a very supportive but highly-psychotic father. And he seems to have more than just a typical fatherly attachment to her. Together, they make quite the demented team, and a gore-filled, painful night awaits Brent.
These scenes are way over-the-top though, and Lola’s vengeance includes giving her would-be prom date a lobotomy with a hand drill. Because of its tone, the film is more fun than terrifying, with elements of very dark humor sprinkled throughout. Even the ending is humorously harsh, serving as the perfect bookend to the proceedings. Director Sean Byrne knows his audience, and he deserves credit for giving it what it craves.
13. Oldboy (Chan-wook Park, 2003, South Korea)
In 2013, Spike Lee did his own version of Oldboy, but it is far better to focus on the original, which came out ten years earlier. Director Chan-wook Park pulled out all the stops to create this pinnacle of Korean filmmaking.
It all begins with a complex but original screenplay involving character Oh Dae-su (played brilliantly by Min-sik Choi), who spends 15 years locked up, but is finally released. A former high school classmate, Woo-jin Lee, is introduced, now a very wealthy and powerful underworld figure. Years prior to Dae-su’s lockup, the two knew each other. Woo-jin devises a plan of retribution toward him due to an indiscretion which led to the suicide of Woo-jin’s sister.
The complicated plot involves themes of hypnosis and two cases of incest. It goes without mentioning that there is some pretty extreme violence from a man with 15 years of pent-up anger and, ultimately, quite a shocking climax. The film is original and stylish in every sense, with a particularly-famous scene involving Dae-su chopping down an endless line of thugs with his trusty hammer. Oldboy is an original worth seeing again.
12. Frontière(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007, France)
While Frontière(s) does recall The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the overall impact is original in its own right. It starts out showing a political riot scene taking place in Paris, where our four heroes take off and plan to meet at a hostel somewhere close to France. Yes, this scenario is reminiscent of Hostel, but little do they know that there is a psychotic clan following the orders of a Nazi leader who prey on tourists.
By letting us know this in advance, it helps to build the suspense. There is some cannibalism and mutant children included in one of the creepiest basements ever seen. The graphic and highly-suspenseful saw scene is also memorable. Frontière(s) is for fans of French horror. It is an intense gore-ride suspenseful enough to recommend to anyone with a thirst for the extreme. The ending doesn’t disappoint, either.
11. Wolf Creek (Greg Mclean, 2005, Australia)
If there was ever a film that captures that moment where the viewer experiences vicarious terror from the victim’s point of view, this is it. Toward the climax, Wolf Creek shows a female character in the midst of being brutalized, and the scene is very graphic.
While most horror films about a serial killer are pretty routine, here we are actually looking through the victim’s eyes, with no idea what will happen next. While the premise of three people traveling the Outback (two British and one Australian) seems harmless enough, things go quickly awry.
Later, they meet up with Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), who they hope will help them. With one of the truly chilling portrayals of a seemingly-nice but evil killer, John Jarratt should go down in history for this. Wolf Creek does push the envelope of brutality, although without an emphasis on gore.
You can give Greg McLean credit or scorn, depending on your overall experience. But Wolf Creek does deliver scares, and that is the intention of this film. What makes it so effective is its unflinching portrayal of realistically horrifying situations. It knows no boundaries, but for fans of “true horror,” this may be exactly what you’re looking for.
10. Cold Fish (Sion Sono, 2010, Japan)
Checking in at 145 minutes, there is a lot going on in Cold Fish. This psycho thriller is filled with many graphic scenes of gore, nudity and a rape scene. While it is not for children, it is hard to take your eyes off the screen. The main character, the recently re-married Syamoto, is a man who just wants to get by in life, but he becomes caught in the twisted world of a fellow fish store owner, Murata.
Syamoto’s own passive personality ultimately drives him insane, as he tries to please everyone except himself. His daughter, Mitsuko, who is disrespectful, gets caught shop-lifting, and winds up being hired to work at Murata’s store. As well-meaning as he is, Syamoto is the type who gets bullied all through life, but even the most law-abiding citizens can crack under the worst of circumstances.
Mitsuru Fukikoshi creates one of the screen’s more memorable characters in recent years, as he transforms into the type of brutal monster which once repulsed him. His counterpart, Murata, is played charismatically by Denden. What starts rather slowly turns into a bloodbath with brutal hatred lurking in every character.
Cold Fish shows how an ordinary man can be pushed well beyond his breaking point, with shocking results. The film is riveting throughout, with darkly-comic touches, extreme gore and some pretty explicit sex. While it all seems too chaotic to be believable, Sono begins the film with a disclaimer: “based on a true story.”
9. Haute Tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003, France)
Alexandre Aja deserves credit for creating this shocker, which contains some of horror cinema’s most terrifying scares. Its pace, ferocity and skill are unequaled in the genre, with a no-rules approach that presents a brutal killer throughout most of the film who is unforgettably psychotic, mean and terrifying.
The plot involves two college girls visiting one of the girl’s family members on a school break. A mysterious psychopath dressed as a mechanic and driving a beat-up old truck comes to the house late at night and explicitly murders the family, kidnaps one girl, but leaves the other behind. She must then hunt down this man and rescue her friend.
The deaths are graphic, the horror vivid, and Aja takes it all very seriously. What really sets this apart from the typical run-of-the-mill horror experience is the non-stop suspense and extremely quick pace. Then comes the twist. Without the twist, accept it or not, this may have become the #1 horror film in world cinema history.
The infamous climax/twist has divided viewers since the film’s release. It was controversial simply because it was so unacceptable for many viewers riveted by the rest of the film. Still, there are those will accept the premise and can live with the film as a whole. Regardless of which side you are on, there is no denying the power of this horror heavyweight which helped bring French horror into a world-wide light that has progressed ever since.
8. Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003, Japan)
Gozu starts with this memorable scene. An unstable character, Ozaki, throws a small dog to the ground and against the window of a restaurant, thinking it a “Yakuza Attack Dog.” This is the same character who must then be escorted by his Yakuza brother to be executed. After arriving at a remote town, Ozaki disappears.
The main character, Minami, must then find him and carry out the order. But this is no ordinary town. Its assemblage of truly bizarre inhabitants is mind-boggling, and the events which transpire are so strange, creepy and grotesque that Gozu may haunt your nightmares for weeks. It could be the scene of a man using a serving ladle as a pleasure device, or an amorous lactating landlady, or when Minami is licked by a surreal figure wearing a cow’s head.
These are images you won’t forget, and they present Takashi Miike’s unique and increasingly weird vision. Minami encounters one unspeakably-strange event and character after another. These scenes can be taken as a series of unpredictable, perverse segments, or an ultra-surreal psychedelic experience. Miike makes it all compelling though, as he bends genres in so many different directions, but it’s ultimately a horror-comedy. Twisted, sick, entertaining, and with an ending that will blow your mind.