6. Deadgirl (2008)
Two high-school outcasts, Rickie and JT, are exploring an abandoned hospital when they happen upon the body of a young woman hidden underneath the crumbling complex. Locked away in a sealed-off room, this female is fully nude, strapped to a table by her hands and feet, and bears the cold flesh and vacant stare of a cadaver; somehow, though, she isn’t technically deceased. She breathes and there appears to be thought behind her eyes.
Clearly a beautiful girl in life, she’s now a zombie locked away in a filthy basement, seemingly aware of her current situation but paralyzed, silent. How she arrived there is never explained, and how these two boys react to their discovery serves as an unsettling commentary on male sexuality, one that pushes Deadgirl far beyond the level of a mindless scare flick.
Widely panned and ignored upon its release in 2008, this is a film that’s sure to offend many. The most disturbing picture mentioned here (by a country mile), it possesses a bleak view of humanity and doesn’t pull any punches, goes places many genre entries wouldn’t dare.
Even the most hardened moviegoer will likely find segments of Deadgirl difficult to take, and for that it deserves kudos. It’s easy to repulse, to disgust your viewer with torture or visceral gore. Deadgirl instead disturbs by maintaining a creeping feeling of dread and unease; you can feel this movie in the pit of your stomach. It is not easily forgotten.
7. Eden Lake (2008)
On-screen killer kids are frequently devoid of more human characteristics; in an effort to make adolescents frightening, filmmakers often turn them into silent, dead-eyed stalkers. The murderous moppets of Eden Lake, on the other hand, are something else entirely. The story revolves around a thirty-something couple, Steve and Jenny, on vacation in the English countryside.
While relaxing beside the titular body of water, they’re approached and taunted by a group of loutish juvenile delinquents. Under the assumption that these youngsters are nothing more than a simple nuisance, Steve and Jenny attempt to leave but are prevented from doing so: the maladjusted youths proceed to stalk and terrorize our protagonists, leaving them with no option but to fight back. More than anything else, Eden Lake is an exercise in tension and suspense.
For most of it’s duration the film doesn’t stop to breathe, and writer/director James Watkins gleefully pushes the envelope. These kids are horrible bastards, vicious and sadistic, but the youngest amongst them is no older than 13; they really are only children, naive and nearly just as awful to each other as they are to Steve and Jenny.
Indeed, the most upsetting act of violence in the picture isn’t directed towards the heroes, but at another child. Still, they pose a very palpable threat, and the violence in Eden Lake isn’t easy to shake (there’s one bit involving a box-cutter that is monumentally disturbing).
A British film, several U.K. critics took issue with Eden Lake, complaining that it subtly incites class prejudice; this is understandable, given the current reactionary tone of their tabloid newspapers. For audiences elsewhere, it’s hardly different from Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds being pursued by backwoods rednecks in Deliverance. Watkins’s film is as exciting and shocking as any horror picture in recent memory.
8. Lake Mungo (2008)
Employing the mock-documentary format to tell its story, Lake Mungo is an Australian picture that drips with authenticity. The actors were not furnished with scripted dialogue, instead improvising their way through every scene, and to simply say they succeeded would be a gross understatement.
There are real documentaries that feel more artificial than this film. Lake Mungo focuses on the Palmer family, mourning the recent drowning death of their teenage daughter, Alice. Since Alice’s passing, the Palmers have been experiencing unusual events in their home.
Odd noises, dark apparitions, taps on windows, electronic devices operating by themselves, even Alice’s image appearing in photographs; the deceased girl seems to be communicating something from beyond the grave. Alice, as it turns out, had secrets in life, and doesn’t appear capable of resting until these hidden truths are revealed. It’s almost difficult to accept that the Palmers are not a real family, so convincing is the acting Lake Mungo. Hardly a single false note is struck.
Director Joel Anderson performs an impressive balancing act, and his film works on several levels: it’s a creepy ghost story, an examination of grief, and a captivating mystery all at once. Subtle and deliberately paced, Lake Mungo doesn’t feel the need to answer every question it poses, a most admirable trait. It’s the sort of movie that respects its audience. Best viewed in as quiet and dark an environment as possible.
9. The Collector (2009)
Often unfairly dismissed as another faceless ‘torture-porn’ effort, The Collector is much more clever than that. The premise is rather irresistible: a burglar breaks into a massive house, only to find that “The Collector” has arrived before him and is in the process of murdering the family inside.
On top of that, this cold-blooded psychopath has rigged the home with a series of elaborate booby traps. Our petty criminal, trapped inside a deadly house of horrors, faces off with The Collector while attempting to predict and avoid the countless fatal hazards that lurk around every corner, behind every door.
This is an exceedingly brutal film, one that admittedly does veer towards the ‘torture-porn’ spectrum at times, but there’s a sense of dangerous adventure, a spirit of playfulness in The Collector that sets it apart from the likes of Saw and Hostel. The villain is portrayed by veteran character actor Juan Fernandez, who creates a massive presence from behind a featureless mask, without speaking a word of dialogue.
Sound, in particular, is used to strong effect; The Collector is a film that grasps the importance of silence. It comes from the creative duo of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who wrote two installments in the Saw series, so some degree of skepticism is understandable.
Granted, we’re certainly not discussing any profound work of art. This is a Halloween party movie, 90 minutes of cheap thrills at a breakneck pace, and sometimes we needn’t ask anything more from a horror flick. As far as modern day exploitation goes, The Collector is pretty damn good. A lesser sequel, The Collection, followed in 2012.
10. Tony (2009)
Set in London, Tony depicts the day-to-day activities of Tony Benson, an unemployed man who relies on state benefits. Tony lives in a squalid apartment building, is an avid collector of cheesy 80’s action films, lacks any kind of social skills, and murders people. He kills mostly at random, chance encounters, but occasionally frequents gay bars to find his victims.
Lead actor Peter Fernando appears in every scene, nearly every frame, and the film rests comfortably on his scrawny shoulders. He brings this sad, lethal man to life with uncomfortable accuracy; scenes depicting Tony’s bungled attempts at normal human interactions are almost harder to watch than the gorier moments.
Tony shuffles about his impoverished town like a ghost, hair greasy, glasses smudged, fingernails caked with grime. He seems to desire companionship but is incapable of understanding the concept, in possession of a broken brain. The first feature from writer/director Gerard Johnson, Tony is an understated work of grungy art, its atmosphere thick and oppressive. Johnson’s camera simply observes, never judges, never tells you how to feel.
Running a brief 73 minutes, Tony keeps its focus tight and wastes little time in examining this fading shadow of a man. We don’t know where Tony comes from, or what caused him to be this way, but we’re left with the strong impression that he never had a chance.
The film is greatly aided by its score, simultaneously mournful and menacing. It was composed and performed by the director’s brother Matt, founder of post-punk band The The. Tony is an exceptional debut and Johnson’s follow-up, the 2014 crooked-cop thriller Hyena (also starring Ferdinando), is even better. Keep an eye on this Gerard Johnson fellow.
Author Bio: Derich Heath is a writer, filmmaker, and musician living in Los Angeles. He has made a documentary on the making of Prom Night II and is currently in post-production on his debut feature, Night Owls.