Horror movies are already known for being filled with acts of murder, gory special effects, and disturbing stories. But even within this genre is a subgenre that goes further than the average horror film. Loosely connected under the label “extreme horror,” these films are unbelievably violent and explicit, often teetering on–if not outright garnering–an NC-17 rating for their content.
Many of these films have also been widely denounced by critics and government authorities who find their approach to horror far beyond shocking to near-pornographic. Many of these films have also been banned in various countries for what they depict, and few of them ever enter the mainstream. But for the horror fan that thinks they’ve seen it all before and that nothing can shock them, extreme horror films offer a rare chance to affect and disturb even the most hardened horrorphile.
Here are fifteen of the most extreme horror films of all time, but a warning: if you choose to seek out these films, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
15. Grotesque (2009)
Sometimes the title of a film lets the audience know exactly what to expect, and 2009’s Grotesque is appropriately titled for what it’s about. Following the increasingly horrifying experience a young couple has after being kidnapped off the street during their first date, Grotesque depicts their quick, brutal torture and sexual abuse at the hands of a wealthy sadist, who does unspeakable things to their bodies for no other reason than it satisfies him.
Grotesque is not a film for audiences expecting a happy ending: there’s none to be found. It’s a series of sequences watching two innocent people being mercilessly tortured in horrifying detail. Think of a version of Hostel with almost no story and focusing exclusively on the visceral, monstrous torture scenes and you have Grotesque. It’s certainly not for most people, but those looking for extreme horror, this movie delivers on what it promises–a grotesque, unflinching look at human degradation.
14. Flowers (2015)
Six dead women suddenly arise from the crawl space in which they’ve been interred and begin wandering the giant house for clues as to what’s become of them. After a while, they slowly realize that they are in a form of limbo and struggle to accept what’s become of them. Made without any dialogue, instead the stories (which are presented in six separate vignettes) are carried by the actresses’ abilities to emote their experience as they confront one horrifying scenario after another about their own lives, and deaths, to find some sort of absolution.
Although this plot summary doesn’t reflect it, this is an extreme horror film that’s filled with disgusting (and impressive) practical effects and gore. It’s a surreal, experimental horror film that features both stellar performances and a surprisingly affecting story. For the horror fan that enjoys a little artistry in their films and haven’t yet taken the plunge into the extreme horror genre, Flowers is a hidden gem that’s both incredibly disturbing and stands apart as a triumph of filmmaking on its own.
13. Funny Games (1997)
Maybe the most influential film on the extreme horror genre is ironically not particularly gory. Instead, 1997’s Funny Games is disturbing because it involves the audience into its antagonists’ cruel machinations, as two young men–ironically named Peter and Paul–intrude upon a family and begin to psychologically torment them during one long night.
Although there are disturbing events in the film, a child murder among them, much of the horror of the film comes from how the character Paul frequently breaks the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience and involving them as co-conspirators in the cruelty he’s enacting upon this innocent family.
Directed by Michael Haneke, Funny Games has been influential on both the horror genre and extreme horror in particular: with unrelenting antagonists that seem devoid of human emotion, the cruel psychological and physical abuse they unleash on the family, and the unnerving feeling that the viewer is somehow complicit in this act, Funny Games is a horror film that doesn’t need gallons of blood and disgusting practical effects to disturb its audience: it’s in its presentation, performances, and how the audience is involved in this disturbed duo’s awful acts–whether they want to be or not.
12. Neighbor (2009)
A dancing girl boogies into a bedroom and finds a couple, the woman dead, tied to some chairs. She acts surprised but lets that play-acting drop immediately, since she was the one who put them there. It turns out she has killed this whole family, including their baby.
After this, she kills an elderly woman and then a high school student before setting her sights on a young musician, who she captures and imprisons. This isn’t enough, however, so she captures his bandmates and his girlfriend, whom she tortures to death, as well. And then she continues her merry lark of murder, cheerful as always in her death-filled distraction.
Neighbor is an entry in the torture porn category of film that doesn’t mince words: it’s directly about a young homicidal maniac that simply murders everyone in her path, each one in their own unique, gruesome way. With an alternately dark and humorous performance by America Olivio as “The Girl” and featuring impressive practical effects that detail each sticky, disgusting death, Neighbor is an underseen horror film for gore fans that enjoy a touch of dark humor in their torture porn.
11. Thanatomorphose (2012)
Body horror is a genre that has produced some of the more unnerving images ever put on film. While film fans may immediately think of David Cronenberg when they think of body horror, other directors have worked within this genre and have adapted elements from it to great success. Thanatomorphose–an ancient word that signals the visible signs of a body’s decomposition after death–is one, which details the deterioration, both mentally and physically, of a young woman whose body is seemingly decomposing even though she’s still living.
After a night of rough sex, depressed Laura finds bruises all over her body. While she initially attributes this to the events of the night before, the bruises turn into wounds and soon fester into rotting flesh. Laura isolates herself in her apartment and experiences bizarre visions as her body decays. Try as she might to fend off the inevitable–which includes using tape and glue to keep body parts on–Laura seems doomed to melt away into nothing.
A highly unique horror film, Thanatomorphose seems to be suggesting several things at once: the relationship between mental and physical decay, potentially the effects of a sexually transmitted disease, or as a metaphor for not taking care of one’s self.
The actress who plays Laura, Kayden Rose, gives an incredibly brave performance that features her frequently nude and in various unflattering states of decay throughout the film, and this is an extreme horror movie whose practical effects may revolt some but fascinate others. For those looking for extreme body horror, Thanatomorphose is one of the best out there. Just don’t feel a little sick or be treating a wound while watching it.
10. The Butcher (2007)
South Korea has produced some of the best horror films of the past 15 years, but few films from this country have gathered such notoriety as 2007’s The Butcher. Ostensibly “about” the trials a group of victims go through as they are tortured to death by snuff film producers. What gives this film its originality, however, is that much of the film is shot from the perspective of those being tortured, as they have cameras strapped to their heads to capture their demise.
This approach makes The Butcher an incredibly unique extreme horror film, where the audience feels like they are the ones being tortured–and of which horrifying, bizarre tortures are being dished out by a chainsaw-wielding man in a pig’s head. It’s incredibly gruesome and a little too intimate for many horror movie fans to stand. But for those with the stomach to endure being subjected in the first-person to such an onslaught, The Butcher is a unique and disturbing extreme horror film to watch.
9. Inside (2007)
Maybe no other film has brought attention to New French Extremity than 2007’s Inside. An out-and-out horror film, Inside begins with unpleasantness and builds a creeping terror throughout that is punctuated by extremely graphic scenes of violence until concluding on one of the more shocking endings to a horror film in recent memory.
Ostensibly following a depressed pregnant woman who had lost her husband in a car accident earlier that year and may go into labor at any moment. Once home, she begins to be stalked by an unknown woman who reveals she knows about the accident and soon escalates to a fight to the death between the stranger and the pregnant woman, with the stranger intent on taking her still-unborn baby away from her by force and involving a pair of scissors.
Inside made waves when it was released, becoming critically acclaimed and garnering the reputation of being one of the best horror movies of the decade. Even 10 years on, Inside retains its reputation of one of the best, and most extreme, horror films ever made. Expectant mothers should not watch this film.