In the world of cinema, so many directors have a message or idea they wish to get across. Some of these ideas are conveyed in such a shocking or absurd manner that it really drives the idea home. Legendary directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini are masters of this with films like Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) which speaks of the dangers of fascism and mass consumerism.
However, there are definitely some films which are shocking for no other reason than to be shocking. These films are usually grotesque in nature and achieve nothing but making an audience want to vomit in their seats. Please note the controversial parts of these movies are from the stories of these films, not any opinions from this author or Taste of Cinema. Here are 10 controversial films that exist on their shock value alone:
10. Hostel (2005)
Starting this list we have a film that has left in its wake a very interesting legacy. Hostel is one of the key inspirations for the Torture Porn sub-genre of horror along with the likes of Saw (2004) and Wolf Creek (2005). This sub-genre is very similar to earlier video nasties with excessive gore and violence on screen except with the advantage of having a larger budget than its predecessors and a wider cinematic release.
Films in this genre have tended to do rather well at the box office. According to box office mojo, Hostel had a budget of $4.8 million and made a huge profit of $47,326,473. Although this film is undoubtedly gory and shocking, it still isn’t as explicit as some of the entries on this list. The film features several torture sequences which portray a man’s Achilles tendons being cut, fingers mutilated and other gruesome acts of torture.
The film revels in its own absurdity and shock value as this is all the film really has going for it. Such examples of this absurdity is the gang of kids known as the ‘bubble gum gang’ who attack and kill people who don’t give them bubble gum. Not only was this film considered shocking for its impact on creating a new horror sub-genre but also due to how it disgusted and offended Slovak officials on its release.
The film showcases a very inaccurate view of Slovakia, portraying it as a poor under developed country filled with slums. One Slovakian Member of Parliament said this about the film: “I am offended by this film. I think that all Slovaks should feel offended.” This shows how the film has a legacy of being shocking due to extreme portrayals of violence and gore whilst also being offensive with its representation of Slovakia.
9. Roadkill: The Last Days of John Martin (1994)
This feels like a very sadistic short. Roadkill starts with our star John Martin wandering around town and through a graveyard with nothing to signify the upcoming absurdity with the exception of a bloody title screen.
After we see John walk around for a bit, we are immediately thrown into the world of this deranged serial killer. Which consists of chopping up giant rats and other mutilated body parts, and wandering around his house which has blood smeared on every wall possible with bits of guts and intestines lying grossly on the floor. Shockingly things manage to get even worse as this short goes on. John Martin decides to leave his house and capture two unsuspecting victims whose car has just broke down.
After capturing these two, John proceeds to keep one of them in a small cage naked whilst he butchers the body of the other one in front of them. The short ends with him eating bits of human intestine whilst watching TV. From this synopsis alone you can see just how gory and explicit Roadkill really is.
This film is made entirely for shock value alone with its sickening gore that includes decapitation, faces stuck to the wall and body parts practically everywhere. It is certainly a very hard film to stomach and one that certainly achieves its goal of leaving its audience disgusted. Other than this, however, it really hasn’t got any value other than good practical effects, and an affinity for the macabre.
8. The Burning Hell (1974)
The Burning Hell is a movie that lacks any semblance of subtlety and comes across extremely intolerant considering it is trying to act as a propaganda conversion piece for Christianity. This film remorselessly relishes in this idea of all non-Christians going to hell. On the gore front this film is relatively light, despite showing scenes from hell and a decapitation, the practical effects are pretty bad, not making it sickening to watch in any capacity.
The shock value from this film comes more from its aim to provoke an audience. Most of the film features a bullish preacher who attempts to fear monger people into attending his sermons by warning them that if they don’t they will go to hell.
In fact one scene points out just how tone death this film is, in this scene we are introduced to two bikers. Both are Christians who we assume are part of a contemporary church who have come to the more traditional church to discuss the philosophy of Christianity with him.
The two bikers say that this idea of Hell is ridiculous as a loving God would never condemn his subjects to eternal torture, however the preacher tells them that if they don’t believe in Hell and come to his sermon, they will both burn in hell.
One of the Bikers quite understandably gets annoyed by the Preachers telling him he’s going to Hell so he leaves with his friend angrily. Following this he has a roadside accident and comes off his bike and somehow gets decapitated. The friend runs immediately to the preacher’s church and asks if his soul is safe.
Remorselessly he tells him that his friend’s in Hell but he’s more worried about the friend and then tells him to join his sermon to stop him going to Hell. The fact that this film is nothing more than victimising propaganda trying to shock people into converting earns this film a spot on this list.
7. The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (1895)
This film may be the most influential one on this list. Acting as arguably the first horror film and also the first decapitation on screen, this movie must have shocked audiences to the extreme on its release.
To put it into perspective, this movie came out in the same year as The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat which involved a train coming into a station. At the time this film had people running out of the cinema in fear of being hit by the train because film was an incredibly new medium. So to put it into context, this film must have given people nightmares with what they perceived to be a real beheading.
If we judge the film on what we see today, it is still just an illusion that relies on shock, the film presents no message to speak of and the only action seen is someone being executed with an axe. For today’s standards, this film is relatively light on the shock value.
Maybe if a child watched it now they might be disturbed by the imagery. However anyone above that age would see that it is clearly just a cut where the actor is replaced with a dummy. Back in 1895, films were mainly either purely observational such as Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895) which just observes workers leaving a factory, or acting more as visual illusion as seen in the work of George Méliès with films like The Four Troublesome Heads (1898).
The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots, although lacking substance, is arguably one of the most influential early films and pushed the boundaries of what can be shown on screen.
6. Teeth (2007)
What more can be said about this movie which is arguably one of the most absurd films of all time? Why Lichtenstein thought that his script was worth $2 million to make is beyond comprehension. The film’s plot revolves around a girl who suffers from Vagina dentata which in the real world is nothing more than a folk tale found in different cultures and religions.
This could have been cleverly played out to make an interesting point on fear of growing up during puberty and feeling different from your peers which films like Carrie (1976) portrays so well. However, it is clear that Lichtenstein isn’t competent enough to make a film as provoking as Carrie, instead opting for cheap shocks and poorly written characters.
The film relies entirely on its shocking premise, almost every male character who comes across the main character Dawn turns out to be an evil rapist and subsequently end up getting their penis bitten off. Some of the imagery is truly absurd such as a crab crawling over a man’s severed penis and another scene where a dog eats a man’s penis which has just been severed.
Maybe on a psychological level you could argue that the film discusses the idea of male impotence and the subconscious fear of losing your masculinity, however, the film comes across way too silly and over the top to make that point well.