8. I Spit on Your Grave – Assault in The Woods
I Spit on Your Grave is an unrelenting cat and mouse of sadistic proportions. The revenge exploitation film has again gained attention for its notoriety, including Roger Ebert’s condemning of it a “vile bag of garbage”.
Yet, whilst many critics haven’t respected it as a piece of art, it is very similar to Wes Craven’s often appraised Last House on The Left, albeit with less character development and more brutality. However, whilst it has faced terrible reviews, it has to some extent been given a level of reappraisal with some claiming it is a misunderstood feminist film.
Whilst Last House on The Left could have been included itself, the violence is arguably far more gratuitous and unrelenting in I Spit on Your Grave with the scenes also dehumanising the victim into a mere piece of flesh to be fed on for the carnal desire of the men. As she is grabbed by each man, stretched out limb by limb, the sexual assault that takes place is so painfully uncomfortable that it makes the films’ final merciless revenge feel too tame.
7. Audition – The Bag
Most of the directors on this list could quite easily have other scenes or other films replace their entries. Certain directors just have a tendency for disturbance and are certified masters of the ability to repulse.
Takashi Miike is one of the best and by best, we mean weirdest. His film Audition is considered by many to be one of the greatest entries of J-Horror and the mysterious and demented sadist Asami is surely to thank. It’s like Fatal Attraction, where death is the easy way out.
To reflect the sadism which permeates through the film, the bag scene presents torture at its most revolting and depraved. As a sack in Asami’s house begins to shake, inside is revealed a dismembered, barely functional man: if he can even be afforded the definition.
With missing feet and fingers, the man is regressed into an animal like being, existing purely to survive. The sounds of his slurping from the dog bowl is enough to leave anyone a little cautious on their next first date.
6. Martyrs – Skinned Alive
Martyrs is a later example of The New French Extremity movement. A movement with which even the mention of its name makes its inclusion understandable. The graphics of the movement have become the pinnacle of extremity, especially within the images of violence which act without restriction.
The film is a revenge-horror, but a revenge-horror gone wrong. As an abused girl delves into a journey of vengeance, she finds herself in abuse far worse than the suffering she first received.
Martyrs heightens images of extremity and arguably reveals a torture that may present the most excruciating imagination of pain. At the culmination of her torture, she is skinned alive. The inconceivable pain is manifested as she is laid across a table, her anatomy intact, immobile but visibly still conscious and aware. It’s a moment that will make your skin crawl and make you glad it’s still attached.
5. Irreversible – Underpass Assault
In film, potentially one of the most shocking and revolting acts that can be shown is that of rape or sexual assault. Whilst murder or physical assaults may have become normalised and led to the desensitisation of audiences, the avoidance of sexual assault scenes in film means when they do occur, they reflect the level of disgust they deserve.
Whilst films such as The Girl Next Door or Straw Dogs present some of the most unnerving depictions of sexual violence and sadism, there is nothing quite as horrible to watch as the long, prolonged viewing in Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible. Gaspar Noe is a master of repugnance and the level of atrocity in some of his films is up there with anything on the list, but the pure pain in the depiction of rape in Irreversible makes it his most disturbing scene.
The scene uses a static camera and allows a 10-minute long take for the viewer to forcibly take in the horror before them. The red lights than envelop the scene, along with the claustrophobically narrow walls that echo the victims screams make it potentially the most harrowing and powerful depiction of rape ever filmed.
It is an assault on the viewers senses that leaves its audiences wanting to cry, scream and vomit in the witnessing of the inescapable trauma. Whilst many could see it as unnecessary or indulgent, it may be the greatest depiction of its horror. It presents the sheer malevolence and barbarity of rape; reflecting the elevated evil of those who commit it.
4. Cannibal Holocaust – Turtle Slaughter
To many, Cannibal Holocaust walks a tightrope between the Z-movie of pure provocation with no artistic value and an actual horror film. It would be included either way due to its huge cult following, but it must be said that for all the films’ fame for its disturbance, it does deserve credit as a cinematic achievement.
It is still one of the greatest cannibal films ever made and its found footage style laid precedence to the types of films exhibited in the early 21st century with the likes of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Whilst it, like all films in the list has been subject to controversy, don’t be fooled into believing it’s not an incredibly influential film and a piece of art in its own right.
However, its title may allude to its controversy. It received heavy censorship and bans across the world and whilst it would be assumed that the images of cannibalism were to be blamed, this was largely not the case. The real horror of the film comes from the gruesome images of animal cruelty; the most unsavoury – the dismemberment of a turtle.
Whilst real animal cruelty has been filmed before within the likes of Apocalypse Now, it is nothing on the graphic and slow torture exhibited in Cannibal Holocaust. The primitivistic characters are barbarous, and nothing can prepare you for the slow disembowelment of the poor turtle.
3. Salo – Final Montage
Salo is an odd intersection between high art and disturbing cinema. If someone tells you they love Salo, you could either be talking to a sadist or a cinephile, maybe both. Its director Pier Paolo Pasolini is considered by many a genius of cinema and a monumental filmmaker.
For some, Salo has been considered the sickest film of all time, for others it is seen as one of the greatest masterpieces of cinema. It focuses on four wealthy libertines during the second world war who kidnap eighteen teenagers and subject them to immense torture and violence. It has been said to be an exploration of political corruption and abuse of power.
To delve through Salo is to find a mine of disturbance. Some scenes are utterly obscene, even occasionally comical and some are just perverse and ruthless. Whilst a scene which makes Divine’s appetite look embarrassing could’ve been picked, the most disturbing part of Salo is most likely its final moments.
At the end of the torturous adventure, through the binoculars of one of the perpetrators we are invited to a montage or perverse sexual and physical assaults with various savage displays of violence. It may be an artistic masterpiece but the level of nauseating violence in the final montage leaves it admired by fans of disturbance and arthouse films alike.
2. Inside – Scissor Caesarean
For those of you who love Eli Roth or Jeremy Saulnier and are shocked at their exclusion from this list, believing they create the most uncomfortable and visceral violence known to cinema screens – you may not have seen enough New French Extremity. America has had many attempts in the extremity of gore – many of which almost found their way into the list: from the Saw films to Hostel.
But after watching the violence displayed in Inside, it all feels rather tame. It was once described as “perhaps the crown jewel of the new wave of extreme French horror films.” Switchblade Romance is another fine product of the movement which will equally offer you an exhibition into how to film gore, but Inside offers easily the most painful example.
The whole film is shown with unruly displays of visceral violence, from blown brains, to penetrating needles, to singeing faces. The film is an absolute blood bath which leaves its characters drenched in red, yet the absolute horror of the film is that our victim is heavily pregnant. A theme that is constantly alluded to, with images of the internal fetus reacting to the external violence around it.
The film climaxes with the attacker having to perform a c caesarean on her victim, only, it’s simply performed by a slicing of the stomach through a pair of bloodied scissors. It is the pinnacle moment of perhaps one of the greatest horror films of the 21st century.
1. A Serbian Film – Newborn Porn
The Crème de la crème – you will find this in every list of disturbing, shocking or banned films. By most people’s standards it’s the height of transgressive cinema due to the sheer amount of different disturbing scenes and themes. But again, is it artistic? It has been said occasionally that it’s a critique on Serbian society or politics.
Although realistically the 99.9% of its audience came to view it because their mate told them it was the weirdest thing they’d ever seen, not because they love Serbian politics. It holds very little artistic value and it does have a narrative, just a ridiculous and unhinged one. However, it has to be included as it has become the mythical exhibition of sadism everyone has heard of, but nobody wants to watch.
The chosen scene could be anything: for those who have seen it they could easily swap around the most revolting scenes; they could even have filled the entire list with scenes from the film.
For the purpose of talking about it as minimally as we can, we’ve only picked one – Newborn Porn. The scene is exactly what it says it is – whilst the obscenity thankfully isn’t as graphic as the other scenes in the film, the close-up of the smiling mothers face epitomises the disturbing mind that went into creating this demented vision.