Horror films have always tiptoed around or bludgeoned straight on through modes of stimulation and fright. Wish-fulfillment sex and violence make for fascinating bedfellows and always have, and this list will please both genre fans and those looking for a chilling provocation.
Many of the films listed here are polarizing, which should come as a shock to no one. Horror by its very nature is exploitative, and combine this with ideas of eroticism and sexuality and you’ll have the pious and the uptight squirming in their seats while the repressed and the churlish similarly agonize and gnash.
Rather than delve into the sexual politics at play here this list instead takes pains to detail genre films that see eroticism and sex in ways that are titillating and, on occasion sublime.
There’s a few here that are flat-out trash––those can still be fun––and others that are camp, and others too that are thoughtful, artistic, and even, I would argue, grandiose. And a few that are just gross. Enjoy!
30. Nekromantik (1987)
On the surface there’s little to recommend about this shocker aside from gratuitous cruelty and, as the title suggests, necrophilia, but what else would one expect from West Berlin exploitation legend Jörg Buttgereit (Horror Heaven)?
The film focusses on one Rob Schmadtke (Daktari Lorenz), an employee for Joe’s Cleaning Agency where he cleans up corpses from road accidents and that sort of thing, and this is all catnip for Rob, who loves defiling corpses. Sound transgressive enough?
Wait, there’s more (including a ménage à trois with a corpse and a steel pipe), but, amidst all the nastiness and taboo smashing Buttgereit actually injects a lot of satire on bourgeois mores––Rob stops defiling corpses long enough for a short-lived warm-blooded romance with Betty (Beatrice Manowski)––and even features a whip-smart slasher parody via an extended film-within-a-film sequence.
This one’s for diehards and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else, but the extreme masochism, dysfunction and themes of social isolation and despair combine with a strange eroticism that will appeal to a select and skewered few.
29. From Dusk till Dawn (1996)
While a somewhat inconsistent viewing experience overall, the patchiness is owed perhaps for the genre-jumping experimenting of screenwriter Quentin Tarantino––who regrettably also co-stars––and overzealous director Robert Rodriguez in this amalgam crime/action/horror/comedy which, despite its many flaws, is still an enjoyable B-movie and something of a midnight cult hit.
The fugitive and murderous Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Tarantino), are on the run from the Feds––something about robbing banks and slaughtering innocents and taking hostages––when they find themselves in Mexico, at a tasteless peeler bar called the Titty Twister.
At this bar, spoiler alert, the denizens who dwell within are vampires, but truly the only one of them that matters is star stripper Santanico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek). She steals the show with the best scene in the film––also the spiciest––and the splatter and platitudes that follow are hit-and-miss with the game cast falling just shy of staring right into the camera and winking. It’s not a movie for everyone but it might be for you.
28. Vampyres (1974)
The British censors were fittingly outraged by Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska as the eponymous bloodsuckers in José Ramón Larra’s sordid lesbian vampire tale.
The early 70s enjoyed a brief and bitey trend in sexploitation of this ilk (see Jess Franco’s sumptuous Vampyros Lesbos further on down this list) and this wonderfully atmospheric fright flick, overrun with dreamlike visuals and shocking violence spread amongst gratuitous nudity and Gothic scenes of seduction –– Murray Brown’s ill-fated plaything peasant victim isn’t easy to forget –– makes for the quintessential vogue vampiric lesbian liaison.
27. Neon Demon (2016)
Polarizing auteur du jour Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Drive) offers up his obeisance of giallo cinema with Neon Demon. Detailing with satire, savagery, and arthouse horror bending of the knee, Refn tells the sordid and seductive tale of sixteen-year-old wannabe model Jesse (Elle Fanning) and her terrifying odyssey into the Los Angeles fashion industry, where bloodlust, libido, carnal cravings and cannibalism all combat for the whip hand.
A suitably amorous and atmospheric score from Cliff Martinez helps the alternately sensual and eerie film unfold with the right amount of hallucinatory expression to this beauty-obsessed tale of exploitation. Call it pretentious and call it indulgent if you wish, Neon Demon is also pretty, unflinchingly gruesome, and purposely provocative. Oh yeah, and it has Keanu Reeves.
26. Ilsa, the Wicked Warden (1977)
As far as camp classics go, the Naziploitation trend didn’t exactly pull it’s punches when it came to gore, rape, sadism, and OTT violence, and Isla, the Wicked Warden –– the third in the Isla franchise –– is a guilty pleasure for the video nasties crowd. Something of an icon, former Las Vegas showgirl and pin-up centerfold, Dyanne Thorne is best known as Ilsa and her frequent pairings with director Jess Franco reaped many raunchy and ribald rewards.
The plot of this particular outing involves Ilsa as the notorious warden of a mental institution for young women where sexual humiliation is par for the course, as is the manufacturing of pornography. But Ilsa may have gnawed off more than she can chew with new inmate Abbie (Tania Busselier), who has revenge in mind.
Admittedly a trashy schlock fest, the tongue-in-cheek fourberie and Franco’s grindhouse goofiness make this something of a cult sensation, and one that’s best viewed in a party setting.
25. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
A mostly meh horror flick with some surprisingly funny asides thanks to screenwriter Diablo Cody, Jennifer’s Body deserves your come-hither diligence primarily if you happen to have a lusty avarice for its sexy symbol star, Megan Fox. Also on the marquee is Amanda Seyfried––though here she’s mostly playing the straightlaced and stuffy nerdy BFF.
Fox is Jennifer, a desirable high-school debutante who gets possessed by a demon and decides that the male population of her small town environs are her quarry.
Despite all the nubile bods and innuendo, Jennifer’s Body is primarily geared towards a youth audience with a fixation on lame/limp alt-rock (think Silversun Pickups and Hole) the film still works as a guilty pleasure for some. A similar film that almost made this list but will at least get a mention here is Ginger Snaps (2000), a werewolf variation with Katharine Isabelle as the menacing babe.
24. All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) really hit his stride with this playfully effed up horror thriller about a “good girl” turned promiscuous partier named Mandy Lane (Amber Heard).
Teen anxieties are often mishandled in the slasher genre, and that’s to to be expected, but here Levine gives a little more props to his youthful protagonists, and Heard hints at some potentially solid acting chops, beyond being a substantiated sex object (thank goodness!).
A mingling of Terrence Malick-like poetic visuals and grindhouse gore and dimension mete out rather well in this teen slasher film that is also elevated by a delightful payoff and considerable intelligence.
23. The Love Witch (2016)
Anna Biller’s delightfully macabre exercise in sassy seduction and strange, vintage sensations feels like it was made in another era but adorned with bracingly modernistic designs. A stunning to look at and thrilling to think about throwback to the Technicolor melodramas of the swinging 60s and the sexploitation cinema that supervened, The Love Witch stars a smashing Samantha Robinson as Elaine, the eponymous witch.
Beautiful but bloodthirsty, Elaine is determined to find the man of her dreams and will cast spells and brew strange potions to manipulate the men around her until she finds her ideal muse.
Biller’s inspired and kaleidoscopic set design, sumptuous costumes, and deliberately superannuated aesthetic is a crafty coup de cinema, combined with an excellently effective soundtrack and kitschy ornamentation that makes The Love Witch a ravishing and ineffable entertainment and magic made manifest.
22. Planet Terror (2007)
What? Another Robert Rodriguez film on this list? Well, while his oeuvre is inconsistent, his penchant for blending eroticism and hysterical horror is spot on.
Planet Terror is deliberately kitschy zombie horror film (first released as part of a double feature with Tarantino’s Death Proof under the title Grindhouse) that delights in every aspect of the exploitation cinema Rodriguez grew up on. Lucky for us, the red-blooded viewer, this includes the deliberately titillating, empowered-yet-objectified, super hot and super tough megababe trope, here portrayed with aplomb by Rose McGowan.
Why, even the title credit sequence is risqué and racy as Cherry Darling (McGowan) go-go dances in hot pants in sensual slo-mo and stunning, suggestive prowess. And later, most memorably, Cherry Darling will have a machine gun prosthetic leg that she puts to good and provocative use.
Planet Terror is a guilty pleasure there’s no point feeling guilty about, and if she wasn’t already, McGowan will soon after warrant a lot of room in your fantasy file. A sequel with Cherry Darling’s continued exploits was never forthcoming, and for this we must ask Rodriguez––a man who’s no stranger to other strenuous sequels––why the hell not? Put Cherry on top!
21. High Tension (2003)
Maïwenn Le Besco and Cécile de France are subject to all manner of perverse nastiness and outright exploitation in Alexandre Aja’s breakthrough horror film and linchpin of the New French Extremity movement, High Tension.
A nasty, uncompromising film, Aja takes pains to present a shockingly vivid and highly stylized Grand Guignol-like flight of frenzied fancy full to burst with violence and sexual perversion.
Certainly not for all tastes, this go-for-broke assault on the senses hinges on a twist ending that might be too much for some viewers and the relentless nature of the film, very close to self-flagellation for non-genre fans, will be much too much to swallow for the typical viewer.
But High Tension shrewdly upends convention, destroying tropes with alacrity, messing with lesbian college girlfriend curiosity conceits and home invasion hysteria with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the junk. Look out.