Read on if you dare…
As a massive horror fan I have always been drawn to the darker side of cinema. This has ultimately led to many occasions of me rocking back and forth as the credits roll, desperately hoping that I wont wake up surrounded by ghosts. Now, there are two caveats that must be considered here. Firstly, as always I am only one man and obviously I can’t see everything. That means no A Serbian Movie and no 120 Days of Sodom. Secondly, Horror and Comedy are always the most subjective of all the genres, this perhaps explains why they fare so poorly on awards nights. This means that what makes one person shit themselves in unbridled terror may not affect another person in the slightest. Ok then, here we go…
10. Return to Oz
I was recently sat in a pub with a large group of people and Return to Oz was innocently brought up. The whole group recoiled in horror as we collectively recalled a shared scarring of our respective childhoods. If you haven’t seen this follow up The Wizard of Oz you must surely think I am mistaken. I assure you I’m not.
Most disturbing moment: The above scene would be Dorothy walking through a hall of disembodied but still concious heads. This ghastly tableau concludes with all the heads shrieking in unison in a moment that has haunted my nightmares ever since. Oh and all the characters you lovingly cherished from the first movie have all been turned into stone. Remember this is supposed to be a kids film for chrissakes.
For fans of: Watership Down, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Dumbo
While Return to Oz is genuinely disturbing when taking into account the context, it is nowhere near as dark and haunting as the next film on the list. Sleepers is based on the true story of four young boys who seriously injure someone in their neighbourhood in an accident. The boys are then sent to to a juvenile detention centre where they are systematically abused by the guards.
Most disturbing moment: The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the sexual abuse that the boys encountered making Sleepers a genuinely difficult experience. The first time the boys are taken down to the lower levels of the facility and abused is as harrowing a moment as I have seen in any movie.
For fans of: This Boy’s Life, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me
The first two films on this list are more psychologically affecting, for something a little more aesthetically jarring then Inside takes some beating. Coming from the new wave of French horror, Inside prays on the raw fear of motherhood by having a scissor wielding maniac attacking a pregnant woman with truly vomit inducing results.
Most disturbing moment: *SPOILERS* The film ends with a pregnant woman being clubbed to death and the baby being crudely cut from her with the aforementioned scissors. And this isn’t even the most disturbing French film on this list… what is wrong with them?!
For fans of: Hostel, Frontier(s), Rosemary’s Baby
7. Cannibal Holocaust
Although the torture porn craze wouldn’t fully rear its grotesque head until the 2000s, it surely has its roots in the video nasties of the 70s and 80s. Cannibal Holocaust wasn’t the first film in this genre but it is definitely the most disturbing. The film is so upsetting and realistic that director Ruggero Deodato was genuinely charged with making a snuff film by the Italian courts and had to prove that what is portrayed on film isn’t actually real.
Most disturbing moment: Cannibal Holocaust is a found footage film in which a group of film makers attempt to make a cynical movie about an isolated Amazonian tribe. The memorable results include a gang rape scene, a woman being impaled on a wooden pole, a man having his leg chopped off and a group of tribesman being burned alive amongst other atrocities. This pales in insignificance however when considering the real animal cruelty that dogged the production. Seven animals were purposefully killed by Deodato, most memorably a large turtle that is impaled in a scene that left the actor involved in tears. Horrible.
For fans of: Driller Killer, The Last House on the Left, Apocalypto
6. Pet Sematary
No list of anything horror related would be complete without at least one entry from Stephen King. The fact that the plot of Pet Sematary revolves around a toddler being hit by a truck gives you some idea of the kind of film we are dealing with here.
Most disturbing moment: Surprisingly the brutal slaying of a small child isn’t the scariest part of Pet Sematary. No, there is one character that has haunted me since I first saw the film as a teenager. Every scene featuring the nightmarish Zelda is truly and deeply disturbing. Robbed of its context it may not seem like much but I urge you to watch the film if you haven’t already.
For fans of: Carrie, Children of the Corn, The Fog
5. Requiem for a Dream
As well as being the most effective anti drugs advert ever made, Requiem for a Dream is also a brilliant piece of film making. Director Darren Aronofsky shows the devastating effects that drugs can have on all different groups of society.
Most disturbing moment: The nightmarish ending scene is perhaps the bleakest conclusion to a film in the history of cinema. The unforgettable score wraps around the anguish of the characters as the full extent of their addictions are laid bare. Truly haunting.
For fans of: Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Less Than Zero
4. The Sixth Sense
When compiling this list I knew that this would be the most contentious entry. There is however, no film, book or TV show that has scared me as much as The Sixth Sense. I am terrified of the occult, probably because of my Catholic upbringing, and my worst nightmare as a child was a ghost appearing in my room. I have had countless sleepless nights imagining that a ghostly apparition was lurking behind every shadow. The Sixth Sense brought that fear to life in the most startling way.
Most disturbing moment: Pretty much any moment where a ghost appears had me holding back the tears but actually, the most terrifying moment is when Cole Sear is locked in a cupboard. His screams reveal that he is trapped with something truly awful but we are left to fill in the gaps ourselves. There is nothing more sinister and disturbing than what our own minds can conjure…
For fans of: Poltergeist, The Others, The Visit
Oldboy is the now legendary second instalment of Park Chan-Wook’s revenge trilogy. Not only is it powerful, visceral and, of course, disturbing, it is also one of the finest films of the 2000s. The plot is too complicated to recall here but more than any film on this list, if you have not seen it already, I urge you to watch Oldboy at the first opportunity. NOT the stale American remake however.
Most disturbing moment: There is a scene in Oldboy in which the main character eats a live octopus. Like really eats it. No special effects. That scene pales into significance however when compared with the jaw dropping ending. *SPOILERS* When the full extent of Woo-jin’s revenge is revealed, the truth that the protagonist has been tricked into sleeping with his own daughter causes him to cut out his own tongue. An unforgettable conclusion to a bona fide masterpiece.
For fans of: Ichi the Killer, Audition, Lady Vengeance
The most violent and brutal film I have ever seen, the power of Martyrscomes from the sheer length and variety of suffering inflicted on main character Anna but it is as wince inducing as it is necessary. Nothing about Martyrs is indulgent or over the top. It all counts towards the nauseating final pay off.
Most disturbing moment: Anna ends the film beaten, tortured and flayed in the most nihilistic show of violence one could imagine. *SPOILERS* The truly spine chilling aspect of Martyrs is the revelation that it was all for nothing.
For fans of: The Passion of the Christ, The Loved Ones, Saw
People who haven’t seen Irreversible talk of it in hushed tones such is its reverence and reputation as a horrifying bastion of French cinema. Those of us that have seen prefer not to speak of it at all. Irreversible is designed to be disturbing. So much so that director Casper Noe had his sound engineers add notes of such low frequency that humans can’t hear them but are still capable of inspiring nausea and sickness.
Most disturbing moment: The infamous rape scene goes on for so long that you can pick single moments out of it that go above and beyond. There is a moment in that awful scene when a bystander happens upon the frenzied sex attack and instead of calling for help or trying to intervene, he stares for a few seconds before calmly walking away. More than any other moment, it is this one that stayed with me.
For fans of: Antichrist, La Haine, Straw Dogs
(Dis)Honourable Mentions: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Frontier(s), The Last House on the Left, Trainspotting, The Hills Have Eyes (remake), Eden Lake, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, The Shining.