Easily the most divisive movie of 2017, mother! is really a kind of litmus test for who you should be hanging out with. The movie plays like an Aronofsky fever dream as you watch Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem take an allegorical trip through feminism, Christianity, and the environment that culminates in one of the most anxiety-induced final acts in cinema history. It’s a disturbing movie—particularly for women—and the way anyone feels about it tells you more about the person than the actual movie. Just make sure your goddamn sinks are braced.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Bone Tomahawk, which might well have been the best Western of 2015, lands on this list mainly for one graphic scene, when the cannibals who have been terrorizing the local town decide to kill one of their captives. The cannibals scalp the man, get him butt naked, and then tie him upside down and begin cutting him open, from his head to his, you know, genitals, with a blunt rock. Zahler’s camera, which stays fixed on the victim and forces the viewer to watch the disgusting death from start to finish, helps this scene earn its spot among other truly legendary disturbing movies.
Yup, this is the movie that had people fainting and vomiting during its showing at the Toronto International Film Festival. Still, though, it was one of the best movies of 2017. Raw is, in its own bizarre and avant-garde way, a coming of age tale: Justine, our protagonist, was raised by strict vegetarians parents who work as veterinarians, and is a young teenager just trying to find her place in the world—by way of cannibalism, of course. The movie ties in a critique of hazing rituals and university culture with Justine’s budding sexuality to create a movie that is at once deeply original and gruesome, yet fascinating all the way through.
We Are The Flesh (2016)
In a post-apocalyptic world, siblings Lucio and Fauna find that their best hopes of survival rest with a crazy homeless guy who forces them to do the unspeakable just in order to survive. Between the graphic depictions of sex, forced incest, brainwashing, and ultimately a cannibalistic orgy, some critics have found a critique of society (to be more specific, Mexican society) buried somewhere deep, deep down in We Are The Flesh. If you’re looking for a movie that pushes the envelope, look no further.
If you’re familiar with Yorgos Lanthimos’s (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) very peculiar brand of weird, then you’ll immediately see how Dogtooth fits right into the canon. Dogtooth is the twisted story of a mother and father who maintain their three adult children completely ignorant of the outside world in a secure, fenced-in complex where they are forced to have sex with each other and strangers. Lanthimos’s style is hopelessly dark, and in this movie it creates an intensity that informs the child abuse at its center and creates an atmosphere of horror mixed with documentary, which is what lends the movie its disturbing tone. Dogtooth was a Cannes favorite when it debuted in 2009, and was even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film that year.
The Skin I Live In (2011)
Antonio Banderas plays the disturbed Dr. Ledgard plastic surgeon at the center of this psychological body horror movie, with a clinical creepiness that informs much of the movie’s intense atmosphere. Banderas, struggling with the traumatic loss of both his wife and daughter, becomes obsessed with developing a new kind of skin resistant to burns. In order to test his inventions, though, he keeps a victim hostage in his mansion—not just any old victim, though. He kidnaps the man responsible for driving his daughter to suicide and subjects him to a forced sexual reassignment surgery that turns him into Vera, his effective medical guinea pig. Almodóvar contrasts the doctor’s beautiful, lush mansion and surreal, otherworldly surgical tools and techniques with an upsetting, anxiety-inducing storyline full of complex, voyeuristic elements to create a truly dark and disturbing work.
A lot of the movies on this list are shocking, but the director behind them usually has some reason—no matter how twisted or hard to believe it may be—to stand behind the project. So just imagine how demented a movie has to be for producers to actually attempt to scrub the movie from existence. That’s what happened with Pig: it was almost removed from the 2017 SXSW slate, but eventually was shown exactly twice at the festival before the director himself declared they would be the only public showings of the movie ever. It’s an 80-minute sadistic, misogynistic torture-fest that includes a pregnant hostage, mutilation, cannibals, and the actual words: “Rape time!” It’s, um, a lot—and good luck getting your hands on a copy.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
It was great and all, but Gerald’s Game was the best Stephen King adaptation released in 2017. It’s a downright disturbing premise, precisely because it doesn’t indulge in the cannibals or demons or visceral, violent sex scenes that the other movies on this list do. Instead, the film follows a couple in the last throes of marriage attempting to spice things up in the bedroom, and the result is a master lesson in suspense. A fatal dose of viagra later, and Jessie, the wife, is handcuffed to the bed and must escape from beneath the limp body of her husband, Gerald. Let’s just say it gets gory
This Turkish art-house horror movie is an unrelenting, surreal torture fest, but there is at least some method to this madness. This part biblical, part supernatural story follows a group of police officers who accidentally find the portal to literal hell, or at least as close as you can get to it on Earth. The movie plays out like a walk through a demented asylum, complete with bloody, decapitated bodies having sex, gouged out eyes, and creepy hooded figures.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is unlike the other movies on this list, most notably because it lacks any of the truly maniacal body horror that constitutes most of the other entries; the disturbing elements in this slow burn psychological thriller are far more complex. Colin Farrell stars as a famed cardiovascular surgeon whose calm, predictable life is shattered when he becomes close to a perturbed young teenager (Barry Keoghan) who is out to ruin the doctor’s life for a mistake he made in the past. Keoghan injects very real fear into an otherwise mundane scene of him eating spaghetti as he tells Nicole Kidman, who plays Farrell’s wife, about his dead father. The chilling performance exemplifies the film’s tense, complex atmosphere.
No doubt taking advantage of the success of the Saw series, Hostel clawed its way into theaters in 2005 and almost single handedly revolutionized the “torture porn” sub-genre. The gore and violence in this movie is so over-the-top and gruesome that it’s physically tough to get through many of the scenes, and that is exactly what director Eli Roth seemed to be aiming for.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Considered one of the most controversial movies of all time, Oliver Stone’s somewhat satirical Natural Born Killers has earned that reputation by featuring abhorrent violence of the most unsettling kind. Starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, and a parade of other great talent, NBK wasn’t just brutal, it was also grounded in the side of reality that most of us don’t like to think about. The remorseless killing in this movie isn’t grotesque simply because it’s a crime; it’s grotesque because we hear about this type of random, senseless violence all the time, and here it is for our entertainment.
During the first two-thirds of Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian, the movie moves along like an homage to the type of suspense film Hitchcock would have put out back in the day. But towards the end of the movie, Anderson gives us a torture scene that is among the most disturbing you will ever see. Making Saw look like On Golden Pond, this grotesque scene took us completely by surprise with its sheer brutality and malice.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
What separates Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising from a lot of violent movies out there is the raw, animalistic way the characters go about their business. This is close quarters combat at its finest as One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) bites, claws, and rips flesh off of his opponents’ bones for survival.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
For the dozen or so people out there who have yet to see Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, it can be easily described as a bleak look at a dystopian future where free will is controlled by the government and ultra-violence is a way of life for the street kids of London.
The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)
Last year, Dutch filmmaker Tom Six unleashed The Human Centipede onto the masses, giving creepers everywhere the original idea of a lunatic surgeon who stitches three people together, ass to mouth. The plot and title alone were enough to cast a notorious reputation upon the movie, but it’s sicker in concept than presentation. In the first Centipede, not a whole lot is actually shown.
The Exorcist (1973)
When The Exorcist hit theaters in 1973, it redefined the horror genre and revolutionized the way these movies blended legitimate scares will stomach-churning special effects. The movie tells the story of Father Damien Karras’ (Jason Miller) attempts to drive a demonic spirit out of the body of a young girl named Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair).
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
We Need to Talk About Kevin isn’t technically horror, though you’d be hard-pressed to find a horror flick that’s as bleak, unsettling, and haunting as Lynne Ramsay’s emotional knockout. Based on author Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel, Ramsay’s overwhelming domestic nightmare centers on a remorseful outcast of a mother (the amazing Tilda Swinton) who’s struggling to understand why her troubled son, Kevin (the extremely creepy Ezra Miller), went on a murder spree at his high school.
Se7en transformed David Fincher from a simple music video director into a true visionary of cinema. The movie is about two detectives (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) who try to solve the case of a serial killer who seems to be knocking off his victims to the tune of the seven deadly sins. It’s a gritty, realistic thriller that doesn’t just get to us because of the violence, but because of the psychological aspects as well.
I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
I Spit on Your Grave’s writer-director Meir Zarchi would probably defend his infamous rape revenge shocker with some kind of “female empowerment” nonsense. And nothing says “You go, girl” like three rape scenes that are shown with no cuts or visual inventiveness. Zarchi simply sits back, keeps the camera steady, and lets the sexual deviancy play out. Needless to say, I Spit on Your Grave is just about the worst movie you could ever watch on a Netflix date night.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
Following the exploits of a charismatic yet horrifically violent serial killer, this mockumentary brings a little humor to the sociopathic world of Benoit as he pontificates about the twisted ideals and philosophies behind his killings. The fact that the killer is so flippant with the camera crew about his action is what is truly disturbing about this movie because it brings you into the deranged mind of someone who could commit these types of atrocities on the regular.
Gummo might seem like a strange choice for this list because of its lack of pervasive violence and gore, but this little indie film got under our skin by treating us to a glimpse at the lives of the people in a small Midwestern town in a way that was both bizarre and supremely uncomfortable to watch. One of the running threads throughout the film is the way the children—most notably “Bunny Boy” —would hunt and kill random cats from the neighborhood just to pass the time.
No one can accuse the makers of Murder-Set-Pieces of false advertising. The film’s entire plot is right there in its title. Featuring over 30 killings, Nick Palumbo’s homicidal narrative has little else on its agenda outside of giving its antagonist, simply named The Photographer (and played by Sven Garrett), an uninterrupted stage to hack and slash his way through every hooker in sight.
The Bunny Game (2012)
It’s taken The Bunny Game four years to receive a proper American release, and we can see why. As the British Board of Film Classification’s decision to ban it from UK cinemas makes clear, director Adam Rehmeier’s black-and-white, near-snuff film isn’t for the faint of heart; frankly, we don’t know who in the hell it’s for exactly.
Funny Games (1997)
You can rarely beat an original, and Funny Games is a prime example. Michael Haneke’s 2008 U.S. remake is undoubtedly a tough watch, but it’s far less scarring than this 1997 original, which presents the exact same series of events yet pierces the senses much more sharply.
Night and Fog (1955)
Released 10 years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, Night and Fog is one of the most affecting documentaries ever put to film. Clocking in at a lean 32 minutes, this is an uncompromising look at the tragedy of the Holocaust that pulls no punches and crafts images that are as brutal as they are unforgettable.
The Snowtown Murders (2012)
Looking for a downer of the most visceral kind? Let us suggest Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s phenomenally bleak The Snowtown Murders, the “based on a true story” serial killer knockout about Aussie’s most notorious homicidal maniac, John Bunting (a masterful Daniel Henshall). From 1992 through 1999, using his disarming charm and manipulative personality, Bunting infiltrated a practically destitute community and amassed a growing legion of followers to help him slay those he deemed as wrongdoers.
Sweet Movie (1974)
Clearly, that’s an ironic movie title. Anything but a “sweet movie,” Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev’s harrowing flick tells the story of two women: a Canadian beauty pageant winner and boat captain commanding a ship loaded with candy.
Deadgirl could have justifiably been called Not Another Teen Movie, because, well, it’s anything but your typical coming-of-age high school story. The two main characters (played by Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan) are, yes, teenagers, and many of the film’s scenes take place in a high school. But name another teen flick that spends most of its duration inside a decrepit old institution and shows its protagonists raping and exploiting a naked, undead female.
Antichrist is not the type of movie you want to watch right before you go to sleep; or before you eat; or before you do anything, really. It’s not just that there is a little gore here and there; it’s that the movie is so overwhelmingly disturbing in every aspect of life that you will have no safe haven to turn to once it is over.
There’s no better film out there that paints us a portrait of suburbia gone wrong than Todd Solondz’s twisted drama Happiness. In it, Dylan Baker plays a pedophile psychiatrist named Bill Maplewood who rapes two of his son’s classmates during the movie’s first act. But instead of filming this movie like a horror flick or a thriller, Solondz presents it all in a way that is reminiscent of a ‘50s sitcom with its sweeping music, tucked-in shirts, and heart-to-heart conversations between a father and son about penis size. Hell, daddy dearest even offers to measure his son’s for him.
Kill List (2012)
This year’s most disturbing genre movie is also one of the most lingering mind-fucks to come around in years. With the scarring Kill List, English filmmaker Ben Wheatley establishes himself as a fearless storyteller, keeping the mood pitch-black while concealing several jarring twists and maintaining a firm ambiguity that, by the film’s end, will leave you bewildered.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Sixteen minutes was all that Spanish provocateur Luis Buñuel needed to freak audiences out. In his notorious short film Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel disregards such things as logic and plot to simply rattle viewers’ senses with a barrage of unrelated but uniformly scarring imagery
After 15 years of seemingly random imprisonment in a hotel room, Oh Dae-su escapes and proceeds to take revenge on his captors in gloriously heinous fashion. In this supremely violent and shocking foreign language thriller, Oldboy manages to perfectly weave brutal action with an engaging story. Whereas most action movie stars nowadays rely on impersonal weaponry, Oh Dae-su wields his trusty hammer to dole out heaping helpings of crimson-splattered justice up close and personally.
High Tension (2003)
Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is a bloodbath, plain and simple. With a metric ton of gore and some gruesome kills, this is the type of horror movie that tends to linger around in the back of your mind even when it’s finished. The highlight of the movie comes near the beginning when a deranged serial killer breaks into a family’s home and systematically picks most of the members off as the main characters, Marie and Alex, attempt to escape. If you ever wanted to see a man be decapitated by a bookcase, here is your chance.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
French director Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face isn’t just cinema’s most shocking mad doctor flick of all time—it’s also one of cinema’s most overlooked horror gems. In it, Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) lures innocent young women to his mansion in an effort to cut off the current victim’s face and fasten it onto that of his daughter, who suffered face-ruining burns in a car accident.
I Stand Alone (1998)
Gaspar Noé’s blackout-dark character study I Stand Alone looks and feels like the version of Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese might have made if he were a total sadist back in the ’70s. Like Travis Bickle, I Stand Alone‘s nameless protagonist, known as “the butcher” (a powerhouse performance by Philippe Nahon), hates everything about those around him; he’s a racist, cold, cruel human being who harbors an intense sexual attraction to his young daughter and literally beats his mistress’s unborn baby to death by ferociously punching her in the stomach.
Unsurprisingly, Begotten hasn’t been shown to any Catholic school’s religion classes since its 1990 debut, at least none that we’re aware of. Maybe that’s because filmmaker E. Eliash Merhige’s 74-minute art film opens with a person referred to as God disemboweling himself.
Man Behind the Sun (1988)
Man Behind the Sun made history back in 1988, when it became the first movie to ever receive China’s equivalent to an NC-17 rating (rating: III). Mou Tun-fei’s intention was to make an anti-war film that would educate people to the heinous crimes committed by Japan’s Unit 731 on its prisoners during World War II, but the censors deemed Man Behind the Sun more of an heartless exploitation flick than an informative tool.
Ichi the Killer (2001)
Filled with the type of beatings and torture that the makers of the Saw franchise could only hope to achieve, Ichi the Killer is an ultra-violent saga set in the seedy underworld of Japan. This is a non-stop gorefest as the mysterious Ichi and a supporting cast of killers unleash disturbing scenes of torture upon us that assault the senses and spit in the face of good taste.
French writer-director Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs is essentially two movies in one, and neither one is recommended for the squeamish. Before the hard-R-rated shocker takes a sharp left turn at its midway point, Martyrs rests gruesomely in home invasion territory, with Clive Barker-like supernatural elements mixed in for good measure. But then Laugier’s script veers into existential, slow-burning dread, and once it’s all over, Martyrs asks heavy questions about the afterlife and almost provides some answers. With skinning, of course.
Trying to describe David Lynch’s Eraserhead in words is like asking someone to play “Clair de Lune” on the piano while wearing a pair of mittens—it just won’t do it justice. But what we can tell you about the film is that it is a surreal nightmare filled with the type of haunted imagery that most sober minds can’t fathom.
Blood Feast (1963)
Nearly 50 years after its splashy debut, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ breakthrough exploitation flick, Blood Feast, doesn’t exactly hold up in the effects department. The blood, which pours in abundance, now looks like shiny red paint, and the Z-grade direction and storytelling, then masked by the film’s initial shock value, is glaringly problematic. But there’s one thing no one can ever take away from Lewis: Blood Feast, widely considered to be the first-ever “splatter” movie, is the reason why a countdown of this nature can even exist.
Arguably the best horror film of the last decade, this French shocker has it all: unbelievable gore for the bloodhounds, spot-on performances and stylistic direction for cinematic purists, and a quick, 80-minute length for those with the attention span of a sock.
Visitor Q (2001)
Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q is, hands down, the funniest movie on this countdown. And by funny, we mean the kind of humor one receives from those old Warner Bros. cartoons, except, here, animated animals are replaced by deranged Japanese folks.
A Serbian Film (2011)
Before The Human Centipede II dethroned it, the heavily maligned A Serbian Film had made sick movie haters forget all about the first Centipede flick this past May. Months before its limited stateside debut, director Srđan Spasojević’s visceral, modern-day exploitation picture was the talk of genre festivals worldwide, earning a violent reputation as a film that’s nearly unbearable in its sadism. The loudest cry: “Beware of the ‘baby rape’ scene!”
Truth be told, our only assurance that August Underground is a legitimate movie is that it exists on both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes; otherwise, we’d have thought that this super-low-budget nightmare was an actual snuff film. There’s not a recognizable actor face to be seen in “director” Fred Vogel’s vile movie, nor is there anything that resembles cinematography, sound design, or post-production manipulation. August Underground progresses with the casualness of a home video, except that if it were a home video, the Feds would have tossed Vogel’s ass in the clink back in 2001.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Based loosely on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, The Last House on the Left is an exploitation horror film that is notorious for the rape/torture scenes that fill out the film’s second act. In fact, the movie was found to be so sadistic and unseemly that it was banned in Great Britain for a while because of the unrestrained violence and sexual humiliation that run rampant throughout.
Titicut Follies (1967)
One of the most infamously banned films in movie history, Frederick Wiseman’s unsettling black-and-white documentary Titicut Follies shows mankind’s cruelest capabilities with such realism and unwavering gutsiness that it’s impossible to shake off. Wiseman ventured into the Bridgwater State Hospital, in Massachusetts, to document the everyday lives of its criminally insane inmates. What he captured, and subsequently named after a talent show put on by the residents, is, to say the least, distressing.
We’re a bit conflicted here. On one hand, the point of this list is to highlight cinema’s most brain-tainting works, films with hardcore imagery that refuses to leave your head once the final credits roll. But there’s a flip side to that: By doing so, we’re inadvertently recommending movies like Flowers of Flesh and Blood. If you’re twisted enough to click through this list, you’re obviously the type of person who’ll seek this out on DVD at some point—it’s like a highway commuter who has to look at the flipped over car on the side of the road. Or the pervert who’d watch a Rosie O’Donnell sex tape just to say that he did.
Told in a backwards order, experimental French auteur Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible depicts the aftereffects of one of cinema’s all-time most shocking rape scenes. Clocking in at nearly 11 minutes long, the unbearably savage sequence is the film’s centerpiece, boosted into highly challenging performance art by Monica Bellucci’s superb performance. That the rape doesn’t totally overshadow everything else in Irréversible is a testament to its overall power.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Being perhaps the most grounded, and therefore horrifying, depiction of drug addition to ever be put on film, Requiem for a Dream is a stylized psychological thriller that shows the desperation of people chasing the dragon. Putting its focus on the lives of four addicts, Darren Aronofsky digs deep into the dark and twisted world these people inhabit and the self-made prisons of their own lives.
Orchestrated by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Cerdà, Aftermath is a dialogue-free showcase of pointless immorality, albeit of the well-shot and hypnotically contemptible kind. In a darkly lit morgue, a nameless mortician stays after hours to further defile a female corpse after performing an extremely gory autopsy on the body. He probes her privates with his instruments, mutilates the body, and then adds necrophilia to his portfolio, snapping photos as he penetrates the stiff. Once he’s finished, the world’s worst mortician removes the woman’s heart and heads home to feed it to his dog. The end.
In a Glass Cage (1987)
Of all the disgusting films on this list, Spanish director Agustí Villaronga’s artsy downer In a Glass Cage is certainly one of the most elegant. Viewed as a work of cinematic expertise, it’s actually quite commendable, powered by exemplary acting and a striking visual palette. It’s just not all that easy to subject one’s self to In a Glass Cage long enough to fully appreciate the movie’s technical prowess
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Loosely based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a crime thriller that follows the exploits of a crazed killer, played by Michael Rooker. During the film, Henry befriends a fellow prisoner named Otis, and the two go about a savage rampage of random killings with little remorse for any of their crimes.
When a middle-aged widower named Aoyama attempts to find love again, his movie producer friend sets up a fake casting audition to find him his next great love. Unbeknownst to them, he falls immediately for a deranged killer named Asami. After going on a few dates, Asami drugs and tortures Aoyama in one of the most uncomfortable and cringe-worthy scenes to ever be put on film.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
John Waters is one proudly depraved human being, and he came into the public consciousness with his colorful and twisted comedy, Pink Flamingos. Starring drag queen icon Divine, the movie tells the story of “the filthiest person alive” and we follow one disturbing exploit after another. During the course of the picture, Waters assaults our basic human decency with any number of perverse sexual acts and moments of the grotesque.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
You’ve got to give it to director Ruggero Deodato—he’s not a dishonest filmmaker. Just look at what he titled this one: Cannibal Holocaust. That right there implies all kinds of revolting imagery and depraved thoughts, which Deodato’s infamous exploitation flick delivers in bulk. It’s not like he called it Fun in the Jungle.
Don’t let that title fool you—there’s absolutely nothing “romantic” about this German freak show. Well, unless you consider a married couple’s decision to spice up their sex life by swinging with a rotting corpse to be the stuff of Danielle Steele novels.
Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Some unbearably scathing flicks, including several on this here countdown, parcel their shocks throughout the course of their running time; Salò, however, never steps out for air. From top to bottom, notorious Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s relentless “statement” film subjects the viewer to uncompromising cruelty, nastiness, and escalating grotesqueries. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Salò’s only moments of calm are its opening and closing credits, though the latter’s more apt to serve as the background noise for one’s inability to pick his or her jaw off the floor.