We’ve done scary. We’ve done creepy. We’ve even done gory. But there’s another genre of horror that deserves our unflinching look—and that’s “disturbing.”
We’re talking those films that are more unsettling than Kubrick’s Grady twins, more stomach-turning than Cronenberg’s gooey fly metamorphosis. We’re talking the films that get under your skin and never leave. Here are 9 truly disturbing horror movies.
1. Escape from Tomorrow
The happiest place on Earth just got ugly. Really ugly. What should be a fairy-tale family vacay for Jim White turns into a living nightmare, complete with nagging wife and cat flu. Film buffs said director Randy Moore’s guerilla-style debut feature, which soils Disney World’s squeaky-clean reputation with vats of bodily fluids, would never see a theater since it was shot on-site without the park’s permission. Guess they can put those assumptions on ice, right next to Walt Disney’s frozen noggin.
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2. A Clockwork Orange
Well, here’s one image you can’t un-see. You know the one where Alex is straightjacketed, drugged, and forced to watch brutal images with his eyes pried open. Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian nightmare about extreme youth violence and the bonkers experimentation that goes down behind bars has plenty more disturbing scenes that will forever scar your mind.
3. The Snowtown Murders
Based on the “barrel murders” committed by Australia’s most gruesome serial killer, John Bunting, director Justin Kurzel’s directorial debut is both a coming-of-age drama and a bruising watch. The story centers on Jamie, a 16-year-old who gets bullied into criminal activity by Bunting, a murderer posing as a renegade father figure type to Jamie. Rape, torture, bathtub brutality—it’s all there from the opening scene, and it doesn’t let up until the screen goes black.
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Told entirely in reverse, credits and all, Gaspar Noé’s experimental crime mystery starring a spritely Vincent Cassel treats your tolerance level like a punching bag. Or like a blow to the head, courtesy of a fire extinguisher. One man’s daylong odyssey to find out who raped his girlfriend (played by Cassel’s real-life wife, Monica Bellucci), Noé’s film was Nicolas Winding Refn’s how-to for that elevator scene in Drive. You know the one.
The Human Centipede
Okay, so the eccentric German doctor screaming “Feeeeed her” is probably what springs to mind when someone mentions the first sequence of Tom Six’s Centipede trilogy. But if you’re a bona-fide genre fan, you can look beyond the madman’s putrid culinary orders and see the mastery that’s at play here. Sure, on the surface, Tom Six’s film is just a shock-and-ew story about a psychotic surgeon performing the world’s most revolting operation, but at it’s core, it’s genius in the making.
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6. Requiem for a Dream
You called it, right? Sixteen years later, and there are few films more disturbing than Darren Aronofsky’s magnum opus that leaves its core cast amputated, lobotomized, and sodomized. Equipped with one heck of an original soundtrack from virtuoso scorer Clint Mansell, Requiemhardly even saw a silver screen thanks to being banned upon its release. Yet lurking behind the film’s merciless assault on the senses is an undeniably Oscar-worthy masterpiece.
7. Heaven Knows What
When it comes to “drug movies,” Requiem for a Dream is pretty much the king pin. However, the Safdie brothers’ festival hit—and perhaps one of the most under-seen films of 2014—offers a similar rush. Dubbed a love story, if you consider slitting one’s wrists in the name of love romantic, Heaven follows Harley, a homeless 20-something who gets her heart shattered by a fellow junkie named Ilya. You may feel in need of a detox afterward. Especially when you find out it’s all based on a true story.
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8. The Woman
A radical feminist filmmaker, McKee’s voice was made apparent in 2002’s May and solidified in 2011’s The Woman. The film centers on a family man who captures a feral woman in the woods, then shackles her in his backyard shed. The initial goal: “civilize” her. The final goal: to survive her wrath.
9. A Serbian Film
Let us be clear: We by no way endorse this film or even recommend you see it. You have us for that. But if we’re making a list of disturbing movies, then Srdjan Spasojevic’s bleak meditation the political and moral nightmares going down on Serbian soil, must be on this list. Milo’s a retired porn star who accepts a bundle of money to star in a porn film. The catch: He’s not allowed to see the script. Banned in multiple countries (including its homeland), yanked from several festivals, and censored out the you-know-what, Spasojevic’s film colors far outside the lines of what genre fans already consider questionable. Watch at your own risk.
Featured still from "The Woman" via Salient Media