Posted : November 2013Author : Matt Schembari
I’ll go out on a limb and give a rough estimation that about 97% of movie buffs have come across at least one movie at some point in their lives that they just couldn’t watch from start to finish. Everyone has vastly different tastes in films, different things that make them tick and differing thresholds of tolerance for boredom, graphic violence and gore, downright stupidity and endless cliches. There are countless reasons why someone would decide to hit the stop button partway through a film. Filmmakers who are notorious for pushing the envelope are generally regarded as those who make the most disturbing of movies, with varying degrees of success. Some do succeed all the way and garner critical praise and lucrative financial gain, a la Quentin Tarantino. Others, while they may achieve a certain level of praise, do split people’s opinions straight down the middle about whether their films are artistic, or just plain torture porn.
Take the Saw franchise for example, what started as one of the most fresh and innovative thrillers of the new millennium slowly descended into nothing more than a showcase for the many different ways of how to mutilate a human body over the course of seven films. There’s no doubt that the quality of the writing began to be overshadowed by the horrific violence because, for better or worse, the producers seemed to think that audiences’ bloodlust was greater than their intellect. In the spirit of Halloween, the release of the sixth film in the long-running Child’s Play franchise, Curse Of Chucky, and the recent release of the sequel to the mercilessly brutal I Spit On Your Grave, I’m going to focus on the treacherous uphill grind that one takes to finish a film that is packed with graphic violent content and disturbing subject matter.
Here are 7 movies that are incredibly hard to watch.
7. Maniac (2013)
If you remember William Lustig’s brutally psychotic film Maniac, you probably remember Tom Savini’s head turning into a human piñata after being blasted by a shotgun. It’s splattery, gory, and absolutely insane – but doesn’t hold a candle to Franck Khalfoun’s brutally unforgiving masterpiece. This year’s Maniac remake (re-imagining) not only utilized gut-wrenching violence and stomach-churning gore, but the psychological aspect taints our minds and actually does something despicably evil – it turns us into the killer. First of all, kudos to Elijah Wood for delivering one of his best performances to date as lead character Frank, an emotionally deranged serial killer who targets young women and removes their scalps, only to use the fleshy mess as headpieces for his mannequin collection. I know, you’re probably a little queasy already, because Khalfoun doesn’t hold a damn thing back visually, as we watch Elijah murder woman after woman, hearing the squishy slicing noise as he removes their precious locks. It gets worse though, oh so worse.
Khalfoun’s Maniac utilizes a first-person POV technique, as we watch the actions play out as Elijah’s character Frank. We’re seeing through his eyes. We’re hearing his thoughts. We’re uncomfortably listening to his excited panting as he stalks women from afar. In essence, we become the killer, and it feels dementedly disgusting. This effect is most prominent when actress Megan Duffy is suffocated by Frank, as we watch her body go limp and lifeless in Frank’s outstretched hands – and by that I mean our hands. It’s so gritty and real, I almost felt like I was watching a snuff film, and I couldn’t shake this feeling of disgust afterwards, like I’d played a part in the act.
The genius of Maniac’s insanity is not in violence alone, but in the beautifully murderous delivery that creeps into our psyche and digs deep without us even knowing. It’s not just a blood-soaker like Lustig’s original, not in a longshot. Khalfoun’s Maniac is a piece of sadistic horror that brings you as close as humanly possible to being a killer yourself, whether you like it or not (I’m hoping you don’t?). Watch at your own risk, because you never know what hidden feelings might be unearthed…
6. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Cannibal Holocaust is one hell of a twisted film. Seized in Italy after it premiered, director Ruggero Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges as well, with authorities claiming that he had made a snuff film. Following all that, it didn’t take long for Cannibal Holocaust to receive a ban in Italy, Australia and several other countries and to this day, the film is still impossible to get a hold of in most places. Whether it’s due to the graphic gore, the animal killings or the sexual violence, there are not many people that I know who can sit through the entire film. If you do see it though, and if you’re able to make it to the end, I can assure you that you will never forget what you have witnessed.
There just really isn’t anything else out there like Cannibal Holocaust. It’s so extreme and graphic and the scariest part is, it all looks pretty real. So much so, in fact, that at the time, moviegoers were convinced that some of the actors were actually killed on film. Then of course there are the animal slaughterings, which are just downright disturbing to watch. Though it no doubt has cult status, and there are those who will defend it with every last breath, Cannibal Holocaust is not a film that I think I can ever watch again. It’s just too much and it’s where I draw the line.
5. Se7en (1995)
The 90s were undoubtedly an era for ushering in game-changing psychological thrillers. An encapsulation by the one and only Sir Anthony Hopkins in 1991′s The Silence Of The Lambs gave us one of the most frightening villains of all time in Dr Hannibal Lecter. Following on from this came John Doe, a villain brought to life by the multi-talented Kevin Spacey in what could only be described as the most grisly and uneasy thriller ever conceived. Se7en focuses on two homicide detectives hot on the trail of a serial killer who despatches his victims in the vein of the seven deadly sins. It’s not the graphic violence that made me turn this one off, it was the atmosphere (and maybe the fact that I was only sixteen years old). The old saying that “less is more” really applies here, and it is what truly makes this a film that will absolutely send chills down your spine.
David Fincher’s masterful direction created a world that I hope to live my entire existence without ever being a part of. We are forced to follow detective Mills and Somerset on the unenvious task of tracking John Doe, and along the way, evil in its purest form is witnessed. No punches are pulled here, the introduction itself illustrates very clearly to the audience exactly what kind of a ride they’re about to be taken on. In one of the most creative and effective intro sequences I’ve ever seen, the eerie images of John Doe working on his journal and peeling skin off of his fingers is montaged over a remix of the Nine Inch Nails track Closer. I don’t know about you, but the song itself is enough to make me uneasy, let alone having to watch those images at the same time. Pure brilliance.
4. Natural Born Killers (1994)
Probably considered to be one of the most controversial movies of all time, Natural Born Killers shoots its way into our number four spot. Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to making films that test boundaries and audiences’ thresholds, and Natural Born Killers is no exception. Filled with lurid violence, spot on performances by all and some very creative scene construction, Stone tells his story in a unique yet disturbing way. The film centres around husband-and-wife killing duo Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis) as they commit mass murder after experiencing abusive childhoods. Along the way, they’re made out to be cult heroes by the media after being arrested, and this is where the film gains its satire. Sure, it certainly works as a social commentary on how the media can sway the opinion of the masses, but how it achieves this is not easy to stomach.
The violence is very much in your face, and the whole film itself feels like a nightmarish hallucination. The sequence that features the late Rodney Dangerfield as Mallory’s abusive father is played like an old time sitcom in which Mallory is subjected to multiple instances of sexual and physical abuse. Another sequence in which we get inside Mickey’s head gives us a glimpse of his own abusive childhood, and that was where I had to leave.
It’s been a while since I first tried to watch Natural Born Killers, but I have to admit that the entire experience was not very pleasant. The film is extremely disturbing and unsettling and more than deserves its notoriety. It also has the graphic violence and the demented psychological aspect to go along with it. This isn’t to detract from Oliver Stone as a filmmaker, quite the contrary. He is extremely skilled as a craftsman and I praise him for it, Natural Born Killers is just an experience that I couldn’t get through.
3. Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
Taking the number three spot is probably the most bloody, gory and ridiculous movie I have ever half-witnessed. I had to fit in one foreign film on this list and if there’s one country who knows how to disturb us in every way possible, it’s Japan. Tokyo Gore Police is definitely for an acquired taste and not for the faint of heart. It isn’t even for the strong of heart. It takes someone with guts of steel to sit through this one. Director Yoshihiro Nishimura, who worked on special effects for other films in a similar vein, such as Machine Girl and RoboGeisha, brings us his trademark over-the-top, gross out violence.
I barely even remember what this movie is about, all I know is that there is a sword-wielding female police officer and a bunch of people having appendages sliced off and strange alien like creatures growing in their place. There was just so much blood and gore that I couldn’t really tell what the hell was going on. By the time the halfway mark hit, I was completely lost. I’m not a prude when it comes to violence, but in this case, I had to draw the line. I can’t really say much more about this one. It wasn’t psychologically disturbing, the violence was just so continuous and graphically depicted that I couldn’t watch anymore, and it takes a lot for me to say that.
2. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Coming in at second place is Rob Zombie’s sequel to his directorial debut House Of 1000 Corpses. I have to hand it to the guy, he knows how to craft a good horror movie, and he knows how to do it retro-style. I only just survived through House of 100 Corpses as I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, but it felt like an old 70′s exploitation film and while the premise wasn’t totally original, I could definitely appreciate what Zombie was trying to do. The Devil’s Rejects however, was much more of an ambitious film in the sense that Zombie tried to mesh together a crime caper, a road trip film and a revenge thriller, and it worked quite well. I will admit that Rob Zombie is a talented filmmaker, but this particular movie was even harder to sit through than his previous effort. I put it down to the fact that in the first film, the sick and twisted Firefly family basically stayed confined to their titular house and that’s it, you wouldn’t hear from them if you didn’t come a knockin’. In this one however, the Firefly family are forced to flee their house once a vengeful sheriff comes a knockin’ with some serious firepower. It is then that their killing spree begins on the open road.
What made The Devil’s Rejects hard to sit through is not only the degree of brutality and torture that is bestowed upon innocent people by the Fireflys, but also just how unconditionally evil they all are. Just when you don’t think it could get any worse, a poor woman is forced to wear the peeled off face of her dead husband and run out onto the road for help, only to get completely demolished by an oncoming truck. I understand that this is a horror film at heart, but this just tested my threshold time and time again. The best description of what to expect from The Devil’s Rejects is illustrated in the following line said by the character Otis as he’s about to kill a victim: “I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil’s work.”
1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Lo and behold, our number one contender, and another in the ranks of most controversial films ever made, is Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange. Based on Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name, the film is set in future Britain where juvenile delinquency runs rampant and rape and ultra violence is the order of the day. Young Alex De Large (played flawlessly by Malcolm McDowell) narrates the film as he and his droogs terrorize as many unknowing innocent people as possible, before ending the day with a bit of Ludwig van Beethoven. Once captured and forced to face the consequences for his actions, the government places Alex in an experimental trial program in an attempt to rehabilitate him by forcing him to view extreme violence until he can no longer handle it.
A Clockwork Orange is a difficult movie to talk about, because it’s one of those ‘you have to see it for yourself’ kind of films. While the violence depicted is certainly tame by today’s standards, it doesn’t detract from the psychological ramifications that come with viewing it. The whole film is just one big social commentary, and one that stimulates much discussion about the fine line that we tread between punishment and inhumane treatment. The entire movie has quite a perplexed atmosphere too, as the tone teeters on the theatrical whilst delving into brutal violence, and this is where it works brilliantly. It probably didn’t help that I tried to watch it when I was sixteen (what was with me at this age?), but I again had to turn it off halfway because I found it far too disturbing at the time. It was two years later that I finally finished the film and vowed never to watch it again.
There are countless movies out there that are much more disturbing than any on this list, but again, one can only draw on personal experience and these ones did get the job done.