Cinema and shocks go hand-in-hand. The rich history of the silver screen is laden with films which have pushed the boundaries of genre, content, storytelling, and form, leaving audiences and critics alike being overwhelmed by what they have just witnessed. From disgusting gorge, to moral depravity, and pretty much everything in-between, there are few taboos which have yet graced celluloid.
In celebration of writer-director Julia Ducournau’s exceptional debut Raw, which is ready to take bites out of the UK box office from 7th April, we at Filmoria felt is was apt to showcase a number of fellow pictures which have shocked, scarred, and sickened. We named Raw a “stone-cold instant classic” in our ★★★★★ review, which you can read here.
20. The Last House on the Left (1972)
It might seem a little tame now in comparison to fellow titles on this list, or the plethora of exploitative horror movies which have circulated since, but Wes Craven’s lurid and uncompromising The Last House on the Left remains one of the genre’s most distressingly compelling works. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, the film follows two young girls who are lured into the woods, and subjected to hideous rape and torture at the hands of a psychopathic gang. However the tables are swiftly turned when the attackers seek refuge in a nearby cottage, which just happens to house the parents of their victims. To this day, the film is still heavily censored, and in some countries, banned. It only arrived uncut in the UK back in 2008; more than 35 years later…
19. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky’s crushingly sad drug drama Requiem for a Dream has developed something of a cult following, arguably due to its arresting nature, and richly cinematic imagery. The film underpins four very different forms of substance addiction and abuse, which lead to the characters’ imprisonment in a world of delusion and reckless desperation. Its entire duration is seriously challenging, but a handful of scenes are particularly difficult to watch. The emotional collapse of Ellen Burstyn’s ailing mother Sara Goldfarb, who punishes the spectator with the sheer brutality of her decline is one, and that slack-jawed finale with Jennifer Connolly, which has been dubbed as the “ass-to-ass” encounter. We’ll just leave it at that…
18. Possession (1981)
First things first: Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession is a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it, we highly recommend you change that. However, it is also an extremely overwhelming portrait of a disintegrating relationship, which unfolds like a car crash: you know you should look away, but you just can’t. Squeezed somewhere between horror, and psychological drama, the film follows a woman, who starts exhibiting increasingly disturbing behavior after asking her husband for a divorce. The film displays shocking lashings of bitter violence, with claret spilling for much of the runtime, but what makes it so difficult is the emotional rawness. It renders a world of internal suffering; two people captive in a prison of their own making, which leads to saddening consequences.
17. Gummo (1997)
The directorial debut of Spring Breakers‘ Harmony Korine is littered with moments that’ll leave one distressed and dumbfounded. Gummo is a peculiar film, which follows the life of small-town, working-class people in Ohio, who have been struck by a devastating tornado. Loosely strung together with a finite narrative, it is the very definition of experimental art house cinema. Throughout, the film is peppered with interspersing scenes of shock and awe, including the sexualisation of dwarfism, child molestation, killing feral animals for leisure, racism, satanic rituals, and even the prostitution of a Down Syndrome sufferer. However most people recall the infamous bathtub sequence, in which our young protagonist Solomon bathes in filthy water whilst eating spaghetti, and glugging milk. It is seriously gross.
16. Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Georges Franju’s terrifying venture into madness and vanity feels more apt in today’s society than when he debuted such imagery back in 1960. Eyes Without a Face is a beautifully chilling horror, despite tackling potent themes that are bound to ruffle feathers. Having crashed the car which destroyed her face, young Christiane remains a prisoner of solitude in a waxen mask of eerie, frozen beauty, after her doctor father feverishly experiments with skin grafts. With every failed attempt at reconstructing his daughter’s timely elegance, he sends his devoted assistant to prowl in search for another ‘donor’; pretty macabre, right? With its cruel approach to image, and lack of sympathy for the many who fall in search of it, this is a horrifying work which burrows into the darkest recesses of your subconscious. It’s also something many millennials could do with watching…
15. The Devils (1971)
One of the true kings of cinematic controversy. Ken Russell’s radical historical horror The Devils took severe beatings from ratings boards upon release, and still, even in 2017, the originally and fully uncut edit – including the “Rape of Christ” – is virtually impossible to locate on home video. Set in 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu. Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun. Starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, two major box office draws at the time, the film is packed with shocking content, including gratuitous sexual violence, religious blasphemy, and everything in-between. One of the most unbelievable moments is a full-scale orgy, in which iconography is used in disturbingly erotic fashion. We’re talking crucifixes being optimised for purposes they really weren’t intended…
14. Eraserhead (1977)
David Lynch has been pushing buttons and boundaries for decades, but few titles can rival his seminal oddity Eraserhead. The cult classic, and surrealist horror, follows hapless factory worker Henry Spencer, who on his vacation discovers he is the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend, the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity. A film that defies conventional logic and storytelling, fueled by its darkly nightmarish atmosphere and compellingly disturbing visuals, there are countless scenes which burn into the retinas, and scar the mind, but it is the nauseating sound design which truly haunts. In fact, it is so potent and aggressive, it has the power to make the viewer feel, ummm, unwell. It is a horrifyingly singular vision which you will never, ever forget once viewed, and that’s probably the biggest compliment that can be granted.
13. Pink Flamingos (1972)
The tagline for John Walters’ infamous Pink Flamingos is “an exercise in poor taste”. Never has a promotional phrase been so apt. The beguiling comedy-horror follows notorious Baltimore criminal, and underground drag queen figure, Divine, who goes up against a sleazy married couple who make a passionate attempt to humiliate her and seize her tabloid-given title as “The Filthiest Person Alive”. The frivolous flick is a favourite of the LGBT community, and has become something of an essential American entry in recent years, but there isn’t a taboo subject or tone not covered here: we’re talking sodomy, murder, voyeurism, rape, cannibalism, projectile vomiting, and other bodily fluids; hell, there’s even incest. Beloved for its grossly inappropriate approach, and uncompromising nature, there has never been another film quite like this. For good reason, really…
12. Threads (1984)
Few films are as heartlessly bleak and raw as Mick Jackson’s docudrama Threads; a cruel depiction of a nuclear holocaust, and its effects on the city of Sheffield in Northern England. Although hypothetical in its projections, the staggeringly sour arguments the BBC film argues are undeniable. It never shies away from the short and long-term effects which face survivors, and the realities of a nuclear bomb attack; from death and depravity, to the deterioration of government, economy, and even language. Scenes of radiation sickness in particular are just horrifying. Unlike many other films on this list, the unadulterated depiction of malice and doom is eerily plausible. This is a shattering, shocking, and sobering work of creative genius, that will stay with you for weeks after viewing.
11. Playground (2016)
The newest film on our countdown is also among the most agonising. Bartosz M. Kowalski’s feature debut, Playground, is an emotional assault, which climaxes with one of the most unfathomably grotesque sequences in recent memory. The drama follows a gaggle of young school children on their last day of term, but quickly spirals into a bleak and desperately challenging vision of sociological and psychological stresses. There are too many shocking moments to name, but the worst include the sexualisation of a child, who is bullied and forced into removing her clothes whilst being filmed, but it’s all about that end. In a severe shift of tone and form, Kowalski’s picture becomes a reenactment of the infamous Jamie Bulger murder in 1993. It exits with an extended fifteen-minute sequence in which two school pupils repeatedly kick a kidnapped infant boy in the face, stamp on him, and take photographs of his lifeless remains, before throwing him in front of a train.
10. Twentynine Palms (2003)
Professional provocateur Bruno Dumont has made a handful of deeply uncompromising visions across his career, but the sun-soaked Twentynine Palms reigns his shocking supreme. In its essence, this is a hazy road movie, which tracks a Russian girl, and an American photographer, who hit the streets in their pimped-out Hummer. However, things soon descend into sickening madness. The amount of graphic sex here is staggering – so much in fact you wouldn’t be ill thinking the film was pornographic – but its later on when they encounter a truck full of rowdy rednecks where things get really ugly. A savagely brutal murder unfolds in the wake of a wince-inducing homosexual rape. There is an artful approach to cinematography and framing on offer here, but damn, for a pretty-looking film, it is sure ugly…
09. I Stand Alone (1998)
Gaspar Noé’s pitch-black character study I Stand Alone is one of the most unshakable modern film experiences. In fact, it is so tough to endure, it actually features a “warning” which pops up for 30 seconds ahead of the final act; giving audiences the opportunity to bail before things get even more intense. Following his short film subject known only as “The Butcher” (basically an art house Travis Bickle); a deeply cold man, who hates everything about those around him; he’s a racist, malevolent, sour human being who channels an intense sexual attraction to his young daughter, and literally beats his mistress’ unborn baby to death by ferociously punching her in the stomach. Following that warning comes an assault which is deeply distressing; we won’t spoil all the details, but it’s an image that’ll stain itself into your brains for a long time after.
08. Funny Games (1997)
Home invasion cinema has never been scarier, or more confrontational than Michael Haneke’s horrifying masterpiece, Funny Games. This deeply cruel, and entirely maniacal piece details two violent young men, who take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin, forcing them to endure a night of sadistic “games”, for little more than their own twisted amusement. The primary reason why the film is so deeply shocking, and so endlessly uncomfortable, is because there is not even a glimmer of hope, or sense of advantage for the victims. Unlike most Western horror films, the villains are unequivocally in control of every individual second here. It’s third-act revelation, which shatters the Fourth Wall, will leave your eyes stinging, and your heart crushed…
07. Begotten (1990)
Any film which opens with a person referring to themselves as God, who then goes on to disembowel themselves, is likely to rub religious types up the wrong way. E. Eliash Merhige’s manically savage Begotten – an experiment art film, which is widely dubbed as the most shocking and offensive film of the 90s – visualises the death and rebirth of Gods in excruciating detail. There’s necrophilia, ceremonial burnings, guts ripped from orifices, and the sight of Mother Earth creating a baby which is then inserted inside the Virgin Mary…it is all just so biblically disturbing (pun fully intended). The film is banned in a number of countries, and is only available for Home Entertainment purchase in a select few, too. Still, by-and-large, its nightmarish approach to imagery and sound has made it a piece for celebration among film historians.
06. Martyrs (2008)
Viewers should brace themselves before inserting Martyrs into their Blu-ray players. Pascal Laugier’s sadistically compelling extreme horror is unrelentingly sad, and simply packed with slack-jawed shocks. What starts as a fairly pedestrian captive thriller, soon the tables are turned as we witness a young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse. Stomach-churning in its violence, and devastating in its tone, this is a film which dehumanises on so many aesthetic levels. Certain moments are so physically and emotionally brutal that even seasoned viewers would be keen to turn away, but in the mass of blood, dirt, and muck lies a potent and poignant character drama. You’ll just have to dig and grit your teeth in order to locate it…
05. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
One of the finest pictures of all-time is also among the most shocking. Stanley Kubrick’s seminal portrait of disassociated youth – A Clockwork Orange – remains one of the most potent slices of culture and crime, even some forty years on. Set in the future (or present now, we guess…), we are dragged through a gross underbelly of Britain, laden with ultraviolence, by a charismatic and psycopath delinquent, and his macabre gang. Soon he is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society’s crime problem – but not all goes according to plan. To this day, the film remains entirely alarming, and staggeringly relevant, and that infamous “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence is beyond traumatic.
04. I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
The grand daddy of exploitation. Meir Zarchi’s “feminist revenge movie”, I Spit on Your Grave, faced an elongated ordeal at the hands of the BBFC, who dubbed the film as a “Video Nasty” – banning it for the entirely gruesome, and utterly sickening content. The film is basically an extended gang-rape sequence, as an aspiring writer is repeatedly sexually assaulted, humiliated, and ultimately left for dead by four men, whom she systematically hunts down to seek revenge. It is a truly vile, emotionally exhausting piece; so much so, that the brutal vengeance which unfolds late in the final act almost lacks a sense of rejoice. Viewers will be so drained and overwhelmed by the grubbiness, and seemingly endless sexual violence, that the resolution just doesn’t feel just enough. Even in 2017, the film still causes outrage, with numerous camps calling it a “cult classic”, and others among the worst films in cinema history.
03. A Serbian Film (2010)
You just knew it was on the list. Srđan Spasojević’s unruly, and downright depraved, A Serbian Film is an utterly tortuous ordeal, albeit a remarkable one. A twisted and sordid thriller, it documents an aging porn star, who agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a paedophilia, and necrophilia-themed snuff film. There are too many shocking, downright sickening sequences to name here, so much so that the film was actually investigated by the Serbian state for crimes against sexual morality and humanity. Although it has now devised something of a rotten fan following, the feature is still banned in numerous countries worldwide; not least Spain, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.
02. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Where to start. Well, put this way: writer-director Pier Paolo Pasolini was MURDERED in the wake of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom‘s release. Someone actually killed him. This relentlessly cruel, shocking, and downright vomit-inducing work dramatises the account in which four fascist libertines kidnapped nine young men, and nine young women, before subjecting them to one hundred and twenty days of physical, sexual, and psychological torture. Sounds like Friday night fun, yeah? The film features nearly every taboo you could imagine: humiliation, repeated rape, force-feeding of excrement, copious bodily fluids, incessant beatings, even head scalping, and tongue cutting; the list goes on and on. Hers’s the thing, though. It is an incredible film – one of the most important pieces of statement cinema, ever. You’ll probably hate every minute, and require several showers after viewing, but you will never, ever forget it.
01. Irréversible (2002)
The go-to when an acquaintance says “I saw the scariest/most shocking/most horrible film, ever!” Nothing beats Gaspar Noé’s follow-up to I Stand Alone; absolutely nothing. Irréversible is one of the greatest motion pictures this author has ever seen; it is a film so perfectly orchestrated, so intrinsically designed, and so undeniably hideous that watching more than once is almost impossible. Told entirely in reverse-chronological order (which just intensifies the emotional savagery, trust…), it recalls events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris, as a boyfriend attempts to avenge the sickening attack which left his girlfriend for dead in an underpass. A masterpiece of form, tone, style, and movement, the film is infamous for two scenes in particular: the repeatedly bludgeoning of a man’s skull with a fire extinguisher, and the utterly heartbreaking extended anal rape and beating sequence, which refuses to cut, or even slightly evade for some thirteen agonising minutes. Paired with the whirring cinematography, angular framing, nauseating soundscape, and even a high-pitched frequency throughout (like a subconscious dog whistle, which rings louder during the harshest moments), the film becomes imprinted in your brain, and heart, long after viewing ends. It is the most brilliantly shocking piece of cinema you could ever be unfortunate enough to endure…