Horror isn’t always harmless jump scares and campy slashers. It can be exciting to laugh along with Freddy Kruger’s famous one-liners or recoiling at the sight of a woman crawling out of a TV, but few horror films dare to tread the waters of truly testing what their audiences can handle. There comes a certain point where horror crosses the threshold from fun to relentlessly depraved. Though not all extreme horror films are deprived of humor, they often do choose to forgo any sort of comedic or emotional relief. Just as is done with the characters, these films refuse to grant audiences some reprieve from the gravity of the dire situations playing out on screen. No monsters are vanquished and there is no room for happy endings.
Absolute terror can take many different forms and extreme horror movies tend to favor how the worst monsters are usually other people. These films really push the envelope on what can be shown on screen. If you’re grossly uncomfortable or even angry, they have succeeded in what they have sought to do. While these films are definitely not for everyone, they undoubtedly generate countless conversations regarding how, if at all, showcasing extreme violence on film can be a productive vehicle to highlight how utterly wicked society can be.
Recently, Austrian filmmakers have become quite well known for producing some of the most unsettling works of horror like Goodnight Mommy and Funny Games. This lesser known Austrian gem, however, very well may be the most depraved of the bunch. Not only is Gerald Kargl’s film utterly brutal, but the camera’s erratic movement brings the film to life. The whole film feels like the fever dream of a psychotic killer. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is. The camera is just as much of a character as the people shown on screen. It quakes and circles as its lens captures extreme close-ups of events that feel as though they should have remained unseen. Kargl disorients his audience and refuses to reorient them.
The film follows an unnamed serial killer (Erwin Leder) after his release from prison. Unable to suppress his urge for another kill, he finds his way into a remote home occupied by an unsuspecting family. While the events take place on screen, the killer’s internal monologue walks viewers through his past and present. All the elements of the film culminate into an incredibly disturbing experience that leaves you feeling both dirty and used.
A Serbian Film (2010)
You know a film is polarizing when even mentioning its name is a conversation starter in itself. Unsurprisingly, it has become a long-running internet joke to mention Srdjan Spasojevic’s film in any conversation even remotely related to disturbing horror. Due to its unwavering descent into the deepest recesses of the pornography industry, many heated debates have taken place online regarding its artistic validity. If anything, this film has pushed its audiences to have conversations about violence and art in ways that they may have never had. With all of that said, this one is a doozy.
It follows a retired porn star named Milos (Srđan Todorović) who decides to return to the industry due to financial issues. He’s met with an offer that’s too hard to refuse and signs on to participate in a pornographic “art film.” This is a film that oozes anger and takes it out on its audience. Due to the nature of its plot, it tackles brutally sexual themes that one should thoroughly consider before pressing play. It’s widely considered the mother of extreme horror for a reason.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
How many films can you name that have had to prove to a judge that the actors weren’t killed in the process of making it? If the answer is none, now you have one. Widely considered the first found-footage horror film, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust follows the story of an American film crew who venture into the Amazon rainforest to make a documentary on the indigenous tribes who live there. They never return, and the film involves their rescue team retroactively witnessing the crew’s fate after obtaining their left-behind footage.
Part of what makes this film so disturbing is its interrogation of monstrosity. From its title, audiences are led to believe that the natives are the undisputed villains but that narrative quickly unravels. Upon first meeting the tribes, the documentarians lament that the natives don’t necessarily act in the ways they had in mind. In an effort to capture the disturbing material they want, they begin brutally terrorizing the natives. Animal lovers, beware. The animal deaths on screen are, sadly, very real.
The Human Centipede (2009)
This is the first film in a trilogy that aims to push the limits of intensely grotesque imagery even further with each installment. It’s also exactly about what the title suggests– A mad doctor absolutely hellbent on surgically binding a group of people to create a human centipede. There’s not too much subtlety in Tom Six’s film that boasts the slogan “100% medically accurate.”
Its goal is to gross you out, and it totally manages to deliver on that promise. Though it is contentious as to which installment is the most disturbing, the first is the most notable in the ways it became absolutely viral upon release. Many watched it due to sheer curiosity or from dares at sleepovers. If you have any questions regarding the logistics of how a human centipede would function, those questions don’t stay unanswered for too long. After watching, you may have a newfound appreciation for your kneecaps.