Your friendly neighborhood slacker. Chill Clinton likes to write about film, music, collectibles, and more.
The films I've compiled in this list are truly some of the most disturbing narrative movies ever created, and is for informational purposes only. If you choose to watch any of the films listed, I recommend you do further research to ensure that you feel able to handle the content depicted.
I will not be using content warnings as I feel it would get redundant. If you have any sensitivities around depictions of violence or human suffering, I do not recommend watching any of the following films or reading this article.
Additionally, some of the following films are banned from screening and distribution in certain countries, so please comply with all local laws if you choose to watch any of the films listed below.
Lastly, this article was written for adults, and if you are the parent of a young horror fan, I do not recommend showing these films to them. Even if they're comfortable with films such as Hostel and Saw, they will encounter far more extreme content in all of the films listed below.
1. Martyrs (France, 2008)
Martyrs tells the story of a woman who escaped unspeakable physical torture as a child, and years later, tracks down her captors with vengeance in mind.
But this is only the beginning of the grim story that Martyrs tells as the characters discover that there was a purpose behind the cruelty the woman experienced as a child, and that this purpose has not yet been fully realized.
Unfortunately, there is not much I can say about this film without giving too much away. But, if you're a fan of the captive/torture sub-genre of horror, I think you will find that this movie shatters a number of genre expectations in the best way.
It is bleak, slow burning, and grows increasingly hopeless with each minute. However, at the same time, it earns its often gratuitous cruelty by forcing the audience to suffer along with the victims in the film. There are no flashy, gimmicky death traps. Just slow and methodical cruelty that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
2. Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (Italy, 1975)
Though not everyone can agree that this is a horror film, it is hands down one of the most difficult and disturbing movies I have ever watched.
The film is set in fascist-occupied Italy during World War II as four wealthy dignitaries conspire to marry each other's daughters, and kidnap 18 local teenagers, subjecting them to 120 days of unending torture.
And when I say torture here, I mean some really weird and out there stuff. Picture the weirdest thing you could imagine I'm describing here, and make it 100% weirder.
But one of the most challenging and stomach churning parts of watching this film is the pointlessness of it all. Out of nowhere, the men will begin casually abusing their captives, and it in no way advances the story.
A scathing criticism of capitalism, opulence, and authority, this film is carefully crafted, and extremely smart. The only issue is being able to make it to the end.
3. Begotten (America, 1989)
I had never heard of this film when I first saw it at a film festival, and I was not prepared for what I experienced.
The film opens with the image of a featureless being, self-flagellating in the corner of an abandoned house, and this sets the tone for the rest of the film's relatively short runtime.
With a visual style reminiscent of the German Expressionist era, its sharp juxtaposition of shadows and light obscure some of its most terrifying images, inspiring even greater unease in its audience.
And perhaps I'm not the only one who feels this way, because despite never seeing mass market distribution, Begotten is banned in Singapore due to its graphic content and depiction of religious icons.
4. A Serbian Film (Serbia, 2010)
Functionally banned from screening in Australia, New Zealand, and Spain, A Serbian Film is one of the most extreme contemporary films ever to see wide distribution.
It tells the story of an out of work adult actor who is hired by a shady production company to perform in a film for which he will be paid an incredible sum.
However, as he begins working on the project, he realizes that the producers have intentions for him that are far more sinister than he (or the film's audience) could ever fathom.
The film is extremely controversial among critics and academics, with many accusing the film of being pointlessly excessive, while others accept and celebrate the filmmakers' assertion that the movie is a protest against the social and financial powers that control the manner in which Eastern Europe is portrayed through film.
5. The Green Elephant (Russia, 1999)
In the same year that the American film The Blair Witch Project introduced a wide audience to the "found footage" genre of horror films, The Green Elephant was fighting to see wider distribution.
However, this cult exploitation horror film would never be seen widely because of its extremely realistic depictions of violence, psychological torture, and humiliation. It even received a distribution ban in Belarus.
This film depicts the events following the capture of two junior officers in the Soviet Army, including their steep mental decline, and brutal treatment. Its grit comes from its incredible realism, primarily made up of long shots using a camcorder and camera light, improvised dialogue, and its brutal depiction of human despair.
Noel Penaflor from California on September 13, 2021: