Table of Contents
Horror cinema is by default disturbing and shocking.
The horror genre is built upon a subversive narrative structure that mirrors back the worst aspects of human nature. Or, alternatively, it offers a revolutionary new way of looking at the world through a vehicle that horrifies the audience.
Perhaps you can judge how free a society is by how many horror movies they’re making. Totalitarian societies don’t allow horror movies because they undermine grand narratives, exposing all-too-human tendencies toward revolution, perversion, abuse, and the terrifying reality of the ever-present force of violence as well as the sheer complexity of being.
Indeed, modern China doesn’t have horror movies, although Hong Kong does. North Korea doesn’t even have a real film industry. In more repressive Middle Eastern countries, horror movies are an underground phenomenon (which births exciting films like 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night). Historical regimes such as the Soviet Union in Russia and the Nazis in Germany repressed all horror cinema.
In a sense, then, the role of the macabre in mainstream cinema is an interesting barometer of a society’s openness. How far are filmmakers allowed to go without censorship?
How much is too much? At what point are things too violent? Too obscene? Too triggering? Too unwatchable? When do they cease being horror movies and become unbearably profane to a respectable culture?
The United States, Italy, Japan, and France have produced some of the most shocking movies of all time, movies that went so far that they become not just shocking and disturbing but unwatchable.
While the United States and France have always made transgressive films, Italy’s horror boom corresponds with the fall of Italian fascism. In Italy, once the shackles of an oppressive top-down regime were unlocked, a flurry of insanely violent and obscene imagery was unleashed that was so extreme, it created some of the most shocking films ever made. A similar logic is at work within Japanese cinema after Hiroshima and the end of World War II.
The atrocities of the Holocaust so deeply damaged the German psyche that to this very day, German cinema still consciously and subconsciously censors itself. While the USSR has fallen in Russia, the one-party state Communist Party mentality reigns, and much of what is classified as Russian horror cinema is more like Gothic fairy tales than traditional horror.
This list attempts to provide the most comprehensive survey of the most disturbing horror films ever made worldwide. “Horror” here has many definitions and is defined as simply movies that make audiences recoil and say “I can’t watch this.”
This cataloging effort spans everything from movies with characters too despicable to watch to movies with unbearable torture scenes and sexual violence. There are also movies where the subject matter is just too sad to watch, too real, too boring, too absurd, too cinematographically nauseating, or just too much of a nail-biter to finish without eating your hand off. There are a few simply bad movies as well.
We exclude pornographic films unless they became an actual mainstream phenomenon and also have excluded any films that don’t include actors.
Regarding the ranking methodology, it is rather subjective. The first few movies are disturbing only within their historical context. As you move further and further down the list, though, the movies become increasingly explicit in what makes them unwatchable. So, for instance, while mainstream audiences might be able to stomach the first 25 movies, they might not be able to handle the last 25.
Still, the ranking itself should be taken with a grain of salt — and admittedly we haven’t even seen some of the greatest offenders on this list all the way through. Again, as a second disclaimer, the rankings are relatively arbitrary and simply a rhetorical method for scanning the list easily. You can’t rank misery. They’re all horrible, as far as we’re concerned.
Obviously, the contents of these movies and the corresponding imagery are triggering, and certainly not safe for work. Proceed with caution, ye who enter here.
The Most Disturbing & Shocking Movies Ever
60. Snuff (1976)
What is more unwatchable than a real snuff film? If you can think of something more terrible, good riddance. That’s what originally made this X-rated 70s flick about a Charles Manson-like cult so controversial. The film seems to include a real snuff film at the end, where the camera operators and film crew make their presence known and kill a woman while filming the movie. The directors helped spread the rumor that it was a real snuff film, which led to a massive uproar of controversy. Needless to say, it was a hoax and there is not an actual murder in this film.
59. Psycho (1960)
Twenty-first-century audiences would not be scared or even shocked by Psycho. That said, it needs to be included here because when the movie came out in its historical context, people were not ready to see a beautiful female lead character (Janet Leigh) killed off before the film was half-over, and they definitely were not equipped in 1960 to deal with themes of matricide and possible incest. It is said that the scene where Janet Leigh is stabbed to death in the shower is the most-watched scene in film history, so the film obviously isn’t totally “unwatchable.” However, it offers no redemption or sunshine at the end, which is why it was considered so shocking upon its release.
This film brought brutal violence to the forefront in American cinema. Long before Quentin Tarantino became a household name, Sam Peckinpah was churning out super-violent films with no happy Hollywood endings. To his chagrin, though, moviegoers lapped it up, and he would later claim that his mission as a director had been a failure:
The point of the film is to take this façade of movie violence and open it up, get people involved in it so that they are starting to go in the Hollywood television predictable reaction syndrome, and then twist it so that it’s not fun anymore, just a wave of sickness in the gut … it’s ugly, brutalizing, and bloody awful; it’s not fun and games and cowboys and Indians. It’s a terrible, ugly thing, and yet there’s a certain response that you get from it, an excitement, because we’re all violent people.
Eli Roth’s Knock Knock brings the theme of revenge to an absurd extreme. A wealthy and likable family man played by Keanu Reeves is put in an odd situation, as two young girls who are complete strangers approach his door on a rainy night in a Californian suburb. This movie is psychologically disturbing because of cringe sex, wicked characters, and the inappropriate consequences of the decisions made, particularly by the family of Reeves’s character.
In this Michael Haneke remake of his own 1997 original, two preppie psychopaths stage a home invasion and relentlessly torture a family both mentally and physically. They are constantly mentally tortured and body-shamed. One scene involves the family matriarch being forced to find her dog that one of her tormenters has just clubbed to death. The family patriarch has his leg broken with a golf club. During all of their torments, they are informed that killing them would ruin all the fun of the games. Then, finally, they get killed. Criterion.com stated: “Haneke wants to make an “unwatchable” film—one that disturbs us with its cruelty—but the only way to do that is to make a film that is supremely watchable, one that we cannot simply turn off, or leave. In this sense, the director is like a drug dealer who keeps plying us with just enough of his product to make us beg for more.”
Because The Exorcist has become such a mainstay of popular culture, it’s easy to forget that it also a plain horrifying film, if not one of the scariest horror movies of all time. Let’s not forget the fact that when this movie first came out it made people so dizzyingly scared, movie theaters handed out vomit bags with every movie ticket. And it’s not just the endless satanic atrocities and green vomit, either: Many viewers reported feeling physically nauseous at the scene where Linda Blair’s character undergoes a spinal tap.
Anemic Cinema or Anémic Cinéma (1926) is a Dadaist film from Marcel Duchamp and one of the first anti-films ever made. It’s one of the earliest signs of artists finding the new technology of film and deliberately using it to annoy and infuriate audiences with anti-narrative and dizzying visuals. By 21st-century standards, the film has no shock value, but imagine how repulsive (or mesmerizing) it was when it first came out and the film was still a new medium. We’ll stick to books, thank you very much.
This foreign flick made by a husband and wife is by no means disturbing or groundbreaking in the feminist landscape of the modern era. However, And God Created Woman is the first depiction of a woman in cinema who was sexually more adventurous and harder to be tamed than a man. The film portrayed women in a new way that broke ground for a new sexual and political reality, and is an important part of cinematic history.
Whether you view Quentin Tarantino’s nod to Hong Kong gangster movies as an homage or an outright plagiarism, this film made him a star due to its unremitting violence, which the New York Daily News said made “Scorsese’s Mean Streets seem nearly as tame and gun-shy as a Sunday school outing…this is a movie for the strong of stomach.” The review also compared Tarantino unfavorably to Sam Peckinpah, saying his “movies have true grit and real substance…whereas Reservoir Dogs leaves one feeling cheated in the end.”
51. Sleep (1964)
Mark this avant-garde Andy Warhol film as one of the most boring and longest films of all time. Andy Warhol rightfully called it an “anti-film,” and it goes against the grain of all narrative and filmmaking structures that make movies enjoyable. It’s just five hours of a man sleeping, looped.
50. Dogtooth (2009)
A couple and three adult children live in a fenced-in compound wherein the parents have kept their children entirely unaware of the outside world. Scenes involve pedophilic sex, animal torture, and sadistic “endurance games” that the children play on one another to assuage their boredom.
This horror thriller from the 1970s has two rape scenes and one scene of an excruciatingly violent torture scene of an older couple. The way all the characters, but particularly Alex, are driven by violence is enough to make viewers turn this movie off right away. Based on the dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess, the title of A Clockwork Orange refers to an overreaching governmental experimental program that rendered young gang leader Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) a weak eunuch who could no longer defend himself because the medical therapy made him get physically sick whenever he encountered violence. The film, which was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, was rated “X” sheerly for its violent content. And at the end—when Alex is “cured” by returning to his sociopathic and ultraviolent ways—offers no redemption.
Banned upon its release for an extremely graphic scene of a child’s death as well as scenes of unsimulated sex, this offering from transgressive Danish auteur Lars von Trier was conceived while von Trier was bed-bound with an extreme case of depression. A critic for TIME magazine sensed this and said Antichrist “presented the spectacle of a director going mad.” At its premiere in Cannes, moviegoers covered their eyes in horror, and at least four separate attendees were said to have fainted from shock.
47. Inside (2007)
If your idea of a good time is grabbing some popcorn, candy, and soda, and watching a cop be stabbed to death with knitting needles, and seeing a Caesarean section performed on a woman whose face has been burned off with a cigarette and an aerosol can, this is the feel-good film for you. Bloody Disgusting gave Inside high praise, calling it “one of the scariest movies I have ever seen in my life” and adding, “This is quite possibly the most violent, realistic and bloody slasher film ever assembled, ending on such a gut-wrenching note that there’s not a single person who could walk out of that theater feeling normal.”
John McNaughton’s Henry is about a psychopathic young man who goes on violent murdering sprees with impunity. It was loosely inspired by the tales of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Though many of his stories of murder turned out be lies and fabrications—after all, he confessed to over 300 killings—he was convicted of at least three confirmed killings. Due to violence and the subject matter, the film was widely censored and given an X rating, which at the time was normally reserved for pornographic movies.
Unlike other horror films, it earned an unconditional X rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Ordinarily, when the MPAA issues an X it also stipulates changes that can be made to merit the more box-office-friendly R rating. But in Henry‘s case, no such stipulations were offered. The problem with the film was its overall “disturbing moral tone”.Isabel Cristina Pinedo, Recreational Terror
German fascism and sexual abuse are considered two of the most heinous facets of the human experience, and yet this exploitation film combines them in the form of Ilsa—a sadistic concentration camp officer who uses male prisoners like so many throwaway Kleenexes. Based loosely on the story of real-life Nazi Ilse Koch, Ilsa features graphic scenes of castration, medical torture, and rape, leading film critic Gene Siskel to call it “the most degenerate picture I have seen to play downtown.”
44. Snowtown (2011)
In his directorial debut, Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s crime drama The Snowtown Murders recalls a true story of a group of serial killers that operated in Adelaide, South Australia between August 1992 and May 1999. The fact that movie is based on real violence and real murders makes the plot all the more revolting and terrifying. Adding another layer of obscenity, the director chose to include several graphic depictions of violence that led film critic Peter Bradshaw to call the Snowtown “a gruesome and often unwatchably violent film.”
43. Excision (2012)
A young high-school student named Pauline hopes to become a doctor. She also realizes that the sight of blood can lead her to orgasm. Gruesome imagery includes a nighttime sex dream in which a bed becomes filled with blood and a scene where Pauline conducts an impromptu lung transplant in her backyard—the latter of which alone makes the film unwatchable.
While this 70s hardcore porno might be tame by modern standards, the reason this movie belongs in a disturbing film list is because this movie entered pop culture territory made “Linda Lovelace”—the screen name of Linda Boreman—a household name. Although very dirty and graphic, the film is somewhat lighthearted until one realizes that years after it was made, Linda Boreman claimed that she’d been drugged and coerced during the entire filming: “Virtually every time someone watches that movie, they’re watching me being raped….It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time.”
41. Maidstone (1970)
If the Hells Angels’ fatal stabbing of a gun-brandishing black man at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969 marked the end of the hippie era’s musical optimism, famed novelist Norman Mailer’s experimental film Maidstone marked the end of wide-eyed film experimentation during that era. Live and on camera, you get to see young Michael Mailer traumatized for life as actor Rip Torn enthusiastically swings a hammer at Norman Mailer’s head, drawing blood and leading to a ten-minute real-life brawl that forever imprints its nastiness on anyone who had the displeasure to view it.
In this psychological horror art film by Lars von Trier, Matt Dillon stars as a serial killer who develops a fondness for posing for selfies with his victims’ dead bodies. One scene depicts a woman’s breasts being cut off; another involves the mutilation of a duckling; in another, a woman is forced to sit and calmly have a picnic with the dead bodies of her two sons who’ve just been murdered. Regarding the film’s unwatchability, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called the film “an ordeal of gruesomeness and tiredness.”
This drug-addiction movie from Safdie Brothers—the same directors who brought you another unwatchable film Uncut Gems (2019) with Adam Sandler, is so harsh and realistic in the way it shows heroin addiction that the whole duration of the film feels like one giant shriek of desperation, of being trapped inside the gigantic and never-ending hell that is heroin addiction. Often Requiem for a Dream (2000) is included in the most disturbing movies list as the go-to unwatchable drug-addiction movie, but we choose Heaven Knows What over it because it does not have the dreamy cinematic moments of escape and ecstasy that punctuate Requiem for a Dream.
What seems to just be another average and uncomfortable B-horror movie turns on itself with one of the most grotesque ending sequences out there. The film was banned in New Zealand for its violence toward children and sexualization of the underaged. Film critic Jamie Dexter wrote, “It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do — show this very real and plausible scenario of how internet predators work.”
This immensely successful horror franchise is credited with creating a micro genre derisively called “torture porn”. The franchise follows serial killer John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell) as he tortures unsuspecting victims until they either die, or survive with a renewed appreciation for life. The torture involves “traps” that find victims being placed in a room filled with acid; being buried in a glass coffin; dangling on barbed wires atop a field with spinning lawnmower blades; two drills being moved closer to a person’s head; a machine that collects 10 pints of blood from its victims; a razor wire maze; and a victim being dropped in a pit filled with hypodermic needles.
36. Mother! (2018)
With scenes such as one where members of a crowd pass around a newborn baby so violently that its neck snaps, then its distraught mother is forced to watch the spectacle of mob members eating the dead infant, this one ranks high on the unwatchability scale. Rex Reed panned the film, saying “Nothing about Mother! makes one lick of sense as Darren Aronofsky’s corny vision of madness turns more hilarious than scary. With so much crap around to clog the drain, I hesitate to label it the ‘Worst movie of the year’ when ‘Worst movie of the century’ fits it even better.”
It’s hard to determine whether this is the most unwatchable film on this list or the most unlistenable—although the imagery is disturbing and features death, Confederate flags, skulls, exploding lava, and a Satanic funeral, it is also gorgeously filmed by director Kenneth Anger. It’s the music—if you could call it that—which would drive any sane person out of the room within thirty seconds. Rock star Mick Jagger, apparently very high on fame as well as several other undetermined substances, used a Moog synthesizer to create 11 minutes of looping noise that makes nails on a blackboard sound soothing.
How did a movie that references pedophilia and rape get green-lit by a major Hollywood studio? That is the eternal mystery of this surreal and gonzo film from Tom Green that somehow got a $14-million budget from 20th Century Fox and breaks every rule of blockbuster filmmaking. Some call this the worst movie of all time; others call it a masterpiece of surrealist and absurdist art. What can you say about a film where adults get sent to homes for sexually molested children and a newborn baby is swung around in the air by its umbilical cord? This is the film that infamously destroyed comedian Tom Green’s career. The film is so bad that the Toronto Star created a new rating—a negative one-star out of five—for it. Roger Ebert gave it a zero-star rating and said he hated it almost as much as any film he’d ever seen: “This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”
33. Hostel (2005)
This horror film written and directed by Eli Roth features graphic scenes ranging from a mutilated corpse being stitched back together, a man using a chainsaw to sever his own leg, and a woman being disfigured with a blowtorch. The Guardian wrote that Hostel was “actually silly, crass and queasy. And not in a good way.” New York magazine dismissed it as “torture porn.”
32. Tusk (2014)
In an editorial for the horror website Bloody Disgusting, horror fan Michael Pementel makes the point that Tusk is “one of those films where the body horror is deeper than the flesh.” In other words, while Tusk is deeply horrific from what happens on a bodily and visual level, it’s also a terribly uncomfortable psychological horror film because what is more horrendous even conceptually than torturing someone by making them believe they’re a walrus?
Banned in the UK for graphic sex and violence, The Bunny Game was rated #37 in Complex Magazine’s “50 Most Disturbing Films of All time. “Bunny” is a drug-addicted prostitute who is kidnapped by a sadistic trucker and put through an array of brutal sexual tortures. We find out later that the trucker has been a serial killer for years. The Bunny Game is disturbing due to its depictions of pain and suffering presented in a way that feels more like a sensory experience rather than a narrative story.
In this Best Picture-winning film that Arkansas Online called “hard to watch, and worth it,” the real-life story of Solomon Northup, an accomplished free black musician living in New York state, is drugged and captured into brutal enslavement in New Orleans, where he must suffer unimaginable cruelty and a stark sense of hopelessness. Arkansas Online mentions “an almost unendurable single long shot in which Solomon is strung up and left to be lynched, having to stand on his toes to keep from hanging, even as the rest of his fellow slaves go about their day all around him.”
Schindler’s List is one of the saddest films ever made. Just like 12 Years a Slave, it is a “race horror” film that also won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. After a concentration camp is built, the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Poland must be liquidated of its residents. Director Steven Spielberg made the ghetto-liquidation scene into an extended sequence, as he allegedly “felt very strongly that the sequence had to be almost unwatchable.”
Whereas the Nazis’ atrocities during World War II are the stuff of American history textbooks and award-winning films, much lesser-known are those of the Japanese during that war, especially in their attempted conquest of pre-communist China. Especially ghastly was their biological-weapons program at Unit 731, where technicians filled ceramic bombs with plague-infected fleas and dropped them on Chinese cities. Philosophy of a Knife is a Russian-American collaboration that attempts to retell Unit 731’s story with a mix of interviews, archival footage, and bloody recreations. It lasts four hours and was given 0 stars out of 5 by Dread Central: “As a reviewer, one tries to find a few positive things to say about each film. Congratulations are in order for Philosophy of a Knife in that it succeeded in being the crappiest pile of masturbatory, art-house wannabe, pedantic and mean-spirited shit I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching.”
27. Atroz (2015)
This movie is said to be for “the gorehound that’s seen it all,” and it promises hardcore violence at a new extreme level. The film’s title means Atrocious in Spanish, and many critics and viewers agreed. If your idea of fun entertainment is seeing people be tied to pillars and bleed to death, or to be burnt alive in a fireplace, this should whet your appetite. What’s even more gruesome is that the killer records all his murders on VHS tape and will watch them for hours and weeks and days.
26. Cold Fish (2010)
Based on a Japanese husband-and-wife pair who owned a pet shop and committed serial murderer, Cold Fish was praised by Reel Talk Review: “the audacity of plot and growing blood-and-bones are engrossing for those not turned off. Grand Guignol is not for everyone, even if it is the lifeblood of daily newspapers that hawk it watered down.”
25. Braid (2019)
Also released as Nobody Leaves, the plot involves two female struggling artists who live in New York City and turn to drug dealing just to get by. After kneecaps get smashed and one of the main characters is raped, one of the girls recalls a head injury she suffered in early childhood—but she’s not sure if all the horrors are actually happening or if she’s hallucinating, and therein lies the crux of her terror.
24. Raw (2016)
Released in France as Grave, the plot deals with a female lifelong vegetarian named Justine who over the course of her first year at veterinary school develops a taste for flesh—first animal, then human. Her persistent cravings for meat make her feel deeply ashamed of herself. After an accident in a dorm room where a friend’s finger is cut off, Justine picks it up and eats it. The next morning at school, she is humiliated when someone releases a tape of Justine crawling on a body at the morgue and trying to eat it.
23. Sinister 2 (2015)
The most unwatchable scene in this sequel involves a family being murdered by placing a rat inside a bucket attached to each of the family members and allowing the rat to chew its way out. In another scene, a man is set on fire and immolated alive. MoviePilot called the film a “pile of garbage…one of the most creepiest [sic] horror films of the last few years.”
One would think that the very premise alone—a sadistic doctor takes unwilling human subjects and joins them together from mouth to anus via permanent stitches—should make this film unwatchable for all of humanity forever and ever. And one would be correct: Despite the fact that the film received tremendous hype and two sequels were made, the original version couldn’t even crack $200,000 at the American box office. Apparently the film’s idea was inspired by the concentration-camp experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
There is no comedic relief in this horrific nightmare of a movie. The psychological helplessness felt throughout this movie is what makes it so devastating, as the director opts to avoid showing the most violent scenes and instead makes it fester psychologically on what it might mean to be a mom with a psychopathic young son. Kevin can be classified in the “bad seed” genre along with other movies regarding uncontrollably demonic children such as The Exorcist and The Bad Seed.
Infamous exploitation director Herschell Gordon Lewis invented the slasher genre by being very thrifty with a gallon of theatrical blood he’d purchased for a previous black-and-white movie. The film had only required him to use an eyedropper’s worth of blood, so to make good on his investment, he started churning out insanely gory films such as Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, and Color Me Blood Red. In this, the first of his slasher films, an arm gets chopped off, a heart gets ripped out of a virgin’s rib cage, and a woman’s tongue is plucked right out of her throat and dangled in front of a camera for what seems like an eternity.
19. Grotesque (2009)
During their first date, a young Japanese couple gets kidnapped off the streets and locked into a basement where the walls are covered in plastic. An unnamed madman proceeds to stab them with screwdrivers, slice their tongues, drive nails into the man’s testicles, cuts off all their fingers, pops out one of the girl’s eyes, and removes her nipples and right arm. How’s that sound for unwatchable?
Upon its release, Cannibal Holocaust was deemed to be so unwatchable that it was banned in over fifty countries. Entertainment Weekly selected it as the sixth-most controversial movie in history. Despite all the human gore—which some viewers mistook as real—and the rampant sexual assault, perhaps what is most shocking is the fact that seven different animals are killed on-camera in this film. It also inspired a slew of unofficial releases that bear very little resemblance to the original, films such as Green Inferno, Natura contro, and Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Catherine Miles Story.
17. Audition (1999)
This Japanese horror film was based on a 1997 novel by Ryu Murakami. It’s about a widower whose son suggests he audition a new wife. But the woman he chooses turns out to have a very dark past. Despite the fact that she is lying to him about her past, he continues to pursue her, anyway. The final torture scene stands out from the rest of the film due to its graphic nature. But throughout the film, the widower consistently disabuses his prey of various body parts. Film critic Robin Wood found the film “authentically disturbing, and infinitely more horrifying: the first time I watched it – on DVD, at home, after warnings I had received – I was repeatedly tempted, through the last half hour, to turn it off.”
This short movie was Ari Aster’s thesis in film school. When a poet accidentally interrupts his 12-year-old son in the course of masturbating, Dad tells Junior that it’s perfectly natural—but he’s unaware that his son was masturbating to a picture of his father. Fourteen years later at his son’s wedding reception, the son’s mother discovers that the boy is preparing to give his father a blowjob. From there on out, the family falls apart due to this shameful secret.
Originally titled Day of the Woman, this rape-and-revenge horror film dedicates a full half-hour to rape scenes. Based on allegations that the film glorifies violence against women, it was banned in the UK, Ireland, West Germany, Iceland, and Norway. Roger Ebert called it “a vile bag of garbage.”
14. Vox Lux (2018)
Vox Lux is an artful masterpiece of cinema by Brady Corbet. It is also unwatchable. Vox Lux begins with a graphic and hyper-realistic depiction of a school shooting. Then, only nine minutes into the film, the end credits roll. A bloody child is rushed to the hospital. The message is explicit. This movie is over before it even began, all hope is lost.
The rest of the film is a complex critique of modern life — depicting the worst aspects of human nature, mass media, terrorism, pop culture, drugs, and the loss of an innocence that was never really there in the first place. Vox Lux, while graphically and sonically unbearable, is a unique production because the philosophy underpinning of it is also unbearable, not just the surface.
13. Kuso (2017)
Due to its extremely graphic content, the only streaming service to pick up Kuso was Shudder. Mutated survivors of a cataclysmic Los Angeles earthquake perform all sort of nasties on one another, such as choking someone to death while he masturbates, hand-feeding feces to a giant alien worm, and other things your mother wishes you never saw.
A serial killer named Peter and his unseen assistant—who films all the sadistic proceedings—castrate a man, slice a woman’s nipples off, and cover her in urine. Complex rated this the 14th most disturbing film of all time, while TIME noted that it had a “sadistically natural vibe.” There were two sequels: Underground’s Mordum (2003) and August Underground’s Penance (2007).
This insanely morbid offering from West Germany was written and directed by Jörg Buttgereit. The plot involves a down-and-out custodian for a company that specializes in corpse removal. When he starts bringing corpses home from the job site, he and his wife eagerly jump into a life of necrophilia. This film was one of the first and most prominent of the New Wave of German Horror films that started to flourish around the fall of communism.
Pioneering drag star Divine stars as Babs Johnson, who is proud to be “the filthiest person alive.” But it seems she has some competition in a married couple known as Connie and Raymond Marble, who seek to snag Babs’s coveted crown. There are scenes of heavy drug use, a kielbasa tied to a penis, a singing anus—yes, you read that correctly—but the piece de resistance is the final scene, in which Divine visibly gags after eating the fresh droppings a poodle left on the sidewalk for all to see.
A part of the New French Extremity cinematic movement, Martyrs features scenes of hardcore gore such as a woman being flayed alive. The official iMDB synopsis describes it thusly: “A young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a kid leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.” Sounds mighty unwatchable…
Released in Japan—one of the world’s chief exporters of unwatchable films—as Splatter: Naked Blood, this is a remake of a 1987 film called Genuine Rape. The plot involves a drug that is so addictive that it leads to murder and self-mutilation. Intestines are pulled across a room while the man they resided in its still alive, and there’s an unbearable sequence where a woman’s labia are cooked and eaten.
Filmmaker Gaspar Noé always generates controversy at the Cannes Film Festival, and his films are always nauseating in some way or another. When his art film I Stand Alone debuted at Cannes on May 16th, 1998, though, the film truly threw audiences for a loop. The movie touches on every taboo and features a butcher performing a DIY abortion on his wife. Noé’s other film Irréversible (2002) is also frequently on most-shocking movie lists.
Filmed in documentary style just like the earlier Mondo Cane, footage shows a monkey being beaten to death and then a group of adults sitting down to dine on its brains and a man killed by an alligator, an act that the narrator calls “violent retaliation from a creature who has suffered continued abuse from mankind.” DVD Verdict wrote, “if you can get through Faces of Death, then you can get through just about anything. Feel free to judge for yourself.”[
In My Skin (French: Dans ma peau) is one of the most notable films to emerge from New French Extremism, a transgressive film movement active in the early 2000s in France. It is a movie of great psychological torture and self-mutilation that devolves into self-cannibalism, yet as Henrik Sylow notes, the draw of the film is uncanny:
The movie has a strange ability to keep us watching. Even during the scenes of mutilation, which I must admit made me twitch and actually look away, one has to look. There simply is something strangely morbid fascination [sic] about watching it. It almost becomes like porn, where you can’t wait for it to happened [sic], simply so you can be disgusted by it. As such, this is not a film I would dare recommend for everyone. Marina de Van shows a lot of guts putting herself and this story on the screen, and it takes guts to watch it.
The original in this six-part series depicted torture so realistically, actor Charlie Sheen contacted the police to report it as a snuff film. The Guinea Pig series was also said to have influenced Japanese serial killer Tsutomo Miyazaki, who killed four young girls. Throughout the half-dozen originals and the two-part “making of” series, torture reigns and blood flows freely.
The snuff film has existed in a collective consciousness for some time and supposedly once duped the actor Charlie Sheen into contacting the FBI over what he believed to be a real death captured on film. Upon investigation it turned out to be part of a Japanese horror franchise, Guinea Pig.Alexandra West, The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle
Completed only weeks before Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered, Salò was loosely based on a novel of the same name by the Marquis de Sade, but it is set in the dying days of Italian fascism toward the end of World War II. Several scenes involve the consumption of human feces. In The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote: “Salo is, I think, a perfect example of the kind of material that, theoretically, anyway, can be acceptable on paper but becomes so repugnant when visualized on the screen that it further dehumanizes the human spirit, which is supposed to be the artist’s concern.”
A financially struggling porn star agrees to star in an “art film” but doesn’t find out until he’s in too deep that it’s a snuff film involving necrophilia and pedophilia. The film was banned in 46 countries, and a Swedish art-festival director was temporarily brought up on child-pornography charges that were later dropped. One rape scene involves a newborn male baby being anally raped by his father. Another involves a woman being tied to a bed and decapitated while being raped. Another involves a man raping an unconscious man. A woman gets all her teeth knocked out and is then choked on a man’s erect penis. A reviewer on iMDB warns: “It may leave permanent scars in your mind that will ruin some of the best experiences of your life, such as witnessing the birth of your child or lying in bed caressing a son’s hair. Violent and obscene thoughts will keep intruding, and it’s scary for me to think how much this can affect some people.” Another reviewer calls it “Crueler than cruel, darker than dark, more vile than vile entertainment.”
River of Fundament is an operatic 330-minute scatological meditation. That is, to be explicit, it is a five-and-a-half-hour-long musical ostensibly about human waste. In The New York Times‘ review, Glenn Kenny writes that while the film is complex and moving, it is also unwatchable.
Human waste as an object of philosophical contemplation is a theme that has arguably been ill served in the cinema; nevertheless, it is entirely possible that this picture constitutes overcompensation….River of Fundament is often a commanding, engaging and certainly challenging experience. Nevertheless, by the end of the piece I felt deliberately alienated, and to a nearly infuriating degree.
What adds to the shock value of River of Fundament is that within all the obscenity, there is quite a lot of artful and philosophical nuance, as well as Hollywood A-listers such as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Paul Giamatti starring it with numerous cameos from famous artists, porn stars, dancers, musicians, and writers.
Nevertheless — violence, hardcore pornographic imagery, the abstract plot, obscure (AKA pretentious) references to ancient Egyptian protagonists, explicit displays of human waste, and an exhausting playtime — make River of Fundament one of the most disturbing and unwatchable films of all time; so much so that many of the critics hired to review the film couldn’t even finish it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I like watching disturbing movies?
What movie was so disturbing people walked out?
Other notable walkouts for disturbing content include (but aren’t limited to) The House That Jack Built (2018), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Crimes of the Future (2022), and Freaks (1932), which also prompted a woman to claim it caused her to have a miscarriage. There are also plenty of other movies people have walked out of for various reasons. One unifying factor appears to be that the most publicized walkouts aren’t necessarily for the most disturbing movies (at least not by modern standards), but rather for higher-profile movies that people watched without knowing what they were getting into.