I have previously explored what makes other people tick, with my list of ‘banned films’, ‘psychopaths from films’ and more recently ‘fucked up & weird films’, and yet, I don’t think enough has been said as to what disturbs ME. I like to think I have a pretty high threshold when it comes to shock, violence and especially gore, so for me the tensions and situations of films are what really disturb me more than the actual graphic portrayal of violence and gore. Realistic violence is not something that upsets me, but the killing of a character I like or can sympathisete or identify with is.

It must be stated now, I have deliberately omitted a few films from this list, mainly because their inclusion would seem to suggest I was in some way ‘recommending’ that you watch them. I am not, and for the sake of clarity I will list them at the end of the article. Watch them if you really want to be disgusted, as some I watched and hated, some I watched and found interesting, and some I watched segments of and couldn’t even bare to carry on.

Here then, is 13 films that disturbed me. Make sure you have a clear exit to the door, and a copy of Finding Nemo on DVD to watch just in case it all gets a bit much for you.

#13: Don’t Look Now (1973)

A classic ‘intelligent’ horror flick, Don’t Look Now is still way ahead of it’s time. Seen as a horror picture, the film shows itself as being an unlucky couple stalked by misfortune that they can’t control, yet seen in it’s proper light as a drama, the film is a beautifully moving and absolutely believable piece about how grief and the death of a child can destroy a couple from the inside out. The classic ending in which our hero Donald Sutherland is killed by a deformed woman who wears a similar red raincoat to his dead daughter is symbolic of his obsession killing him, but really, it’s not the kind of horror film that provides big screams, just uncomfortable squirms and winces.

#12: Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Something about ‘Bad Lieutenant’ is so rotten at the core that watching it almost seems a pervasive act of flagellation. It’s not the gruesome acts of sexual deviancy, numerous scenes (as pictured) of hardcore drug abuse, the racism, horrific violence, or even Keitel’s extreme performance that makes it so hard to watch, it’s more the duality of it all; the lieutenant has two very separate lives. His public persona as super cop, family man, and occasional gambler blurs the line between his bad side, the one who ultimately finds an undeserved retribution for his sins. Film maker Abel Ferrara has made a name for himself in directing relentlessly hopeless and gritty flicks – this is his best.

#11:  Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead appears once again and that’s no real surprise. The film has all the elements to be a throwaway trashy art film, but it somehow manages to transcend it’s status of that and become much more. Characters who seem utterly disinterested in being alive, sentient dead animals, and a world of all encompassing black and white. Eraserhead may not be scary in the traditional sense of the word, but it more than makes up for it by showing  a world rocked by a nuclear explosion that is absolutely uninhabitable and inhospitable.

#10: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

For me, the best 60’s and 70’s horror films have stood the test of time and overcome their genre pigeonhole of ‘horror’, and became classic dramas. Witchfinder General, Don’t Look Now, the Exorcist and not least Rosemary’s Baby are all great examples of this. The truly terrifying thing about the film, is the pure inescapable nature of evil – Rosemary is a good moral woman, yet she is seemingly chosen at random to give birth to the son of the Devil. How can evil be escaped that can’t even be seen? The creepy dream sequence where Rosemary is raped is so powerful and symbolic that it sends shivers down my spine.

#9: Happiness (1998)

‘Happiness’ is on the surface, another stupid family drama about kids growing up. Yet beneath that, it reveals itself to be an extremely dark and disturbed film that is powerful as well as being intentionally funny. A man who has disgusting sexual fantasies about his son’s 10 year old friends and mass murder in the playground. The film is unflinching in it’s portrayal of the family as on some level ‘normal’, yet a lot of their actions go unnoticed and seem to beg the question – what is anyone you know and trust really up to? A disturbing thought.

#8: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Criticised at the time for being overly gory and excessively realistic, ‘Henry’ now shows itself to be a thoroughly modern and chillingly believable exercise in a psychotic character study. The fact that it is based on a real life serial killer (Henry Lee Lucas) makes it almost voyeuristic in it’s depiction of events, as Henry rapes, kills and smashes his way through life. As mentioned though, the film is nothing if not believable, Henry is a seemingly normal, if not quite bored individual with an extremely disturbing hobby: being a serial killer. I love the film for it’s violence, which is at all times completely realistic and not in any way glorified, the question is begs is: are Quentin Tarantino movies right in their portrayal of violence as being cool and funny more acceptable than the brutal reality presented in ‘Henry’ ? It’s a challenging question, and I believe that death is always ugly, especially when it’s committed by a disturbed freak. That is something that will never change, no matter how many cool Bible verses you memorise to give the situation a fun finality.

#7: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Couldn’t you just see it coming? The film that changed the way I see all films is still a classic, and as testament to that, has appeared in approximately 9,000 of my blog entries already. The quality the film somehow manages to have of being a living nightmare is something I have never seen captured on film before or since it, as the horrifying death of hippie culture is stamped out by a family of confederate cannibals. Yee-haw!

#6: Funny Games (1997)

You might think that foreign language films haven’t got the capabilities of disturbing you that much. But you’d be wrong, and stupid, and I’d hate you; because you obviously hadn’t seen ‘Funny Games’. An Austrian film about two psychotic young men who torture a trapped family on holiday and force them to play games and undertake bizarre challenges for their amusement. The film breaks the 4th wall on a few occasions, with Paul addressing the camera and asking the audience what they think the chances of the family’s survival is. The first time I saw that aforementioned scene I absolutely fucking shit myself, yet now I realise that this use of thematic ‘wall breaking’ serves up to show a clever little bit on silly gameshow audience participation (HIGHER! LOWER!), the implications of witnessing violent acts, and if nothing else – the fact that Paul and his chum believe that they are in a movie and that their acts are of little or no consequence.

#5: When the Wind Blows (1986)

From the same guy who did ‘The Snowman’ (aka, the most disturbing film of all, if you think about it too long) comes ‘When the Wind Blows’, a seemingly harmless and innocuous animation about an old married couple who are caught in the middle of a worldwide nuclear apocalypse. Oh shit.  If ever there was a reason parents shouldn’t just buy cartoons to shut their kids up – this is it, I can imagine a few mums buying the VHS (probably marketed as ‘From the creator of ‘The Snowman!’) and bunging it in the player – only to have on their hands a child so mixed up, depressed and utterly despondent as a result. As I previously stated, it’s my attachments to characters and their little quirks that does it for me, and there is no better example of this than ‘..Wind’. When the world basically starts to end, the old fuddy duddy couple start to pray, and Hilda and Jim start to slowly die of radiation poisoning, it is absolutely one of the most upsetting, memorable, disturbing and completely believable depictions of a couple who don’t understand the world around them. “Look dear, my hair’s coming out”. “Don’t worry dearest..Women don’t go bald”.

#4: I Stand Alone (1998)

Impressively, Gaspar Noe’s first film on the list is at number 4, and it most definitely isn’t his last one. Bit of a spoiler that, oh well. I Stand Alone is a relentlessly bleak and completely hopeless film that depicts the life of a butcher (known only as ‘The Butcher’ – a possible comment on his definition of himself being based on the only thing he has taken pleasure in – his job) in France, and is completely devoid of anything resembling hope. He stumbles around from shitty situation to shittier situation, discovering that life is a bunch of meaningless set pieces designed to keep you occupied while you slave away in a job you don’t really care about. It’s in this stark realisation the butcher experiences that we see the depraved lengths human beings will go to keep themselves occupied and unconcerned with morality or justice.

#3: Audition (2000) 

I did really have to laugh the first time I saw Audition. The film does it absolute best to play the flip reverse, and if you hadn’t read the synopsis, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a fairly aimless romantic-comedy cum chick-flick that has no ambitions other than to show you the pervasiveness of love and happiness. But no, the film rumbles through a fairly unpredictable plot at a snails pace, with our main character holding a false audition to find himself a new wife. He finds the girl of his dreams, and she ends up torturing him in a few absolutely fucking horrific ways. The most memorable scene is where she uses an extremely sharp piano wire to cut his foot entirely off, and lobs it at the window just as casually. Oh. My. God.

#2: Man Bites Dog (1992) 

Well known for it’s hand held camera, and the appearances throughout of it’s directors / producers / writers, etc, Man Bites Dog is a seriously fucked up film that has some of the sharpest, funniest, but most brutally dark humour I have ever heard in it. Benoit is a serial killer, but he’s also a really generous and intelligent one, and our film crew follow him round, occasionally witnessing his murders, yet remaining impassive. Some of the scenes of death are so utterly sadistic and warped that it’s really a wonder the film was able to fly under the radar of censorship in Britain and America. Benoit visits a kind old lady under the premise of interviewing her about loneliness, spotting heart medication on the table, he shouts unexpectedly down her ear, giving the woman a heart attack. He leaves her to die in her flat, explaining that he likes to try new methods of killing, and to save a bullet, for his sake, and the sake of the ladies neighbours. The film is essentially a load of set pieces, featuring Benoit’s opinions on architecture, music and films, then interspersed with his killing and dumping of bodies. As the film goes on, the directors become more and more implicated in Benoit’s world, eventually raping and possibly killing a woman and her partner. It is this sense of perverse flip sided morality, and utterly disgusting, yet undeniably funny undercurrent that makes Man Bites Dog so unbelievably awesome – I couldn’t seriously recommend it enough.

#1: Irreversible (2002)

In being ‘disturbing’, films don’t necessarily have to be shit as well. Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible proves this with absolute force, as it is a powerfully moving, believable, but extremely graphic and horribly brutal drama. Some have had trouble with it’s storyline, which is essentially, in the time honoured tradition, told in chronological reverse (ala ‘Memento’). After opening with a seemingly random act of unprovoked violence, we are lead on a simple story of a man and his friend getting revenge for the rape of his partner. As has been stated numerous times, the film’s use of jumbled chronological retelling really forces you to consider the act of vengeance before you can actually process it, and in a sense, before the explanation for it is given – is violence and wrath ever the answer? The film has been censored heavily, and is indeed an extremely tough one to watch – the scene of the rape itself is unflinchingly honest and disturbing insofar as the act of rape itself is a completely horrific and disgusting act – it’s nine minutes of film is captured unswervingly and impassively. Yet, somehow, it manages to have an uplifting ending, as the couple embrace and accept that ‘time destroys everything’. Though the viewer knows better, it does destroy everything, from the confidence of the female who was attacked, to the conscience and morality of the men who exacted their own violent retribution. If you can make it through Irreversible, you can make it through almost anything – it is well scripted, shot to perfection, acted brilliantly, and is a fresh take on the now tired ‘rape revenge’ story, but that’s not to say it isn’t an extremely disturbing and upsetting film.

[Films not included for previously stated reasons: Last House on the Left, Salo: Or the 120 Days of Sodom, A Serbian Film, Human Centipede, I Spit On Your Grave, The Idiots]

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