Not all horror audience reactions are alike. There are actually many different ones. There is “the jump” which is usually created by an unaware character stumbling onto a ghost or sometimes just a cat. There is the disgust at gross carnage. There is the “I can’t look” response when you know something awful is about to happen, but through the cunning use of slow movement and music cues, the tension build drives you to a point of anxiety where you have to look away from the screen.
Then there is “the cringe”. These moments are often visceral or gross too, but the cringe comes because we can embody the pain and something about it works of nerve center. We can imagine what it feels like to have your tooth drilled or a finger nail ripped out. Sure, stabbing a victim is easily recognized by the audience as severe trauma, but bend one finger nail back and most of us not only recognize the trauma…we can imagine just how awful it feels.
And so we cringe, building up so much anxiety and repulsion that we are forced to squirm in our seats, often unconsciously. And sometimes cringe moments come not from scenes that we ourselves can imagine like teeth drilling, but from our worst fears- bugs under our skin for example.
Below are my 10 most cringe-inducing movies. Be prepared to writhe in your seat with these.
UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929)
Best Cringe Moment- Eye slice
Every film professor has shown this to their students at least once and silently giggled with glee as the entire class cringed. Yes, we know it’s a dead sheep’s eye or something. It still works every time.
IN MY SKIN
Best Cringe Moment- Pretty much the entire movie after she gets the cut.
This 2002 French film is about a woman who gets a cut on her leg. She becomes obsessed with it, compulsively picking at it while the wound gets bigger and bigger. I’ve honestly never been able to watch this one without having to pause the film a few times to briefly recover. It is a test of endurance.
THE BAY (2012)
Best Cringe Moment- Parasites in open wounds. Gah!
A lot of folks were put off by the “found footage” element of this film. Even with the “shaky camera” ascetic, it still has a great concept and some phenomenal effects. The plot revolves around parasites that previously only attacked fish shifting their taste buds to humans. They enter the local water supply where they are ingested by the town and start eating their way out of the local population.
Best Cringe Moment- Needles or piano wire- take your pick.
This Japanese film features a plot twist like no other with a final scene that is jaw-dropping. And the sound Asami makes as she is inserting the needles is just as bad if not worse that then needles themselves. “tee tee tee tee tee”
Best Cringe Moment- He pulls his own tooth out because he believes bug has invaded the tooth. Wow!
There are questionable bugs in this film which may not even exist. Doesn’t matter. The whole thing could be in one character’s head. Makes no difference. Director William Friedkin brilliantly creates a film where you experience the characters’ own psychosis.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)
Best Cringe Moment- The entire fucking movie.
I will never do drugs again. Not ever. Not even Tylenol. Nope. Not happening. I need a shower now.
THE RUINS (2008)
Best Cringe Moment- A tangle of vines in eyes and just under the skin.
This flick was rather quickly forgotten after its release, but I always enjoyed it, and certain scenes have always stuck with me. Yes, killer plants seem a tad laughable in theory, but when microscopic vines enter your skin and eyes and have to be meticulously cut out, the squeamish factor prevails.
MARATHON MAN (1976)
Best Cringe Moment- There is really just one but it’s classic- the dentist scene.
The sound of the drill! “Is it safe?” Yeah, your likely already squirming a bit just thinking about it.
BLACK SWAN (2010)
Best Cringe Moment- The nail cuticle ripping all the way down her finger.
We’ve all had a loose cuticle we yanked a bit too hard leaving us with a slightly bloody and stinging nail. I saw this one on opening night in the theater, and the entire sold out crowd violently recoiled in unison during the cuticle scene.
Best Cringe Moment- Annie hobbles Paul.
Dear god… his foot turns sidewise. This may have been the first time I felt a little light-headed from simply watching a movie. This scene will never go away mentally. I haven’t watched the movie in years but the vision is still there, imprinted as if I just watched it this morning.