I have always considered watching disturbing films as my own personal daredevil activity of choice, but they aren’t always the best choices for a group setting. These films are like riding an extreme rollercoaster at an amusement park. Your friends build up the ride by telling you how scary it is and occasionally revealing details of its twists and turns. Your tension rises as you take a seat and await takeoff. Suddenly, you get blasted into the sky from a seemingly secure, controlled apparatus. When it’s over, your adrenaline rush subsides, and you exit through the gift shop where you may impulsively purchase a t-shirt featuring the novelty phrase “I survived [enter ride name here].”
It’s almost maddening how many distasteful horror films have left me unfazed but there are a select few that I believe are deserving of a t-shirt. After days of nail-biting and subjecting myself to the hellish pits of torture porn, these five horror movies made the final cut. I repeat- do not watch these in a group.
A SERBIAN FILM (2010, Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic)
I have spent the last 7 years avoiding A SERBIAN FILM to protect my already hardened mental well-being, but it has always been a goal of mine to face this film head on someday. This week, that time came…for research purposes or something. Despite a lifetime of learned desensitization to most movies, there are some thrills that should only be experienced once or not at all… and most definitely not in a dark theater full of shifty eyes. If any movie falls under this category, A SERBIAN FILM will give it a run for its money. This psychologically damaging journey follows seasoned porn star, Milos, who is desperate to retire from the industry, but not before making one final film to give his wife and child a financially comfortable life. However, this film is different from the rest. Presented to Milos as a revolutionary art picture, the film inches its way into intensely pedophiliac territory. Every minute of the film within a film drags you further into the darkest corners of humanity and shames you just as much for watching as the men behind the cameras.
WE ARE THE FLESH (2016, Directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter)
After a brother and sister duo spend years scavenging for shelter and sustenance in a seedy city, they happen upon one of the last standing buildings which is inhabited by a middle-aged man with a deranged outlook on heterosexual attraction and a desperation for amusement. Tired of constantly living life on the move, the siblings are unable to turn down the man’s fantasy-born ultimatum. WE ARE THE FLESH is the kind of movie that you describe to your friends as being pornographic but then you have to calm their excitement by explaining that when “pornographic” is used in the same sentence as “horror movie,” arousal is not typically the intended effect. Mostly absent of violence and gore, this film strikes a psychosexual nerve causing intense disgust by your own voyeuristic curiosity. At home, I often act as a disturb-o-meter for what can and can’t be unseen. I can assure you that I took one for the team this time around.
SALÒ aka 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975, Directed By Pier Paolo Pasolini)
Four fascist and sexually unrestrained individuals hold captive nine teenaged boys and girls, forcing them to become slaves of physical, psychological, and sexual torment for the longest 120 days of their lives. Unlike the other films in this list, I actually did see this film in a half-full theater a few years ago. I can still feel myself shudder when I recall the person to my left whispering to me, “Just try to keep an open mind.” Is this phrase the new “it’s only a movie”? My mind was opened to a cinematic world where not a single orifice or natural bodily secretion was left untouched… or consumed. I can’t un-open my mind to the existence of this film, but perhaps I can find the nearest eye-rinse station to wash away the lingering smut.
ABCS OF DEATH (2012, Directed by Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Hélène Cattet, et al.)
ABCS OF DEATH is an anthology film with no intertwining connection between the 26 stories directed by 26 filmmakers, each shining a dim light on the merciless and sometimes humorous ways in which we all kick the bucket. Although I awaited the Netflix circuit for this one, it did make the festival rounds in the U.S. and overseas. So many brave souls sat side by side uncomfortably for two hours. This is a movie that not only violates your eyes with imagery of insecurities about life including sexual fetishes and social norms but also forces you to face the unpredictability of death. Categorized as a horror comedy, my laughter quickly disintegrated into clutching my knees to me chest and watching through the small gaps between my fingers.
BEGOTTEN (1990, Directed by E. Elias Merhige)
This unsettling arthouse film tells a fantastical tale of the death and resurrection of God and Mother Earth. Although you may expect a black and white film without any dialogue to be a far cry from too disturbing for theaters, the graphic content in addition to the smutty realistic sound effects make BEGOTTEN hard on the eyes and ears. The dark exploration of theology begins with a man that is believed to be a suicidal God sawing away at his flesh and tugging at his entrails. And if that wasn’t enough to make you fear this film let alone God himself, the film crescendos into the unexplainable impregnation of Mother Earth followed by repeated rape and cannibalism. For a film made in 1990, it plays like an early 1900s lost Satanic cult film that was viewed through a Kinetoscope in Aleister Crowley’s basement. If you are looking for an unusual religious experience or you’re eager to lie awake at night in befuddled terror, this film is for you. Just don’t bring this one to your next movie marathon with friends… unless you want to be the buzz kill.