Not every horror movie manages to leave a mark on its audience, whether it’s due to imperfect direction, a lack of scares and gore, or an adherence to a kid-friendly PG-13 rating. Back in the early 2000’s, there seemed to be a long-running contest among mainstream American studios to make the most harmless and forgettable horror possible, resulting in instantly forgettable duds ranging from Darkness Falls to Stay Alive.
More recently, the move toward “elevated horror” as critics have bizarrely termed it, has resulted in directors such as Ari Aster and Jordan Peele offering up thoughtful, resonant horror stories with layers of meaning and plenty of scares. However, the slick, studio-backed aesthetic of these flicks, along with their recognizable casts and relatively sizeable budgets, preclude them from being truly disturbing on a gut-punch visceral level.
This isn’t a list of horrors which were surprisingly scary for a studio project, but rather an attempt to scroll through the list of frequently banned and censored films to find the movies most likely to leave viewers shook and shocked after the credits roll. We’ve tried to keep the gratuitous torture porn to a minimum where possible (sorry Lucifer Valentine) and we’ve endeavoured to avoid actual depictions of real-life death, injury, and animal abuse (so long, Trace of Death, Faces of Death, and Cannibal Holocaust).
With that in mind, here are the most disturbing horror movies ever, along with one all-purpose content warning: these feature every trauma imaginable in explicit detail.
Pascal Laugier’s name was always going to make it onto this list, and initially this entry was going to spotlight the director’s underseen 2016 effort Incident in a Ghostland, a flick noteworthy for its brutal unexpected mid-film plot twist. However the controversial director was sued by one of the cast member’s upon the film’s release, meaning it may break our “no real-life injuries” rule.
Moreover, nothing in Ghostland can hope to compare to the New French Extremity helmer’s 2008 horror.
As Martyrs progresses, the film moves from a supernatural horror to a violent home invasion slasher to an altogether more complicated and disturbing conspiracy thriller, eventually culminating in a stomach-turning, unbelievably long flaying scene which will leave even the most hardened gore fiends retching.
It’s all in aid of a pseudo-intellectual, very French meditation on death, but the image you’ll remember is a skinned heroine making The Passion of The Christ look subtle.