Top 10 Disturbing Films

Prepare to be disturbed! Have you got a sofa to hide behind? Neal Damiano takes a look at a selection of unsettling independent films which have stood the test of time…

10. Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)

Blue Velvet, David Lynch, Suburbia In Peril,Blue Velvet remains one of the most complex and fascinating films to date, due mainly to Dennis Hopper’s character Frank Booth. What makes this film so disturbing, you ask, well simple, his behavior is so over the top and outrageous. Booth conducts his life without any regard for another human being and his main function is pure self gratification. How can you argue with someone of that nature and expect to win.

9. Happiness (Solondz, 1998)

happiness_solondzA very dark drama about a strange family. The story reads like a checklist of disturbing things – pedophilia, rape, suicide and murder. The biggest thing that makes Happiness so shocking is the characters have no redeeming values but are shown as rounded people with good qualities.

8. Elephant (Van Sant, 2003)

Elephant_van-santGus Van Sant’s film takes us on a ride through a day in the life of two high school outsiders in suburban America. It touches on themes of homosexuality but it’s never revealed if they’re gay. What’s so fascinating and truly disturbing about Elephant: it can happen in any city at any high school. The main characters were not devil worshippers or serial killers, they just didn’t fit in or relate to any group, which makes it even more unsettling. The end result: a lot of high school students dead.

7. Seven (Fincher, 1995)

seven_william-somerset_morgan-freemanA psychological thriller by David Fincher, about a sadistic sociopath (Kevin Spacey), who kills his victims in quite a creative but truly disturbing fashion, by way of The Seven Deadly Sins. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play detectives on the trail of this sick individual. Perhaps the most creepy thing about Seven is the relentless cat and mouse game Spacey plays with the detectives, leaving clues and taunting them with every move. The most shocking moment? That has to be the ending!

6. Requiem For A Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)

Requiem for a Dream, Film, DarrenAronofskyAddiction is a bitch and in Requiem For A Dream it follows four characters, each going down a long path to rock bottom. Jennifer Connelly’s character is particularly upsetting. Connelly meets a pimp who gives her drugs in exchange for performing sex acts. The most unnerving thing about Requiem For A Dream is the lengths each character will go to score their next fix or high.

5. I Spit On Your Grave (Zarchi, 1978)

i-spit-on-your-grave-camille-keatonThe ultimate feminist revenge flick, I Spit On Your Grave was banned due to its graphic torture scenes. A writer retreats to the woods to simply complete her latest novel. Lots of blood and gore ensue with the relentless raping and torture from a gang of drifters. She finally gets her revenge and doesn’t hold back at all, essentially becoming as sick as the men who attacked her.

4. The Boys Next Door (Spheeris, 1985)

the-boys-next-door_spheerisDirected by Penelope Spheeris, The Boys Next Door is a suburban nightmare about two kids Ray (Max Caulfield) and Bo (Charlie Sheen) who are about to graduate from high school and dreadfully awaiting their dead-end existence working in a factory. Both alienated and desperate for something more, they take a road trip across Los Angeles. Things soon spiral out of control and their journey turns into a cold blooded murder spree. One particular scene put the hairs up on my back as Ray confides to Bo about these bad feelings he has inside. The most unsettling thing about it: Ray and Bo look like every other unassuming and all-American male.

3. Man Bites Dog (Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel, 1992)

man-bites-dog-filmA film crew follows a serial killer named Ben around the streets of Belgium as he kills random people. Man Bites Dog truly is a bizarre and frightening look through the eyes of a sociopath. Ben is witty and charismatic, often singing and reciting poetry as the crew continues to film his gruesome, ultra violent slayings. Towards the end the crew actually helps Ben kill some of his victims. The film is a mockumentary, but I found it to be quite disturbing.

2. Last House On The Left (Craven, 1972)

last-house-on-the-left_wes-cravenWes Craven directed one of the most disturbing and tormenting films in cinema history. On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood and friend set out to the city to see a rock concert. Along the way they get lured into an apartment with hopes of scoring some pot. What they find is a group of savage convicts who rape, drug, and torture the two girls relentlessly. They eventually drag the girls into the woods to finish killing them. What makes Last House On The Left so insane is the deeply perverse ways the criminals torture them. For example, forcing the girls to perform lesbian acts, having them urinate on themselves, and pointing a gun in their face while laughing. The parents getting retribution at the end really makes the film over the top, including a castration by teeth and a chainsaw. The film was banned in theaters and later released on video.

1. Kids (Clark, 1995)

kids-larry-clark-movie

Kids truly is a frightening look at a group of city kids that care about nothing but getting high, causing trouble, and having sex. This is not the first time we’ve witnessed such behaviour, however, Larry Clark’s naturalistic vision is so disturbing because it seems so real. The film is shot in a documentary style, making you feel like you’re along for the ride with the careless youth. Perhaps the most sickening thing about Kids is the main character has open sex with several girls in his inner circle while having AIDS. The rape scene is particularly unwatchable! Til this day it affected me in a negative way more than any other film. I left the theater feeling empty and sick inside.

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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  1. Rodney Reply

    Some nice selections, Neal – I haven’t seen a lot of them, and am only aware of them by name, so I have to bow to your wisdom in this Top 10. I see they’ve recently made a Spit On Your Grave 2, so I’m guessing the original and the remake are worthwhile enough to justify a third?

    Se7en and Requiem For A Dream are both essential viewing in any category, let alone “disturbing films”, and Kids is disturbing in an entirely different light. Frankly, I prefer Bully to Kids, but that’s just me. Seen Ken Park, just out of interest? That might take a spot in this list too….

    • Dan Reply

      I’m a big fan of Bully too Rodney – terrific film with the sort of natural, raw performances Clark has a knack of getting out of a young cast. Clark could fill a list like this himself.

  2. Pete Turner (@ilovethatfilm) Reply

    The most disturbing thing about this list is how many of these are in my top 10 films of all time. Only one I haven’t seen is The Boys Next Door so I guess that’s a must now! I’d find a place for Irreversible too!

  3. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan & Rod, Yes, Bully is a much better film by far and is not nearly as disturbing as Kids is! Kids is on a disturbing level of its own to me. I just did not like that film. To Pete, definitely see The Boys Next Door very disturbed intense movie.

    Thanks for the read, guys

    N

  4. Dan Reply

    I’d echo Pete’s comment about Irreversible – very hard-hitting and without any doubt exceedingly disturbing.

    Some other films that I would put into the category of “disturbing” or, alternatively, “films I never want to watch again” are:

    The Human Centipede
    Cannibal Holocaust
    Funny Games
    Salo

    Films that are disturbing but that I would watch again include:

    Scanners, eXistenz, Shivers (and most things by Cronenberg)
    Lost Highway, Fire Walk With Me (and most things by Lynch)

  5. Darren Reply

    Not a horror film, but I found Day of the Locust the most horrific/disturbing film. Donald Sutherland’s meltdown and the apocalyptic riot that followed have stayed with me since I saw it in the early 80s. I haven’t seem it since. Part of me wants to, but….

    • Dan Reply

      …mentioning Donald Sutherland makes me think of another disturbing movie – Don’t Look Now.

  6. Mark Reply

    Really great list …. is Bloodsucking Freaks a bit too marginal?

    I found Man Bites Dog more terrifying than disturbing (even with the rape, which was cut from the theatrical version when it first appeared in Oz back in 1993).

    For serial killer movies I’d have Maniac (the one with Joe Spinell) and possibly the third of the Hopkins-Hannibal films (the one where Ray Liotta gets fed his brain) before it.

    Another film I found kinda partly disturbing, but only on the second or third viewing oddly enough, was 28 Weeks Later – Hamish McBeth as man the animal malfunctioning badly.

    Anyone seen Man Behind the Sun?

  7. Neal Damiano Reply

    Man Bites Dog is extremely disturbing to watch! You can say it’s terrifying as well.

  8. Evan Crean Reply

    I agree that the films on this list I’m familiar with (Blue Velvet, Elephant, Seven, and Requiem), are all quite disturbing. However Elephant really pissed me off because of its cop out ending. There are certainly ones you mention that I’ve been told I need to see like Man Bites Dog. From the description though, I’m just not sure I have the stomach. Just reading about it makes me kind of queasy. Same thing goes for The Human Centipede (not on the list obviously), which I haven’t been brave enough to watch.

  9. Neal Damiano Reply

    Well Evan Crean, I can tell you this, Man Bites Dog is perversely violent because of the way it’s filmed and the nature if the killings it is very disturbing to watch! Elephant I found to be disturbing because of the mundaneness it shows before the violence is do true to life. The build up is quite frightening.

  10. Mark Reply

    @Evan – Believe me, you have the stomach to watch MBD – plus, you MUST watch it. Yes, it is horrorifyingly violent at times, but it is also very funny (particularly if you went to film school) and pretty damn clever to boot. The lead (Ben Poelvoorde) is terrifyingly brilliant.

    It’s a pity the careers of the boys who made it didn’t really go anywhere – I’ve only seen Poelvoorde in one other movie (where he puts his daughter through some kind of contest), while I read somewhere that the sound recordist (Remy?) topped himself a few years ago.

    Not sure if I’ve got the mental fortitude to cobble together a top 10 film list of all time, but MBD would definitely be in my top 20.

    As for Human Centipede, it’s more perverse that disturbing. It’s also gratuitious in a childish kind of way, which somehow helps negate the horror of it all. The films on the above list are way better ….

  11. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Mark, thanks for the compliment in your last section of your above comment “The films on the above list are way better” much appreciated. Yes, I try to well round my lists ……really diversify them obviously to anyone who reads them.

    Thanks for the read,
    N

  12. Dan Grant Reply

    Great list Neal. I too haven’t seen have the films mentioned. I will comment on two films. 1) I’m really glad you included LHOTL as it is unequivocally the most disturbing film I have ever seen. It left me shaken the first time I saw it. 2) I Spit on Your Grave, imo, is all bark and no bite. It was controversial because in 1978 when it was released, feminist groups made a big deal about it. If they would have left it alone, it never would have gotten as bad a reputation as it has. Again, imo, the remake is a much better film and is one of the best horror films of the last 10 years.

    Well done friend. Nice list and I agree with you about Kids. That’s a kick to the nuts for sure.

  13. Neal Damiano Reply

    @Dan Grant, as always thanks for the read and comment. Last House On The Left (the original) still remains one of the most disturbing films in history and also got slammed by the critics in its time. Today, ironically it’s a staple film often discussed in film schools. Wes Craven stood by his frightening masterpiece. As for I Spit on Your Grave it’s up here for the simple fact of its graphic nature, pretty gruesome! I will say it again KIDS is watchable only once!!!

  14. Dan Grant Reply

    BTW…if you want to see a really good remake, you should check out I Spit on Your Grave (2010). Sara Butler is so good in it and it’s so much better than the original imo.

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