Ouch! Torture in the movies

The Raven fictionalises the last days of Edgar Allan Poe when he pursued a serial killer mimicking the murders seen in his stories. We look at the film’s theme of torture as seen in 8 other movies.

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With James McTeigue’s The Raven receiving its UK DVD/Blu-ray release this week, Top 10 Films has got the sick bag at the ready and taken a look at torture as represented in the cinema.

Throughout the history of film, characters have had to endure horrendous torture and gruesome deaths, resulting often in the focus of a director’s vision. But why are we captivated by such horror?

Along with The Raven, here are the most memorable films that utilize the stomach-turning theme of torture.

Se7en (1995)


This thriller portrays the horrible treatment of a torturous serial-killer. His twisted agenda involves choosing seven victims who represent appalling examples of wrongdoing of each of the Seven Deadly Sins. He hands out horrific punishments to these sinners; one being an obese man who is forced to eat until his stomach ruptures to represent gluttony.

Hannibal (2001)


Anthony Hopkins returns as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, one of the worlds most feared man-eating serial killer. One of the Hannibal’s victims is disfigured and confined to a life-support system because the frightening cannibal tortured him. After a decade of looking for the man-eater, the victim plans to draw Lecter out of his hiding place, using the one thing he truly cares for: Clarice Starling.

Saw (2004)

With a dead body lying between them, two men wake up in a trapped lair of a serial killer who’s been nicknamed “Jigsaw”. Both men have been given the option of rotting in the cell or cutting their foot off as a way of punishment for the corrupt lives they lived. In the end, one of the men was tortured enough and lost it as he cut off his foot and eventually left the room.

Hostel (2005)


Three backpackers head to a Slovak city that promises to meet their high expectations- with no idea about the torture that awaits them. The torture is extremely gory as the final scene is of two fingers that are vengefully dismembered with a scalpel.

Dead Silence (2007)


A young couple, Jamie and Lisa, anonymously receive a mysterious package with a weird dummy inside. Jamie leaves the apartment to pick up dinner and when he returns, he finds Lisa dead, tortured and without a tongue.

Funny Games (2007)


Two preppy psychos brutalize a woman (Naomi Watts) and her family in their own home. These tormenters act as if it’s the victims who are being rude. They flaunt entitlement, provoking protest, and then rage. Smashing the husband’s knee with a golf club- and they are just getting started- they turn torture into a rite of privilege.

Untraceable (2008)


Diane Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, a secret service agent who is chasing a serial killer who conducts violent and painful murders on a website. The torturous videos recorded from the killer’s basement include horrific murders by injections of anticoagulant, burning by heat lamps and increasing the concentration of sulfuric acid.

The Human Centipede (2009)


In Germany, two American women and a Japanese man fall victim to a torturous surgeon who plans to recreate a horrific operation with humans that he performed on his three beloved dogs: reverse-engineering Siamese triplets by attaching their digestive systems.

The Raven (2012)


Taking place in the 19th century, a serial killer begins murdering victims using methods from Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. Poe himself teams up with a detective to stop more of his fictional stories from becoming a reality. His classic short story “The Pit and the Pendulum” comes to horrifying life as a man is captured by the killer, only to find himself tortured by a swinging blade.

© 2012 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The Raven is released on Blu-ray & DVD 30th July 2012

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Your turn – what are your favourite torture films?

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Only nine??!!

    There are a few memorable films where torture isn’t a key theme of the plot, but in which it does – during a moment or two – come to the fore. The interogation of Oliver Reed in The Devils is one (he has his legs bashed with a mallet before being burnt at the stake); the cop having his ear sliced off in Resevoir Dogs; older Vincent Price stuff like The Conquerer Worm and Cry of the Banshee.

    Then we move on to the sicker stuff where torture is, for want of a better term, something of a motif – Bloodsucking Freaks (a truly detestable film), The New York Ripper, a few of the Hershel (forgive spelling) Gordon (or is that Gordon Hershel?) “classics” like 2000 Maniacs …

    One interesting variation on cinematic torture, I thought, was in Romero’s Day of the Dead, in which the mad doctor is running amok with zombie subjects in the army bunker. Sure they might be dead, but they still moan and twitch during the autopsies.

  2. Avatar
    amy Reply

    There was only one scene in The Raven that made me icky xD and that was the Pendulum torture scene. xD

    I think Ichi the Killer has that hooks on the back scene that made me turn the movie off hahahaha. As you can see I’m not much for torture. xD The only one on your list I’ve seen is Se7en, and most of the others I have tried to avoid on purpose. Also, thanks for letting me know Funny Games has some torture xD now I’ve been warned.

  3. Avatar
    mark Reply

    One possible omission is Theatre of Blood (with Vincent Price and Diana Rigg)… dated perhaps, but a definite precursor to Se7en.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Reply

    Lots of good picks here.

    For my own part, I’d have to throw in Oldboy; it’s not all about torture, but that teeth-ripping scene makes me cringe. On that note, Marathon Man is worth mentioning for similar reasons, though I frankly react far more strongly to that than to what happens in Park’s film. (Really.)

    And while it’s not terribly graphic, or violent, or gruesome, or all that real, seeing Wesley get the life sucked out of him in The Princess Bride always makes my blood run cold.

  5. Avatar
    Richard Reply

    What about the movie ‘Joy ride’.

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