If you’re like me, you’re probably mourning the death of Halloween as we once knew it. Falling on a Saturday AND a full moon, this year’s holiday was supposed to be the ultimate celebration of monsters and ghouls. Now, many of us find ourselves celebrating alone in our bedrooms.
While we’re locked away experiencing the real horrors of a world in shambles, a good horror movie feels like the appropriate companion. But, given the collective trauma of this year, a regular old jump scare might not do the trick anymore. To remedy this, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen to take your spooky season to the next level. Not all of these films are horror per se, but they certainly will haunt you.
Climax, directed by Gaspar Noé is easily one of my favorite films of all time. Noé––who is known for his self-indulgent style––presents his best work in the form of this out-of-the-box horror movie. After a troupe of dancers discover that their drinks have been laced with LSD, they are confronted with their most animalistic impulses. Dancing, fighting, and fucking the night away, the troupe slowly and collectively loses their minds. Noé and a talented cast of actors worked in tandem to create this genius nightmare. As the night drags on for the characters, we feel every ounce of disorientation and terror that they do. Our minds are warped in paranoia as we watch the violent confrontations between characters unfold. Much of the script is improvised and the actors use their bodies to communicate the raw emotion in the film. Complete with a ten-minute dance interlude, Climax will haunt your mind long after you’ve finished the film.
- Enter the Void
Another one from the disturbing mind of Noé, Enter the Void depicts the moments following the death of a drug dealer in Tokyo. In comparison, Climax seems like a cookie-cutter blockbuster to watch with your pals. Noe’s experimental style forces the audience to see life through Oscar’s eyes. There is something so viscerally terrifying about the camera floating above Oscar’s abandoned body, curled in the filth of his own blood and the normal carnage of club life. While not technically a horror movie, Enter the Void offers so many disturbing images of life and death that it is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen (as well as the most effective anti-drug messages out there).
Is the 2014 dark comedy Tusk a good movie? No, it is not. However, if you’re looking for a film that presents one of the grossest monster of all time, Tusk might be exactly what you’re looking for. Think Human Centipede in terms of grotesqueness and quality of the story. The film centers around a podcaster who ventures into the Canadian wilderness to interview a man allegedly full of interesting stories. After being drugged, the unfortunate podcaster is surgically transformed into a horrifying walrus-human (and if you’re hoping for a visual, you’ll have to look it up yourself). I did not enjoy the watching experience and unsurprisingly I did not sleep well that night. Not for the faint of heart, this movie is perfect for anyone wishing to test their limits or maybe freak out a couple of unsuspecting friends.
As Gabe from The Office once said, “Sometimes even narrative is comforting.” David Lynch’s allegorical film Eraserhead proves as much. Though it’s certainly not easy to describe, the film is essentially a story about a man who helps a mother (and his soon-to-be wife) raise an alien-like baby who will not stop crying. Shot completely in black and white in a dingy apartment, everything from the characters to the setting is disturbing somehow. Though we can identify themes from the real world, everything Lynch does is utterly otherworldly. The characters speak with an unfamiliar intonation and the setting is unrecognizable as any particular place. David Lynch is famous for his surrealist influences, but Eraserhead takes the cake for unconventional filmmaking. While certainly not for everybody, Eraserhead is a well-constructed, unsettling journey by a masterful filmmaker. Even if you don’t love it, you’ll still have the image of the alien baby stuck in your brain for years to come.
A tale of not-so-classic revenge, Oldboy is as violent as it is twisted. Directed by South Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook, this film is filled to the brim with brilliant acting and a memorable storyline. After a rough night out, a businessman is kidnapped and held prisoner for fifteen years. While imprisoned, the man plots his revenge against his capturers. I am even hesitant to divulge further; the film offers so many unexpected revelations that it’s better to go in with as little information as possible. Just know that Oldboy is praised by graphic film violence experts like Quentin Tarantino. Park Chan-Wook has gone on to be one of the most respected directors, and his renown has brought attention to Korean made films. The imagery in this film is startling, conflating images of extreme pain with striking beauty. And then, of course, there’s the big twist.
If the name Yorgos Lanthimos is familiar to you, you know exactly what’s in store with his directorial debut, Dogtooth. For reference, Lanthimos is a Greek director responsible for the equally disturbing films The Lobster, The Killing of Sacred Deer, and The Favorite. His calling cards include deadpan, borderline bad acting, and a cold, lifeless script––but, like, on purpose. Dogtooth follows a family of five: an abusive and controlling father, a cold, unsupportive mother, and three adult children who are confined to the home. Through bizarre methods like teaching the family to use words incorrectly, the abusive father keeps his children stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence. There is something so jarring about the simultaneous maturity and youthful ignorance of the children as they struggle to make sense of a world they know so little about. This film is a great introduction to Lanthimos’ filmography and will definitely give you a bout of chills.
Whether you’re looking for a new thrill or simply want to expand your knowledge of the unsettling, these movies will provide an eventful (if not disturbing) evening. As we venture into the holiday season, there’s always time for a good scare. And hey, as long as quarantine continues to confine us to our homes, we’ve all got a couple of hours to kill.