So the other night I’m up late scrolling through the offerings on Netflix when I come across this:
The write-up tells me it’s about a girl (that’d be the beauty in the prom dress brandishing a drill) and her father, who kidnap her crush for “their own macabre evening”. Do I do the sensible thing and keep scrolling? No! I actually watch it. All 94 excruciating minutes. By the time (SPOILER ALERT) Drill Girl’s former “boyfriends”, whom she keeps in a pit beneath the house, dine on the father, I’m curled up and weeping.
Why do I do this? Time and again I watch disturbing movies. I am perversely drawn to them. Perhaps it is because I admire filmmakers who use their art to push limits, even the limits of good taste. Or perhaps I feel the need to remind myself what a blessed life I have by occasionally watching something that shows me how dark and twisted life could be. Or maybe I’m just a freak.
Regardless, The Loved Ones (which, by the way, scores a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes – go figure) got me thinking about my compulsion toward disturbing movies. So here, then, is a short history of my most disturbing movie experiences and a reluctant tribute to some of the most depraved filmmakers to ever pick up a camera.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS
Ok, not actually disturbing when compared to what follows, but it occurs to me upon reflection that this is where it all began – the 1979 original When a Stranger Calls. Picture this:
I’m 10. I happen upon this movie about a babysitter being tormented by phone calls from some creep. He keeps asking, “Have you checked the children?” Babysitter freaks out. Police are called. Phone is traced. Big reveal — the calls are coming from…INSIDE THE HOUSE! Shadow appears at top of stairs. Babysitter screams and runs to safety.
Next scene. Children are being carried out of the house in body bags.
…Hold on. What? The children are dead?! Excuse me?!
I am 10. I have never seen a movie where things didn’t work out. I am traumatized. And intrigued. You mean sometimes the cops don’t get there in time? Sometimes the bad guys win? That’s sick! Tell me more.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
When a Stranger Calls stirred something, and so I spent my early adolescence sneaking in whatever shock and horror I could find on TV without my parents finding out (Dark Night of the Scarecrow – a lost treasure. Check it out on Youtube sometime).
Then Stanley Kubrick upped the ante.
His grim, dystopian masterpiece was legendary for kids interested in movies that show you things you’re not supposed to want to see. I’d heard so much about A Clockwork Orange I couldn’t resist, so one night I made my buddy Bryan rent it with me and watch it at his house. Ultra-violence, ultra-stylized. Jarring, mechanical soundtrack. Close-ups of Malcolm McDowell’s nutso face. The permanent ruination of the song “Singing in the Rain”. And an ending that tells you nothing will ever be OK again.
I left Bryan’s around midnight and had to take a bus home. I spent the whole time looking around frantically for guys with canes wearing white diapers. Deep down I was certain I wasn’t going to survive the night.
You’d think that experience would smarten me up. Instead, I watched the movie a few more times and hung Clockwork Orange posters in my room. Yup, definitely something wrong with me.
In the years since, I have seen many disturbing films. No time to describe them all. A few standouts:
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
My first art-house movie theatre experience. Described as a dark comedy. Uh, yeah – as dark as they come. When am I supposed to laugh, exactly? (The good news – that’s Hellen Mirren!)
What the hell is this movie about, David Lynch? Actually, don’t tell me. It’s insane and so are you.
Natural Born Killers
Oliver Stone’s most-hated movie is so nasty my wife and I had to see it twice in the theatre just to confirm how horrible and exploitive it was. The mock sitcom starring Rodney Dangerfield is the “best” part.
Hobo with a Shotgun
Remember this one, Pal? I made you see it with me. I’m sorry I did that. You are a man who seeks beauty in life. You deserved better than this. Every frame in this movie is ugly; every scene is mean. It’s supposed to be funny, and it kinda is, but mostly it’s just horrible. And to the underage kids we helped sneak in – “shame on you, young men! A flame thrower on a school bus is not funny. Not funny at all!”
Now let’s get down to business.
Everything above is child’s play. Here, then, are the three most disturbing movies I know:
Michael Haneke made this movie twice, first in French then in English. I wish he hadn’t made it at all. I like Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, and I didn’t need to watch them and their son get tormented all night by a pair of sadistic, heartless college kids who like to play “games”, and who occasionally turn to the camera and talk directly to the viewer. The movie actually isn’t too heavy on gore and violence. The cruelty is more psychological, which makes it worse. And there is a scene on a boat – a scene that is in many ways beautiful and peaceful – that will haunt me forever.
Thanks, Michael Haneke. You prick.
I watched this freak show because you recommended it, Pal. I think you were paying me back for Hobo with a Shotgun. Depicting the events of one horrible night, told in reverse (Memento-style), and essentially done in one, unedited shot, this is actually an impeccably well-made movie. And it’s a nightmare. It has one unbearably gruesome scene at the beginning and an even more unbearably gruesome scene in the middle. The only good thing about the unbearably gruesome scene in the middle is that it makes you feel a whole lot better about the unbearably gruesome scene at the beginning.
And the reverse telling, and the way things at the end/beginning echo and explain things at the beginning/end, is a stroke of genius. It will definitely leave you thinking.
I actually recommend this movie to our readers. No I don’t. Yes I do. No I don’t…screw it — do what you want, but you’ve been warned.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
No list of disturbing movies is complete without a movie about the horrors of addiction.
And Requiem for a Dream is the King. Please bow your head and pay respects to the most insanely awful film ever about addiction, and perhaps the most disturbing movie ever made about any subject.
Requiem for a Dream is about four people who descend into madness, chaos and depravity because of their various drug addictions. Things get worse and worse and worse until you can’t stand it anymore, and then you learn there is still another 30 minutes to go and you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Like Funny Games and Irreversible, Requiem for a Dream is potent because it is a well-made film by a real and talented filmmaker. Darren Aranofsky is more famous for helping Natalie Portman win an Oscar by doing some nasty things in Black Swan, but check out the nasty things Jennifer Connolly does in the older and better Requiem.
On second thought, don’t. It’ll make you feel like crap for a week.
I should know – I’ve seen the damn thing four times.
Well, I think that’s enough cinematic depravity for now. If you’re interested in disturbing movies, I recommend you check out this list: http://www.complexmag.ca/pop-culture/2012/08/the-50-most-disturbing-movies/
You will see that I have only scratched the surface.
Gotta go. I need to download some podcasts (yes, I heard you loud and clear, Pal!). But only after I watch Antichrist and the Human Centipede II (if you don’t already know, trust me, you don’t want to know).