Let’s get one thing out of the way: You’re not any more or less of a horror fan for watching anything that qualifies for the most disturbing horror movies ever made.
One of the great things about horror as a genre is its flexibility. You don’t have to make the nastiest, goriest movie in town — there are even horror movies for kids. Slasher movies and sci-fi horror may exist in the same larger genre, but you’re still ultimately talking about two different types of films, with further subgenres just within those two examples alone.
Along the same spectrum of horror as its own universe, you have the films that strive to be as extreme in content as possible. The most disturbing horror movies of all time traditionally bring very bleak stories, along with some of the most stomach-churning violence and depictions of human evil to be found anywhere.
These are movies designed to disturb and disrupt you down to your DNA. Many horror fans simply avoid stuff like Cannibal Holocaust: It’s just too much, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
However, if you consider yourself the kind of person who wants to see everything horror has to offer, you’re eventually going to get to some of the films being highlighted here today.
Disturbing, like anything else, is subjective. Nonetheless, with this collection of the most disturbing horror films ever made, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find too many people who will disagree with these selections.
Just keep in mind, these are films that highlight rape, snuff, occasional (real) animal death, the worst combinations of bodily fluids, and extreme torture. Many of these films deal in a degree of sadomasochism that some people understandably prefer to avoid. Many of these films exist mostly for shock value.
There’s nothing wrong with going for that as a viewer, but it’s not for everyone.
The Most Disturbing Horror Movies
1. A Serbian Film (2010)
Director: Srdan Spasojevic
A pornstar (Srdan Spasojevic) finds himself the unwitting participant in what amounts to a snuff film. There isn’t a whole lot of plot going for A Serbian Film beyond that basic premise. The movie has genuine tension at times but is mostly just an excuse to perpetuate one brutality after another.
Regardless of how you feel about a film made as a response to political correctness, with very blunt commentary wrapped in scenes depicting paedophilia, savage violence, and necrophilia, A Serbian Film earns its reputation and then some. This is a movie designed to provoke a sincere reaction, with a technically beautifully made film supported by some of the most visually unpleasant scenes ever committed to the screen.
If you can handle this movie, you can handle just about anything.
2. Antichrist (2009)
Director: Lars Von Trier
No one likes to make disturbing movies quite like Lars Von Trier. While his 2009 Antichrist is not what you might call a traditional horror movie, it does use elements of the horror genre in a very deliberate way.
After a married couple lose their child to an unfathomable accident (which is more bleak than outright disturbing), the husband suggests intensive therapy between the two of them at their remote cabin in the woods. What follows from there is a nightmare journey of dark dialog and moments of overwhelming physical and psychological violence.
Antichrist goes for shock sparingly, but with disquieting performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the atmosphere is relentless in keeping us unsettled. There are also at least a couple of visual scenes that are going to stay with you for a good while.
3. Audition (1999)
Director: Takashi Miike
Another legendary name among the darkest examples of cinema, Takashi Miike has directed just about every type of movie one can make. However, his most famous works tend to feature prominently on lists of the most disturbing horror films. Audition stands above the others for the unique distinction of being the most disturbing of all.
The film is a slow-burn about a lonely widower named Shigeharu (a tremendous Ryo Ishibashi) who decides to try the dating scene again and meets a bright, engaging woman named Asami (an absolute monster of a performance by Eihi Shiina). Their relationship seems to move along at the expected pace.
Then it shifts, as we realize there is something horrifying about Asami. The film has several distinct moments that can make you wince, but also offers strong performances that give the movie’s brutal third act its unforgettable punch.
4. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Director: S Craig Zahler
One of the more notable western-horror movies to come out in recent years, Bone Tomahawk throws its most disturbing punches sparingly. When the movie does go for broke, which is really just all of the most intense scenes coming one after another in the film’s final half, we’ve already built a strong enough connection to these characters.
Bone Tomahawk isn’t just a horror movie. It also offers distinct moments of comedy, along with the kind of thing you would expect from the story of a sheriff and several others attempting to rescue three people from a group of cave dwellers.
You wouldn’t be wrong to feel as though this film is occasionally a spiritual prequel to the Wes Craven classic The Hills Have Eyes.
Bone Tomahawk starts strong, featuring performances by Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, Lilli Simmons, and David Arquette. The film maintains momentum, builds a story that strengthens the film’s most intense scenes, and has moments gruesome by almost anyone’s standards. The ending has a well-deserved and decidedly haunted quality.
5. The Burning Moon (1992)
Director: Olaf Ittenbach
For many gorehounds, The Burning Moon is considered a classic. It certainly delivers on violence, with an out-of-work junkie (Ittenbach) being forced to babysit and regale his younger sister with two of the most profoundly dark stories he can muster.
For sheer ugliness, which comes to life frequently with admirable low-budget gore work by Ittenbach, it’s hard to top the anthology shot-on-video The Burning Moon. Across two stories, one which involves a serial killer and a family, and the other involving a rapist priest who winds up going to hell, The Burning Moon is really about two things.
One, it wants to be the goriest movie you’ve ever seen. On this front, which includes some fun teeth-drilling and one particularly disgusting disembowelment, no one can argue The Burning Moon didn’t succeed.
Two, director and writer Olaf Ittenbach seemingly wanted his gore to be followed up with some of the darkest, meanest humor imaginable. This is an unforgettably vile movie, but your mileage will definitely vary on actual entertainment.
6. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
More than just the first found footage horror film ever made, Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most controversial movies ever made. What’s impressive is the fact that this continues to be perpetuated largely through word-of-mouth. The story of a professor who discovers a lost documentary made by a missing documentary crew in the Amazon, Cannibal Holocaust is its own hype machine.
When your film’s director is actually charged with murder because enough people believed the human deaths were real, the curious will seek you out for a very long time.
Cannibal Holocaust boasts some memorable scenes of man-made ugliness, including several actual animal deaths, and the kind of rape and blood effects one might expect from this sort of thing.
What makes the movie interesting beyond that, and perhaps this might be its most chilling aspect, is its depiction of the documentary film crew. Their apparent arrogance quickly becomes a kind of madness that they accept with disturbing ease. While the retribution they face from indigenous locals is severe, and another reason for this film’s infamy, we’re left with the inescapable notion that the actions of most of the crew were far worse.
Did at least some of them deserve it? Maybe don’t think too deeply about it.
Maybe, as far as Cannibal Holocaust is concerned, everyone is horrible.
7. Funny Games (1997)
Director: Michael Haneke
A family is captured, tortured, and humiliated beyond even a sarcastic hope of salvation — Funny Games doesn’t mess around.
This applies to how quickly this story of a vacationing family torn apart by two psychotic young men goes from idyllic to a slow catalog of horrors. This also applies to one of those young men repeatedly talking to the audience, bringing us in as though we are all just friends, and that what we’re watching is just a simple activity among those friends.
Director Michael Haneke goes for the uncomfortable on a variety of levels. To be sure, the movie certainly doesn’t mess around when it comes to its honesty, and to making sure we understand what we are watching, and what will absolutely happen next. It’s difficult to look away from something this well-acted and made.
Funny Games has nightmarish performances from Arno Frisch and Frank Giering as the two young men. It also offers one of the cruelest endings in film history.
At just 42 minutes, you can get through the 2nd in a series of 6 equally horrific films in no time at all. However, Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood might be the longest 42 minutes of your life.
It’s difficult to imagine this movie existing for any other reason than to depict extreme gore, as the movie is simply a beat-by-beat breakdown of a man who drugs, disembodies, and eventually murders a young woman.
That’s the movie.
The setup for all of this might be intriguing, but it’s difficult to imagine being so impressed by Hideshi Hino playing himself receiving a tape from a devoted fan of his manga that you completely forget how genuinely disgusting this movie quickly becomes and stays.
Flower of Flesh and Blood is for hardcore gore fanatics only, or at least for anyone who wants to at least say they’ve seen one of the most disturbing films to ever come out of Japan.
9. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Director: John McNaughton
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was a breakthrough for character actor Michael Rooker. Released from prison after murdering his mother, Henry begins a series of very simple, vicious murders, as he travels around, working various small jobs.
Famously controversial at the time of its release, but also praised for its realism and decided lack of glamor or humor in its depiction of violence, Henry is presented in such a straightforward, tension-free fashion that it can be mistaken as an exploitation film.
His bizarre friendship with fellow inmate Otis (Tom Towles, who gives a truly vile performance) and even stranger burgeoning romance with Otis’ profoundly unfortunate sister (Tracy Arnold, whose work here is powerful) creates a film that is more than just a series of grisly murders. Those are well-represented here, but Henry digs deep into its characters, and into the banality that somehow exists around their horrible lives and crimes.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is the complete disturbing movie package. It has powerful performances from its cast, an unsettling quietness to even the grimmest murders, and an ending that can leave your sense of empathy in shambles. It’s not one you’ll want to watch a dozen times, but you owe it to yourself to see it at least once.
10. I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Director: Meir Zarchi
Another film on this list which generated enormous controversy upon its release, I Spit on Your Grave is another entry that still deserves at least a reputation for disturbing content.
While perhaps not the brutal love letter to misogyny some critics claimed it to be, including Roger Ebert in one of the most scathing reviews of his career, I Spit on Your Grave is at the very least extremely savage in its depiction of rape and other forms of violence against women, with one young writer (Camille Keaton, who gives a genuinely affecting, empathizing performance) in particular.
We’re forced to watch a group of men brutalize her in a variety of drawn-out ways. The second half of the film is dedicated to her vengeance, which is disconcertingly satisfying, and an indicator of the very complex feelings this movie can create.
While not very technically proficient, I Spit on Your Grave is a unique variation in what is essentially a slasher film formula with rape revenge movie undertones. It might be unwatchable, and that’s fair, but it’s not a celebration of its evils. Pair the movie up with an enlightening commentary by Joe Bob Briggs, if you don’t think you can just watch this unfold on its own vicious terms.
Not surprisingly, a remake was made in 2010. Somewhat surprisingly, Roger Ebert reviewed that, too, but most surprisingly, that remake spawned sequels. A direct sequel to this film was recently released, as well, with Camille Keaton impressively coming back to go through all of this again.
11. The Last House on the Left (1972)
Director: Wes Craven
Wes Craven launched one of the most prolific, varied horror directing careers in film history with this vicious, divisive debut. A group of sadists target, capture, torture, rape, and then kill two young girls attending a concert in the big city before circumstances bring the criminals to the home of the parents of one of the girls. You can probably imagine how that shakes out for everyone involved.
Loosely remaking the classic Ingmar Bergman film The Virgin Spring, Wes Craven went for shock and almost cruel realism in a fashion he would never quite repeat again. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t have a lot to offer those who want strong characters, or any semblance of reasonable pacing. The film wanted to make a splash with audiences and generate some commentary on complex subjects like vengeance and the placement of violence— on those fronts, it succeeded.
Not a perfect film by any means, but The Last House on the Left is worth appreciating for its influence, as well as a truly unforgettable final 30 or so minutes.
12. Martyrs (2007)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Two young women (Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui, who are both spectacular in this) each with their own hideous background in being the victims of (relatively extreme) abuse, take aim in a relentless pursuit of retribution. Their journey takes them to places they never could have imagined, which is also an accurate description for anyone who goes into this deeply disturbing film cold.
Martyrs has violence on par with many of the movies covered here, but it differs in where all this violence leads to. At the very least, it’s one of the most interesting, and very naturally upsetting, conversations about the afterlife you are probably ever going to watch unfold in a fictional film.
Martyrs starts in hopeless circumstances, stays there, and then goes to almost numbing lengths to push our limits for what we can take as the viewer, and what it means to even make it to the end of something like this. You’re not going to forget the end of this movie anytime soon either.
The film was controversial (that’s a theme among these movies) upon release and led to a baffling remake that is equally as unpleasant, but rather pointless. Like everything, the remake still has its admirers.
13. Nekromantik (1987)
Director: Jörg Buttgereit
An incompetent, repulsive street sweeper decides to steal a corpse, bring it home, and use it to spice things up in the bedroom with his equally wretched girlfriend. This is 90% of the plot of Nekromantik, which exists mostly as an exercise in depicting acts of the most basic depravities.
Except, you know, comedically.
Calling Nekromantik a comedy, especially since this is a film built around necrophilia and actual animal death footage, isn’t even partially accurate. Yet the movie, which features some of the worst performances to be found anywhere on this list, has a mean-spirited affection for the absurdity of what it’s putting on the screen.
If anything, Nekromantik has potential for your next group watch. Just make sure that group understands what they’re getting into.
This film, most of all when it comes time for the ending, is perhaps best endured with friends who are also curious to see just how far it will go.
14. Raw (2016)
Director: Julia Ducournau
Raw might be one of the few disturbing films on this list that won’t make you feel like a bad person for even watching it in the first place. That’s mostly a joke, but Raw is nonetheless a film told with a certain perspective and even vitality that’s lacking or completely absent from some of the other disturbing movies we’ve covered here.
The dark sexual undertones and overwhelming visuals in this story of a young woman (a tremendously effective performance by Garance Marillier) who tries raw meat after a lifetime of being a vegetarian are obviously apparent. However, as our protagonist is forced to confront her true self, which makes friendships and going to college at least a little more difficult than they were before, director and screenwriter Julia Ducournau is interested in far more than just battering us with her sights and sounds.
Raw is perhaps best described as a character-driven, ambitious exploitation film. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but its aspirations and uniqueness make it more than just a horror show.
15. Salò, Or 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Released after the notorious murder of its extremely controversial Italian Neorealist director, Salò is one of the most scandalous, debated, and repressed movies ever made. Whether it’s an essential depiction of the overwhelming evil humanity is capable of, or just another pretentious exercise in putting the most disturbing things imaginable on the screen, the film has sparked a degree of debate that probably won’t die down anytime soon.
If you know enough about the movie’s reputation, a story in which we bare witness to the rape, torture, and murder of adolescent boys and girls by a group of fascists, then you can decide ahead of time if this will work for your particular definition of disturbing cinema that you can also get through relatively intact.
You also get a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, although this one doesn’t generally show up on lists of his best movie soundtracks.
No one should watch this movie unless they feel a strong need to. This is not essential cinema by any means, even if some critics and film buffs certainly seem to think so.
While the film is arguably very effective in what it shows us, no reasonable human being should demand Salò, Or 120 Days of Sodom be treated as a crucial experience for aspiring film scholars. This movie has something to say, and it should be made available, but your life will not suffer if you decide the film’s justifiable reputation is more than you can handle.
Salo is virtually impossible to watch. The rewards for doing so are debatable, perhaps even negligible, at best. Nonetheless, if you want to pursue the darkest and most disturbing movies out there, this is one of the more established landing points in which to do so.
Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.