Okay, now that we’ve gotten all of the pleasantries out of the way, it’s time to get serious. Halloween is a time for scary movies, sure, and all of our lists so far have provided a wide range of films, from the comical, to the horrible; from the unnerving, to the mildly arousing.
But now that the day is here, it’s time for the films that will fuck your head all up.
Every director included here is a master of the disturbing, even the relative newcomer who tops the list, and there are probably a few other films that could have made the list, but these are the films that affected me the most over the years.
Let me clarify something up front, though. These aren’t just films that gross you out or have some freaky twist ending. It’s easy to pull something like that off. What we’ve got here are films that, in my experience, created a more existential sense of fear and anxiety than your average horror film.
So no, High Tension, Donnie Darko, Session 9, Human Centipede, and Jacob’s Ladder didn’t make the cut. Not that they each don’t have their moments.
Except for High Tension. Screw that movie.
I also steered clear of films that were just simple exorcises in brutality without any horror or metaphysical element.
If you’re not sure about the films I’ve chosen, feel free to sample pretty much anything else these directors have ever done! I’m sure something will melt your brain.
So without further ado, strap your brain in and prepare for my Top Five Mind-Bending Horror Films!
#5: Eraserhead (Dir. David Lynch, 1977)
The first film written and directed by David Lynch, Eraserhead is one of the most disturbing things you’ll ever see. Especially if you’re a young parent.
It’s low budget, black and white, and its narrative is more dreamlike than anything else on the list. If you can watch this film and not feel like you’ve drifted off into a horrifying nightmare of urban decay and paranoid delusions then you’re a better man than I.
One thing to keep in mind, though.
Avoid hallucinogens when Eraserhead is on.
There was nothing like it when it premiered in 1977 and there’s been nothing like it ever since. Although, to be honest, I was torn between including this film or Lynch’s other mind-bending classic, Lost Highway.
If you really want to mess with your head, watch them back-to-back.
#4: Videodrome (Dir. David Cronenberg, 1983)
What’s not to like about Videodrome? It’s about snuff films, pornography, violent revolution, and extreme body horror. And this was Cronenberg’s transition film before moving on to more mainstream works like The Dead Zone and The Fly.
Essentially it’s about James Woods as a sleazy TV producer who starts pirating a staged snuff film channel out of Malaysia. But wait! It’s not really out of Malaysia, it’s out of Pittsburgh. And they’re not fake snuff films, they’re real!
There’s a bizarre plot to cleanse America by causing brain tumors in the lowlifes who obsessively watch sex and violence on television, and something about the takeover of the country in a violent revolution.
To say more would give too much away, but I will say this.
Long live the New Flesh!
#3: Santa Sangre (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
Oh Jodorowsky, how I love everything you do. Whether it’s your comics, music, or your bizarro films, everything is about pushing the boundaries of taste, morality, and consciousness.
After virtually founding the Midnight Movie scene in 1970 with his acid western El Topo and following that up with the surrealist masterpiece (yes, I said it), Holy Mountain in 1973, it would be sixteen years before he would return (with a film he would lay claim to – Tusk doesn’t count) with Santa Sangre.
This is the tale of a young man, Fenix (played by Alex Jodorowsky, Alejandro’s son) and his twisted relationship with his mother. You see, while growing up in the circus, he watched his mother pour acid on his cheating father’s crotch before his father then cut off both of her arms. Now after years in a mental hospital (duh), Fenix acts as his mother’s arms.
And yes, there is killing involved.
This is one of those films that if you’re not open to the experience, you might not get much out of it. But let me tell you. This is genius on display.
#2: Audition (Dir. Takashi Miike, 1999)
For this entry, I was torn between choosing Audition, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, or Visitor Q – all by Miike. They’re all horrific in their own ways, but Audition is the only one that is really a straight-up horror flick.
Audition was one of six movies Miike directed in 1999. Seven, if you count the TV mini-series he also directed. The man is nothing if not prolific. And his films cover every possible genre, usually mixing a few together just for good measure.
This story, though, is simple enough. A widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (played by Ryo Ishibashi), of seven years is urged by his 17 year-old son to get back on the dating circuit. His friend, a film producer, suggests holding a mock audition to get to know some ladies and then asking one of them out.
Yes, it’s shady as all hell, but Aoyama is likeable and means well.
That’s when he meets Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), a lovely young woman who had to give up her dream of being a ballerina after an unspecified injury. Unspecified at that point, anyway. They go out and things seem very nice.
Needless to say, things go downhill from there.
When Dr. Girlfriend eventually tires of my tomfoolery and leaves me, I will never date again thanks to this film. It’s like the Jaws of dating.
#1: Martyrs (Dir. Pascal Laugier, 2008)
For my Number One pick, I went with a new director and a relatively recent film. A film that at first glance seems to be more along the lines of the recent trend of Torture Porn films.
Now don’t get me wrong. When done well, those films can be very effective. Hostel was okay, Saw has its moments, Wolf Creek was actually entertaining, and Passion of the Christ got rave reviews from some quarters. I don’t think any of these films hold a candle to classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Last House on the Left, but that’s mainly because they forget about narrative and concentrate on the bloody mess.
Martyrs is different. And while most of the other films on this list have their fantastic elements, whether it be dream-like surrealism, science fiction hints, or even the freaky weirdness of whatever goes on in Miike’s head, Martyrs takes everything very seriously.
And because it’s French, I think you can guess that there’s a very philosophical bent to
what’s happening here. But that’s just an added layer to what starts out as a frightening home-invasion story that turns into a revenge thriller that turns into a treatise on psychology, mysticism, and the nature of religion.
You see, fifteen years ago, a young girl named Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) was kidnapped and tortured, but she escaped. Now she’s a bit mental, as one might guess. But she thinks she’s found the people who tortured her and nothing her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) can do will stop her from confronting them.
That’s when things get violent, weird, and ultimately metaphysical.
I’m not going to tell you any more than that.
And yes, the trailer is in French with no subtitles. Trust me, it still works.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. His first novel,The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook, or can be sampled and/or purchased at Smashwords. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.