By Dustin Seibert
During a recent transatlantic flight, I had the occasion to watch Martyrs, a 2008 French horror film that just made its way to iTunes this year. Part of the “New French Extremity” movement, “Martyrs” is one of a number of movies from the country in recent years with transgressive (read: totally f*cked-up) content that has resulted in controversy, outright bans and heavy edits in order to be released in certain countries. Needless to say, my wife had a few choice words for me every time she glanced over at my iPad while Martyrs was playing.
Only a couple of the films on this list are considered New French Extremity Movement, but they all have a few things in common: First, none of them would ever, ever, ever be released as their director intended through a mainstream Hollywood studio. Second, you don’t wanna watch any of these flicks with a woman you just started dating unless she’s really “alternative” or particularly open-minded. Finally, with few exceptions, these films don’t bother with happy, tidy denouements…the likes of which often drive American cinema.
Some critics find reasons to praise films like these on this list as “haute art cinema,” using adjectives like “beautiful” and “thought-provoking.” But if we’re keeping it one-hunnid, much of this stuff is pure exploitation from the minds of people looking to push the envelope as far as they can. And nothing’s wrong with that — as long as your stomach can handle it.
1. A Serbian Film: Easily one of the most disturbing films ever put to celluloid, A Serbian Film is the feel-good story of a down-on-his-luck porn star who agrees to submit to extreme acts for a snuff film. I could list some examples of the worst moments, but there’s almost too much to choose from — it’s as if the film’s writers sat down with a 20-sided die, with each side representing a morally repugnant, sexually violent act, rolled a few and tossed the results in the film’s final version. There’s simply no leeway with this one, which is why it’s been banned in a bajillion countries or ridiculously edited in a few of the countries willing to screen it. The film’s final act will make you cry and throw up at the same time. Approach with caution.
2. A L’interieur (Inside) (2007): One of the best horror movies I’ve seen in the past decade, the film does just about everything right to cook up genuine dread and tension, not to mention bucketloads of gore. A simple home invasion flick at heart, the story involves a mysterious French dame going after another French dame, who happens to be bursting-at-the-seams pregnant, in her own crib. The invader’s goal: cut the unborn baby from her stomach. The aggressor has her reasons, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. No movie on this list comes more recommended than this one.
3. Irreversible (2002): The first movie I ever watched on this list, I wasn’t quite prepared to watch what they subjected Italian sex kitten Monica Bellucci to in this film. Her 9-minute vicious rape and beating still stands as the most psychologically intense assault I’ve ever seen on screen (including the other films on this list). Between that and the head-splooshing beating in the beginning of the film (which plays in reverse chronologically), this French film will stay with you long after you hit the stop button; unlike most others on this list, it received legitimate honors in film festivals.
4. Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975): Not quite sure where to start with this one, outside of the fact that there’s probably no other film in existence that revels in making its performers eat shit. Literally. A handful of rich, amoral bastards in post-Mussolini 1940s Italy kidnap a bunch of teenagers and subject them to every act of filth-flarn-filth, including rape, eating biscuits filled with nails and getting branded, scalped and forced to eat trays of crap. It’s subtitled, grody, and otherwise pretty lame to sit through. For curious masochists only.
5. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011): The original Human Centipede was more of an exercise in gross ideas and less in graphic imagery. But when writer/director/clearly normal human being Tom Six was criticized for not having enough gore in it, he said, “Oh yeah, well fuck y’all!” and created a sequel where he went balls-to-the-wall. There’s a lot to pick from in this film, but the scene of the antagonist plucking out a victim’s healthy teeth one by one? I may have actually winced, and I’m an effing statue.
6. Battle Royale (2000): I’ve always considered Battle Royale the spiritual predecessor to The Hunger Games. Except, the latter book was able to be adapted into a Hollywood film palatable for mainstream audiences, while I can’t see how on earth Battle Royale could work in Hollywood. One of the least gory films on this list, it’s still screwed up by virtue of the fact that it focuses on kidnapped high schoolers violently dispatching one another. Those Japanese, boy…
7. I Spit on Your Grave (original and remake): These movies are about a woman getting delicious — and very violent — revenge on her attackers. The issue is, her revenge comes after a brutal, unflinching gang rape that the camera almost seems to delight in. After 36 years, it’s still considered incredibly controversial and disturbing, having invited the ire of many well-respected film critics. The original’s creator promises it’s a feminist film, but let’s be honest: most women wouldn’t get anything from watching this movie except justifiably upset. A remake was released in 2010 (which spawned a sequel in 2013), so clearly there’s still an audience for it.
8. Aftermath (1994): It’s difficult to even categorize this as a movie so much as a perverted man’s idea of art, though some folks are happy to consider it so. Filmed almost entirely in a morgue, the 32-minute flick is disturbing not just for its depiction of autopsies (which basic cable made less taboo a decade ago) but for its unnamed mortician’s masturbation over and sexual defilement of a young lady’s corpse. I suppose there’s some masochistic, perverse gain from watching this once, but I have to wonder about the person who, say, watches it more than once or purchases it on DVD.