Sunday Tribune

Sheer terror

Colin Roopnarain salutes 10 of the most hard-core and disturbing titles that really will have you sleeping with the light on


“SCARIEST MOVIE OF the decade.” “Scariest movie of my life.” “Scariest movie of our time.” That’s what the critics have been calling the the new horror film Paranormal Activity.

The film has been the hottest ticket in Hollywood – with record-breaking box office takings, despite its limited release two weeks ago, and on Twitter, it is one of the most buzzed about topics. Since there is no South African release date yet, we’ll have to find some other film to scare us silly. Luckily for us, there are quite a few...

The Last House on the Left (1972, remade 2009)

Two things. One, this film is still banned in many countries and, two, this is the movie that the phrase, “it’s only a movie” originated from. This also happens to be the first film written and directed by Wes Craven ( Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream). In the film, a teenage girl and her best friend are first violently tortured before being brutally raped and then hacked to death by recently escaped convicts.

The psychos end up at the home of one of the girl’s parents, who exact a gruesome revenge. What makes it so disturbing is the reality of it all – not just the prolonged brutal rape and torture scene. The humiliatio­n and degradatio­n surroundin­g it will haunt you long afterward, even if you know “it’s just a movie”.

The Saw Series (2004): So you wake up chained to a grimy toilet in a filthy bathroom. Before you figure out what happened, you notice someone else chained on the other side of the room, and a bloody corpse between you. You both panic and try to get free, but the chain around your leg won’t give.

Then you find a tape and a machine that, when played, reveals the only way to escape is to sever your foot with a rusty, blunt saw. But hurry – if the other guy beats you to it, he will kill you. Take too long and your family dies. What are you to do?

Therein lies the reason the Saw series has became such a hit, spawning, so far, six sequels. Apart from its explicitne­ss, graphic and inventive death and torture scenes, each victim is offered a way out. Granted, it is usually at the expense of a limb or being horribly disfigured for the rest of your life.

Funny Games (1997 original, remade 2008):

Restrained in its use of violence, Funny Games is disturbing in a different way from the other films on this list. The plot centres on two men who hold a family hostage and torture them with sadistic games, eventually shooting their young son in the head.

The torture continues until the wife manages to shoot one of the killers. And that’s when things get weird. The killer then looks directly at the camera, making it clear he is aware that the audience is watching. What happens next, as reality and fiction merge, adds a psychologi­cal twist that makes the film a lot more disturbing than your average scary movie.

Paranormal Activity (2007): This low-budget film centres on a young couple who are haunted by a supernatur­al presence in their home. The movie is presented through the “actual” camera set up by the couple to capture what is haunting them, (think The Blair Witch Project).

At one of the film’s first test screenings (shown to other screen writers), many people walked out before the movie ended, causing the producers to worry that their film might be a flop. Instead, they found out people had left because they were genuinely afraid. The film was also sent to Stephen Spielberg – who apparently threw the DVD away because he thought the DVD was “haunted”.

According to Spielberg (and Wikipedia), minutes after he viewed the film, his bedroom doors “locked by themselves” and he couldn’t get out without calling in a locksmith. Are you scared yet?

Antichrist (2009): You may have heard of this one: It was screened at this year’s Durban Internatio­nal Film Festival and has, in the short time since its release, caused enough hoopla to be considered one of the most controvers­ial films ever.

Written and directed by Lars von Trier, it’s about a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where they encounter strange and terrifying occurrence­s.

Only the occurrence­s are caused by them; there is explicit sexual violence (she crushes his genitals and then masturbate­s him until he climaxes blood). Self-inflicted genital mutilation (with a rusty scissors) and disturbing­ly graphic footage of a deer giving birth. Now you know.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): This movie tells the story of four documentar­y makers who journey deep into the Amazon to film indigenous tribes. Two months later, after they fail to return, an anthropolo­gist recovers their lost footage, which reveals their fate.

Highly controvers­ial, Cannibal Holocaust is still banned in many countries. Lets see why. First, it rumoured to be a snuff film – with actors really murdered during filming. The rumour wasn’t helped by each actor having signed a contract that prevented them from making any media appearance­s for a year.

Second, the film contains several scenes of graphic sexual violence (mild understate­ment) and genuine cruelty to animals, with several animals mercilessl­y axed to death on camera.

The film has split critics. Some see it as a “well-made social commentary on the modern world”, while others call it “ foul enough to christen you a pervert for even bothering”. See it at your own risk.

Audition (1999): This Japanese horror flick from cult favourite director Takashi Miike, about a widowed film producer who auditions women to be his new wife, is ultra-gory and violent, has many gross-out scenes (vomit, animal abuse, amputation, needles injected in eyes, sexual abuse, consumptio­n of said vomit etc).

But what makes this one so damn creepy is that it starts off like a typical romantic comedy with interestin­g characters, and then explodes in what can only be described as utter depravity. Oddly, this is considered one of his tamest films.

Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005): When The Exorcist came out, it brought with it a wave of controvers­y and, well, faintings. Demon possession, especially in little girls, is a scary thing. But time and parody films have done their damage, and the film just isn’t as scary as it once was.

Enter 2005’s Emily Rose. The movie chronicles the trial of the priest accused of negligence resulting in the death of a young girl believed to have been possessed. Now demon possession is already scary, but when a film as terrifying as this one is based on a true story, it makes the the whole thing that much scarier.

Ichi the Killer (2001): Having said Audition was one of Takashi Miike’s tamer ones, Ichi the Killer set the bar. At its screening at the Toronto Film Festival, viewers were given “vomit bags”.

Based on a Manga cartoon, the film is about a sinister hypnotist who manipulate­s a young man named Ichi to dispatch various mobsters in horrific and violent ways by invoking false memories of witnessing a rape.

The violence is over the top, but still unsettling (think nipple cutting, tongue slicing, limb hacking, gut splatterin­g).

Eraserhead (1997): Two words: David Lynch. Which means don’t expect this to make much sense. This 1977 surreal-horror film is a strange one.

A man named Henry learns he is about to be a father and so agrees to wed mother-to-be Mary. But when their baby is born, it is hideously deformed, an almost reptilian creature whose piercing cries never cease.

That’s pretty much it – except that what follows is a series of bizarre and surreal sequences (such as a woman in Henry’s radiator stomping on small sperm-like creatures, and a dream sequence in which Henry’s head is used to make pencil erasers) that are not explicitly scary, but still manage to leave you feeling deeply unnerved.

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