Five Horror Films That Will Leave You Feeling Unclean

1) Cannibal Holocaust If you really, I mean really buy into the idea that all art is protected speech, and nothing should be obscene, Cannibal Holocaust is what you should be prepared to live with. It isn’t quite the most … Continued

1) Cannibal Holocaust

I refuse to subject you to any images from Cannibal Holocaust.  You know how to use Google Image Search, scar your own damn minds.  Just don't come crying to me.

I refuse to subject you to any images from Cannibal Holocaust. You know how to use Google Image Search, scar your own damn minds.

If you really, I mean really buy into the idea that all art is protected speech, and nothing should be obscene, Cannibal Holocaust is what you should be prepared to live with. It isn’t quite the most repulsive movie I’ve ever seen – that dubious honor goes to Cannibal Ferox, a shallow ripoff intended to capitalize on CH’s “success” – but it’s by far the most disturbing.  The reason, again, is that bad movies don’t have the capacity to be nearly as unpleasant as good ones… but now I’ve gone and implied that Cannibal Holocaust is good, a thought at which the mind somehow rebels. Let’s call it skillful instead.  For although there are good horror movies, and bad horror movies, and movies that are so bad that they are good, Cannibal Holocaust is none of these.  “Good” and “bad” don’t apply:  the distinction we need to make here is between “good” and “evil.”  If a movie can be evil Cannibal Holocaust is.  And if it’s not evil, it is at the LEAST very, very wicked.

The story concerns a group of documentary filmmakers who go into the Amazon rainforest hoping to bring back footage of the elusive and dangerous Yanomamo tribe.  They are never seen again.  Months later, an NYU anthropology professor (played by former porn star Robert Kerman) enters the jungle in a vain attempt to rescue them.  All he finds is the footage that they shot, and this footage becomes the second half of the film.  The structure is rather ingenious, actually.  As Kerman voyages through the jungle, he finds a trail of human wreckage that the ill-fated documentarians left in their wake.  A series of mysteries are set up for us:  how did their guide die?  Where did this turtle shell come from?  Why are the natives so hostile to Kerman’s group?  And then, as we watch the pseudo-documentary footage, the mysteries are unraveled one by one.  It turns out that the “documentarians” were not above staging their footage.  When they wanted to show a group of relatively peaceful Yacumo fleeing from a Yanomamo raid, they simply burned the Yacumo village down.  When they had trouble finding evidence of Yanomamo sexual travesties, they commited one of their own.   And this in turn reflects on the other camera crew, the makers of Cannibal Holocaust itself (who after all are staging all of these “real” and “staged” atrocities), and on the enterprise of cinema in general.  Like I said, it’s skillful.

But it’s also astonishingly vile.  The most atrocious element (but hardly the only one) is the slaughter of actual animals for cinematic effect.  There are six, according to Wikipedia (I didn’t count), and while most of these are clinical and efficient (a snake and a turtle are decapitated, a spider is stepped on), one small rodent is dies messily and in obvious pain.  Revolting as it is to watch, it does kind of make you think.  Let’s say I eat a hotdog once a week.  That means I’m personally responsible for killing something like two pigs a year.  And unless you’re a vegetarian, you have no problem with that.  Now imagine instead that the pig was killed on film for a horror movie.  That one death will serve to “entertain” a thousand people for a thousand years.  Which of these should you really be concerned about, if you’re an animal rights activist?  Nevertheless, there are laws against this sort of thing for a reason.  If I could go back and unwatch these scenes, I would do it.

Helpless animals, much like those pictured above, were harmed in the making of this motion picture.

Helpless animals, much like those pictured above, were harmed in the making of this motion picture.

In order to qualify as illegally obscene under current US law, a film must be devoid of all redeeming social or artistic value.  That’s not a charge that can be leveled at CH.  The film is smart enough that it cannot simply be sneered at, and well crafted enough that every transgressive gesture registers for maximum effect.  There is a social message, and every shot in the film conspires to drive this message home.  It’s there in the camerawork, it’s there in the score, it’s in the acting, the editing, and the fractured narrative itself.  This kind of organic unity is the sort of thing we’re taught to look for in the highest forms of art…  but in the end, CH’s very skill becomes just another calculated affront.  It taunts us with the knowledge that capable professionals were willing to pervert their craft to such ends.

And of course, even this reinforces the film’s message which is:  that barbarism is not a characteristic of the savage, but rather of the “civilized” man.

Dear reader: do not watch Cannibal Holocaust.  The film is repulsive, beyond repulsive. It is loathsome in its themes, in its tone, in its subtext, in the specifics of the plot, and certainly in the images it displays. The film is clearly some kind of a triumph, but that does not mean it should be seen.  I do not believe that that watching it is a moral act.  Oh, it’s nothing so bad… perhaps the equivalent of finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk and quietly pocketing it.  Nevertheless, it tarnishes the soul.

Coming up next: Horror movies that you don’t have to feel guilty about watching.

14 Comments on “Five Horror Films That Will Leave You Feeling Unclean”

  1. Mads #

    The most disgusting film I have ever seen, is a chinese (i think) movie called “Men Behind the Sun”, it is also very skillful, very gory and based on real events. It tells the story of how Japanese scientist used innocent civilian chinese poeple for horrifying experiments. I one scene a young boy is trapped into being autopsied alive. The special effects are unfortunately very good (looks so real that i think the used some kind of real animal). In another horrifying scene e live cat is thrown into a room full of starving rats. Unfortunately there is no special effects here.

    These a just the two scenes that made the biggest impression of me but there are a lot of other disgusting scenes in this movie. It really made me feel bad to see it, much more than “Cannibal Holocaust”.


  2. Stokes #

    Mads, that sounds awful. Just terrible. Thanks for sharing! :) I think I *won’t* watch it to see how it compares to CH… you think it’s worse, I’ve got no reason to think you’re lying.

    I suppose we might as well throw open the floor, though. What’s the most disgusting movie you’ve ever seen? Can anyone top this?


  3. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I don’t watch that many horror films because I am a wuss (see my post on It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown), so maybe this sort of thing is par for the course, horror movie-wise. But I can’t stand watching scary movies with rapes in them. They make me feel horrible.

    I can’t remember what movie it was, but it was about a house that was haunted by a creepy girl ghost. Anyway, it was later revealed that she was haunting the house because some boys at school had raped and suffocated her with a plastic bag.

    The movie could have just told me that, but NOOOOO. I have to see it FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE RAPED GIRL. So I have a plastic bag over my head and am being raped by the movie. Oh, and she tries to escape and breaks off her fingernails (cause, as Jordan said, nails are gross) on the basement floor.

    Thanks, movie. I’m scarred for life.


  4. Mads #

    Stokes, I don’t blame you for not wanting to see it. I study film i Denmark (which hopefully excuses misspellings and bad gramma) and a teacher praised the movie, so I thought I ought to see it. I can see why, it really is very, as you put it, skillful. Later I saw a documentary about the events depicted in the film on Discovery Channel and as far as i could tell the move was very accurate. The teacher praised it for the way it dramatizes real events and he found it interesting because it positioned it self somewhere between exploitation and documentarisme. I guess it challenges the viewer by satisfying the lust for cinematic violence and but i comes with a price, because you are actually affected by it and the fact that the events depicted were real makes it impossible to have that distance you normally have to a horror film. However I think for most people who have seen it, it is watched more like sort of a rite of passage, as a test to see how much one can take. For me it was like watching a highway accident I found it very difficult to take my eyes away and afterword i felt unclean for not just turning off. It opens up a question: is the fact that the events are real justification for portraying then in all there horror? My answer would be no. I think that in order to portray something this horrible, there must be some kind of higher meening to showing the gruesomeness, an examination of the mechanism behind such brutal behavior for example.
    Oh and nothing justifies letting e real animal be eaten alive by rats!
    What are your thoughts on the matter?


  5. Gab #

    Maybe the cat had terminal cancer, making it a mercy kill? I know, I’m going to Hell in a handbasket. But anyway, “Men Behind the Sun” makes me think of the German Doctor Josef Mengele- someone could make pretty much the same movie about him, what with** all of the freaky experiments he did at Auschwitz. But just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD. I’d rather just read about it in text books or see very corny depictions that don’t really scare me as much as the narration from the History Channel.

    You asked for “disgusting movie,” not “disgusting HORROR movie,” so the first movie that came into my head was “Trainspotting.” The combination of my morals, experiences with poverty and addiction and self-medication (personal and closely observed, respectively), astute ability to empathize, desire to have children someday, and with an already hypersensitive/histrionic nature made me *actually vomit* during one particular scene after a painful-to-watch-but-unable-to-stop buildup, at which point I did, I stopped watching. Anyone that has seen this movie would hopefully know what I’m talking about. I knew it was coming, for it was sadly and masterfully quite predictable, given how the movie had been thus far; but still, I reacted physically, and violently so. Before seeing this (and I was a sophomore in college at the time), I had never felt the need to look away for a whole scene during a movie, let alone shut one off- even the scariest ones I had seen, like “The Exorcist” or the “Saw” movies may have caused me to squint or turn my head a little, but I never completely closed my eyes for more than a second or two. But when that particular image came onscreen, I threw up and then cried for over an hour, and I still have nightmares about it. And yes, I understand what the point was- I’m not st00pid, in spite of how I ramble- but goddamnit, that just… Ah, I’m watering up thinking about it.

    *Is the phrase “what with” used properly there, Wrather?


  6. stokes OTI Staff #

    Gab – Hey, some people react strongly to things. A guy I know *passed out* after watching the eyeball scene in Un Chien Andalou. Oh, and I think you need to reexamine your definition of “mercy.” ;)

    Mads – I think that the fact that it really took place might justify ACTUAL footage of it. No one would, or should, try to censor the stuff the US Army recorded when they were going around liberating people from the concentration camps. But a restaging doesn’t get off the hook. It isn’t documentary footage: it’s an attempt to entertain or manipulate the audience. As such, it should observe certain limits of taste, regardless of the nobility of its intentions… and nothing in your description makes me think that the men behind “Men Behind the Sun” had very good intentions.

    And yeah, that thing with the cat couldn’t be more apalling.

    Odd, though… I was just thinking of that scene at the beginning of The Wild Bunch where they kill the scorpion by dropping it on an anthill. I couldn’t care less about that one. My sympathy and moral outrage are reserved for vertebrates, I guess?


  7. Mads #

    Oh it was not real footage. It’s a film, with actors and special effects. I agree if it were real footage it shouldn’t be censored, but this is a film that instead of examinating the events, in my opinion, exploits the events for effect. It doesent look like a documentary it is filmed like a movie, i.e. good picture, good sound, good lighting. It has a very loose plotline. A new general comes to the camp and then we see the gruesome experiments case by case, with dates, case nubers and dates. An then in the end the camp is attacked and everything is burned down. It is based on something called Unit 751. Doen’t Google unless you want to loose hope in humanity…


  8. Jordan #

    I understood that it wasn’t a documentary. My point (and I think we agree on this) is that Men Behind the Sun can’t pretend that its images are justified just because they are based on true events… they would have to be images *of* the events. And even then, they would have to be handled sensitively.


  9. Professor Coldheart #

    I’m nominating Suspiria for consideration as well, if only for its bizarre antagonism toward women.

    Not that girls fare well in most horror movies, but Suspiria contrives elaborate grotesqueries to make them suffer before slaughtering them. And without the implied Puritanism of the 70s/80s slasher flick (“oh, she took her top off; she’s going to get knifed”). No, the first victim’s crime is looking out a window on a dark night. For this, the killer:

    * Stabs her repeatedly in the chest …
    * To the point that her still-beating heart is exposed (?!), which he then stabs;
    * Chokes her to death with a rope;
    * Drops her body on the glass skylight over the lobby of her apartment building …
    * Which shatters, killing a friend of hers who’d been running for help by impaling her through the head.

    All of this is depicted fairly graphically, with nightmarish color schemes and unreal synthesizers.

    I’ve never actually seen the movie. You can find the above sequence on YouTube, though I strongly and sincerely recommend against watching it ever. Profoundly discomfiting.


  10. stokes OTI Staff #

    Dario Argento, the director of Suspiria, has gone on record saying “I like women, especially beautiful ones. If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man.” Yeah, that’s not creepy at all. Especially coming from a guy who looks like this.

    But for all that he’s a creep, he’s usually held up as one of the greatest and most “artistic” directors in horror. And I’d tend to agree with this consensus. Argento movies never bother me that much: they’re graphic, sure, but everything is so hyper-aestheticized that it’s impossible for me to think of it as real. Even a purely symbolic assault on the female form can be a little upsetting when it’s this extreme… but not to the degree that I find myself taking extra-long showers for the next three days, which is really the kind of film I was trying to capture in this list.


  11. Mads #

    No Argento doesn’t bother me either. When ever I see a movie i really like I feel kind of good afterwards even if the film is sad or disturbing. It’s not that I’m not affected by the material but every time I see something that in my opinion is true art I am glad to have seen it and feel invigorated by it. Thats how I feel about Susperia.To quote Roger Ebert: It’s not what the film is about, but how it is about it.


  12. Gab #

    Didja know about the remake of _Last House on the Left_? So this is a remake of a remake, then?


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