Disturbing Films for a Curious Mind
July 2021 saw the two year anniversary of Kelly’s Taboo Terrors, and to celebrate I hosted three virtual panels on women and extreme horror that can be found here on our YouTube channel, Spinsters of Horror. One panel in particular was an “Intro to Extreme Horror”, and my guests recommended films to people who are curious about extreme horror or those tempted to dive into the genre.
Listed below are the films recommended by the panelist, myself included, and their reasons as to why these films are good introductions to extreme horror.
BIO: Alison Lang is a writer/editor/zinemaker based in Toronto. She has written for Rue Morgue, ByNWR.com and Art of the Title, among others. Her book Women with Guts, a collection of essays and interviews with women working in horror, was published as part of the Rue Morgue Library in 2017. She also contributed to Satanic Panic: Pop Culture Paranoia in the 1980s (Spectacular Optical) with a chapter on Geraldo Rivera's Devil Worship special. She has presented on topics related to horror and gender for the Ax Wound Film Festival (Vermont), Final Girls Film Festival (Berlin) and the DePaul University Pop Culture Conference (Chicago). She is currently a jurist for Ax Wound and a board member of Blood in the Snow, a Canadian horror film festival. Learn more at womenandsongs666.com.
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963)
“I love it as an intro to extreme cinema because in hindsight it's kinda goofy - but still a pioneer of early splat and gore. I think Blood Feast was really influential in its tone as well - it's relentlessly over the top and garish and the camera doesn't look away. Even though it's a bit cheesy, I still think it's confrontational and challenges the viewer in a very distinctive way and I think that's a good "starting point" for folks who are looking to dip their toes into more hardcore depictions of extreme violence - it is a gentle way to test your endurance as a viewer. I also think it's a masterpiece of low budget gore - HGL did a hell of a lot with just a little cash! It looks gorgeously cheesy and I love the garish colors - the reddest blood.”
3 Extremes I (2004) - Dumplings
“This 2005 anthology film presents three of the most visionary Asian genre directors - Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike and Park Chan-Wook - telling taboo-busting tales of violence, depravity and the subversion of social mores like childbirth, aging, relationships and families. All three segments are brilliant but I think most people will cite Fruit Chan's Dumplings (which was also made into a feature-length film) as the one story that lingers....for better or worse. Miriam Yeung is incredible as Mrs. Li, the aging soap opera actress contending with the rigors of time and the waning of her shitty husband's attention. Through word of mouth, she learns that a local woman (Bai Ling) has a potent concoction that can reverse the effects of aging. The ingredients, though, are a bit unsavory. I love how Dumplings is both a horrific portrait of the lengths women will go to preserve their faces and bodies and also feels deeply sympathetic towards Mrs. Li's plight, even as the source of the "dumplings" are revealed and her behaviour becomes increasingly monstrous. Like the best extreme horror, Dumplings forces the viewer to go to the limit with the intensity of its subject matter while also forcing us to confront our own values and moral conundrums on a more intellectual and empathetic level. It's a masterpiece.”
BIO: Rabia is a well seasoned pop culture specialist and a multi-disciplinary marketing professional. Born in Europe, with Asian and African roots, she comes from a very involved and diverse household. She is outspoken on issues that pertain to her identity as a queer, disabled woman of color, and brings a unique perspective to how she consumes media and culture. As the founder of Culture Agency, she helps young POC women by training them and introducing them to the marketing industry, with an emphasis on using and implementing new tech in sustainable ways. Under the brand Cultured Curator, she has hosted a variety of conversations with important cultural figures from around the world on radio, television, and various social media platforms. As the Queen of Horror on Clubhouse, she regularly hosts Global Horror Events discussing specific countries and their relationship with the horror genre, as well as interviewing prominent international directors, including a recent interview with Joko Anwar.
“Deadgirl is an extreme concept (an undead woman tied down being assaulted by teen guys), but then handled in a 'light' way. It is not as explicit in what you see as other extreme titles, but the main concept is beyond mainstream horror.”
The Human Centipede (2009)
“The Human Centipede is a step up from general horror, not just because of the concept, but also execution. They show enough and a little more to make you feel a little queasy (if you're sensitive to it). However, it does not go balls to the walls as its sequels do.”
“Inside (L'interieur) is my fave from French Extremity cinema, and as its name suggests it is a very good dip into extreme horror. Most of the movie deals with psychological horror and deconstructing the human mind through physical torture. This movie plays a lot with what goes on in your head, and they focus less on long gory scenes, each frame adds to the psychological effect the movie wants to achieve without cheapening it.”
BIO: Ariel Baska is a filmmaker in the realms of horror and documentary. She recently wrapped her horror short, Our First Priority, which she wrote, directed, and successfully Kickstarted, due out later this year. She is a regular contributor to Ghouls Magazine @ghoulsmagazine, a comic book reviewer for @ComicsBookcase, and the founder, co-host and executive producer of Ride the Omnibus @omnibusride, a podcast parked at the intersection of pop culture and social justice. At age 3, a bad babysitter showed her A Nightmare on Elm Street and she became forever hooked on watching films through her fingers.
In My Skin (2002)
“In My Skin (2002) is an excellent horror film for introducing lovers of body horror to the more extreme version of the same. The film is a reflection on the compulsive nature of our obsession with our bodies and how we relate to them, and clarifies (for me, at least) exactly why extreme horror can produce such unfettered joy.”
Battle Royale (2000)
“Battle Royale (2000) is basically where The Hunger Games came from, its gorier and creepier progenitor, but it is a great intro to the smiling violence of a lot of Asian horror films, with sweet-faced children covered in blood. The film is more splashy and sensational than your typical extreme horror, but you become quickly attuned to the satirically funny and deliciously gory nature of the horror.”
BIO: By day Kelly can be found caring for pets as a Registered Veterinary Technician, but by night she becomes a fiery ginger who enjoys drinking beer and watching extreme horror. She has been Spinster #2 for over three years now, and not only has written and podcasted for the Spinsters of Horror and I Spit on Your Podcast, Kelly has contributed to Horror Homeroom, Ghouls Magazine, Morbidly Beautiful, and Grim Magazine. She looks forward to providing more content for Taboo Terrors in 2022!
Trouble Every Day (2001)
“Trouble Every Day is one of my favorites from New French Extremity as it’s part romance, part arthouse, and part violence. It’s beautifully crafted and doesn’t hold back on the blood. It’s raw, passionate, and disturbing, without being overly explicit. Except for that one scene…”
“I love Julia Ducorneau’s debut film so much. It plays with taboo subject matter and gore without being too disturbing. Raw is emotional, heart warming, relatable, and transgressive. The French really know how to make the extreme beautiful.”
“Nekromantik is a classic in the extreme cinema world, and is a favorite of mine. It’s indie, DIY nature is charming, along with the simplicity of the story and effects. The necrophilia isn’t fetishized and really, it’s a love story, a corpse just happens to be a part of it!”
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)
“This found footage film continues to fly under the radar for many people and almost has reached a sort of cult status. The violence is mainly off screen and implied, which may be more unsettling for some with wild imaginations. The character of Adrian played by writer, director and producer Adrian Tofei is what really sells this one.”
BIO: Jerry Sampson is a horror writer, screenwriter, and film analyst. She has a monthly feature on Rue Morgue's website called Beautiful Filth which focuses on Extreme Horror films through the female gaze. She writes for Ghouls Magazine, Scream Magazine, Horror Obsessive, and other genre sites, and is currently in pre-production on her first short film.
Pola X (1999)
“Pola X is a beautiful and raw love story that offers viewers an intro to extremity without being forced to deal with intense violence or gore. The thematic elements of Pola X are what places it in the "New French Extremity" and that is what I love about it. It's a reminder that extreme horror doesn't only include fucked up imagery, but that it can evoke the same strong emotional reactions with purely thematic elements and themes. In the case of Pola X the subject of incest takes center stage and forces us to question what love really looks like.”
High Tension (2003)
“High Tension (a.k.a. Haute Tension or Switchblade Romance) has its detractors, but is an amazing intro to extremity for all curious cats. It is as close to a mainstream horror movie as extreme horror gets. The violence is graphic, but not untenable, and the story is what really sticks out as being unique. It has its flaws, and while the trend of pointing out "problematic" things in movies is all the rage, placing things in context is key when it comes to enjoying extremity in horror. When considered in context of the time it came out and the country in which it was initially released, High Tension features two strong, kick ass women and enough creativity within the kills and thrills to make any horror fan shudder with delight.”
So if you find yourself desiring for something new, or are ready to dip your toe into the depravities of extreme horror, start with this list. And, if you are surprised by how much you enjoyed yourself, ask these people for recommendations!
PS: A note from Jerry that I wholeheartedly agree with:
“We can argue all day about the ways certain issues are depicted in horror, but when it comes to extreme horror it is important to be able to approach things objectively, and to know that not every film should be accessible. Extreme horror is meant to disturb and challenge, it doesn't care about being sensitive to the audience, or considering the emotions of those watching. It is up to the viewer to discern if they are capable of processing the themes and scenes they are watching, but it is never up to the filmmakers to make sure they don't offend. If that ever becomes the case, kiss horror and extremity in horror and all of the catharsis it has the ability to provide goodbye.”