The Most Controversial Horror Movies Of The Modern Era
Horror has always been controversial. From the early Universal monsters to the grindhouse exploitation films of the 1970s, horror movies have been scaring audiences out of the theater and creating moral panic with little more than a logline. What about the films of the modern era?
The scary movies of the early 21st century did anything but lose their edge. Found footage was king in the 2000s, and an ultra-violent brand of horror took the genre by storm. Audiences were equally titillated and horrified. The advent of social media let fans, the media, and even presidents rail against a movie in a way that the film world had never seen before.
These controversial horror films range from big studio pictures to one that only cost 13 grand to produce. Their price tags don't matter here, and neither do their quality - all that counts is they made audiences question why they were watching the movie.
- Photo: Unearthed films13,578 VOTES
In 2010, A Serbian Film shocked audiences with its story of Miloš, a down-on-his-luck former adult actor who signs on to an "art film" for some quick money. From the moment that Miloš arrives on set at an orphanage, the film descends into the hellish depths of sexual assault, torture, incest, and a few unspeakable acts. This really is a winning bingo card of effed-up movies.
A Serbian Film has been edited or outright banned across the globe. There's an NC-17 cut floating around in the ether that's about five minutes shorter than the unrated version, but don't expect to see either version on streaming sites anytime soon. That being said, there's an unrated Blu-ray of this deeply upsetting film available in all major markets, and a limited-edition action figure of the film's protagonist was released in 2021.
Side Note: If you ever go back to someone's apartment after a date and they have the Miloš action figure prominently displayed, you should probably leave immediately.
- Photo: Death Mountain Productions21,813 VOTES
Released in 2010, The Bunny Game is a microbudget horror movie about a sex worker who's kidnapped by a truck driver. Much of the 76-minute runtime is spent watching the trucker sexually assault the young woman. Less a straightforward film and more of an intense audio-visual piece, the whole point of The Bunny Game is to be upsetting.
At the time of its release, The Bunny Game was equally lauded for its realism and criticized for the way it seems to take joy in the assault. The film's director, Adam Rehmeier, later told The New York Times:
[The film is] a cautionary tale about drug abuse and taking rides with strangers... I don’t like the film. It’s not a film you should like. If you say you do, then you’re really weird.
- Photo: Bounty Films33,467 VOTES
This little film about a German surgeon who forces three kidnapped tourists to take part in a disgusting experiment has ridden its controversy all the way to the bank. The first film in a trilogy of stories about people who are forcefully sewn mouth to anus is the hardest of them all to watch. Or at least it was in 2010, when viewers had no idea what they were in for.
Director Tom Six has actively courted controversy for his Human Centipede films, boasting that the first movie in the trilogy was called "the most horrifying film ever made" in spite of there being zero sources for that quote outside of Six. Roger Ebert felt that the filmmakers "deliberately intended to inspire incredulity, nausea and hopefully outrage."
Out of all the controversial films of the modern era, Human Centipede is the one that combines the post-9/11 extreme exploitation genre with William Castle's sensationalist "do anything to get butts in the seats" model. Does that make it a good movie? That's really up to you.
- Photo: Rézo Films41,178 VOTES
Gaspar Noe always manages to be controversial, but his vicious debut film about a dejected horsemeat butcher who commits gruesome acts of violence and sexual assault is a whole other level of unhinged. Told from the perspective of the butcher, the audience never gets a break from his disjointed psyche.
Every frame of I Stand Alone is concocted to make the audience writhe in their seats, but the movie's final moments are equally unforgettable and mortifying. Noe knew the film would be controversial and even included a title card giving audiences 30 seconds to beat feet out of the theater before the film's disturbing finale. Audiences walked out en masse, something that Noe said made him feel strong. He wrote in The Guardian:
I'm never scared by graphic violence and horror movies. Only psychological and class cruelty can scare me in a film. When I watch The Exorcist I feel like sleeping; Deliverance is far more intense. I'm happy some people walk out during my film. It makes the ones who stay feel strong. And me too.
- Photo: IFC Films51,389 VOTES
In Lars von Trier's Antichrist, a couple decamps to a cabin in the woods after the death of their child, and things get freaky from there. The film features very violent sexual imagery. Von Trier practically dares the audience to keep watching as the main characters are covered in swollen ticks and faced with a cavalcade of dead animals. It's a rough watch.
When the film premiered at Cannes in 2009, there were rumors of audience members fainting and cries of misogyny. Time magazine reported that the film was proof von Trier had "gone mad." Antichrist isn't meant to be a "fun" watch, and after Cannes, much of the fervor over this movie died down.
- Photo: Wild Bunch61,289 VOTES
Martyrs is beautiful. It's painful. It has no desire to comfort the audience. It's very hard to watch. This 2008 tentpole of the New French Extremism movement begins as a psychological revenge thriller, kind of, and then turns into something much more harrowing.
Through a series of twists and turns, the film's protagonist, Anna, winds up as a captive of a group of religious fanatics who believe they can learn about the afterlife by torturing a young woman until she's so close to death that she can see the other side. The climax of the film is brutal, depressing, and yet somehow euphoric. The French really know their way around a horror movie.
The real controversy surrounding Martyrs isn't the film's thesis statement on faith or religion, but the brutal violence and degradation that are used as blunt instruments to assault the audience. This is a movie that audiences either love or hate; there's no way to be lukewarm about Martyrs.