** Spoilers ahead **
I am not a horror film fan. I appreciate the genre but considering that my over-amped imagination will turn a sight of a little girl with long hair in ghostly white attire into a full epileptic seizure within me, I try to stay as far away from scary films as much as possible. But trying to be a well-verse film critic requires me to explore uncharted territories especially that of the horror realm and thoroughly challenge my threshold. Granted I haven’t seen films like the Japanese Ringu, A Serbian Film, IT or even Cannibal Holocaust, but I know scary when I see it. Ahem, The Chainsaw Massacre and The Orphanage. But I can confidently say that these five films that I am about to list is still a terrifying film experience for the majority of viewers and one that cornered me to confront my fear resulting in many nights of dripping sweat concluding in momentary faintness.
1. The Exorcist (Dir. William Friedkin)
This is a no-brainer. Since, it’s premiere in 1973, The Exorcist has reigned the top scariest film’s list ever since with chilling tale of a young girl who is possessed by a mysterious entity and must seek the help of two priests to save her. The film embodies refreshing realism, sexual radicalism, traditional horror, and religion. Nowadays, kids may scoff and disregard the film’s ability to horrify to fainting lengths due to its possible obscene silliness. But it’s the combination of the image of 12-year old Regan with bloody lacerations on her face, vomit-like yellow eyes, with the ability to turn her head 360 all while spewing vulgar and lewd remarks that makes me rather jab a knife into my stomach instead of even glance at another still of her ever again. And I did not even mention her walking down the stairs, BACKWARDS! A trip to the local doctor was definitely required after this scene that left me jolted for months. The Exorcist will forever remain as the most viscerally harrowing film ever made that spurred more controversy than any other horror film because not only did it question the existence of god but it had the tenacity to show what Satan would look like in an angelic 12-year old girl.
2. The Descent (Dir. Neil Marshall)
The Descent may not be on many top film lists but it is one film that will surely leave you high and dry gasping for any kind of air even if it’s popcorn flavor. The Descent is a British thriller about a close-knit group of women who go on a yearly adventure vacation only to find themselves trapped and hunted in a series of caves by ghastly supernatural beasts. Yes, it’s the super freaky monsters that haunt my dreams every night but it’s also the film’s high tension within the group so thick it could be sliced with a knife that also provides the most unsettling of feelings even before the suffocating claustrophobia sets in. Deeper and deeper we go into the caves, our innate fears of being smothered, devoured alive, and dying is set on over-drive as I experienced a phobia and anxiety so spacious I didn’t know I occupied. It’s also the despairing revelation of the possibility that these creatures were once human when their environment forced them to change. For a film that leaves their characters very little room to breathe, you alike will find yourself holding your breath longer than anticipated so bring an inhaler.
3. Audition (Dir. Takashi Miike)
I respect Miike for the many ways he pushes the J-horror genre with his unflinching extremism especially with Ichi the Killer. I can handle extreme body horror involving brutal sadomasochistic acts and a gory sea of gurgling blood but my limit ends when it involves a deeply disturbed girl whose mysterious attributes heighten our primal nightmares even further. A lonely widower (Ryo Ishibashi) arranges to ”audition” women for a movie when in fact he is really looking for a wife. He meets Asami (Eihi Shiina), a painfully passive yet alluring girl, who turns out to have a knack for torture. The climax scene of torture is obviously inevitable but what is the most menacing is how the story unravels to show the spiraling madness that Asami possesses when we first see her with her head down relishing in her own insanity when we see a fairly large bag in the background. What contains in that bag is an image I will never forget and even more so, how she keeps it for her own enjoyment almost like a house pet. Tapping into our worse fears to show the most disturbing, inhumane, and unsettling story that will make you think twice before you have an audition for your next wife.
4. Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)
I had a streak of watching the most jarring horror films for a week till it was halted due to Claire Denis’ masterful and undoubtedly realistic portrait of cannibalism and sex in Trouble Every Day. It is centered around two couples whose stories parallel to one another on their journey on learning how to cope with their unique hunger, a taste for human flesh. It is clear that they are disgusted by their own pungent desires and desperate to have modern science film a cure for them ASAP. Coré played by Beatrice Dalle’s succumbs to her cannibalistic tendencies to barbaric proportions, which forces her husband to keep her in a boarded up building. When a fresh-faced neighbor stumbles upon her lair, it ends all too soon for him with Coré skinning his flesh layer by layer with her sharp fangs, and it is an image all too real and revolting to stomach. She tops it off by spread his blood all along the wall like a kid playing with crayons. Trouble Every Day may be regarded as a flop within Denis’ filmography but as a film part of the New French Extremity, it is one of the most perturbing films as it shows these intensely tragic figures battling their most deep and inner torture.
5. Martyrs (Dir. Pascal Laugier)
How can I even write about Martyrs without the engraved and reverberating images of terror flashing in my head every five seconds? It is completely beside the point if people think Martyrs is a good film because as a film part of the New French Extremity, it pushes the boundaries far and wide to unspeakable lengths and in this case, focusing on human suffering instead of torture. Lucie’s mission for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who was also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a hell of depravity. The premise sounds like a standard horror film with petrifying beings popping up here and there but it’s filled with complex and layered backstory and trauma that takes us deeper down the rabbit hole till we hit rock bottom, a place where no cinema has ever taken us to before. There are no amount of words that can express the sheer terror Martyrs inflames within our mind and soul but it’s the story’s demented focus on the unimaginable extremity of human suffering that is relevant as it is perversely haunting. You have been warned.