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Extreme Cinema: The 40 Most Disturbing Horror Movies Ever Made

Brace yourself for some of the most disturbing horror movies of all time.

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The 40 Most Disturbing Horror Movies Ever Made

The Best Disturbing Horror Movies

Warning: This Article Features Extreme Content That Deals With Heavy Subject Matters. Readers’ Discretion Is Advised.

It’s said in art, and especially film can invoke a complete range of emotions. Some films can invoke feelings of joy, sadness, and fear. But what about feelings of being uncomfortable? Feelings of being disturbed? Horror movies have always meant to push the edges of people’s imaginations.

Whether it’s through swamp monsters, creatures from outer space, or some lab experiment gone horribly wrong. Most horror movie fans though will tell you these films are fun and if given a chance, can be thoroughly enjoyed. But what about the films even horror enthusiasts have a difficult time sitting through? Today we wanted to discuss forty of the most disturbing horror movies ever made.

RELATED: 55 Horror Movie Trivia Questions (With Answers)

A Serbian Film (2010)

disturbing horror movies
A Serbian Film (2010)

Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Rating: NC-17

A Serbian Film is directed and co-written by Srđan Spasojević with Aleksandar Radivojević co-writing the screenplay. The cast includes Srđan Todorović, Sergej Trifunović, and Jelena Gavrilović. The plot follows a financially struggling porn star who takes an offer to appear in an “art film”, only to be entrapped in the production of a snuff film.

A Siberian Film is THE face of disturbing horror films and is among one of the most infamous and reviled pieces of cinema in all of history. The film deals with almost all taboos and horrific ideas involving sexual and physical violence. For our sanity, we will not describe anything that happens in the film. Just trust us in saying this truly is one of if not the most disturbing horror film ever made.

RELATED: Top 15 Most Extreme Horror Films

Begotten (1989)

disturbing horror movies
Begotten (1989)

Runtime: 1 hour, 18 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Begotten is written and directed by Edmund Elias Merhige. The cast includes Brian Salsburg, Donna Dempsy, Stephen Charles Barry, and members of Merhige’s theatre company, Theatreofmaterial. The film features an enigmatic plot that blends various creation myths from across different religions and faiths.

Since film is a visual medium, Begotten is one of the most disturbing horror films has to be one that is by far the most horrifying image recorded. Independent filmmaker Edmund Elias Merhige gave the world a nightmarish interpretation of the creation of the world and humanity with experimental silent film. With bone-chilling visuals inspired by German expressionism and even Akira Kurosawa, Begotten taps into the reptile root of our brain and disturbs the living hell out of it. It is essential for anyone looking for disturbing horror movies.

Alien (1979)

disturbing horror movies
Alien (1979)

Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Rating: R

Alien is directed by Ridley Scott. It was written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon. The movie features Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, and John Hurt. Alien follows a crew of space tug that encounters a parasitic alien organism that kills them off one by one.

While the Alien franchise and the titular alien Xenomorph have become pop culture staples, one cannot forget just how viscerally terrifying and grotesque the original film remains to this day. Ridley Scott reinvents the visual language of science fiction with a grungy, beat-up feeling that creates a very claustrophobic environment right before we encounter the film’s big monster. The Xenomorph itself is a testament to character design as surrealist painter H. R. Giger created a monster that taps into our primal fear of sexual violation and biological infection all in one bloodthirsty package.

RELATED: Space Monsters: The 20 Best Alien Horror Movies

mother! (2017)

disturbing horror movies
mother! (2017)

Runtime: 2 hours, 1 minute
Rating: R

mother! is written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. The cast includes Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, and Kristen Wiig. The plot follows a young wife and her husband living a calm life that soon becomes a nightmarish series of events when a mysterious couple arrives at their house.

An incredibly divisive film upon release, Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother! ‘ has become the face of modern disturbing horror movies. An allegorical critique on Christianity’s relationship with the Earth itself, mother! is a cinematic panic attack as we follow Jennifer Lawrence’s character experience ever-growing disconcerting events that fully bloom into one of the most disturbing finales in recent memory.

Martyrs (2008)

disturbing horror movies
Martyrs (2008)

Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Rating: R

Martyrs is written and directed by Pascal Laugier. It stars Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui. The plot of Martyrs follows a revenge quest of a young woman trying to understand why she and a fellow victim were tortured and abused by a mysterious group.

In the 2000s horror cinema experienced a wave of French-based extreme horror films that would later be dubbed “New French Extremity”. Almost all noteworthy films in this sub-genre are known as some of the most disturbing horror movies from the past two decades, with Martyrs almost being a poster child for New French Extremity. Almost the entire runtime is a test of endurance as we follow a tragic story of revenge and the terror of belief along with scenes that would make even the hardcore Saw fans quiver in disgust.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

disturbing horror movies
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Runtime: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Rating: R

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was written and directed by the late Tobe Hooper. The cast includes Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen. The plot follows a group of teens attacked by a family of cannibals, including the iconic slasher Leatherface.

One of several horror films inspired by the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, remains one of the scariest slasher films of all time. More of an art-house horror film when compared to its slasher peers (i.e. Halloween, and Friday the 13th), Tobe Hooper’s almost documentary-style made the events of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre feel real and believable. An easy contender for most disturbing horror movies, for sure!

Suspiria (1977)

disturbing horror movies
Suspiria (1977)

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rating: R

Directed and co-written by Italian horror master Dario Argento with his then-wife Daria Nicolodi co-writing the screenplay. Suspiria stars Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Joan Bennett, and Flavio Bucci. The film follows a young American woman who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy, only to discover it’s the home of a coven of witches who use the students as sacrifices.

Arguably the best film by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, Suspiria is one of the few films that truly feels like a waking nightmare. This includes the very loose plot, striking use of color, and one of the most chilling horror soundtracks performed by Italian progressive rock band Goblin. Even the bizarre dubbing adds to the surreal feeling as we experience scene after scene of incredibly gruesome yet beautiful deaths within the horror genre.

RELATED: The 15 Best Italian Horror Movies

Audition (1999)

disturbing horror movies
Audition (1999)

Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Rating: R

Audition is directed by Takashi Miike with a screenplay written by Daisuke Tengan. The cast includes Ryo Ishibashi and Eihi Shiina. The plot follows a widower holding a fake audition to find a new romantic partner, only to learn that his chosen partner is in fact, incredibly disturbed.

Based on the novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami, Audition is often considered Takashi Miike’s best work and it is easy to see why. At first, most of the film lulls you in as being a darker romance story that soon takes a hard left turn in one of the most infamous finales in J-Horror history. The film’s reaction was so visceral that it had several walkouts at several film festivals, yet won the FIPRESCI Prize and the KNF Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2000.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

disturbing horror movies
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Rating: R

The Devil’s Rejects is written and directed by Rob Zombie. It stars Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Ken Foree, Matthew McGrory, and William Forsythe. The plot follows three members of the serial killer family, The Firefly Family on the run from the police as they wreak havoc during their escape.

A sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses, Rob Zombie takes a much darker direction with The Devil’s Rejects. Heavily inspired by 1970s grindhouse films, The Devil’s Rejects makes the audience question their morality as our protagonists are some of the most sinister characters ever yet are performed so well (Bill Moseley especially as Otis) that you sympathize with them near the end. While Rob Zombie’s filmography has become quite divisive, many would agree The Devil’s Rejects is his best work yet.

The Witch (2015)

disturbing horror movies
The Witch (2015)

Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Rating: R

The Witch stars Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Kate Dickie. It was directed and written by Robert Eggers. After being banished from their town, a family homesteads a new life at the edge of the woods. After a series of disappearances and mysterious happenings, the very religious family believes that they are being hunted by a witch.

The feature directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch captures the truly horrific tone of folk horror meant to be told around a campfire. The film throughout the runtime has a constant sense of dread as you fear for and of this family even without the presence of the titular witch. Filled with fantastic performances and phenomenal directing, The Witch is both one of the most disturbing horror movies and simply one of the best.

RELATED: The 14 Greatest Witch Horror Movies

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

disturbing horror movies
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: R

This infamous film was directed by Ruggero Deodato and written by Gianfranco Clerici. Cannibal Holocaust stars Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, and Luca Barbareschi. The plot follows an anthropologist discovering the tape of a missing documentary crew in the Amazon jungle and discovering the horrible truth of what happened to them.

One of the most controversial and banned films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust, is a film that disturbs both on-screen and behind the scenes. Infamous for real on-screen animal cruelty, graphic violence, and director Ruggero Deodato’s abuse of his actors during production, it comes as no surprise that Deodato would be prosecuted for obscenity. Despite its immoral production, Cannibal Holocaust would also become one of the most influential films as it helps create the found-footage subgenre.

Perfect Blue (1997)

disturbing horror movies
Perfect Blue (1997)

Runtime: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Rating: R

Perfect Blue was directed by the late Satoshi Kon and written by Sadayuki Murai. The voice cast includes Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, and Shiho Niiyama. Perfect Blue follows a young idol performer who, after retiring from music, is tormented by a disturbed stalker and loses her grip on reality.

One of the best and most disturbing anime films of all time, Perfect Blue is the finest example of the work of the late anime legend Satoshi Kon. Beautifully animated to capture the anxiety and stress of being a celebrity, Perfect Blue would tap into what it means to have a public identity and what dangers that could lead to our own reality. It’s rare that animation can capture the feeling we expect from disturbing horror movies, but Perfect Blue delivers that in spades!

RELATED: The 10 Greatest Sci-Fi Anime Movies Of All Time

Antichrist (2009)

disturbing horror movies
Antichrist (2009)

Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Antichrist was written and directed by Lars Von Trier. It stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The plot follows a married couple who, after the tragic death of their young son, go on a retreat to grieve. It’s then they experience horrific visions as the wife slowly becomes more violent physically and sexually.

First off, this is a Lars Von Trier movie, so a movie called Antichrist being messed up beyond belief is to be expected from the controversial director. And yet you are still not ready for just how viscerally disturbing and disgusting Antichrist is, especially the scissor scene. It pushes the envelope of any amount of decency and yet the film is so beautifully shot that you are left frustrated and angry. Honestly, that is probably the reaction Lars Von Trier wanted us the have from his film.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

disturbing horror movies
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

Runtime: 1 hour. 27 minutes
Rating: R

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is written and directed by John Erick Dowdle. It stars Ivar Brogger, Samantha Robson, Ron Harper, and Bobbi Sue Luther. In a documentary style, The Poughkeepsie Tapes tells the story of the investigation of a horrific series of serial killings after the discovery of the killer’s archive of snuff films.

Gaining the reputation as one of the most harrowing found-footage films, The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of those disturbing horror movies that will make you want to take a shower after watching it. The film 100% commits to the documentary style, and that alone adds to the feeling of realism and fear. There was a reason they shelved this film for almost a decade.

RELATED: Found On The Ground: 10 Found Footage Horror Movies For Beginners

Hereditary (2018)

disturbing horror movies
Hereditary (2018)

Runtime: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Rating: R

Hereditary was written and directed by Ari Aster. It stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne. The plot centers on a family plagued by both tragedy and the supernatural that began with the death of their grandmother.

For a directorial debut, Ari Aster sucker-punched audiences hard in the gut with one of the most brilliant horror releases of the 2010s. Featuring a powerhouse performance by Toni Collette, Hereditary is a film that bores into your mind, and even when the movie is over, you will feel its presence for at least the rest of your day. Absolutely horrific as a supernatural horror and a dark family drama. Once a certain scene hits you, you will never doubt why we included Hereditary in our list of disturbing horror movies.

RELATED: Hags Of Horror: The 13 Creepiest Old Ladies In Film

Midsommar (2019)

disturbing horror movies
Midsommar (2019)

Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Rating: R

Midsommar was written and directed by Ari Aster. The cast includes Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, and Will Poulter. The plot follows a group of friends who travel to Sweden, only to end up entrapped by a pagan cult.

Ari Aster is back again on this list and Midsommar doesn’t let up any punches. From the gut-wrenching opening scene of the protagonist’s realizing her family’s death to the now infamous ending, Midsommar truly shines (no pun intended) as a horror film set during the day. Filled with fantastic performances, gorgeous filmmaking, and gruesome sequences, Midsommar is a cult horror film to rival the likes of The Wicker Man.

RELATED: The 10 Best A24 Horror Movies

Eraserhead (1977)

disturbing horror movies
Eraserhead (1977)

Runtime: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Eraserhead was written and directed by David Lynch. The cast includes Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, and Judith Roberts. The loose plot follows a man forced to take care of his heavily deformed child by himself, and his world slowly loses its grip on logic and reason.

In one of the most acclaimed “midnight movies”, David Lynch knocked it out of the ballpark with this indie surrealist nightmare. Very few films capture the dreamlike quality that Eraserhead invokes as you just feel something is not right from beginning to end. Plus, the baby in the film is one of the most disturbing things to ever be filmed and we are sure no one will deny that.

RELATED: Examining Surrealism In The Horror Genre

The Lighthouse (2019)

disturbing horror movies
The Lighthouse (2019)

Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Rating: R

The Lighthouse was co-written and directed by Robert Eggers, with his brother Max Eggers co-writing the screenplay. It stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. The plot follows two lighthouse keepers who descend into madness after being trapped in the lighthouse for an unimaginable amount of time.

The Lighthouse is both one of the most disturbing horror films of all time and simply one of the best films from the 2010s. Robert Eggers proves he can capture the voice of almost any time period his films are set in as we get an old sea time feel right from the start. Creepy, funny, chilling, and awe-inspiring are some of the words we can only describe The Lighthouse with.

RELATED: The Lighthouse: Lovecraft At Its Roots

Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011)

disturbing horror movies
Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011)

Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) was written and directed by Tom Six. The cast includes Ashlynn Yennie and Laurence R. Harvey. The plot acts as a meta-sequel to the first Human Centipede film as a mentally disturbed man, who is obsessed with the Human Centipede, decides to kidnap several people to make his own Human Centipede.

The Human Centipede films have become an almost dirty word in the horror genre as some of the most well-known extreme horror films of all time. Yet the first film, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), is tame when compared to its reputation. The same can’t be said for this meta sequel as despite being in black and white, it is one of the most depraved films on this list. Director Tom Six embraces the reputation his first film had gotten as this film is what you’d expect from a film titled The Human Centipede ramped up to a hundred and kicks you in the teeth while it’s at it.

The Lodge (2019)

disturbing horror movies
The Lodge (2019)

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rating: R

The Lodge was directed and co-written by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala with additional writing by Sergio Casci. It stars Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, and Richard Armitage. The plot of The Lodge follows a soon-to-be stepmother going on a Christmas camping trip with her fiances two children. Soon the trio is trapped in their lodge as supernatural events begin happening around them.

The Lodge can be best described as a downer. It is both disturbing and depressing as we see a poor woman’s descent into darkness and some of the most despicable children in horror cinema. While we will not spoil what happens in this film, we will say directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala truly captured a winter horror film with an oppressive atmosphere and made sure we will remember The Lodge as one of the depressing horror films along with one of the most disturbing.

RELATED: Horror Holidays: The 12 Best Christmas Horror Movies

Hostel (2005)

disturbing horror movies
Hostel (2005)

Runtime: 1 hour. 34 minutes
Rating: R

Hostel is written and directed by Eli Roth. The cast includes Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eyþór Guðjónsson, and Barbara Nedeljáková. Hostel follows three backpackers who end up being entrapped by an organization in Eastern Europe that torture and maims tourists.

Hostel along with Saw were the two big horror releases of the 2000s that helped coined the term “torture porn”. While it is debatable if that term has legitimacy as a sub-genre, Hostel is still one messed up movie. Despite not being as graphic as its reputation, Eli Roth captured the hopeless atmosphere perfectly. An easy pick for disturbing horror movies.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

disturbing horror movies
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Runtime: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

John McNaughton directed this example of disturbing cinema with Richard Fire co-writing the screenplay. The cast includes Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, and Tracy Arnold. The plot follows the random killings of two serial killers who kill just for the sake of it.

Another example of a disturbing horror movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a film that even horror enthusiasts hesitate to give a watch. Michael Rooker shines as the titular Henry as sometimes in this film you could easily believe you are watching a film featuring an actual serial killer. Despite its controversial nature, upon release, the film would garner notable praise from film scholars and critics such as Roger Ebert and The American Film Institute.

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

disturbing horror movies
I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Rating: R

I Spit on Your Grave was written and directed by Meir Zarchi. The cast includes Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, and Anthony Nichols. The film follows the victim of a brutal sexual assault as she sets out to get revenge on her tormentors.

The face of the rather skeevy horror movie sub-genre that is the “rape-and-revenge movie”, I Spit on Your Grave, is a film that is borderline unwatchable in how it depicts sexual violence. Controversial to this day, this film is both considered a cult piece of grindhouse cinema and one of the most reviled films ever made. Either way, it’s universally agreed to be one of the most disturbing horror movies of the 1970s.

Creep (2014)

disturbing horror movies
Creep (2014)

Runtime: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Rating: R

Creep is a disturbing 2014 horror film starring Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass. It was directed by Patrick Brice. The plot follows a filmmaker who responds to an online listing to film a man for the day. While this transaction may seem innocent on the surface, the filmmaker’s subject may have an ulterior motive.

Everyone has seen sketchy listings on websites like Craigslist, and Creep intends to exploit those uneasy feelings. Creep is a film that knows exactly what will (no pun intended) creep you out and there is never a moment where you will have a moment of mild comfortableness. Mark Duplass’ performance alone is easily one of the horror genre’s most chilling in recent memory.

Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985)

disturbing horror movies
Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985)

Runtime: 42 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood was written and directed by Hideshi Hino. The cast includes Hiroshi Tamura and Kirara Yūgao. The “plot” follows a deranged man dressed as a samurai who kidnaps a woman to add her body parts to his collection.

Long before the likes of Saw, Hostel, and even New Wave French Extremity, The Human Guinea Pig films would fill the void of horrific tales of torture to ever grace the horror genre. The second entry Flowers of Flesh and Blood would become so infamous that it was pulled from the video market in Japan and even actor Charlie Sheen (yes really) called the FBI believing the film was a genuine snuff film. While they killed no one during the making of this film, its status as a faux-snuff film is legendary among disturbing horror movies.

The Last House on the Left (1972)

disturbing horror movies
The Last House on the Left (1972)

Runtime: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Rating: R

The Last House on the Left was written and directed by the late Wes Craven. The cast includes Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, and Marc Sheffler. The follows a young girl who, on her seventeenth birthday is brutally attacked both physically and sexually by a band of escaped criminals. Left for dead and found by her parents, they seek revenge on the band of criminals who unwittingly sought refuge in their home.

The directorial debut of horror master Wes Craven, The Last House on the Left, made a reputation for itself as one of the most disturbing horror films since its release in 1972. Depicting realistic brutality and sudden tone shifts into comedy, The Last House on the Left is less mood whiplash and more mood earthquake. Like the other exploitation films on this list, one would feel the need to shower after seeing this flick.

Hellraiser (1987)

disturbing horror movies
Hellraiser (1987)

Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Rating: R

Hellraiser was written and directed by Clive Barker. It stars Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, and Doug Bradley. The plot follows an estranged couple who move into the husband’s distant brother’s home, who turns out to be an undead entity trying to escape the enigmatic entities known as the Cenobites.

One of the most disturbing horror films of the 1980s and one of the best, Hellraiser is the reason why Clive Barker is one of the most respected names in the genre. Filled with themes based around sadomasochism, depravity, and the blurred line between pleasure and pain, Hellraiser does not shy away from its sexual nature. Hellraiser also includes the iconic movie monsters that are the Cenobites with Doug Bradley’s Pinhead becoming one of horror’s most recognizable horror villains of all time.

Snuff (1976)

disturbing horror movies
Snuff (1976)

Runtime: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Snuff was directed by Michael Findlay and Horacio Fredriksson with Findlay writing the screenplay. The cast includes Margarita Amuchástegui, Ana Carro, Liliana Fernández Blanco, Mirta Massa, and Aldo Mayo. The plot follows a group of friends who are terrorized by a biker cult.

One of the major pieces of pop culture that contributed to the urban legend of the snuff film, Snuff’s infamy, is well known from both the film’s content and the marketing upon release. Marketed as a legitimate snuff film, the film would become protested by many groups because of the “claim” of “real-on-screen murders” and violence towards women. The latter criticism is a legitimate critique as Snuff seems to indulge in the violence of its protagonist, ensuring it is one of the most disturbing horror movies.

Se7en (1995)

disturbing horror movies
Se7en (1995)

Runtime: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Rating: R

Se7en was directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker. It stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey, and John C. McGinley. The plot follows two detectives investigating a series of murders based on the biblical seven deadly sins.

A crime thriller so disturbing it’s practically a horror film, David Fincher’s Se7en truly tests genre boundaries. The film has this sense of dread as we see our protagonists investigate some of the most horrific murders on screen and we question our own sanity as to how any of this is possible. Seriously, the Sloth scene remains one of cinema’s most harrowing sequences.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

disturbing horror movies
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Rating: R

The Silence of the Lambs was directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Ted Tally. The cast includes Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, and Ted Levine. The plot follows a young FBI investigator Clarice who seeks advice from the imprisoned serial killer psychologist Hannibal Lecter to catch Buffalo Bill, another serial killer who is on the loose.

One of the most acclaimed horror films (yes we said horror, don’t downplay it as a “thriller”) of all time, The Silence of the Lambs is as disturbing as it is incredible. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs gives us not one but two iconic chilling performances with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill. While Lecter is one of cinema’s best movie villains as he is cerebral yet predatory, Buffalo Bill (another film character based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein) is truly chilling for how real he felt.

Maniac (1980)

disturbing horror movies
Maniac (1980)

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Rating: R

Maniac was directed by William Lustig and written by C. A. Rosenberg. The cast includes Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Gail Lawrence, and Tom Savini. The plot follows a New York-based serial killer and his continued spiral into madness.

One of the most notorious “video nasties” of the 1980s, Maniac is a deeply horrific look into the life of a serial killer. Joe Spinell’s performance as Frank Zito makes him both a pitiful yet repulsive monster of a man and the effects by make-up artist Tom Savini adds more to the visceral nature. The film was so controversial that it was banned in the UK for almost two decades.

RELATED: Why Slasher Films Will Never Die

Grotesque (2009)

disturbing horror movies
Grotesque (2009)

Runtime: 1 hour, 13 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Grotesque is written and directed by Kōji Shiraishi. The cast includes Hiroaki Kawatsure, Tsugumi Nagasawa, and Shigeo Ōsako. The plot follows a young coupled kidnapped by a deranged “doctor” and forced to be subjected to a series of torturous “experiments”.

In a way, Japan’s answer to the likes of Saw and Hostel, Grotesque is a film that is perfectly summarized by the title alone. The film is essentially an hour and thirteen-minute long torture sequence with no respite and pushed the envelope of decency. What else can I say about a film that is titled Grotesque? Maybe bring a bucket on the side just to be safe.

The Exorcist (1973)

disturbing horror movies
The Exorcist (1973)

Runtime: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Rating: R

The Exorcist was directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty. The stars include Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair. The plot follows a young girl who is seemingly possessed by a demonic entity and out of desperation her mother requests the aid of the church to exorcise the demon.

The Exorcist is often said to be “one of the scariest films of all time” and while that is an entirely subjective claim, in terms of pop culture response, no other film has scared people as much as The Exorcist. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist takes the concept of demonic possession in a very realistic light and we see the slow progression of a young girl becoming a pure demon. It’s easy to see why this film left the impact it still has to this day.

Faces of Death (1978)

disturbing horror movies
Faces of Death (1978)

Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Faces of Death was written and directed by John Alan Schwartz, credited under the pseudonyms “Conan LeCilaire” and “Alan Black”. The cast includes Michael Carr, Samuel Berkowitz, Mary Ellen Brighton, and Mary Ellen Brighton. Framed as a documentary, Faces of Death recounts different gruesome ways one could be killed in the world.

Another one of the most well-known video nasties, Faces of Death gained almost legendary status as the go-to example of extreme cinema and the “mondo” style of exploration films. While touting as to have legitimate on-screen deaths, most of the new footage used was fake, with the only authentic footage being newsreels and other documentaries. Still, it cannot be stressed just how much of an impact Faces of Death left on the horror genre as it still touts as one of the most banned films of all time.

Funny Games (1997)

disturbing horror movies
Funny Games (1997)

Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Rating: R

Funny Games was written and directed by Michael Haneke. It stars Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, and Arno Frisch. The plot follows two young men taking a wealthy family hostage and subjecting them to a series of sadistic tortures.

A film that is cruel to both the characters and the audience, Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s meditation on violence in media and the audiences that watch them. The two antagonists are some of cinema’s most evil characters as they do the acts they do out of boredom and even break the 4th wall to ensure they come out on top. Agree with the film’s themes or not, one can’t deny just how effective Funny Games can truly be.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

disturbing horror movies
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Runtime: 1 hour, 17 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Tetsuo: The Iron Man was written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. It also stars Tsukamoto along with Tomorowo Taguchi and Kei Fujiwara. The plot follows a meek salaryman who, after running over a metal fetishist, is infected with some kind of condition that slowly turns his flesh into metal.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is almost like the Japanese cousin to David Lynch’s Eraserhead in terms of both being surreal black and white indie horrors that are disturbing as all hell. Unlike the slow dread of Eraserhead, Tsukamoto has a more frantic and punk way of filmmaking that gives Tetsuo: The Iron Man an almost music video-esque feel. Yet the body horror we see our protagonist experience remains some of the most disturbing in a category of horror already meant to be disturbing.

Oldboy (2003)

disturbing horror movies
Oldboy (2003)

Runtime: 2 hours
Rating: R

Oldboy was directed and co-written by Park Chan-wook. It was also written by Hwang Jo-yun and Lim Jun-hyung. It stars Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, and Kang Hye-jung. The plot follows a man who after being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, is let out of his room with a clue as to who locked him up. This leads him on a violent and disturbing adventure to find the truth.

Loosley, based on the manga of the same name by Nobuaki Minegishi, Oldboy is both one of the finest examples of South Korean cinema and the most disturbing thrillers of all time. The plot is a web of mysteries, deceptions, and horrific resolutions that makes a narrative that cannot be trusted in the slightest. While we highly advised viewer discretion for all the films on this list, we cannot stress that Oldboy is a must-watch for fans of international cinema.

High Tension (2003)

disturbing horror movies
High Tension (2003)

Runtime: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Rating: R

High Tension was directed and co-written by Alexandre Aja with Grégory Levasseur co-writing the screenplay. It stars Cécile de France, Maïwenn, and Philippe Nahon. The plot follows two young women who travel to a secluded farmhouse for school studies, only to be stalked by a serial killer.

Another well-known example of the French Extremity Movement, High Tension is a slasher film that goes straight for the throat. We recommend going in blind as the film’s climax will hit you like a semi-truck and make an already effective slasher into one of the most disturbing horror movies ever. If you wonder how the film ended up in Time Magazines’ 10 most ridiculously violent films, go watch for yourself and find out.

Men Behind the Sun (1988)

disturbing horror movies
Men Behind the Sun (1988)

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

Men Behind the Sun was directed by T. F. Mou, and written by Mei Liu, Wen Yuan Mou, and Dun Jing Teng. It stars Gang Wang, Hsu Gou, Tie Long Jin, Zhao Hua Mei, Zhe Quan, Run Sheng Wang, Dai Wao Yu, and Andrew Yu. Men Behind the Sun is a telling of the horrific events of Unit 731, the secret biological warfare experimentations committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

This one is a rough watch for sure. Men Behind the Sun is one of the most notorious Hong Kong films and that is in large part of how the filmmakers do not shy from the real horrors committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. We do not feel comfortable describing why this film hits so hard, only that you trust us in saying this truly is one of if not the most disturbing horror film as it is based on some of the worse actions that men can do to fellow man.

Ichi the Killer (2001)

disturbing horror movies
Ichi the Killer (2001)

Runtime: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Rating: R

Ichi the Killer was directed by Takashi Miike and was written by Sakichi Sato. The cast includes Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shinya Tsukamoto, Alien Sun, and Sabu. The plot follows a disturbed man who is manipulated to kill the rival factions of a Yakuza gang as he is pursued by an extremely sadistic yakuza enforcer.

To conclude this list of disturbing horror movies, Takashi Miike makes a return with another one of his most infamous films Ichi the Killer. Based on the manga of the same name by Hideo Yamamoto, Ichi the Killer is a film on the relationship between the person and violence. We see that with the titular Ichi who seems to be a pitifully disturbed character yet on a dime can become a killing machine and the yakuza enforcer Kakihara who revels in sadomasochism. Banned in several countries such as Norway and Malaysia, Ichi the Killer is a film that has earned its infamy.

What Is Your Favorite Disturbing Horror Movie?

Now that it is over, go heat up some tea, grab your favorite blanket, and take the rest of the day off to emotionally recover. We hope you enjoyed our list of disturbing horror movies. Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know on social media!

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