These are the Fifteen Best and Most Extreme Horror Movies.
A list a long time in the making, join us for the most extreme films we could find!
Every horror fan is different. Some crave solid scares, some love a good horror-comedy, and others just want an excellent film overall. I think it’s great that the genre covers so many styles for different viewers. When I first started watching horror, I was more of a gorehound, seeking out the grimiest, splattery good times I could get my hands on. But even deeper down the rabbit hole sits extreme horror.
I first tripped into the extreme horror depths with films like Jungle Holocaust and Ichi The Killer, movies that were big at the time. I was probably way too young when I started watching these kinds of movies (14-15) but I continued to watch more and more extreme films.
As with everything else, when delving into this type of cinema, there are some that work for you and others that don’t. As with everything, this list is subjective, but I have done my best to curate the many uncomfortable horrors that you can choose to watch.
A quick note: I am limiting the list to one release per director and per series. I will not roll a whole series into one entry, since it takes a bit of power away from the list itself. Also, I have created this list with the idea in mind that some people will not be familiar with this style of horror film. Therefore, it is ordered so that the first films are great entry points to extreme horror.
So sit back, enjoy, and track down some new nightmares to conjure!
15. Angst (dir. Gerald Kargl)
Modeling your film on real-life crimes is a surefire way to immediately get attention. Angst is loosely based on the crimes of Werner Kniesek, which only adds to the macabre atmosphere of the whole piece.
Angst isn’t the goriest film, nor is it the most shocking, but it is definitely a harrowing experience that makes the viewer feel trapped. The story follows a man who is released from prison. He knows as soon as he gets out that he will kill again. We follow him and hear his thoughts as a voice-over through the film’s entire running time. He breaks into a country home and we know what he wants from the inhabitants.
At times, it feels like the viewer is locked in a room with our protagonist and forced to watch at his behest. This is further emphasized by the cinematography, which seems to move in the orbit of the protagonist, magnetically drawn to him but repulsed at the same time. This leads to some darkly beautiful moments, but the fact remains that we can’t stop watching. There isn’t much blood on display here, but the shocking brutality and coldness of the murders are enough.
My first traipse into the world of extreme cinema was with Cannibal Holocaust. This movie could get by on reputation alone, but its continued power to shock and offend is what makes it timeless. The film is framed as found footage (one of the first, but beaten out by films like Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park), with a professor screening the lost footage of a missing group of documentarians that had set out to do a piece on a cannibal tribe. As expected, things didn’t end well for our intrepid heroes.
Horror fans will generally know the story of how Deodato was required to reveal the actors of the film since people believed he had shot their actual deaths out in the jungle. The special effects are quite brilliant for the time and the documentary-style shooting really lends credence to the events of the film. Even more difficult to stomach are the on-screen real animal deaths peppered throughout the film (a staple of Italian cannibal films) that are still shocking to this day. An ugly, brutal film that is hard to quit watching.
13. Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (dir. Hideshi Hino, 1985)
I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether to include this entry in the series or Mermaid in a Manhole so much that I’ve actually written multiple entries for both. However, at the end of the day, Flower easily takes the cake for extremity in the series (but please go watch Mermaid too because it’s incredible).
This will be the first, but definitely not the last, example of the faux-snuff style of extreme horror on the list. This one was even reported to the FBI by a bewildered Charlie Sheen, who thought it may be the real deal.
The plot for Flower of Flesh and Blood is simple: a man stalks, abducts and murders a woman on camera. What makes it work is the grimy feel, the top-notch effects and the grainy reality of the footage. Like Angst, we watch and feel trapped by the killer.
Every cut and torture inflicted on the victim is shown in graphic detail. This is a historically important release for extreme horror, and its reverberations can easily be seen in future entries on this list. It’s hard to track down, but I highly recommended it.
12. Grotesque (dir. Koji Shiraishi, 2009)
This is a movie I’ve already written about extensively, and you can find that here. At first blush, it’s just a simple story of a serial killer abducting a couple and torturing them. The film never lets up, however, and it keeps you locked in the situation with the couple for almost the entirety of the running time.
The clinical approach that the Doctor takes in torturing and demeaning his victims actually adds to the oppressive atmosphere. He seems almost detached from his actions, viewing them from a reserved distance. This clinical detachment only heightens the tension since you aren’t ever sure how far the Doctor is willing to go. Though the film isn’t perfect (the sound design can be a bit wonky), it succeeds at standing above the crowded pack of Hostel-style films.
11. Martyrs (dir. Pascal Laungier)
I would be remiss to not include any New French Extremity films on this list. These movies began to appear in the early 2000’s, and they drew critical admiration as very competently made and artistic entries into extreme horror. Other notable films that I could have selected are Inside (2007) and Dans ma peau (2002), but Martyrs is perhaps the most lauded. It is also, without a doubt, one of the most upsetting.
The film opens with a girl running from an abandoned warehouse, escaping captivity from the hands of an unknown assailant. Years later, she and a friend go to get revenge, but find that things go much deeper than they ever expected. I realize this is a vague description of the plot, but I don’t want to spoil the film for those that haven’t seen it.
Needless to say, the film gets incredibly uncomfortable and violent, but also dives deep into existential despair, nihilism and beauty. Martyrs has been upheld as a beacon of extreme cinema for a long time, and the film’s dark power to gaze into the deepest abyss has yet to be fully matched by anything else.
10. The Untold Story (dir. Herman Yau)
This is the first of two CAT III films that’ll be included on the list, so a bit of a history lesson is in order. CAT III was a rating in Hong Kong that is roughly equivalent to a NC-17 here in the states. This rating is what was attached to most exploitation-style or extreme films, and in modern circles these types of films are simply called “CAT III films.” A lot of these are very difficult to come across, so I decided to include one that is easy to find. Shout out to 1995’s Diary of a Serial Killer, please someone give it a real physical release!
The Untold Story begins oddly: with a lot of slapstick and humorously terrible police work after a hand is found washed up on the beach. This eventually leads the cops to suspect Wong Chi Hang (a magnetic Anthony Wong), who runs a restaurant nearby. As the questioning mounts, the story of his life and murders spills out.
This movie has a lot of good gore, but the deeper into the tale the darker it gets. By the end, the jokes and gags of the opening act seem like a distant memory, and all that’s left is the seedy violence that punctuates the rest of the film.
9. Atroz (dir. Lex Ortega)
This film surprised me. I went in expecting rough and tumble, found-footage mayhem in the vein of August Underground. I got that. But I also got a very angry film with a sledgehammer of a message riding along. It’s not everyday that I watch a movie and immediately want to write about it, but Atroz is one of those films. This film showed me some things I’ve never seen before and disgusted me, but it also made me think and care about what was happening. This one deserves its own full article.
A man is arrested after hitting a woman with his car. After his arrest, they find camera recordings of his killings. The film has segments where he is being interviewed by the police, as well as the footage in question. At first, it seems like it’s your standard faux-snuff with a wraparound. However, the cops find tapes from his time with his parents, and then things get rough. The film nestles its message about cyclical trauma, hyper-masculinity, and homophobia inside its muscular narrative and shocking violence. By the end, I was stunned. I hope you are, too.
8. Thanatomorphose (dir. Eric Falardeau)
While the other films have mostly focused on violence committed against other individuals, Thanatomorphose differentiates itself by focusing on decay. It shares this in common with the earlier-mentioned Mermaid in a Manhole, but this Canadian shocker goes much further and gets quite a bit nastier than that film.
One day, a young woman wakes up and realizes that something is wrong. Throughout the rest of the film, we watch as her body goes through the many stages of decay and decomposition, literally rotting before our very eyes. There are some jaw-droppingly gross and effective sfx on display here, as well as an incredibly game performance by Kayden Rose.
Though shocking and extreme, the film is also deeply sad. You can view the protagonist’s rotting away as an exterior manifestation of interior depression, which adds more layers to a fascinating film. Add onto that the film’s statements on men’s treatment of women and you have a stunningly powerful experience.
7. American Guinea Pig: Sacrifice (dir. Poison Rouge)
I know what you’re thinking: I broke my own rules by having two Guinea Pig entries. Well, technically, the American and Japanese series are only related by name and some similarities. Other than that, I consider them two separate entities. The other film from the series in contention for this spot was Bloodshock directed by Marcus Koch, but Sacrifice slightly edges it out for me.
A disturbed man attempts to summon the goddess Ishtar (shades of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast?) by sacrificing pieces of his body one at a time. The piece-by-piece destruction of his body is both disturbing and enthralling. Throughout, he is taunted and cajoled onwards by the goddess herself. Is she real, or a part of his fragmented psyche? This film is on the slower side, but with a brisk 65-minute runtime it never outstays its welcome. Major props are due to the skilled direction of Poison Rouge, who wrings pathos, horror, and beauty out of a very simple concept.
6. Nekromantik 2 (dir. Jorg Buttgereit)
I’m not gonna hide the fact that I absolutely love all of Buttgereit’s work because that would be disingenuous. I think he has a very compelling, soft-focus vision that he brings to just about everything he makes. One of his other films, Schramm, is one of my favorite films of all time. When it comes to Buttgereit and extremity, however, I think Nekromantik 2 takes the cake.
The film follows Monika (Monika M.) who starts the film by digging up the corpse of the previous film’s protagonist (a nice comic touch). Monika is, as the title implies, a necrophiliac, and she lovingly returns it to her apartment for some personal time. Monika also has a (live) boyfriend that she can’t orgasm with, and from here on out, everything spirals out of control.
The film follows her exploring her sexuality, both negatively with her boyfriend and positively with the corpse, until she finds the perfect lover she’s been looking for. The film revolves around woozy romanticism and slimy gross-outs in a pairing that sounds odd but is incredibly watchable. While gross, I would definitely recommend this and the first film in the series. (A warning, there is an actual animal death in the film.)
5. August Underground’s Mordum (dir. Fred Vogel)
The August Underground films have kind of gained a reputation over the years. Due to scarcity of physical copies, they sometimes almost feel like a creepypasta come to life. I was around when they were still releasing them and I know that they can get downright nasty, but not something that will necessarily traumatize you for life. If you find yourself with the chance to watch any of the three films, definitely give them a go.
Mordum is the second film in the trilogy, and I think the most disturbing. All three movies follow serial killers who document their doings on camcorders. The found-footage style works to the films’ advantages by bumping up the realism. The grainy visuals, however, can’t hide the absolutely INCREDIBLE effects work, and the sickening dynamics between the characters.
Vogel wanted to set out to show how a serial killer would really be, without the weird pseudo-romanticism we see in a lot of true crime media, and he succeeded. These are outwardly normal, but inwardly damaged and dangerous people. There’s no putting on airs, just horrific violence and the enjoyment they get out of it. Maybe that’s why these movies are so effective, they feel painfully true.
4. Scrapbook (dir. Eric Stanze)
This is definitely a personal pick, but a movie that has stuck in my subconscious way longer than most ever will. I can confidently say that this is the first time in my life that I saw a movie that felt like it went too far and it remains a difficult watch for me today. The film is about a serial killer (played with disturbing intensity by Tommy Biondo) who kidnaps a woman (a fantastic and fearless Emily Haack) and puts her through hell. Throughout the film, she is required to make notes in his scrapbook about her experiences.
The depravity on display in this film floored me when I first watched it (once again, way too young). This aura of filth is stepped up several notches by the absolute filth of the killer’s house. Every moment is steeped in pain and grime. While not as gory as the previous movies, the sexual abuse on display is difficult to watch and makes for a grueling experience. You can see traces of this style of filmmaking in stuff like The Bunny Game, but I can only stomach so much.
3. A Serbian Film (dir. Srđan Spasojević)
To tell the truth, I avoided this film for a long time. It released around the time I had stopped searching out extreme films, and I just never got back around to it. I guess in my head it became much bigger over time. When I decided to do this article, I knew it was finally time to sit down with it.
Thanks to a recent stellar release from Unearthed Films, it made the film easy to find (for once in its history). I expected to be disgusted, shocked and offended. What I didn’t expect was a very well-constructed film. The cinematography is top notch, the soundtrack is great and the acting is fantastic. I couldn’t believe THIS film had so much thought put into it, and I’m still thinking about it weeks later.
Milos (Srdjan ‘Zika’ Todorovic) is a retired porn star who just wants to do right by his family. One day, he gets offered a job by a mysterious director to make some artistic adult features. Each day of the shoot, things get progressively weirder and more disturbing.
It isn’t until we hit THAT SCENE (if you’ve read this far, you know what I’m talking about) that Milos storms out, quitting the production. He is, however, returned to set and drugged to be sexually aggressive and mentally absent (traces of the nazisploitation film The Beast in Heat).
Everything from here on out is major spoiler territory, and I refuse to spoil the ending. It is the absolute hardest gut-punch I can remember. You’ve been warned.
2. Torment (dir. Adam Ford)
This was an incredibly surprising film. The cinematography is gorgeous, the soundtrack quickly rose to one of my favorites, and the pacing is immaculate. Honestly, the tension of this film never lets you go from the first frame and the fact that most of the torture/murder is sexual in nature makes it a very hard movie to sit through.
It also stands out as being a film with openly gay characters. Both the killer and the victim are gay men, and it’s been interesting to see the rise of gay content in extreme films. As a bi man, it’s both refreshing and horrifying to see a more varied viewpoint in extreme horror, since it hits home that much harder. For more LGBT extreme cinema, check out Scott Philip Goergens’ 29 Needles, a brilliant film I didn’t think QUITE fit on this list.
Torment takes its initial ideas from the killings of John Wayne Gacy, but it doesn’t attempt to recreate his murders. It (thankfully) ages up the victims, and changes some things around so it doesn’t seem like it’s trying to be a reenactment. Instead, it’s more of an “inspired-by” than anything else. I think what makes this movie difficult is the tension in the setups. We watch every bit of the killer’s actions, from the setup, to the execution to the wind-down.
I’ve mentioned several times about feeling “trapped” with a film, and this one is almost unbearable. The sexual violence on display made me feel sick to my stomach, and the incredibly uncomfortable, but committed, performances from the killer (Matteo de Liberato) and the victim (Rikky Fiore) only lend credence to the movie. Easily the most extreme killer clown film.
1. Men Behind the Sun (dir. Mou Tun-fei, 1988)
Earlier, I discussed CAT III films, but this one takes things the farthest I’ve seen out of that group of films. It features realistic depictions of the goings-on at the infamous Unit 731, where the Japanese Army committed atrocities against Chinese and Soviet prisoners in the name of science. Before getting into it completely, I want to say that this is an incredibly difficult movie to watch.
The horrors in this film never seem to stop. We see frostbite experiments, live vivisection, decompression chamber abuse and so much more. This is amplified by the fact that everything that happens in this film is purported to be reenactments of actual experiments carried out at 731. The specter of historical perspective hangs over the entire piece, and the effects work is stomach-churning.
Further muddying the waters is the fact that real autopsy footage is used in the film, which only adds more devastating immediacy to the horrors, as well as ethical questions about their inclusion. This is a movie that scars a place in your mind; one that you can’t easily forget. I would still definitely argue that it’s art, but it’s definitely not for everyone.