[Editor’s Note: The following piece contains graphic descriptions of horrific, taboo, and potentially triggering imagery and content.]
We delight in watching acts of violence on screen. From the shenanigans of Looney Tunes cartoons to the Avengers beating the shit out of Thanos in a four quadrant blockbuster, moviegoers get a kick out of people getting a kick. Perhaps it’s an act of vicarious catharsis; perhaps it’s because we know it’s all fake which gives us “permission” to enjoy it; perhaps it’s because the actual stakes, both in and out of the text, seem so low. I am not here to indict folks who enjoy this kind of content — I am one of them. Instead, I’m here to examine what happens when filmmakers turn this dial past the breaking point.
There is a subset of cinema that is interested in exploring the extreme, the profane, the taboo, the disturbing. A brand of movie that brands the viewer, searing their brain with unforgettable imagery and dissection of the most base and perverse human impulses — impulses which just might have something in common with the more “sanitized” form of screen violence we find acceptable (whoops, I guess I am self-indicting a little!). Some of these movies are made merely to shock with empty provocation; some have something genuine to say at their core; all of them will disturb you.
Here, then, are the most disturbing movies of all time, a list of transgressive cinema that will leave you shell-shocked and cowering. Watch at your own risk.