Well there’s an uncomfortable topic! Of course, that’s what makes it so perfect for horror. Any idea that automatically induces a wince or a grimace, anything you want instinctively to turn away from, immediately creates the kind of discomfort that only horror can truly manipulate.
It’s been used for lurid ends in films like Flowers in the Attic, and has become the source of comedy in others – Tromeo and Juliet springs to mind. But often, it creates a particular kind of tension that drives a film in truly horrific directions: Jug Face, Crimson Peak, Pin, Angel Heart, The Crazies.
Here are the films we think handle the topic best. SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
6. 100 Bloody Acres (2012)
A testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and the bonds of family, 100 Bloody Acres is Australia’s answer to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Same body count and more blood, but a far sweeter disposition and loads more laughs.
Brothers Reg (Damon Herriman) and Lindsay (Angus Sampson) sell organic fertilizer. Business is good. Too good. Demand is driving the brothers to more and more extreme measures to gather ingredients.
Interesting the way writing/directing brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes explore sibling rivalry, but the film’s strength is in its humor: silly enough to make even the most repugnant bits enjoyable. (I’m looking at you, Aunt Nancy. Oh, no! Why did I look?!)
5. The Woman (2011)
There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.
The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. You know from the opening, sunshiny segment that nothing is as lovely as it seems, but what lurks underneath this wholesome facade begins with some obvious ugliness—abuse, incest—but where it leads is diabolical.
Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. It’s a dark and disturbing adventure that finds something unsavory in our primal nature and even worse in our quest to civilize. Don’t even ask about what it finds in the dog pen.
4. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)
Writer/director Rolf de Heer’s astonishing film is horribly marred by the fact that a cat is, in fact, killed on camera, so buyer beware. For most people, that will be reason enough to miss this one. But that just makes the director’s choice that much more tragic, because this is a really good movie.
Nicholas Hope is astonishing as the titular Bubby, a 30-year-old manchild who’s never, ever left the room he keeps with his mum.
Remember the Oscar-winning indie film Room? Remember how tragedy is somehow skirted because of the courageous love of a mother for her son? Well, this was not Bubby’s mum. Bad things are happening in that room, and once Bubby is finally free to explore the world, his adventure is equal parts deranged and soul-crushing. Hope is so frustratingly empathetic in the lead that no matter what he does, you root for him. You root for friends who will love him, for someone who will care for him, but it’s the resigned cheerfulness with which he faces any kind of abuse that really just kills you.
This taboo-shattering film is so wrong in so many ways, and yet it’s also lovely, optimistic, sweet, and funny. And just so, so fucked up.
3. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He confuses viewers because the characters you identify with are evil, and even when you think you might be seeing this to understand the origins of the ugliness, he pulls the rug out from under you again by creating an untrustworthy narrative voice. His film is so nonjudgmental, so flatly unemotional, that it’s honestly hard to watch.
What’s diabolically fascinating, though, is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.
Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.
It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.
2. The Loved Ones (2009)
Writer/director/Tasmanian Sean Byrne upends high school clichés and deftly maneuvers between gritty drama and glittery carnage in a story that borrows from other horror flicks but absolutely tells its own story.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is dealing with guilt and tragedy in his own way, and his girlfriend Holly tries to be patient with him. Oblivious to all this, Lola (a gloriously wrong-minded Robin McLeavy) asks Brent to the end of school dance. He politely declines, which proves to be probably a poor decision.
Inside Lola’s house, we’re privy to the weirdest, darkest image of a spoiled princess and her daddy. The daddy/daughter bonding over power tool related tasks is – well – I’m not sure touching is the right word for it.
The Loved Ones is a cleverly written, unique piece of filmmaking that benefits from McLeavy’s inspired performance as much as it does its filmmaker’s sly handling of subject matter.
This is the one that’s utterly spoiled by the upfront knowledge of incest. It’s also easily the best example of the topic’s handling in a horror film, plus the movie is 17 years old, so we went ahead and included it. Sue us. You were warned.
A guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that this guy is a dick. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.
The guy is Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi). The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.
Choi is unforgettable as the film’s anti-hero, and his disheveled explosion of emotion is perfectly balanced by the elegantly evil Ji-tae Yu.
Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.