This is an odd one for us. Generally, our countdowns are meant specifically to draw attention to films we think you should see. The films covered today are not recommended for the squeamish, and one of them is not recommended for anyone. When the hobbling scene from Misery is not tough enough to make your list – indeed, did not even make the top 10 – you know you’ve chosen some pretty miserable content. (We’ve decided to include trailers here rather than the actual scenes.) After much help from listeners and a lot of soul crushing time spent watching movies and scenes we’d rather forget, here is our list of the 5 most difficult scenes in horror movies to watch.
5. Oldboy (2003)
Like most every film on this list, Chan-wook Park’s 2003 original Oldboy boasts many scenes that are tough to watch. It’s a magnificent if punishing film, full of unseemly twists and bloody turns that ratchet up tension and keep you utterly bewildered for 120 minutes. But there are two scenes in particular that really hit a nerve as only a root canal can.
Dentistry horror is tough for a lot of people to take, and Park explores his oral fixation several times in this film. For us, the hardest one to watch happens toward the bitter end, when the smitten Dae-su Oh attempts to prove that he will never tell the secret. To give away either the secret or the proof may be to spoil too much, but he is guaranteed to do no tongue wagging after this scene.
4. Antichrist (2009)
Lars von Trier’s foray into horror follows a couple down a deep and dark rabbit hole of grief. Von Trier’s films have often fixated on punishing viewers and female protagonists alike, but in this film the nameless woman (played fearlessly by Charlotte Gainsbourg) wields most of the punishment – whether upon her mate (Willem Dafoe) or herself.
Like dental scenes, gynecological horror draws a particular reaction. Whether it’s the abuse scene at the beginning of Proxy, nearly any scene in the brilliant French film Inside, or the final feast in Trouble Every Day, scenes of this ilk can be tough to watch. But to watch as Gainsbourg – who’s already inflicted some serious pain on Dafoe’s character – takes the scissors to herself is next to impossible.
3. Irreversible (2002)
French filmmaker/provocateur Gaspar Noe does not play well with his audience. Every film, no matter how brilliantly put together or gloriously filmed, is a feat in masochism to watch. Later efforts, like Enter the Void, spread the misery out for its full running time, but for Irreversible, he gave it to us in two horrifying scenes. While the head bashing is tough viewing, the film centers on a rape scene that is all but impossible to watch.
Noe’s general MO is to punish you through sheer duration. The scenes last so long you feel like you cannot endure another minute, and this scene certainly does that. Not shot even momentarily for titillation, and boasting a devastatingly excellent performance from Monica Bellucci, it justifies its own horrific presence. There are other films with necessary and difficult rape scenes – Straw Dogs, I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – but none is harder to stomach than this.
2. Martyrs (2009)
Martyrs is an incredibly difficult film to watch, but it pays you for your perseverance. It’s a brilliantly conceived and thoughtfully executed film about innocence, zealotry, and misery that opens with a child surviving torture. Not an easy image to overcome, and yet Martyrs only gets tougher.
Writer/director Pascal Laugier plays on the same visceral reaction to torture that drove Hostel, Audition, and The Strangers. Indeed, mainstream directors understand the “look away” reflex that informs Martyrs – just watch the slow knife death in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, or American History X’s curb stomp scene. But Martyrs builds and builds, pulling you in, asking you to love poor Anna so that it is that much tougher to watch her when she’s skinned alive.
1. A Serbian Film (2010)
This is not a movie we would recommend to basically anyone. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – it’s pretty well directed, acted, and written. It’s just that the co-writer/director Srdjan Spasojevic is trying to articulate the soul-deadening effects of surviving the depravity of war. The film title is no coincidence – the film is meant to reflect the reality of a nation so recently involved in among the most depraved, horrific, unimaginable acts of war. It’s as if he’s saying, after all that, what could still shock us?
Like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious 1975 effort Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom – also a depiction of the depravity left behind after war – A Serbian Film overwhelms you with horrifying imagery. Indeed, between Salo and A Serbian Film, you’ll find just about every single scene we’ve mentioned in this list. But there is one scene that has to top the list, and you probably already know what that is. Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) finally realizes the depths of his new director’s evil when he sees his latest effort: newborn porn. There is no unseeing this.
Whew. Now, on to some comedies!