With this episode we hit the big 200, so we wanted to celebrate in the most masochistic way possible. No! We wanted a really great topic (George’s choice) and a really great guest – filmmaker and co-founder/programmer of Nightmares Film Festival, Jason Tostevin.
Together we talk through the very best horror movies we could not watch a second time no matter what.
5. 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.
4. An American Crime (2007)
In 1966, Gertrude Baniszewski, along with three of her children and two neighbor boys, was convicted of what’s commonly considered to be the most heinous crime ever committed in the state of Indiana. The senior investigator described the prolonged abuse and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens as the most sadistic case he’d investigated in his 35 years on the force.
In 2007, two films were released depicting the horror. The Jack Ketchum-penned The Girl Next Door found a larger audience, but co-writer/director Tommy O’Haver’s An American Crime is the far superior film.
Elliot Page offers a full, layered performance, making Sylvia a realistic character – someone you might have known in high school. Of course, that makes it even harder to stomach what becomes of her. The entire cast—an impressive ensemble—does stunning work, but the dark magic here is Catherine Keener. Giving one of the best performances of her already stellar career, Keener guarantees that it will be a long time before you recover from this movie.
3. The Painted Bird (2019)
If you paint the wings of a sparrow (or stitch a star to his jacket) the rest of the flock will no longer recognize him. The other birds will swarm and peck him until he plummets back to the earth. This is just one of the horrific lessons a young boy learns as he desperately searches for anywhere or anyone safe in war-torn Eastern Europe.
What follows is a brutal parade of the worst humanity has to offer. Domestic abuse, graphic violence, multiple instances of animal abuse and death, rape, child abuse and rape, and more. Then the war crimes start around hour three.
The Painted Bird is a test of endurance. It’s also a beautifully shot, well-performed, and incredibly moving piece of cinema. You simply have to be willing to go where it wants to take you. And all of those places are dark and darker.
2. 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.
1. Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013)
This film is tough to watch, and the fact that it is based on a true story only makes the feat of endurance that much harder. But writer-director Katrin Gebbe mines this horrific tale for a peculiar point of view that suits it brilliantly and ensures that it is never simply a gratuitous wallowing in someone else’s suffering.
Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is an awkward teen in Germany. His best friend is Jesus. He means it. In fact, he’s so genuine and pure that when he lays his hands on stranded motorist Benno’s (Sascha Alexander Gersak) car, the engine starts.
Thus begins a relationship that devolves into a sociological exploration of button-pushing evil and submission to your own beliefs. Feldmeier is wondrous—so tender and vulnerable you will ache for him. Gersak is his equal in a role of burgeoning cruelty. The whole film has a, “you’re making me do this,” mentality that is hard to shake. It examines one particular nature of evil and does it so authentically as to leave you truly shaken.