Horror films have the power to freak you out, to terrify you, to disturb and unsettle you. And often enough, along with inspiring some combination of the aforementioned emotions, certain horror films just beg the question WTF?! Like, almost anything Takashi Miike has ever directed. Or Antichrist – I’m sorry, did that fox just speak? Whether the bizarre puppetry of Hausu or the skull sex of Headless, the orifice’s point of view camera angles in Enter the Void or the queasying sibling relationship in Pin, horror movies can hit that unsettling nerve. So let’s just embrace it today, shall we? Today we count down the five (or six!) best in WTF?! horror.
6. 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. Notorious horror novelist and co-scriptor Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And director Lucky McKee – in his most surefooted film to date – has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing. Indeed, the advanced screener I watched came in a vomit bag.
Aside from an epically awful performance by Carlee Baker as the nosey teacher, the performances are more than just good for the genre, they’re disturbingly solid. McIntosh never veers from being intimidating, terrifying even when she’s chained. Bridgers has a weird way of taking a Will Ferrell character and imbibing him with the darkest hidden nature. Even young Zach Rand, as the sadist-in-training teen Brian, nails the role perfectly.
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.
5. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)
The hell?! Why? What?! Good God.
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.
4. Baskin (2015)
Welcome to hell! Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol invites you to follow a 5-man police squad into the netherworld, where eye patches are all the rage, pregnancy lasts well under the traditional 40 weeks, and you don’t want to displease Daddy.
The serpentine sequencing of events evokes a dream logic that gives the film an inescapable atmosphere of dread, creepily underscored by its urgent synth score. Evrenol’s imagery is morbidly amazing. Much of it only glimpsed, most of it left unarticulated, but all of it becomes that much more disturbing for its lack of clarity.
The further along the squad gets, the more often you’ll look in horror at something off in a corner, that sneaking WTF? query developing along with your upset stomach.
The central figures in this nightmare are one eye-patch wearing helper who enjoys tossing his or her hair over one shoulder, and the breathtaking father figure played by Mehmet Cerrahoglu. There is no one quite like him.
Cerrahoglu’s remarkable presence authenticates the hellscape. Evrenol’s imaginative set design and wise lighting choices envelope Cerrahoglu, his writhing followers, and his victims in a bloody horror like little else in cinema.
3. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)
A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, The Ordeal sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down.
Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz’s script scares up the darkest imaginable humor. If David Lynch had directed Deliverance in French, the concoction might have resembled The Ordeal. As sweet, shy singer Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse.
The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.
Du Welz animates more ably than most our collective revulsion over the idea that we’ve evolved into something incapable of unaided survival; the weaker species, so to speak. Certainly John Boorman’s Deliverance (the Uncle Daddy of all backwoods survival pics) understood the fear of emasculation that fuels this particular dread, but Du Welz picks that scab more effectively than any filmmaker since.
His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.
2. Possession (1981)
Speaking of sex and monsters – wait, were we? – have you seen Possession? WTF is going on there?
Andrzej Zulawski – writer/director/Czech – created this wild ride with doppelgangers, private investigators, ominous government agencies, and curious sexual appetites. It’s more precisely fantasy than horror, but it feels like David Cronenberg meets David Lynch, which is a pairing we can get behind.
Sam Neill plays Mark. Mark has just left his job – a mysterious position with some kind of lab. He’s being offered a lot of money to stay, but he needs to go home. We don’t know why.
Back at home, he greets his genuinely adorable son Bob (Michael Hogben). Bob – the names is so normal, and yet feels so unusual for a small child. Mark’s wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) is also at home with Bob. There’s nothing normal about Anna.
Mark and Anna’s relationship boasts an intentional artificiality – a queasying sexuality – that makes it hard to root for either of them as their marriage deteriorates. Anna, it seems, is in love with someone else. Is it the sexually open – really, really open – Heinrich? Is it a bloody, mollusk-like monster? Is Mark boning Anna’s mean friend with a cast on her leg? Does Bob’s kindergarten teacher bear an unreasonable resemblance to Anna? Is anyone caring properly for Bob?
These questions and more go basically unanswered in a deviant, summary-defying, fantastical bit of filmmaking that mocks the idiocy, even insanity of obsession and boasts a handful of weirdly excellent performances. And sex with a bloody mollusk monster.
1. Gozu (2003)
If you are looking for genuine lunacy in film, your search should begin and quite possibly end with filmmaker Takashi Miike. His shit is nuts. Truth be told, there are scads of Miike films that could have populated this list because even his tamest, most logical, no-puppetry films are wild rides. So when he starts coloring way outside the lines, expect to be surprised.
This one starts off as a yakuza film – one guy on a mob-style assignment – then descends into absolute madness.
Minami (Yuta Sone) has been ordered to assassinate his feeble-minded yakuza boss Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), but he’s conflicted. Then he loses him and wanders, in search, into – you might say it was the Twilight Zone, except this place is considerably weirder. There’s a minotaur. An electrified anal soup ladle death scene. Some seriously, seriously weird shit.
Like a walk through somebody’s subconscious, the film is awash in repressed sexual desires of the very most insane and unspeakable. There’s a comical element that’s almost equally unsettling. Gozu is not as violent as many Miike films – it’s violent, don’t be mistaken, but the horror here is more in unseemly behavior and wildly inappropriate imagery. It’s just stuff you can’t unsee.