Some movies push the boundaries, and some go over the edge. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad films, but occasionally it doesn’t work out in the movie’s favour. Take Pasolini’s Salo, for example. That was originally going to be on this list, but I had trouble calling it a ‘great movie.’ It has a point, and Pasolini pushes that point, but for me it just goes so far over the top that the point becomes harder difficult to see, especially when you have to sit through prolonged sequences of the oral consumption of human excrement. Thus, it is not present, though for all that are interested I do not consider it to be a bad film. Just… too much to handle. And I have no wish to see it again, so why should I recommend it to others at all?
With that out of the way, let’s get down to the point: the following is ten movies that are visually graphic to the extreme, but are still great movies that I believe are worth seeing. I’ve done lists like this before, but this is the first time I am actually making proper recommendations. Seriously, if you think you can stomach them, I definitely recommend seeing these movies, which is why I’ve included a meter rating the film’s graphic content on a scale from 1-10. In no particular order:
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A great masterpiece from Stanley Kubrick, this film examines both the senselessness of violence, and society’s heartless attempts to control it, even to the point of completely removing the humanity from people, leaving them soulless zombies incapable of freedom of choice. There’s a fair chunk of violence and sex in here, but not too much that it becomes overpowering. Graphic Content: 6/10.
Certainly one of my all-time favourite true horror movies, Takashi Miike’s brilliant Japanese masterpiece Audition starts off as more of a romantic comedy/drama more than a horror movie, which makes the film’s sickening final 30 minutes all the more shocking. I definitely recommend this one, but the following quote alone from the film should be fair enough warning: “This wire can cut through flesh and bone easily.” Graphic Content: 8/10.
Probably the least graphic on this list, Todd Solondz’s controversial social drama features a man masturbating over a teen magazine, which is enough graphic content to warrant it a place on this list in my opinion. Later on it is implied he rapes a child, and the film’s denouement sees a young boy finally reach orgasm after various unseen attempts at masturbation. Also, a guy tells his son he would rather jerk off over him than rape him. And another man masturbates and uses his semen as glue for an envelope. Most of this isn’t really shown on screen that much, if at all, but just the combination of it all in one film earns it a spot here. Graphic Content: 4/10.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)
Michael Rooker plays real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in this intriguing, effective thriller. His dubious relationships with friends are put to the test as his murderous urges take over. There’s a lot of graphic stuff in here: the aftermaths of several murders, as well as murders being committed, an horrific rape scene, and the worst scene of them all: a home invasion sequence which has to be one of the most disturbing home invasion sequences in any film I’ve ever seen, as well as a depressing ending which does not let the viewer off lightly. Graphic Content: 8/10.
Giorgos Lanthimo’s 2009 masterpiece has a premise as interesting as it is disturbing: a wealthy couple keep their children hidden inside their mansion for nearly 20 years, convincing them that it’s too dangerous for them to leave. The father hires a prostitute to satisfy the son’s sexual urges in various unerotic, almost mechanical sex scenes that seem incredibly stale and cold. Among the visual disturbances in Dogtooth: a shot of explicit pornography, the aforementioned stale sex scenes, the quite graphic (but not real, of course) murder of a cat with a pair of garden shears (hello, Gummo fans!), and one of the characters mutilating their own face with a dumbbell. Enjoy. Graphic Content: 8/10.
Funny Games (1997)
You’ve probably heard of this one. It’s from Michael Haneke, my favourite living filmmaker. I don’t think it’s his best film at all, but it’s still a pretty frickin brilliant movie. It examines violence and doesn’t really take a moral stance. Haneke is brutally honest; violence happens, and if we expect there to always be a reason, we must prepare to be disappointed. Violence is often unmotivated, and it is this violence that is more terrifying. If you’re looking for a happy ending… or, just happiness in general, keep looking. Graphic Content: 6/10.
Lars von Trier’s most controversial movie, if it’s possible to make that statement, tells of a couple who go to vent their grief after the death of their child at a cabin in the woods. When the wife reveals her thoughts on the mistreatment of women throughout history, and as we begin to learn that she blames herself for her son’s death, we realize that the film is taking a distinct turn and confronting misogyny frankly and honestly, at some times going over the top. Warning: prepare to see a LOT more than you anticipated of Willem Dafoe and (particularly) Charlotte Gainsbourg. Graphic Content: 9/10.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
Quite similar to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990), but also distinctly different, Man Bites Dog is shot as a documentary, where a group of filmmakers follow a serial killer around, eventually becoming caught up in his rapes and murders and even participating in them. When I first saw the film, it’s infamous and incredibly disturbing rape scene was cut from the version I watched. Imagine my surprise when I bought the Criterion DVD and gave it a watch. Graphic Content: 8/10.
Last Tango in Paris (1971)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s most controversial movie is also his best. The beautiful tale of an incredible love affair, it is painted with graphic sex scenes including the infamous ‘butter’ sequence (I’ll leave it up to your imagination). It also features some really poignant scenes, such as the coffin sequence which clearly inspired a scene from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999). Despite the somewhat off-putting sex, this is a really amazing movie I do not regret seeing. Graphic Content: 8/10.
The most graphic film on this list, Irreversible is also one of my all-time favourites. While definitely not for the squeamish, Irreversible makes an important point about violence and it makes it well. By reversing the storyline, he also reverses the way we examine the violence, making the film ultimately a hundred times better than if it were in chronological order. You’ve probably heard of the controversy: a man’s head is bashed in with a fire extinguisher while several men look on, masturbating graphically; and of course, in the most famous sequence, Monica Bellucci is raped for about six minutes, before being graphically beaten and having her face smashed into the ground for an additional three minutes. All in one unwavering take. Director Gaspar Noe also employs the use of low-frequency sound which is completely inaudible but is used to initiate nausea in the audience and make them feel sick. It works. While Irreversible is graphic, it manages to keep all its violence in the first half, and the last forty minutes is a relieving break from the violence, with scenes of prolonged dialogue, happiness and smiles, before the final incredibly ironic scene in a park. Again, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s brilliant. But it is certainly not for everyone. Graphic Content: 10/10.
That’s my list. What do you think of the choices? Which ones have you seen? Leave a comment below.