Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movies listed below, stop reading now.
It isn't always easy to come up with things to write about. This post was almost entitled "5 Movies that Changed the Way I Looked at the World." Then I realized that most of the movies on such a list were quite disturbing to me, so I retitled it. Each of the movies on this list had a profound effect on me when I first saw them. Most of them still do.
Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece, loosely based on Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness," is the first film I can remember seeing that made me feel as though I were trapped in someone else's nightmare. While searching for insane Green Beret Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the jungles of Viet Nam, Captain Ben Willard (Martin Sheen) finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the madness that was the Viet Nam War, and Coppola's unflinching camera sucks the viewer in, taking us on a nightmarish funhouse ride that really isn't all that fun. Coppola nearly suffered a nervous breakdown while filming, and Sheen had a heart-attack. How's that for disturbing?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 - Director Tobe Hooper (Funhouse; Poltergeist) took twelve years to follow up his 1974 original about a family of cannibals in rural Texas. A radio DJ (Caroline Williams) is the latest victim of the insane family, captured and tortured by them as Dennis Hopper's former Texas Marshall is trying to hunt them down. Bill Mosely (House of 1000 Corpses; The Devil's Rejects) plays a character named "Chop Top," who constantly picks and eats the dead skin off his scalp (using the heated hook of a wire hanger to scrape it from beneath his toupee). But the movie really takes a turn for the surreal when Ms Williams finds herself trapped in the family's new home: the tunnels beneath an abandoned amusement park. Terrifying and deeply disturbing.
Saw - Say what you will about the Saw franchise, but the first film from writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, is one of the most original and disturbing horror movies ever made. Two men (Whannell and Cary Elwes) find themselves chained in a filthy industrial bathroom, with no memory of how they arrived there. On the floor between them is a bloody corpse with a cassette player in its hand. It turns out that they are the latest victims of the serial killer dubbed "Jigsaw," who lays elaborate puzzles for his victims to solve. If they fail, they die horribly painful and bloody deaths. Dark, creepy and surreal, Saw was a sensation at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and though there have been (to-date) three lesser sequels - Saw V is scheduled for release this coming October - it remains one very sick and twisted film. It is also responsible for the "torture-porn" trend of several recent horror films, including Eli Roth's Hostel movies. And it features the best surprise ending since The Sting (sorry - I figured out both The Crying Game's and The Sixth Sense's surprises long before they were revealed).
The Blair Witch Project - Another Sundance sensation, Blair Witch is the single most successful independent film ever made. Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, Blair Witch is the supposedly "true" story of three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams) who enter the Maryland woods to make a documentary about a local urban legend. The three soon find themselves lost and very afraid as someone or something terrorizes them in the dark. Aided by the web's first "viral" campaign, The Blair Witch Project was believed by many to be an actual documentary, and earned over 100 times it's initial costs in box office receipts. As an avid camper myself, the thought of being lost and terrorized in unfamiliar territory caused a very visceral reaction. I very distinctly remember thinking, about 2/3 of the way through the movie, "Enough! Leave them alone!" When I saw it a second time with my then boyfriend, I thought he was going to pull my arm out its socket.
The Fly (1986) - The same year that Tobe Hooper was revisiting his cannibal loonies, Canadian director David Cronenberg revisited a 1958 Sci-Fi classic, letting loose his very individual take on the story of a scientist who tries to make a teleportation device, but creates a horrifyingly efficient gene-splicer instead. Cronenberg's films have always been disturbing. His previous films, Rabid; Scanners; The Brood; Videodrome and The Dead Zone, all share elements of (in)human depravity that most people would rather not think about. But The Fly may well be the most human of his films, despite its monstrous titular character. Jeff Goldblum's mad-scientist Seth Brundle is both eccentric and adorable, while Geena Davis gives one of horror's best performances as Veronica Quaife, the journalist who falls for Brundle and is emotionally devastated by his experiment gone terribly wrong. Gruesome physical FX from Chris Walas, a powerful score by Howard Shore (as noted in an earlier post, one of my favorites) and astounding performances from both Goldblum and Davis help to make The Fly one of Cronenberg's best films. And while he continues to explore the more disturbing aspects of the human condition (Dead Ringers; Naked Lunch; Crash; eXistenZ; A History of Violence and Eastern Promises), The Fly will be forever and indelibly etched into my psyche as one of the most disturbing films ever made.
Se7en - David Fincher directed one of the most reviled sequels of all time (Alien 3) and one of the greatest anti-establishment movies of all time (Fight Club). But Se7en is the one and only movie that I cannot bring myself to watch a second time. Brad Pitt (in his second best performance, after Fight Club) and Morgan Freeman play police detectives on the trail of a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a pattern for his crimes. From the very creepy opening credits of this film, I knew I was in trouble. The unnamed city in which the story takes place is a grim, gray place where it rains constantly. The killers' victims are horribly tortured and Pitt's wife (an ephemeral Gwynneth Paltrow) ends up (SPOILER ALERT) as the killer's penultimate victim. I would go into more depth here, but as I said, Se7en is the one movie I have not been able to watch a second time, even though I own a copy on DVD. It's that disturbing. Maybe one day I'll be able to watch it again and report in more detail. Until then, know that this is the single most disturbing movie that I have ever seen. And that's saying a lot.