Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Horror Marathon: Top 10 Scariest Non-Horror Films


Yesterday, I mentioned that the majority of horror films do not scare me. Blood, guts, ghouls, guns, knives – these are things that do not phase me in the slightest. Real life terror, however, frightens me to no end. Seeing shit in movies that, depending if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, could happen to just about anyone – that’s the stuff that creeps in and stays with me.

So, for something a little different, here’s a list of the scariest non-horror films I’ve ever seen (all of which, for the record, I love).

10. Oz (1997-2003)
Okay, yes, an admitted cheat, as Oz was a groundbreaking television show, not a feature film, but let’s move past that. Now, some of you might be thinking that it was bad parenting on my dad’s part to let me watch Oz at such a young age. (It went on air when I was 11, and I watched every episode). But right around the time a prisoner was thrown butt naked into The Hole, bruised and beaten by the guards who put him there, begging to see the light of day, I looked over at my dad who raised his eyebrows before saying, “Yep, that’s why you don’t commit crime.”

Lesson learned.

9. Fanny and Alexander (1982)
It’s that bastard Lutheran Bishop, Edvard Vergerus. The first third of this Ingmar Bergman masterpiece is full of color. Even in death, there is light. But once the setting shifts to the concrete, cold home of the concrete-hearted Bishop, the film becomes a source of sheer terror.

After learning that his new stepson, Alexander has spoken poorly of him, the Bishop calls for a little family meeting in which he gives Alexander a chance to explain himself and admit wrong doing. When Alexander asserts his innocence, the Bishop presents a few methods of punishment, which he says will teach Alexander a “love of truth.” Christ.

I haven’t even mentioned the dread of having Alexander, much later in the movie, quietly snoop around a house in search of a ghost known as Oscar. Fanny and Alexander is far from a horror film, but certain sequences represent the most terrifying things Bergman ever put on screen. You never know what’s coming.

8. The Vanishing (1988)
To discuss why The Vanishing is so mortifying would be to reveal its tricks, which is indeed criminal. The movie concerns itself with the sudden disappearance of a woman, and her boyfriend’s subsequent search to find her. That’s all I’ll offer. Just know that The Vanishing is the type of movie you have fully figured out during its first act. That is until minutes later, when you realize you’ve had it all wrong. It keeps surprising you right until the bitter end.

7. The Cove (2009)
The Cove is an Oscar-winning documentary that chronicles a tiny Japanese town’s annual slaughter of tens of thousands of dolphins. The dolphins are rounded up and kept in the titular area so that scouts can pick out the next Flipper for their Sea World and Ocean World-type park. Those left over are killed for food (the meat of which is revealed to be highly toxic), or for no good damn reason.

I saw The Cove three times in the movie theater. First at Sundance, where I sat literally jaw-dropped and dumbfounded. The second time, I was angry. Furious, manic, red. The final time, I was so very sad. I’ve never treated this blog as a forum to promote my animal rights activism, and I’m not going to start now. Let me just say that, as it relates to The Cove, I simply don’t get it. And I never will.

6. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007)
Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning masterwork asserts a tone of unease from frame one. In patient, unique fashion, it throws us into the middle of the story, and doesn’t begin to explain what is happening, rather, encouraging the viewer to play catch-up.

The film slowly, hauntingly, mesmerizingly details the tribulations of two young women over the course of a single day, as one of them attempts to have an illegal abortion. What’s interesting about 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is that rarely is the terror ever portrayed on screen. It’s done with a sudden, screaming voice, or a painfully long tracking shot of a woman walking into certain doom. This is melancholic cinema at its absolute finest.

5. Deliver Us From Evil (2006)
When we first meet priest Oliver O’Grady in Amy Berg’s startling documentary, he is sitting idly in a church, telling us that the only way to tell his story is with the absolute truth. And so begins O’Grady’s matter-of-fact recollection of the hundreds of children he sexual abused while hiding behind the guise of the Catholic church. Although O’Grady continually reminds us that he’s sorry, his tone reflects otherwise. The way in which he recounts his tales of horror is the same way I might explain the excitement behind taking out the trash. His indifference is utterly devastating.

And then we see it. We see O’Grady, who lives free and clear in Ireland and has never spent day one behind bars, calmly walking along the edge of a playground. Kids play and laugh behind him, and he stands, talking.

And that’s just in the film’s first 10 minutes.

4. Irreversible (2002)
Much has been made about this film’s nine-minute rape scene, which takes place in one unbroken shot and is as horrible as it sounds. That’s bad, yeah, but it ain’t the half of it. From the moment Irreversible begins, we’re reminded that “time destroys all things,” before being shoved head first into the dizzying madness of revenge.

Irreversible is the most challenging film on this list, for a multitude of reasons. I mention this because, despite its horror, I consider it a masterful work of art. All things considered, it’s actually quite remarkable, if you can stomach it.

3. United 93 (2006)
A few weeks ago, I published a post titled 10 Great True Story Movies You Already Know the Endings To, and I’m shocked to find that I didn’t include Paul Greengrass’ perfect depiction of that damn dark day.

We all know how United 93 concludes, but everytime I watch it, the film ends with me curled up in a ball, hoping that the sea of hands flooding the cockpit will somehow manage to level the plane out.

There’s a problem I have with movies of this sort, and that is the constant cutting away to the military war rooms, disastrously taking us out of the real story at hand. But somehow, Greengrass manages to achieve a perfect balance here, cutting away from the chaos on the plane to the confusion on the ground. Honestly, if the film stayed on the plane the entire time, it might’ve been too much to handle. 

2. Blood of the Beasts (1949)
By this point, I’ve detailed my admiration for Georges Franju’s 20-minute documentary Blood of the Beasts at great length. So, at the risk of over saturation, let me calmly state that Blood of the Beasts is as mortifying a film experience as I’ve ever had. The moving images of several Parisian butchers matter of factly going about their day will be ingrained my mind forever. For better or worse.

1. Deliverance (1972)
I’ve heard people describe how Jaws stripped away any sense of enjoyment they could possibly have from the ocean. That’s a notion I never understood until the first time I watched John Boorman’s masterpiece, Deliverance.

You see, since seeing this film, I have become virtually incapable of enjoying the woods. The lush forests, the plush trees, the fall leaves, the quiet cabins – hell, you can have them.

And, believe me, it’s not just the rape that mortifies me (although, yeah, that’s a big part of it). Moreover, like many films on this list, it’s the overall sense of dismay and unease that Boorman instills so flawlessly that creeps me to no end. From the minute those four city boys drive up to what looks like an abandon shack in the middle of the Georgia wilderness, you just know things aren’t going to go well. And even when they—

Well, shit, I don’t want to ruin all the shocks here. If you haven’t seen Deliverance, then I recommend it as highly as I can recommend any brutal, horrific masterpiece.


Halloween Horror Marathon Posts:

39 comments:

  1. Great list idea and some of these would definitely make my list.
    I only saw the first season of Oz (I got distracted by the West Wing and never started season 2) but that scene in the season closer where the prisoners take over the prison is horrifying. Same goes for when it happens in Natural Born Killers, it made me so anxious.

    I agree with you on the Vanishing and Irreversible, I had to stop Irreversible just before she went into the underpass and return to it the next day because I felt so uneasy, in large part due to the subliminal soundtrack (or whatever the technical tern is).

    I haven't seen Deliver Us From Evil and likely won't, but one religious documentary that terrified me was Jesus Camp. I'd probably go as far as saying it's the scariest film I've ever seen. Seeing these children getting basically brainwashed was so upsetting.

    Deliverance is pretty horrific once events turn sour. Thankfully in my time in the south I haven't seen anything that reminds me of the movie. But if I hear Duelling Banjos then I'm sure I'll start running as fast as possible.

    A film I'd include would be Argo, purely for that opening 15-20 minutes at the US embassy where the workers are burning all the files, and just know that they're going to be breached at any instant. I can't think of a tenser scene.

    A few other shouts for me would be Requiem for a Dream, A Clockwork Orange, the two obvious scenes in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, and although it's only one scene, when Bilbo goes all evil in LOTR: TFOTR.

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    1. Thanks dude.

      Oh man, that Oz riot is crazy indeed, but dude, season one of that show was by far the tamest of the series. Shit. Got. Wild.

      Irreversible achieves a supreme terror, no doubt. That high frequency sound you mentioned only adds to it. Yikes.

      Jesus Camp is fucking horrifying. When that kid goes up to the girl in the bowling alley? Dear god. I don't know if Deliver Us From Evil is worse. It's just all... bad.

      The opening to Argo was SO intense. He really did a superb job of setting the mood there.

      All great choices from you!

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  2. Another great list, for me I think I would definitely put Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men as two films that made me actually FEEL two certain kills in those. I'll always remember the breaking of the guy's face by a bottle in PL and Julianne Moore's demise in the other, always... again great list, Alex.

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    1. Thanks buddy. Oh, two great choices there. That scene in Pan's is so nasty in the best possible way. Yikes. And Children of Men... poor Julianne.

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  3. Four words, man: Requiem for a Dream.

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    1. That movie really freaks you the fuck out, huh? Rough stuff.

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    2. Dude, just thinking about it makes me uncomfortable in my own skin.

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    3. And now I kinda want to watch it... maybe.

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  4. Deliverance was fucked up. That is scary. So were Irreversible, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days, Fanny & Alexander, United 93, and The Vanishign.

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    1. For sure man. For. Sure. Glad you like my picks!

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  5. Lol 0/10.

    Anyways as I said, No Country for Old Men is the scariest film I have ever seen due to Anton Chigurh.
    Also I was terrified of the frog rain in Magnolia (why I sort of hate that movie).

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    1. Aw really? Well, even though they are freaky, I recommend them all highly.

      Bardem is perfect in No Country. Perfectly scary. I had no idea you were terrified by the frog rain in Magnolia. That's kinda funny :)

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  6. I've seen most of these, and I couldn't agree more. Irreversible would probably be my #1 though, and I really need to see The Cove and The Vanishing.

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    1. Irreversible is such rough shit, isn't it? Definitely scope out The Cove and The Vanishing when you get a chance.

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    2. You guys are brave to watch Irreversible. I won't even watch I Spit on Your Grave, let alone Irreversible. Too damn disturbing for me. :-)

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    3. Oh I will tell you right now that I Spit on Your Grave is infinitely worse than Irreversible. I Spit is pointless, exploitative torture porn. Irreversible is a horrific morality tale with a gold heart.

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    4. Yeah, I'll check those two out. I Spit on Your Grave isn't on my watchlist, but that's not to say I won't ever watch it. ;)

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    5. Interesting ... I'd never heard that. :-) In any case, I doubt I'd be able to stomach either one. But if I change my mind, I'll go with Irreversible. 10 years ago, I swore I'd never watch Pulp Fiction, and now it's one of my favorite movies. So I rarely say "never."

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  7. Great list. I may do a post of my own on this so I won't mention suggestions, but I am really pleased to see Deliverance, 4 Months and Fanny and Alexander here. Thoughtful choices.

    In regards to Blood of the Beasts: I recommend you watch Stan Brakhage's 1971 documentary film The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes. It is 30 minutes of actual human bodies being cut up, autopsied and embalmed. There is no soundtrack whatsoever. THAT is a filmgoing experience I will never forget. Ever. I know it sounds utterly repulsive and sickening, but it's an important movie and one I'm glad I saw. I gave it 10/10. It is on YouTube if you wish to view it. Until the day I die I will have its images etched into my brain. Definitely one for my Top 10.

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    1. Nice man, glad you like the list.

      Whoa, The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes sounds fucking intense. I'll have to be in the right frame of mind to check that one out. But I've been reading about it, and the general consensus seems to be that it is necessary. Thanks for the recommendation. Now the wait until I'm brave enough to sit through it.

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  8. While reading your commentary on Oz, I thought, "Damn! Alex's dad is hard-core!" :-) He was right, of course. The prospect of getting your ass kicked by the police and being arrested is one good reason not to commit crimes.

    On your list, I've only seen Deliverance. I've read that James Dickey (I think that's his name), the author of the novel that is the source of this movie, intended this story as a sort of parable, not a literal representation of any part of the South or of Appalachia. Though frankly there are some areas in this part of Virginia that are pretty damn close.

    I will never, ever be able to bring myself to watch The Cove. Cruelty to animals is just too soul-crushing to me.

    The Constant Gardener was frightening to me because some of the events in the story, dealing with unethical experimentation on people in "third world" countries, were based on actual events, albeit loosely.

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    1. Ha, poppa knows best. Good life lesson, right there.

      I've heard that about Dickey's novel as well, and either way, he wrote an incredible novel, which was adapted into an incredible film.

      The Cove is rough. Rough. But essential, I think.

      Ohh The Constant Gardener is a great choice. Really scary stuff there.

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    2. A good life lesson indeed. :-)

      I haven't read the novel, but Deliverance is a great film.

      I agree that films like The Cove absolutely need to be made, and I admire the courage of people who create and watch movies like that. I just can't do it.

      And I really like The Constant Gardener. Of course, Ralph Fiennes can really do no wrong in my eyes. ;-)

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    3. Good stuff all around. Favorite Fiennes performance? I have to go Goeth.

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  9. I saw Blood of the beasts and it was truly sickening, I definetly agree about it being scary - cruelty is one of the scariest things in the world. Irreversible would definetly be on my list too.

    What always frightens me is stupidty, though, as stupid people don't comprehend consequences therefore they will do what they want, without caring. Compliance is scary in this way.

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    1. Cruelty is a notion that scares me as well, but not torture porn cruelty, more subtle things.

      You know, had I thought of it, Compliance definitely would've made this list. That movie was scary as shit, for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

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  10. Great idea for a list, you are right that Blood of the Beasts is a scary watch, mostly because it's real life! I didn't finish Irreversible, because I found it so disturbing!!! The Cove didn't freak me out nearly as much, don't know why, should have done, because it's brutal what is revealed.

    The creepy guy in jail in Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss, just thinking of his face makes me cringe ( :

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    1. I've heard that a lot of people can't/didn't finish Irreversible, but honestly, I know it's a tough watch, but the ending to that film brings everything into perspective. It's one of the best movie endings I've ever seen.

      Oohh Into the Abyss is a great choice. That remorseless bastard was cringe worthy indeed.

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  11. Alright man, now you've got me wanting to see most of these! I have only seen two -- Irreversible and Deliverance -- but both are amazing films well worthy of your inclusion here. It's so hard to recommend Irreversible to others, but damn if it isn't an impressive piece of filmmaking.

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    1. I agree, a hard film to recommend for sure, but a worthy one in my book. Hope you enjoy the other flicks I mentioned here. Be really curious to read your thoughts!

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  12. That's a brilliant idea for a list and a great post as well, Alex. I'm genuinely impressed when I find myself scared while watching a film that doesn't belong to the horror genre. I find it extremely interesting actually the way that plenty of movies, such as those you mention in your fantastic post, manage to incorporate moments of terror and scariness, sometimes even better than a full-fledged horror movie. Besides, there's not a hint of doubt that the most frightening moments, not only on screen but in real life as well, can come out of nowhere, in the midst of a place we may think they shouldn’t belong, surprising you when you’re vulnerable and don't expect at all to be scared or disturbed by something. I think that every one of your picks fits perfectly to that list and I also love every movie of your list, with the exception of "Irreversible".

    I've never had a problem with rough and violent stuff on screen. I admit I've seen far more brutal and disturbing things on cinema (I've seen films like "A Serbian Film", for Christ's sake!) As you can see, my problem with Gaspar Noe's film isn't how repulsive many of its images are. My problem with "Irreversible" is, as much as I hate saying this about any film, that I think that it's a really bad film (I'd rate it with an "F" or a 0/10). It's easily among the worst things I've seen in a movie theater in my entire life. To me, it's a pointless, exploitative and extremely hollow film. To me, it's so obvious that Noe wants to traumatize and brainstorm his audience, trick them to think that what they're watching is "art cinema", when actually it's an offensively cheap, relentlessly nihilistic and shamelessly vacuous movie garbage. Of course, that's just my opinion, but yes, I strongly believe that this is is movie garbage, torture porn dressed up as an arthouse movie experience. From the attention seeking, but literally unwatchable camera work to the ridiculously bad-written screenplay, from the wooden characters to the extremely pretentious plot structure, everything in this film is a straight-up insult to the art of cinema. I rarely get to say this for a film, but I really hate "Irreversible". I'm so fine with shock cinema and provocative cinema, I'm just not fine at all with bad cinema. The tagline of this film is "Time destroys everything", so instead of confirming something like that spending 97 minutes of his life watching this painfully awful film, I'd recommend to everyone out there searching for controversial and provocative work to prefer the work done by Stanley Kubrick or Michael Haneke instead.

    However, as I've said, any of your picks fit perfectly to this list, "Irreversible" included as well, even if, to me, the latter ends up terrifying for the wrong reasons. I frankly dig every choice of yours here and I can think of countless scenes in films such as "A Clockwork Orange" and "Blue Velvet" that could fit there as well. I can now laugh at that, but Large Marge’s Tale from "Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure" scared the hell out of me, when I was a child. That's the beauty of filmmaking, though, surprising and scaring the viewers, when they don't see it coming at all. Again, man, a truly great list and a fantastic bunch of films (well, with the exception of "Irreversible", of course).

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    1. Wow man, that’s some vehement opposition there. But while we disagree about that film, I so appreciate that we are able to share our opinions on films (both positive and negative) in such a well-intentioned way. It can be difficult to come off as balanced and articulate when offering such strong criticism online, but you managed to do it here, for which I am thankful.

      And honestly, there are few things that bore me more than arguing about who is “right” and who is “wrong” in regards to liking/disliking a film. Best to just acknowledge that we have differing opinions of Irreversible and move along. You know?

      I am really glad you dig the list, and I think A Clockwork Orange and Blue Velvet are GREAT picks. And dude, that segment from Pee-scared the shit out of me when I was a kid too! So funny.

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  13. Yeah man, couldn't agree more with you. Trust me, there's not "right" or "wrong" anyway. We share our opinions on a film and they just happen to be different, that's all. You have your opinion, I have mine, it's all good. I find it extremely sad that people don't know how to disagree anymore. We don't have to agree on everything. To me, that would be terribly boring. Personally, I don't want everyone to agree with me just for the sake of agreeing. I've always welcomed diversity of opinion. Besides, it feels absurd not to and talk about art at the same time, you know what I mean? Art is supposed to broaden our critical understanding of the world and having a different opinion, let alone expressing it in such a well-intentioned way, as you've said, is something that's not only totally welcome but also extremely productive. And quite refreshing in this day and age.

    Glad you dig my picks and so happy to hear that you shared a similar experience as a kid with that part of "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure". Man, that was scary as hell for a kid to watch. I was probably 8 or something when I watched it! And dude, "Trainspotting" had plently of scary moments, don't you think? I watched it at 17 with my girlfriend at the time and she literally grabbed my arm while watching Renton's hallucination scene with the dead baby crawling on the ceiling! So damn creepy.

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    1. Definitely refreshing, that's a perfect word for it. I love that we can talk about art without trying to change each other's minds. Production and refreshing, indeed.

      Yeah that Trainspotting scene is crazy. Very, very disturbing shit.

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  14. The Hunt, a little lie and then your life is destroyed forever.

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  15. That cut to the digging in the vanishing and the drowning wave of realization that comes with it is simply fucking terrifying. Glad you highlighted the film again here, I love it :D Superb movie.

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    1. SO good. More people need to see it. That's a film that perfectly understands madness.

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