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).
9. Fanny and Alexander (1982)
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)
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)
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.
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