Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the latest zombie movie out! DMovies brings to you the filthiest, eeriest, most shocking and supremely scary horror movies ever made. From alien sex predators in Berlin to necrophiliac crossdressers in the US and glittery ghosts in Brazil, our list will take you on a horrific tour of death, fear, paranoia, deformed creatures, gooey fluids and oppressed sexuality.
These 10 films are much more innovative and subversive than the average horror shtick seen nowadays. The genre has become so commoditised and formulaic that it is increasingly difficult to be original and audacious when making a scary movie. So we have looked back in time, south and across the pond for the dirty gems that have challenged the pre-conceptions and rules of the horror film industry, as well as various political and social taboos.
Now open your eyes and read on. This hellish ride through the history of horror will both shellshock and hypnotise you. You might even recognise your inner demons in some of these movies. It’s now time to face and kill them!
10. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011)
Let`s start our our creepy list with a bizarre Spanish gender-bender. After all, who hasn’t dreamed of being kidnapped, having a sex change surgery forcibly performed upon you and then being made your captor’s sex slave? Well, just in case you haven’t, Almodóvar has done it for you.
In his 17th feature, the Spanish filmmaker – best-known for his sexual twisted, loud and colourful dramas and comedies – treads into the dark territory of unorthodox scientific experiments. Dr. Robert Legard (Antonio Banderas) tracks down and abducts his daughter’s rapist Vicente. Over a period of six years, Robert he physically transforms Vicente into a replica of his late wife, and calls him Vera. He consistently rapes his creation, who struggles to retain his sanity and true identity. The Skin I Live In is based on Thierry Jonquet‘s novel ‘Tarantula’.
9. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
This extremely unconventional Italian horror film stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany, but then realizes that the organisation is a front for something far more bizarre and supernatural. The plush setting, the vibrant colours, the frantic pace of the narrative, the music score composed by progressive rock band Goblin make plus a top-drawer cast including the Spanish musician Miguel Bosé and the German actor Udo Kier make Suspiria a deliciously odd piece, unmatched in its visual and stylistic verve.
A remake, made by director Luca Guadagnino and starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, is set to be released next year.
8. At Midnight I’ll Take your Soul (Coffin Joe, 1964)
Joe terrorizes a small religious community in his search for the perfect woman to bear his child, in a low-budget film that has shocked and terrorised Brazilians for more than 50 years. This startlingly graphic horror movie – the first ever made in Brazil – included plenty of murder, blood, sex and nudity, often all of them together.
Coffin Joe both directed and starred in his first film, which spawned a film career and a cult following to this date. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is a true work of art dealing with the social and sexual angst of a very puritan nation entering an oppressive military dictatorship. In this sense, it’s also a politically prescient movie. Coffin Joe – whose real name is José Mojica Marins – has a very clear vision and firm control over every detail of his production. Much of the film was made in very long, single takes and Marins even glue glitter to the actual movie print in order to create the ghosts, due to budgetary restrictions. The gore effects are extremely convincing. The result is a dream-like movie with dash of surrealism.
7. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016)
You have probably seen plenty of movies about the antichrist and priest exorcists. You might even keep a crucifix on your wall or a Wholy Bible in your drawer in order to keep the evil spirits away. None of that would work in Under The Shadow, a British-Iranian-Jordinian production set in Iran, and which shuns the Christian tradition of many Western horror movies in favour of the Islamic demons. The film also blends war with a criticism of the country’s religious police and fundamentalist traditions.
It’s 1988, and Shideh (Narges Rashidi) decides to stay in Tehran with her daughter Dorsa despite the insistence of her husband Iraj. He is a doctor working for the military, and he has been assigned to an area of more intense fighting. Shideh’s flat is suddenly hit by an unexploded missile, which instead brings evil spirits known as Djinn inside it. A neighbour explains to Shideh: “They travel in the wind. And they will take away one of your possessions, and will not leave until you find it”. Read our review of the movie here.
6. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
It’s not everyday you get a truly sweaty and vibrant sex in a scary movie, but British director Nicolas Roeg did just that. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland star as John and Laura Baxter in one of the steamiest and most realistic sex sequences ever made. The action takes place in Venice, while the couple mourn the accidental death of their young daughter Christine, who drowned in a lake.
Don’t Look Now is an explosive mixture of sex, guilt, premonitions and a very elusive ghost in a red coat – who John believes to be his daughter. The film in very unusual in its unusual romantic setting, hybrid drama-erotica-horror genre, and the final sequence is guaranteed to give you nightmares for years to come. The writing is on the wall: this is not the time to be naughty, you should be mourning your child instead! The film is adapted from the short story by Daphne du Maurier (who also wrote the short story in which Hitchcock’s The Birds was based in 1973).
5. Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)
Berlin is a grey and ugly city, particularly in the lonely and isolated west side years before the Wall came down. It is is the perfect setting for the scrawny, pale and neurotic Anna (played by Isabelle Adjani, in a performance of a lifetime) to start a romantic and sexual dalliance with an alien, which slowly replaces her loving husband Mark. This likely is most absurd tale of love and adultery you will ever see, and an often overlooked dirty gem of cinema.
The movie includes a very graphic sex scene with the strange creature (below and at the top of this article), which progressively morphs into a human being. There is also a miscarriage in a subway passage, where Adjani screams and ejects liquids from pretty much every orifice of her body. Possession will make you reassess your relation with underground passageways, the German capital and… meat grinders!
4. The Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968)
The horror starts already in the first minute, as Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny Blair (Russell Streiner) visit a dead relative in a cemetery. John is promptly attacked and killed by a walking corpse, in what would would become the most influential and audacious zombie movie ever made. This unrelentingly bloodclurdling and claustrophobic black-and-white movie will leave you entranced for every one of its 96 minutes.
The audacity of The Night of the Living Dead lies in many subtle elements, which may go unnoticed to some of the less attentive eyes. It exposed cold-blooded racism through a very unexpected and brilliant twist in the very end of the movie. The movie is also a commentary on the hysteria and fearmongering of the Cold War, as well as the invisible consequences of military action, radioactive and atomic experiments: radiation from the Soviet Union is briefly mentioned as the likely cause for the return of the dead. There is also a child feeding on her dead parents, in extremely gruesome and nauseating sequence.
3. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1926)
Halloween openly promotes death, devils, witches, zombies and… vampires. The vampires are the remarkable creatures because they survive on blood and it’s almost impossible to kill them. Nosferatu is one of the earliest vampire movies ever made, as well as an exponent of elegantly dark and lavish German Expressionist movement.
Murnau knew all the secrets of optics. His obsession with camera technique was such that he held the apparatus as if it was a sketching pencil. For him, the camera is a character. The vampire of Nosferatu is frequently placed in oppressive spaces that emprison, such as windows and arches. Here prison is immortality.
2. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Hitchcock’s masterpiece is the father of all splatter movies and it has also the most famous sequence in the history of cinema, where hapless Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is murdered in the shower – to the incredibly vigorous and catchy soundscore composed by Bernard Herrmann.
The film is subversive in so many ways that it’s difficult to decide where to start: it’s the first mainstream to open with a woman in her bra after having unmarried sex, and it’s the first film ever to show a flushing toilet; it blends the Freudian Oedipus complex with necrophilia; and spikes it up with with split personality disorder and and cross-dressing. Hitchcock goes even further: he kills his film star halfway through the film, a completely unacceptable unforeseen device 56 years ago. The experience was so powerful that Anthony Perkins – who played the murderous Norman Bates – was said to be psychologically tormented for the rest of his life. Perkins was a closeted homosexual who died from Aids-related complications in 1992.
1. Freaks (Top Browning, 1932)
Scores of viewers left the cinema halfway through the movie, with American novelist F.Scott Fitzgerald running outside to vomit, and a woman suing MGM for a miscarriage apparently caused by the images on the screen. Tod Browning’s masterpiece was so controversial and heavily censored, that it had to be cut down from 90 to 64 minutes. Sadly the 26 missing minutes have since gone missing. The movie also triggered the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines two years later, regulating anything deemed indecent at the time, from sexual innuendo to infidelity and violence.
Viewers at the time failed to realise the message within this highly provocative and sophisticated piece, which was very far ahead of its time. In the film, the physically deformed “freaks” working in a circus are inherently trusting and honorable people, while the real monsters are two of the “normal” members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers in order to obtain his large inheritance. The freaks were played by people with real deformities, including the half-boy (Johnny Eck), the siamese twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton), the living torso (Prince Randian) and many more. Freaks is one of the most wronged films of all times; ironically and sadly it was treated as unfairly as the amazing human beings it portrays. Perhaps it’s us film viewers that are freaky and disturbed after all; it’s time we show our love for these poor movie creatures!