Horror comes in so many flavors. Whether you prefer bloodless psychological thrillers, graphic Torture Porn, or anything in between, the genre’s got you covered. With so many films available at our very fingertips, it can be overwhelming to try and find one that’s really worth your time. For this list I’ve decided to focus on the subgenre that’s nearest and dearest to my black little heart, Extreme Cinema. If you’re reading this then you are probably already aware of the extreme movies that have bubbled up from the depths into the mainstream horror consciousness such as A Serbian Film, Martyrs and The Human Centipede franchise. What you may not be aware of is all the films out there that are lurking in the underground, numerous other hidden gems that show you art willing to push past the boundaries of what’s found in conventional cinema.
These are films that provoke reaction and force us to confront subject matter that many of us would rather turn a blind eye to. It’s the truth within these films that make them such vital and essential pieces of art, whether that truth is based on its creator’s own darkest emotions or simply an accurate depiction of real events. Violence in the real world is horrible, it is disgusting and it does provoke an extreme reaction so the art that reflects it should do the same. As someone who has plumbed the depths of the darkest and most grotesque cinematic art ever made I can confidently say that there has never been anything created in a film that hasn’t had a real-world equivalent which was even worse. Art mirrors the world, not the other way around, but you don’t have to take my word for it, just watch the news on any given day and see for yourself.
Due to the inherent subjectiveness of art and a lack of any kind of standardized rubric for measuring quality, it can be difficult if not impossible to make any kind of list that is able to definitively capture the best in any given genre. What I have compiled here is a list of ten of the best films that not only exemplify legitimate Extreme Cinema at its finest but also may not be as familiar to the average horror fan. Whether you’re looking for a jumping in point to Extreme Cinema itself or are curious about the few films on here that you may have missed, I hope that this list will serve as a helpful guide. As many of these movies can be hard to track down I’ve also included the best places to locate the films themselves, as of the date this article was published. I am of course omitting any ad supported services like Tubi because watching them on there is worse than nothing.
29 Needles (2019):
What it is: Francis Bacon (Brooke Berry) is a troubled man who uses alcohol and pain to try and abate the symptoms of his inner turmoil. As his self-destructive coping mechanisms become less effective and his bizarre hallucinations more prevalent, he is plunged into even more hopelessness and despair. A mysterious young man named Hans (Jamee Nicholson) may have the solution he needs when he offers an invitation to a secret society where there are no sexual limitations. Is this the cure he’s looking for…or just the beginning of a different kind of nightmare?
Why it’s great: 29 Needles is a perfect example of raw, unfiltered cinematic expression that gives no fucks and takes no prisoners. Writer/director Scott Philip Goergens clearly has a vision and that vision includes presenting unsimulated gay sex, mutilation, watersports, and blood-play as well as fetishistic acts that even I had never seen before (eyeball tube anyone?) Beyond the shocking content there is a compelling and harrowing narrative anchored by Berry’s incredible, method performance. Top it all off with some great Cronenbergian practical effects work that bring a giant sentient cock to life and you have a truly unique film experience.
Where to find it: Currently available at unearthedfilms.com on Blu-ray and DVD, diabolikdvd.com on Blu-ray and has been found on eBay. Not available to stream.
XXX: Dark Web (2019)
What it is: When it comes to salacious and provocative titles XXX: Dark Web really takes the cake. No, Vin Diesel isn’t suddenly taking his lame action franchise in a very bold new direction; what we have here an anthology film that plummets into depths of darkness rarely seen on film. The framing device has the nameless audience surrogate (Franz Dicarolo) searching the Dark Web for depraved jerk-off material and each segment is a video he clicks on.
Why it’s great: While there isn’t a lot in terms of story within each segment, the beautifully gruesome detail in the special effects and brilliant, committed performances do an excellent job of holding the viewers’ attention. Guinea Pig level eviscerations are just where the brutality in this film starts and before you know it you’re seeing graphic genital mutilation, explicit, unsimulated sex and even a scene that went to a level that I had never seen in a film before (which is saying a lot). The scene in question features a real video of musician/cutting performance artist Daniel Valient doing something that I don’t want to spoil but suffice to say it must be seen to believed. If you’ve got a strong stomach and very morbid curiosity then this is a trip you definitely want to take.
Where to find it: DVD sold through TetroVideo.com but is currently out of print. Not available to stream.
What it is: When an out of control car claims the life of a pedestrian, the two men inside are immediately arrested and taken into police custody. Inside their car the officers find a video camera with a tape that shows them graphically torturing a prostitute to death. The remainder of the film switches between the violent interrogation of the primary suspect in the killing, Goyo (Lex Ortega who also directed) and the graphic content the police find on tapes as the investigation moves forward.
Why it’s great: Atroz is able to achieve a level of disturbing, brutal violence that is rarely seen on film, even within the horror genre. While there are many films out there that showcase graphic gore, few are able to replicate the unflinchingly realistic, vicious, and sadistic ways the murders are depicted here. This can be attributed to the incredibly committed performances from the cast as well as the exceptionally crafted gore effects that are even more impressive given the film’s $7,000 budget. Most importantly, the film isn’t simply a collection of meaningless violence but instead is Ortega’s cinematic representation of the climate of hopelessness and fear that he himself and so many other residents of Mexico City experience on a daily basis. In a city that has an annual murder rate of nearly 30,000 and a conviction rate of less than 2%, that is certainly an understandable feeling.
Where to find it: Available on Blu-ray and DVD through multiple sources including Amazon, unearthedfilms.com, deepdiscount.com, Best Buy, and Walmart and has been found on eBay. Only available to rent or own on streaming through vimeo.com.
What it is: On their way back from a date, a young couple (Hiroaki Kawatsure and Kotoha Hiroyama) is assaulted and kidnapped by a nameless creep in a van (Shigeo Ôsako). Next thing they know they are being tortured in a room at an unknown location as the man tests their will to live and claims that he will let them go if they can sufficiently excite him.
Why it’s great: Given that Grotesque is light on story and heavy on torture, there are many who would simply dismiss this as a voyeuristic indulgence in suffering. However, there is more at play here as director Koji Shiraishi presents us with a visceral, bold piece of uncensored artistic expression that eschews conventional storytelling and strips down the experience to its raw, base emotional levels. The film itself is a meditation on the experience of watching violent content as it puts us in the position to not only cringe and root for the victims but also indulge in the suffering that the man is inflicting for his own pleasure. The excellent level of realism that both the actors and the SFX team bring to the production really put it over the top and make for a genuinely harrowing experience.
Where to find it: Both the DVD and Blu-ray are currently out of print but have been found on eBay. Available to rent or buy via streaming on iTunes and Amazon Prime.
What it is: The film begins in 1978 as on-screen text lets us know that the movie is inspired by true events. After an incredibly graphic opening scene the bulk of the film takes place in 2011 and follows a group of young Chilean women who rent a vacation home in a remote part of the country. Before long, the events of the past are catching up with them in a very brutal way.
Why it’s great: Gore and violence for its own sake is fun to see in a film but what really pushes it into the category of art is the meaning behind the shocking content. In this case, understanding the environment that it was made in is a key part to understanding what Chilean writer/director Lucio A. Rojas is expressing here. In 1973 Augusto Pinochet overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government and seized power as an iron-fisted dictator. Following that, the country experienced an unfathomable amount of death and suffering and the cruel scars of the past continue to rear their heads in the modern era. Like Atroz and A Serbian Film, this is an unflinching expression of the real world pain and fear that is born from living in a country where violence and horror is very much a reality.
Where to find it: Available on DVD only through Amazon, Target, Walmart and has been found on eBay. Available to rent or buy via streaming on Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube and Flix Fling.
What it is: There are some films (The Human Centipede for instance) where just the very concept is enough to shock and horrify most people. Another such film is Inside which tells the story of Sarah (Alysson Paradis) who is about to give birth to her first child and the mysterious nameless woman (Béatrice Dalle) who will stop at nothing to break into her house and try to cut the baby out of her.
Why it’s great: The New French Extremity movement brought us many great films around the first decade of the new millennium and this one is an excellent representation of the qualities that those movies embody. Like all of the notable films in the movement, this is exceptionally well made and features gorgeous shots, brilliant lighting design, and realistic, visceral gore. The two female leads both do an incredible job with harrowing performances that really bring the film to the next level. If you want a unique horror experience that delivers gruesome thrills and a tightly paced, unpredictable story then this is one you won’t want to miss.
Where to find it: Uncut import Blu-ray can be found on Amazon, Walmart, daaveedee.com and has been found on eBay while out of print uncut DVD can only currently be found on eBay. The R-rated version is available to rent or buy via streaming through Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and The Microsoft Store but you should stick with the uncut. The uncut streaming version can be bought (but not rented) on YouTube and Google Play.
Guinea Pig 6: Mermaid in a Manhole (1988):
What it is: For the uninitiated, the Guinea Pig films are a collection of underground Japanese horror films made between 1985 – 1988 that are notorious for their levels of sadistic violence and cruelty. The frequently bootlegged series gained exceptional notoriety in 1991 when Charlie Sheen (yes, Mr. Tiger Blood himself) watched the 2nd entry (Flower of Flesh and Blood) and reported it to the FBI, thinking it was a real snuff film. The 6th entry is considered by many fans to be the best and most grotesque of the series with its highly unconventional and disturbing story about an artist (Shigeru Saiki) who brings home a living mermaid that he finds in the sewer.
Why it’s great: Each of the films in the series has a self-contained story and as such can be viewed in any order, so if you want to see what the true Guinea Pig experience is all about, I recommend jumping right in on this one. Despite the fact that this story is actually somewhat atypical for the franchise (featuring a man trying to help a female character rather than torture her) it still manages to be the most grotesque and disturbing entry. The revolting body horror is brought to life through excellent practical effects as the artist paints with her multi-colored pus, pulls live worms out of her tumors, and cleans up piles of them from her bloody puke. Gather the family around and watch this one with dinner!
Where to find it: Used, out of print DVDs can be found on Amazon and eBay and box sets of all 6 Guinea Pig films have been found on eBay. Not available to stream.
American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore
What it is: Previously only available via increasingly hard to find VHS copies, the Guinea Pig series was first released to DVD in North America by Unearthed Films. Being a fan of the series himself, the company president Stephen Biro kicked off his own franchise as an homage to the cult classic with his directorial debut American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore. A spiritual successor to the original series, this film is similar in style to the first two entries as it features a light amount of plot and a focus on the graphic torture of two abducted women.
Why it’s great: Based on the above description of the film, at this point you’re either in or you’re out. For fans of the original series though, this serves as the prefect love letter to the franchise as it captures the gritty, dangerous feel that they invoked and possibly even surpasses it in graphic content. Limbs are laboriously sawed through, eyeballs are slit, and jaws hacked off with amazingly realistic detail and any fans of great practical effects work owe it to themselves to check this out. Like all great underground films this is an example of an uncensored, uncompromising artistic expression that hasn’t been watered down and sanitized for mass consumption. The barometer of what’s considered “acceptable” in art is always fluctuating and it’s content creators like Biro who push out against the edges and keep the doorway open for everyone else.
Where to find it: Available on DVD only through Amazon, Walmart, unearthedfilms.com, deepdiscount.com, fye.com and has been found on eBay. Available to stream only through midnightmoviesociety.com.
What it is: Brutal is a film that definitely lives up to its title. Divided into three sections, the first focuses on a character known only as ‘Man’ (played by the actor known only as Butch) as he gruesomely tortures a group of young women. The next section focuses on ‘Woman’ (played by the similarly mononymous Ayano) as she viciously dispatches men in comparably violent ways. In the third section….they meet.
Why it’s great: What starts off seeming like a run-of-the-mill torture porn ends up evolving into a unique, supremely fucked up love story of sorts with engaging twists and occasional detours into surreal territory. It’s a refreshing change to also see males on the receiving end of the abuse and the film actually has a lot of interesting commentary on the subject of gender itself. It also has no shortage of highly disturbing imagery (especially towards the end) that’s sure to linger in your mind long after the credits roll.
Where to find it: Widely available on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, unearthedfilms.com, deepdiscount.com, fye.com and has been found on eBay. Only available to rent or own via streaming at vimeo.com.
Visceral: Between the Ropes of Madness (2012):
What it is: Another film that lives up to its provocative title is Visceral: Between the Ropes of Madness. This brutal Chilean film tells the story of an unnamed boxer (writer/director Felipe Eluti) who tries to rekindle his failing career with one more fight against an undefeated opponent. The story unfolds in a nonlinear format to reveal why he is committing a series of horrifically gruesome murders and who the mysterious figure compelling him to kill really is.
Why it’s great: This film was clearly a passion project for Eluti and it shows in every detailed shot. The nonlinear format is deliberately disorienting and adds to the nightmarish, surreal feeling of the film but Eluti cleverly uses the boxer’s hair length as a guide point for differentiating between the timelines. He is also able to use simple techniques such as voice modulation and an uncanny mask to imbue the mysterious visitor (listed only as Judas in the credits) with an effectively menacing presence. Hardcore gore fans will also be pleased to know that the film is violent with a capital ‘V’ and if you thought A Serbian Film was the only one with the guts to feature an explicit skull-fucking, well, buckle up!
Where to find it: Widely available on DVD only on Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, unearthedfilms.com and deepdiscount.com and has been found on eBay. Available to stream on midnightmoviesociety.com and available to rent or own via streaming on vimeo.com, Google Play and YouTube.