One’s love of Horror films stem from a love of being scared, and what the best horror films do is spook, disturb, and shock. A world is constructed just for you to watch as its characters are treated to the worst horrors of their fictional lives. Imagine the shock of being in the theater when Janet Leigh got hacked to death in Psycho. How about the horror of watching a once baby faced Reagan rape herself with a crucifix in The Exorcist? What about the people who witnessed Leatherface kill Kirk with one swing of a hammer as Kirk’s legs twitched and kicked? What these three classic scenes do, flawlessly, is shock the viewer so thoroughly that the whole tone of the film has been altered.
Of course, these scenes, as well as these films, are iconic to the horror genre. When a post-embryonic alien rips through Cain’s chest at breakfast, that’s a game changer. It’s also so iconic that chances are if you haven’t seen the film, you probably already know of the scene. Same goes for when Freddy dices Tina into oblivion as Rod watches her skin slice open in front of him, but sees no culprit. That’s both the joy and sorrow for those who enjoy that feeling of euphoric shock – the greatest scenes in horror history have been soiled by word of mouth.
So where does one go when he or she has that inherent, even animal like instinct to feel that feeling to which there is no name? How do you get your chance to spoil the fun for the next generation of horror cinephiles? Well, unless you suffer from adult onset amnesia, you can’t go back and experience what those god like filmmakers set out to create. However, you can find new experiences.
So I’ve created a list to get you started on your journey to become an even dirtier bastard version of your dirty bastard self. Since I’m the dirtiest dirty bastard I know, I feel like the perfect guide for you.
Now, some of you, if not most of you, have already seen these films, though there might be a gem or two you haven’t gotten around to see. However, this is a list created for those who may not have seen as many horror films as your ordinary, run of the mill horror fan. For that reason, I’ve made this list mostly spoiler free. Of course, I’ve added dummy-free clues for those curious to what scene I am referring to, or as a point of reference for those needing clarification for when they do see the film. Please, do yourself a favor and see the entire film before resorting to youtube just to see the scene. The point of this list is to guide you through a vast wasteland of shitty horror films and place you smack dab in the middle of terror, so don’t cheat yourself.
This list is not necessarily a definitive list, as I am sure to have left a few films off that many seasoned horror afficianados will no doubt point out. Also, this is not a list of the best horror films since 2000, although many are considered to be among the best. This is simply a list of the greatest tonal changes in horror since 2000 using shock as a catalyst.
There are rules to this list that immediately disqualify most films. First, it must be a quality film made by a talented and steady hand so films like Gutterballs and Headless won’t make the cut. Second, the film cannot be a splatterfest a la Eli Roth’s love letter to Cannibal Holocaust, The Green Inferno. Third, the film had to have been made this century. The fourth rule is that it cannot be a remake or a sequel like Evil Dead, or Jeeper’s Creepers 2. Finally, the film cannot be what some consider “torture porn” like A Serbian Film or The Human Centipede, although some people consider number 2 on this list as just that, I disagree and give reasons why.
One last note: it does not matter when the scene takes place in the film as long as it’s efficiently shocking and it changes the tone of the film. That means it could happen in the beginning or the end. So take a gander at the list and let me know what you think.
(I’m gonna need to see some I.D.): Yes, it’s mainstream horror, but this little gem of a genre piece offers something new to the “Bad Seed” realm. In our culture, there is something deeply disturbing about an evil child, and Esther is up there when it comes to kiddie killers. However, there is more to Esther than meets the eye. She’s manipulative, cold, calculating, and why the hell won’t she take off those stupid ribbons? When this film came out, everyone who had seen the film talked about this iconic scene. The plot is simple enough to follow and the acting is top notch, so even if this film doesn’t blow you out of the water, you’ll more than likely enjoy the scene in question.
If, for some reason, you don’t remember the scene then all I can say is that you can tell a lot about a person by their dental hygiene.
(Let’s take the train, girls): So this film came out in 2001 but it feels a whole lot older. Also, it’s insanely bizarre, however, it deserves its place in Japanese horror along side giants like Ringu and Ju-On. The film serves as a metaphor for Japan’s subservience to the status quo as well as their zombie like addiction to youth pop culture. It’s not a film for everyone, and chances are most people will not enjoy this type of horror since the narrative structure is flimsy and meandering. Still, certain scenes still manage to shock and disturb. If you decide to take a gander at this Japanese cult classic, when the movie gets all Kubrick Ziggy Stardust, don’t say I didn’t tell you what a bizarre film this is.
Even though I hate to give much away, you won’t have to wait very long for this scene to appear, so you can always turn it off if its not your cup of tea and still claim you saw the scene. The scene may not make you jump, but it will make a mess.
(Watch that fence, Thor!): This is perhaps the most meta film on this list, however, once you see the scene in question, you’ll understand why this is on the list. TCITW was a breathe of fresh air when it premiered in 2012. The genre was stuck in a rut, and honestly, I still can’t believe a major studio greenlit a project like this. Though the film did not do well enough to shake up the genre, it was able to firmly plant itself into the world of cult status, and for good reason. The film was a complete surprise for anyone thinking it was just about some kids going up to a cabin in the woods where horror ensues. For the kids, horror does ensue, but for the audience it was so much more.
Since the point of the film was to serve as a metaphor for Hollywood horror, the scene in question challenges the hero status in horror films. You will not be able to get past this scene – it’s a real shocker.
(Always the last place you check): If you enjoy the work of Guillermo Del Toro then chances are this film will be your cup of tea. It’s not overly violent, in fact, there isn’t much gore at all. Still, the airtight plot, wonderful acting, amazing cinematography, and brilliant direction will manage to spook and disturb you to your core. Now, Del Toro did not direct this film, it was Bayona, but his presence is heavily felt in its theme. Some may consider this to be more of a dark tragedy, but make no mistake, this film belongs among the heavyweights of foreign horror.
You will no doubt have to work for the scene in question as the plot is thick, however, once you witness it, you can’t unsee it. If you are having problems finding this scene then just remember that when things are lost, looking below and surface and close to home is key.
(Don’t worry, this guy will save us!): Yes, this was a project greenlight movie, and no, you shouldn’t hold it against this film. Glad we got that out of the way. Horror was just about turning it’s head into the realm of extreme cinema with France leading the way, but it was also opening the door to allow comedy back into the picture. Feast is silly, sophomoric, ridiculous and a gross out fest. Still, if you’re into that sort if thing, this is one of the better options out there. Unfortunately, the studio got cold feet and decided to quietly distribute the film instead of rolling the dice. Only a year later a horror/comedy/gross out film named Slither opened wide and completely bombed, so maybe they were onto something.
The shocker really sets the tone here, and like TCITW, it upends the hero archetype on its head, so make sure you hold onto yours.
(Where did you say we were going?): When Sam Raimi does a film called Drag Me to Hell, you drag your ass right to the theater. If you’re a fan of Raimi’s early work then you have definitely seen this film and know the scene very well. When this movie came out the horror genre was still trying to crank out its upteenth Saw film. The Japanese remake period was over so giving Raimi a vehicle to drive us back to his roots was and still is a treat. This film has all the makings of a classic Raimi film: an ancient curse, a mouth loving witch, a creepy handkerchief, and a promise of a major payoff. Go see this film if you haven’t already.
Again, you’ll have to work for this scene, but when you see it, you’ll be happy you did. Watching it gives you a sinking feeling that is sure to horrify those closest to you.
(Can I get a light?): This film put TI West on the map with this little throwback gem. Now I can go on for hours about the choices West made to put this cult classic together, but this isn’t a review. Still, solely from a filmmaking point of view, everything from the film stock down to the art design was flawless. Now, some people felt the film was too slow. So be it, however, if no one had told you, you would never know this film was made this century. This is a slow burn type of film, but until a certain scene takes place, you really have no clue what our protagonist is up against.
Expect a shock so great you won’t be able to feel your face afterwards.
(If I only had one more!): When Frank Darabont does Stephen King, good things happen. Well, good things happen for the audience, not so much for the characters in The Mist. With King and Darabont, you knew you were in for a throwback sort of film. Get a bunch of people from town and stick them in a solitary location, then terrorize the shit out of them. Still works! The acting and story are top notch and is pretty much what you’d expect from the duo, but none of it prepares you for the shock of what’s to come. It’s one of those scenes you see coming but never think they would pull the trigger on.
This scene will have you shaking your head for days and will stick with you far after you’ve seen it.
(What’s for breakfast? AND Don’t mind her, she’s been here all along): So you have to be wondering what’s number one when Martyrs doesn’t make the cut, still this is thought to be one of the most disturbing and controversial films to come out in the past decade if not more. I mentioned earlier that France led the way in extreme cinema, and this film was the crème de la crème of French extremism. The plot is thick and the filmmaking is pretty amazing, still, this movie is not for everyone. Some might even argue that this film is torture porn, however I highly disagree and so does a large amount of the horror community. It is intense, yes, but the social commentary and inventive structure make this piece an important film in horror history. If you are at all sensitive to gore and violence, then please stand far away from this one.
So this is a two for one kind of deal as this film uses shock as a segue of sorts into the next chapter. The first shocker comes during breakfast and the second is a PSA about wonders of moisturizing and the dangers of scalpels.
(Sure, I’d love some head!): The film that started it all for French extremism takes the top spot here, and deservedly so. Extreme cinema was only just beginning in the states and abroad, so a guy named Alexandre Aja decided to raise the bar from the get go. This is not as extreme or violent as Martyrs, but that doesn’t stop the scene in question from blowing your mind into oblivion. The film itself has some problems, I’m not disputing that, but Aja was able to effectively give gore and quality in equal amounts. Now, it may not be as violent as Martyrs, but it does pack in the gore pretty heavily, so be prepared if you decide to give this one a go.
The shocker comes as, well, a shock. So shocking it may give you cotton mouth.