When I was young slip of boy I was pretty much scared of most horror films. I genuinely didn’t want to take a bath after seeing Jaws The Revenge as a five year old. When I see it now I laugh at what a fool I was and basically every aspect of that film. When I watched Critters I had to keep checking under all the sofas and beds in my house for creepy little fuzz balls and the first time I watched The X-Files episode ‘Squeeze’ I couldn’t go anywhere near ventilation covers or fire places.
As time goes on and more horrific and general unnerving films I viewed I find it true that your tolerance for horror grows. When I watched RoboCop as a kid I thought it was the most disgustingly violent thing ever now I can watch something like Martyrs without flinching.
The moment I broke my horror-bone forever came when I watched a documentary about demonic possession. This was back in 1997 when The Exorcist was still banned in the UK. Me and brother watched the doc as an excuse to see clips of this film we had heard so much about. When the first clip popped up I began to laugh (the classic defense mechanism against horror). It was the scene where Regan is finally overcome by Pazuzu, flipping up and down on her bed screaming in terror, I thought she looked like a deck-chair folding back and forth. I began to laugh and then it was smacked clean off my chubby cheeks as she threw her head back, eyes all white and growled that inhuman hissed. I instantly hid under the covers, peering out to punish my young mind some more with a head-spin, levitation and green vomit. I was scared. No, no I was fucking petrified. That was the last time a film has struck such a base level of fear and revulsion in me. I have since gone on to watch the whole film a few times, it’s brilliant but it still does things to me.
These days I find that no horror film, be it a gore-fest or a slow burn chiller really feels me with that same primal instinct to just turn off dread. In the 6-7 years there have only been two occasions where I felt the need to turn the film off, that left me feeling dirty and unnerved after watching them… and they weren’t even horror films.
The first was Lady Vengeance. Eager to see it after falling in love with Oldboy I found the overall film disappointing. But there was a certain scene in it that I just didn’t see coming or expect to happen (it’s been a few years since I watched so please excuse if my memory ill serves). Tracking down the man who wronged her our Lady Vengeance comes across some video tapes belonging to the man, they show children he has kidnapped and plans to kill. One video shows a child with a noose round his neck, stood on a chair and crying out for his mummy. We hear a sharp kick to the chair and although the scene cuts before we see the little boy executed the sound alone felt like a punch to my stomach. I felt shocked that not only had the film gone that far but also that I had felt such a visceral reaction. It was the only time I could remember since The Exorcist when I wanted to turn the film off. Anything to do with kids and old people really get to me, having heard so many stories of the Moors murders and the horrible reality of child murders it was disturbing to be allowed to see so much of a scene that will have sadly played out in real life.
Day Of The Locust, a film out in the seventies but I only got around to watching a couple of years ago had a similar effect. Again I thought the film overall was okay but the ending will stay with me forever. Throughout the film we’ve seen satirical swipes at the nature of Hollywood and the deceitful ways of every character involved. The only innocent in the whole film is Homer Simpson played by Donald Sutherland. A man is consistently humiliated and downtrodden through out but remains pleasant. In the end his is pushed too far when a androgynous little boy/brat who has been throughly annoying throughout throws a rock at Homer’s face drawing blood.
Snapping and in an uncontrollable rage Homer chases the boy-thing down, knocks him down and stamps on him screaming in horror at his own life whilst the boy screams in terror. That scene alone surprised me a bit. What happens next really took me down. As a crowd of autograph hungry, film star loving pedestrians gather round the boys dead body they quickly descend into mob mentality, grabbing Homer and thrusting him above their heads as though they are taking him to the gallows. Homer screams with fear again as thousands of hands, like zombies begin tearing at his flesh. William Atherton’s character stands by being the only person asking for calm but he is crushed in the ensuing mob and lets out a cry of despair just as Homer’s body is torn limb from limb. Atherton looks on as the scene turns into something resembling Pink Floyd’s The Wall as fire rages and the mob suddenly appear wearing masks. It’s all pretty trippy considering that until that point the film had been a slightly off-kilter drama. But the climax descends into full blown horror with child murder, a lynching and the death of the one innocent man in the entire film.
If you’re still here thanks for sticking with me. I know it’s a bit of an indulgent, mammoth piece but I am genuinely curious to know what are everybody else’s disturbing film moments. The moments that made you want to turn off the TV or made you feel a real gut reaction because after all… that’s what good cinema is supposed to do.
Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC. Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.