Horror films seek to evoke fear in a variety of ways; some opt for creeping dread and some for unbearable tension, while others employ jump scares. And then there are those films that seek to elicit a primal sense of disgust, leaving viewers recoiling in their seats from the disturbing imagery on screen. While horror tends to be subjective, even the most hardened of horror fans are oftentimes not immune to this particular tactic.
2019 had no shortage of disturbing moments in horror, rendering audiences uncomfortable with boundary-pushing scenes. Whether it’s taboo-breaking sex or violence, we look back at the year’s ten most disturbing moments in horror.
In case it’s not apparent, there will be spoilers…
The Furies – Facial Peel
This Shudder exclusive slasher follows a kidnapped woman forced to play a deadly game where creepy masked killers hunt women. Things get incredibly gory quickly, as evidenced by this early kill. Out of the gate, a killer catches one of the women and pins her to a tree. He puts his ax to her face. The struggle to save herself means that the ax’s blade is slowly driven into her flesh until it separates her face from her skull entirely. Slow, precise, and visceral.
Pledge – Medieval Hazing
A group of college freshmen looking for acceptance and a fun party instead find pain and suffering at the hands of an elite fraternity. College hazing gets downright brutal in this horror thriller, and sometimes even medieval. One of the victims suffers a violent end when he’s held down to a table, a rat is placed on his bare stomach that’s then covered with a metal pot, and his tormentor takes a blow torch to the pot. In a desperate bid to escape being burned alive, the rat chews down into the pledge’s soft flesh.
Midsommar – Ättestupa
The Hårga people perform numerous bizarre rituals in their Midsommar celebration, though Ättestupa is the first to give the visiting outsiders a clue that something is seriously amiss. After a cheerful feast, everyone gathers at the base of a cliff. Above, an elder woman slices her palm open and smears it on a rune-carved rock before plummeting to her death below. An elderly man follows suit, only a boulder breaks his fall, and he doesn’t die upon impact; though his body is shattered and mangled. The Americans watch in horror as a group of Hårgans calmly bring over an oversized mallet to finish the job in primal fashion.
Brightburn – Wrecked
Brightburn offers up a few standout gore moments, including the cringe-worthy eye trauma moment glimpsed in the trailers. The worst of what happens to that particular victim, though, happens off-screen. It’s the drawn-out death of Uncle Noah that disturbs the most, however. Brandon picks up his uncle’s truck and drops it; Noah’s jaw collides with the steering wheel. Completely severed, Noah tries to hold his jaw back together while slowly gurgling and choking on his blood. All while Brandon watches in mild curiosity. Noah’s hand drops with his final breath, giving the viewer one last ghastly sight of carnage.
Hagazussa – Goat’s Milk
Set in the 15th century Alps, Hagazussa is a tale of foreboding isolation, paranoia, and superstition. As a child, Albun is forced to watch in horror as her mother deteriorates and dies from illness. The superstitious villagers believe them to be witches, so the death leaves her entirely alone. As an adult, Albun doesn’t have much company outside of her goats. The profound depths of her loneliness and repression are conveyed through one of the most disturbing moments of the film; the eroticized milking of her goats. It’s as illustrative as it is uncomfortable.
Knife + Heart – The Murder Weapon
A modern-day Giallo set in Paris of 1979, Yann Gonzalez created a vivid ode to grindhouse cinema. The plot sees a masked killer targeting a gay porn production company. Victims tend to die brutally in Giallo, but the brutality reaches an excruciating and shocking level here. The killer seduces his victims in clubs, engages in foreplay, and pulls out his black dildo. It hides a knife, which he then uses to penetrate his victim. The double meaning is very much intentional.
High Life – The F-Box
Claire Denis’s latest is a slow, meditative burn that refuses easy categorization, meaning it won’t appeal to everyone. Regardless, the film’s ability to disturb on a profound level applies to all viewers. Sex and violence are power aboard the deep space vessel, and Denis gets explicit. We’re given an up close and personal look at exploding heads, explicit sex and sexual violence with close-ups of blood, sweat, urine, and semen; and High Life is particularly fond of the latter. Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) is determined to collect all the sperm in her bid to see a baby carried to term in space, and she uses the “Fuckbox” as a tool for that as well as relieving herself. The first introduction to it disturbs; a small boxlike room filled with leather straps and dildos, with Dibs writhing on it in sweat. No 2019 film contains as much body fluid as this one.
Lords of Chaos – Suicide
This biopic that tells of the ‘90s Norwegian black metal scene through the perspective of Mayhem cofounder Euronymous (Rory Culkin) blends horror and drama with biography. The horror is at its most prominent with the early demise of the band’s vocalist, Dead (Jack Kilmer). On stage, Dead tends to cut himself and bleed over the audience. Offstage, his self-destructive ways culminate in a graphic suicide. Dead slits his wrists and throat with his knife, then shoots himself in the head with a gun. It’s a shocking and disturbing scene rendered even more uncomfortable by how explicit director Jonas Åkerlund films it.
The Nightingale – Carroll Family Devastation
The Nightingaleby Jennifer Kent, an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Kasia Ladczuk. nnAll photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.”,”created_timestamp”:”1493310284″,”copyright”:”All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.”,”focal_length”:”70″,”iso”:”200″,”shutter_speed”:”0.0125″,”title”:”The Nightingale – Still 1″,”orientation”:”1″}” data-image-title=”The Nightingale – Still 1″ data-image-description=”” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?fit=300%2C169&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?fit=740%2C416&ssl=1″ class=”alignnone wp-image-3591952 size-full” src=”https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?resize=740%2C416&ssl=1″ alt=”” width=”740″ height=”416″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w, https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?resize=300%2C169&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?resize=768%2C432&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Still1.jpg?resize=1024%2C576&ssl=1 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 740px) 100vw, 740px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>
Jennifer Kent’s period set horror thriller didn’t shy away from graphic violence. Numerous rape sequences left viewers- unaware of what they were getting into- seriously shook. For all the trigger warnings and unflinching depictions of race and violence, though, it’s the early inciting event that left protagonist Clare Carroll desperate for vengeance that disturbs on a profound level. When her husband attempts to earn her freedom from the British army, in a drunken stupor no less, the soldiers visit the Carroll family home in retaliation. They take turns raping Clare in front of her husband, before murdering him. When Clare’s baby won’t stop crying, one of the soldiers bashes it against a wall, leaving both Clare and the viewer traumatized.
The Golden Glove – Grim Introductions
Based on the true crimes of serial killer Fritz Honka, The Golden Glove isn’t for the weak-hearted or weak-stomached. Writer/director Fatih Akin wants to make sure you know what you’re getting into straight away with one graphic opening. Beginning with a shot of an older woman’s leg hanging off the side of a bloodstained bed in a dingy bedroom, walls covered in nude photos of women, Fritz enters from out of frame. He drags her limp body out of bed and onto the floor with a thud. He strips her of her undergarments and pulls out a saw, proceeding to cut her down to more manageable pieces. It’s a horrible declaration of the degradation to come.