For the first week of Horror Month — I mean, October — I want to look at movies I watched as a kid in what can be considered the most despised of my five broad categories – Disturbed Horror Movies. This broad category encompasses revenge movies, goreporn, torture porn and other films meant specifically to unsettle the audience through horrific imagery and scenes.
Wait, you might be asking, was I really watching this type of “entertainment” as a kid? Of course! I watched far too many to count, including the vile Faces of Death (1978), a film depicting a variety of real and fake death scenes (apparently less than half were fake). I don’t remember much about my viewing of Faces of Death, but I do remember I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Sleepaway Camp (1983) and The Toxic Avenger (1984) very well. For some reason, the latter two movies truly disturbed me as a kid. I have strong memories of watching Sleepaway Camp with my sister (on many occasions, perhaps as early as 8 or 9 years old), and being utterly fascinated and reviled by the ending scene (no spoilers!). This might have been the first time for me that a horror movie made me have some (some) sympathy for the villain.
Many movies attempt this sympathy, though most fall completely flat. I Spit, I think, did a good job at portraying the monstrosity of man (men) and what kind of damage — physically and emotionally — they can do to a woman. The first half is utterly brutal in its display of violence against the main character (showing how contemptible and unsympathetic the men are) , while the second half unfortunately might celebrate the revenge a little too much. I’ve failed at rewatching it several times now, though I’m not sure if it’s simply because of the barebones story, or because the visceral nature of the violence is too off-putting. Either way, I don’t think I fully understood or appreciated what the hell was going on in that movie as a kid.
Speaking of I Spit and Sleepaway, there was definitely a theme of revenge happening during the 1970s and 1980s, though it’s still going strong today with Kim ji-woon’s stunning and violent I Saw the Devil (2010) and Park chan-wook’s revenge trilogy which starts with the phenomenal Old Boy (2003). But it’s not just the Koreans, as America had its non-horror Kill Bill (2003) and David Slade’s Hard Candy (2005) while the Swedes had the gorgeous The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and Thailand had Shutter (2004). All of these movies except Kill Bill and Hard Candy have had sub-par American remakes (a remake for I Saw the Devil is in the works).
I can’t go without saying that revenge horror has been around for decades, going as far back as Freaks (1932) where a circus midget and his friends of outcasts (all real life “freaks”) are seduced by a cold hearted trapeze artist. When done right, a movie that gets you to sympathize with a brutal killer can be thrilling, or, at the very least, thought provoking.
On the other hand, The Toxic Avenger, like all Troma films, is rude and crude with the gore level set to maximum. Unlike some of the other movies I watched, Troma films were outrageous in their violence, to the point that even my 8 year old self could appreciate the humour. Guts ripped out, kid’s heads crushed, blood everywhere. The first time I watched it was with my father, so I guess there was some level of parental guidance happening. Subsequent Troma viewings were definitely alone, so I assume that meant he didn’t appreciate the over the top nature of those movies or I was being more secretive in my movie viewing. I wouldn’t necessarily say Toxie is good (I couldn’t finish watching it again as an adult, sadly), but it’s definitely a guilty pleasure.
As a kid, I seemingly sought out gory movies, and eventually found my way to the grand father of horror movies – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). The movie, considered by some as an unconscious desire for tyranny within the German state was called “the first true horror movie” by Roger Ebert and influenced everything from horror to film noir. It’s actually available here on Youtube for your viewing pleasure (no sarcasm intended). Watching older movies then led me to the surrealist Un Chien Andalou (1928), also available on Youtube. Un Chien Andalou is probably most famous for it’s opening scene in which a woman’s eyeball is sliced open by a razor. The symbolism is deep and important within the context of that movie, but it also can’t be ignored as being an opening for other directors to raise (lower?) the bar on gore. As a kid, that scene disturbed me more than anything Troma could deliver. In the end, though, movies like New Zealand’s schlocky Brain Dead (1992), Japan’s beautifully gory Tokyo Gore Police (2008), America’s surrealist Eraserhead (1977) and Canada’s postmodern Videodrome (1983) simply couldn’t exist without these silent era pioneers.
I’ve obviously left out a lot of movies, but the above small samplings are specifically the ones I remember affecting me as a kid to some degree, but also movies I feel are important historically (in relation to being gory or revenge-based horror movies at least). What revenge, gore or otherwise disturbing movie brought you that queasy feeling?