From good old fashioned cannibal movies like Cannibal Holocaust to beloved gore fests such as the Saw franchise, horror films have the ability to evoke strong and often unpleasant emotions in their audience, whilst simultaneously remaining captivating enough for us to not look away. This is exactly why I love horror films – they’re a hell of a good time and if they’ve left me feeling a little too disturbed or queasy, then they’ve done a damn good job!
Here are some of the most gruesome scenes in horror that have caused me to have an adverse reaction, even though I enjoyed every second of it. It’s normal to lose all feeling in your limbs whilst watching Saw, right?
*READER DISCRETION ADVISED. GORY IMAGES FROM THIS POINT ONWARDS*
- 127 Hours (2010)
127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later), is a film based on the true story of Aron Ralston – a man who survived a hiking accident in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. The accident, which left Ralson’s left arm trapped between boulders for 127 hours (5 days and 7 hours), forced him to eventually amputate his own right arm in order to stay alive.
Whilst the film is a fictional depiction of events, James Franco’s portrayal of Ralston cutting off his arm with only a pocket-knife is no less haunting or easy to watch than if we had been there with him in real life. The film allows you to get trapped inside Ralston’s head as it takes him a good while, and a few attempts, to properly cut through his arm – and through his bones – and it’s a very unpleasant scene to endure.
- Prometheus (2012)
Ridley Scott’s Alien horror film franchise is full of exciting and gory scenes, and Prometheus is no exception to this rule. When Prometheus crew member Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) falls pregnant with an alien life form, conceived after intercourse with her alien infected boyfriend, she must take matters into her own hands when no one will help her abort the alien foetus.
Shaw jumps inside the ship’s automated surgery table to remove the squid-like creature from inside her stomach. The entire procedure, with piping hot lasers to the stomach, is visible on screen, and it looks both utterly painful and downright disgusting. The scene is also full of anxiety-inducing tension as, right after the fast stapling to patch her stomach back up, Shaw then has to fight and kill the now freed alien trapped with her inside the small, glass-enclosed space of the surgery table.
- Misery (1990)
In Rob Reiner’s Misery, an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, novelist Paul (James Caan) – famous for his series of romance novels – gets stranded in a blizzard when trying to deliver the manuscript of his new novel. Paul’s car goes off road and he wakes up in the house of Nurse Annie (Kathy Bates), who happens to be a huge fan of Paul’s romance series and doesn’t feel like letting him out of her sight any time soon.
In order to keep Paul confined to his bed and force him to rewrite his novel to her satisfaction, Annie does something incredibly gruesome, which is only ever referred to as “the hobbling scene.” Annie ties Paul’s legs up and bashes in his ankles with a huge hammer, which leaves him in immense pain and unable to walk. It’s really hard to watch, especially as it shows that sometimes the thing that goes bump in the night is actually a human being.
- Hostel (2005)
Eli Roth – often dubbed the “Splat Pack King” – creates a distributing scene in Hostel, which tells the story of a few college students who travel across Europe. They set off for Slovakia only to find themselves in quite a worrying predicament when they cross paths with a group of people who torture and kill their kidnapped victims.
There are many gruesome scenes in Roth’s films, but there’s always something about slicing through an Achilles tendon that makes me squirm with disgust. A Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák) slices through Josh’s (Derek Richardson) Achilles heel and removes his restraints, teasing him as he’s free to go but is now unable to walk. Whilst we don’t see the slicing actually happen on screen (like you do in the Stephen King adaptation Pet Sematary), we see the aftermath of Josh’s foot as he tries to walk, and it’s pretty disconcerting.
- Gerald’s Game (2017)
Gerald’s Game, another Stephen King adaptation, by horror director Mike Flanagan (Hush, Before I Wake), gives us both blood-red gore and the eerie supernatural to contend with. Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie (Carla Gugino) head to their private cabin in the woods in order to try and spice up their doomed marriage. Gerald ties his wife to the bedpost with real handcuffs to commence his ‘sex game’, however Gerald eventually suffers a fatal heart attack which leaves Jessie with no way of escaping her shackles.
Jessie begins experiencing terrifying hallucinations and delusions as she deals with her husband’s death, whilst constantly evaluating her own fate. Whilst Gerald’s Game is packed with uneasy moments, the most gruesome is when Jessie slits her wrists with broken glass and uses her own blood to slide out of the handcuffs. It almost doesn’t sound too bad, but when Jessie starts sliding her hand out, the handcuff catches the inside of her skin and she almost pulls the skin coating her hand right off. Gross!
- Audition (1999)
It’s perhaps no shock to see a Japanese film on this list – especially one directed by Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Lessons of the Evil) – considering Japanese horror films are usually extraordinarily terrifying and/or gory. Even though there’s worse out there, Audition sticks in my mind as it’s full of grim torture scenes. The film follows widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), whose teenage son convinces him to start dating again. This is when he meets Asami (Eihi Shiina), but their relationship isn’t all it’s cut out to be. Pun intended.
The worst scene is when Asami pushes needles into Aoyama’s eyes. The mere thought of needles going into someone’s eyeballs is horrifying enough, but watching it actually happen is something else entirely – it looks incredibly painful and beyond disturbing. Something else that adds to the terror is the juxtaposition of Asami’s young, beautiful appearance and soft, sweet voice as she sings “deeper, deeper” in Japanese, alongside the gruesome act she is performing – it’s really unsettling. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Asami then cuts into Aoyama’s left foot with sharp piano wire, moving it up and down cutting further into his skin, which most definitely makes you feel sorry for the poor guy. Dating just isn’t what it used to be.
- Cabin Fever (2002)
In his famous body horror film, Cabin Fever, Eli Roth brings us more disturbing scenes. Things start going very wrong for a group of college students spending Spring Break at a remote cabin in the woods when a deadly infection starts spreading amongst them.
Roth is no Cronenberg, but his body horror is extremely modern and effective. There are quite a few skin-tingling scenes as each character develops the horrendous skin disease, neither of which makes for a pleasant sight. The most hard-to-watch scene is when Marcy’s (Cerina Vincent) flesh begins to peel when she is shaving her legs in her bathtub. The sharp, piercing sound of the razor, alongside the visual of her bloodied and infected skin coming off is both repulsive and sickening to watch. It’s like nails on a dirty, bloody chalkboard.
- Saw V (2008)
Could this list exist without including at least one of the films in the Saw franchise? There are endless gruesome and gory scenes spanning across the right films, but one that stands out the most for me is from Saw V. After a group of people work there way through the usual terrifying puzzles, Mallick (Greg Bryk) and Brit (Julie Benz) find themselves in their fourth room with another tough fate to face.
They find a machine fitted with circular saws and a breaker that requires ten pints of blood in order to open the next door that will lead to their freedom. Having no other choice, they decide to shed five pints of blood each. It was wrong of me to assume they’d put their arm to the blade – instead, Mallick puts his hand to the blade, allowing it to cut right up through the middle of his fingers. This seems like the worst possible place to do this, although I’m guessing it reaches more blood much quicker than other options. Anyone else think they would’ve passed out before they’d even started? I need to take a break from typing because I can’t feel my fingers.
- Martyrs (2008)
Arguably one of the most disturbing horror films ever made is Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs, which follows the victim-seeks-revenge formula – but with a twist. Anna’s (Morjana Alaoui) kidnapper happens to be an elderly woman known as Mademoiselle (Catherine Bégin) who belongs to a secret philosophical society. The film is full of grim and horrifying scenes as they carry out many shocking and inhumane methods of torture in order to push their victims into a transcendental experience so they can reveal the secrets of the afterlife.
The most distressing scene by far is when we see Anna being flayed alive. She survives the ordeal and is then hung up… left to just hang, skinless, with her muscles showing. It’s absolutely disgusting. What makes this scene even more unsettling is that, after all the torture, Anna – on death’s literal doorstep – looks as though she’s finally reached some sort of euphoric transcendental state. If you can make it through this film, this scene along with what she reveals about the afterlife won’t be something you’ll ever forget.
- Antichrist (2009)
Lars von Trier, whose career spans over four decades, is known for his controversial topics which tackle mercy, sacrifice and mental health. In Antichrist, we’re taken on a rollercoaster of depressing events as Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg portray a couple, known only as He and She, who retreat to a cabin in the woods after the death of their son. Whilst there, the many begins to experience strange visions, and the woman becomes increasingly infatuated with violent and sexual behaviour.
The film as a whole is quite strange and disconcerting, in true Lars von Trier fashion, but the one scene that stands out and is the most different to watch – especially if you, too, have female genitalia – is when She sits on the floor of the cabin and cuts off her clitoris merely with nothing but a pair of scissors. And this isn’t something that is implied, it’s something we actually see. That’s right – we see Gainsbourg cut off her clitoris. After watching this scene, I guarantee you’ll be worried about the safety of your own.
by Toni Stanger
Toni Stanger is a film and screenwriting graduate with a passion for cats, horror films and middle-aged actresses. Her favourite films include Gone Girl, Heathers, Scream and Excision. You can find her on Twitter and Letterboxd.
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