Crossfader’s Super Spooky Listicles: Non-Paranormal Horror
Ghosts, demons, and various other creepy creatures that go bump in the night tend to dominate horror movies. There’s nothing wrong with that; THE EXORCIST, SINISTER, and THE BABADOOK are all great nightmare fuel, but if you’re anything like me, the scariest movies are the ones where a human being is the one making your adrenaline spike. I just can’t truly believe that ghosts are real, so it makes a lot of horror hard to buy into as a result. However, seeing people do depraved things to other people will always terrify me well after the movie is over. This is a list of particularly gruesome movies where questions of why people do the terrible things they do are scarier than ghosts could ever be.
While definitely not the most well-made film on this list, the premise of this movie is so shocking, and carried out to such unbelievably graphic ends, that it will almost certainly stay lodged in your head way after you want it to leave. The film begins when two high school friends break into an insane asylum on a dare and discover an imprisoned woman who cannot die and may or may not be a zombie. Rather than help the woman, the boys keep her chained up and use her for sex. While some have called the film exploitative and misogynistic (which it very well may be), the uncomfortable concepts it raises about adolescent male sexuality are truly disturbing and the practical effects are genuinely shocking. Watch this alone and take a shower after, it’s the only way you’ll make it through.
The only documentary on this list and one of the few “horror documentaries” that truly earns the moniker, CROPSEY is a well executed look at filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Branaccio’s hometown of Staten Island and the real-life boogeyman that always existed on the periphery. While initially just returning home to get to the bottom of an urban legend about a man in the woods referred to as “Cropsey”, the pair quickly discover that the actual story behind the man is much more disturbing. The man’s real name is Andre Rand, convicted of kidnapping two children and suspected of being a serial killer. As Zeman and Branaccio delve into his backstory, they discover that Rand worked as a janitor at the infamous Willowbrook State School, a mental hospital for children that was exposed for its deplorable living conditions. Zeman and Branaccio had no idea how bad the school was, despite having grown up next to it. The whole documentary is deeply unsettling, yet almost poetic as Zeman and Branaccio lose their childhood innocence in their perception of the town they grew up in.
Already considered a cult classic, THE WOMAN manages to disturb on multiple levels. A truly wild and violent woman who was raised in the woods is found by a lawyer and brought back to his home. Initially, the woman’s feral behaviors are what make the movie disturbing, but the tables quickly turn as the lawyer goes to more and more depraved ends to “civilize” her. The way he slowly turns on his own family, and a truly sickening twist at the very end make this another horror film that will leave you with some disturbing ideas about family, gender, and civility.
THE DEVIL’S REJECTS
Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, made such an impression that its sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, is often forgotten in comparison. However, whereas HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES is a pastiche of dozens of horror films, slapping together sickening scenes without a whole lot in terms of plot and character to hold it together, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS is a disturbingly well-written film. Picking up shortly after the ending of HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, DEVIL’S follows the psychotic Firefly family as they run from the police across Texas. While featuring some of the most visceral and memorable gore in horror, the film also takes characters who were ridiculous caricatures in HOUSE and forces you to identify with them and even occasionally sympathize. Each member of the Firefly family is insane, but the way their insanity manifests is unique and consistent until the bloody end. The movie looks and feels like a grindhouse film, but has the characters of an indie road-drama, a unique and oftentimes chilling combination.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN
Beautifully shot, viciously well-acted, and as profound as it is perverse. If you only see one film on this list, THE SKIN I LIVE IN is the one to watch. Directed by wonderful madman Pedro Almodóvar, this film tells the story of a cutting-edge plastic surgeon who has a strange and turbulent woman imprisoned in his house. Really, nothing else should be said beyond this so that the full effect of the story can be felt. The film takes so many shocking twists and turns that by the end you’ll be left with a sickening weight in your very soul. This is a film that haunts you and simultaneously seduces you to revisit it; it’s so twisted and so poetic that it demands your full, undivided attention. This is another film to watch alone for the first time, and you may not be the same person by the time it’s over.