Since horror movies (including some underrated 2023 ones) are meant to shock and terrify their audiences, it’s easy for people to question whether or not they can actually cross a line.
Many entries in the genre have garnered controversy for their graphic and violent content over the years, and it is still sometimes difficult to tell if disgruntled audiences are too sensitive or if there are scenes that shouldn’t have even been made. Whatever the case, these seven horror movies pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable with these disturbing scenes. Be warned that while we’ve avoided the most lurid details, even the suggestion of some on-screen acts may be unsettling to some readers.
In Mike Flanagan’s sequel to The Shining, audiences see the evil True Knot cult kidnap a young Bradley, who possesses the “shine,” and slowly stab him to death to consume his life force. Killing children on-screen remains a rarity in horror movies due to its taboo nature.
While the film doesn’t show the knife piercing Bradley’s skin, the terror invoked in this bloody scene is still overwhelming, due in particular to Jacob Tremblay’s realistic performance as the poor boy. Even the actors playing the True Knot were shaken while performing this scene.
The violence depicted in this found-footage film was so realistic that the filmmakers were accused of murdering their actors in real life. While no human was killed in the making of this picture, the same can’t be said for the animals.
A total of seven animals were butchered in a gruesome fashion in this movie (six of which are shown on-screen in the final cut), breaking animal cruelty laws and receiving condemnation from critics and bans in multiple countries. Even the film’s director, Ruggero Deodato, would later express his regret over his extreme and exploitative production tactics.
Director Lars von Trier is infamous for his shocking and explicit arthouse films, and Antichrist features the earliest examples of his no-holds-barred style.
In one scene, the unnamed couple gets into a fight, and the woman sexually assaults the man before smashing his CGI groin with a wooden block, culminating in a bloody, not-so-happy ending. But this isn’t the only instance of genital mutilation in this film, as the woman does it to herself later on with a pair of scissors. Seriously, did the audience need to see any of this?
Probably the scariest and most controversial scene in The Evil Dead is when Ash’s sister, Cheryl, is sexually assaulted by tree branches possessed by the Kandarian demon. The way Cheryl is stripped naked by the branches before they violate her makes this scene too violent and oversexualized to be considered tasteful, and the assault itself doesn’t add anything to the story.
Director Sam Raimi has since expressed regret for using this scene, and it’s no surprise that it wasn’t replicated in its explicit terror in 2023’s Evil Dead Rise.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been criticized for its many differences from the Stephen King novel that inspired it. In many people’s eyes, one of the worst offenders comes with the fate of the Overlook Hotel’s affable chef, Dick Hallorann. Danny’s psychic mentor travels all the way from Florida to try and rescue him and Wendy from the haunted hotel, only to get a fatal ax to the chest in the end, courtesy of Danny’s father, Jack Torrance.
Horror movies have been notorious for killing off Black characters first as sacrificial lambs, and Hallorann dying while trying to save the white protagonists seems to undermine his character for the sake of shock value and greater stakes.
A Serbian Film is notorious for being one of the most disturbing movies ever created. Since it features many horrific depictions of pedophilia, necrophilia, incest, and sexual assault, it’s hard to single out just one moment when discussing its depravity.
But the one scene that went far past the line was the one in which the villain presents a film he made in which a woman gives birth to a newborn child and watches with glee as a man has his way with the infant.
Regan’s head wasn’t the only one spinning after this scene. When Chris hears Regan screaming in her room, the former runs up to see her possessed daughter violating herself with a crucifix to the point of bleeding, while also spouting awful obscenities. The way this scene invokes taboo themes of sex and religion in such a blasphemous manner was something the world had never seen in film before, and one could only imagine how people reacted when they first saw it in 1973.
Modern audiences have also grown more sensitive to depictions of self-harm in media, so the scene’s ability to shock viewers has not dwindled in the slightest. Additionally, director William Friedkin used a take in which Ellen Burstyn broke her spine doing a wire stunt harder than she had agreed, so audiences hear her real screams of pain when her back hits the floor.
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