Just because a film is almost impossible to watch twice doesn’t mean it’s an unwatchable film, especially when it comes to horror. The genre is fueled by a desire to push boundaries and envelopes, making it uncomfortable by nature. Still, there are some movies that even the most hardened gorehound would be hard pressed to revisit.
Every film on this list deserves to be watched, especially if you aspire to be more than a casual horror fan. That said, these movies are not for the faint of heart—and challenging to watch. You’ll be disturbed, disgusted, and gutted emotionally, but you won’t soon forget the brilliant performances and devastating stories conveyed. You may not be happy when the credits roll, but you will be viscerally effected—and isn’t that the point of horror?
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Of course, many will argue that the best horror movies are the ones that entertain as much as they terrify, films that invite their fans back with open arms, becoming the cinematic equivalent of a warm blanket—and I tend to agree. Still, if you’re going to explore the horror genres, an aficionado must be brave enough to visit its darkest corners. Proceed with caution!
Let us know what you think in the Comments section. Do you agree with our selections? Are there other horror films that are absolutely worth seeing but impossible to watch twice? Let’s discuss!
Antichrist (2009, Directed by Lars von Trier)
Official Synopsis: While a married couple (Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg) is having sex, their infant son in a nearby room falls out a window to his death. She becomes distraught and is hospitalized, but her husband, who is a psychiatrist, attempts to treat her. Deciding that she needs to face her fears, he takes her to a cabin in the woods where she spent a previous summer with the boy. Once they are there, she becomes more unhinged and starts perpetrating sexual violence on her husband and herself.
You can hate Lars von Trier for being a Hitler sympathizer and a misogynist, but horror fans need to give credit where it’s due, and Antichrist is a must-watch. Those disappointed by Darren Aronofsky’s mother! should check this one out for an arthouse shocker that actually hits its mark; you may not understand everything you see, but you’ll definitely get the point. Infamous scenes of male and female genital trauma make this film hard to take once, and nearly impossible to endure twice.
Irreversible (2003, Directed by Gaspar Noé)
Official Synopsis: A woman’s (Monica Bellucci) lover (Vincent Cassel) and her former boyfriend (Albert Dupontel) take justice into their own hands after she becomes the victim of a rapist.
Irreversible is one of the earliest and most brutal examples of the now-defunct New French Extremity subgenre; it’s also one of the few films that made me physically ill. It’s a harrowing and devastating experience, a rape and revenge thriller told in reverse, Memento-style. It isn’t only an uncut 5-minute sexual assault that makes Irreversible unbearable; there’s a front-row seat for a murder that’s unforgettable—though you’ll wish it wasn’t. As a scholar of horror, I’ve watched several of the films on this list more than once, Irreversible is where I draw the line. Just remember: Every film on this list is excellent.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012, Directed by Lynne Ramsay)
Official Synopsis: Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a travel writer/publisher who gives up her beloved freedom and bohemian lifestyle to have a child with her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly). Pregnancy does not seem to agree with Eva, but what’s worse, when she does give birth to a baby boy named Kevin, she can’t seem to bond with him. When Kevin grows from a fussy, demanding toddler (Rocky Duer) into a sociopathic teen (Ezra Miller), Eva is forced to deal with the aftermath of her son’s horrific act.
Director Lynne Ramsey uses a nonlinear approach to storytelling in We Need to Talk About Kevin; while she keeps a pivotal event secret until the very end, there’s a pervasive sense of dread that hits us immediately. There’s also something voyeuristic about this film, like we’re watching something we shouldn’t be seeing; and it toys with us, tempting us to hope for the best despite telling us up front we’re headed for the worst. Incredible performances and morbid curiosity may carry you through We Need to Talk About Kevin once, but twice would be a heavy burden.
A Serbian Film (2010, Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic)
Official Synopsis: An aging porn star (Srdjan Todorovic) who’s struggling to provide for his family agrees to make a film that, unbeknown to him, contains themes of pedophilia, necrophilia and may end with his death.
Even if you haven’t seen A Serbian Film, you know its reputation (unless you’ve spent the last decade in a cave). Everything you’ve heard about the depravity portrayed is true, but this isn’t a pointless exercise intended only to shock and disgust its audiences (which it does). There’s a lot going on below the surface; unfortunately, most people can’t get past the pedophilia and extreme psycho-sexual sadism to see it. You deserve a medal if you can make it through A Serbian Film once. You’ve got nothing to prove, so no need to torture yourself with a second spin.
Megan is Missing (2011, Directed by Michael Goi)
Official Synopsis: A teenager (Rachel Quinn) disappears after meeting an online acquaintance (Dean Waite).
I adore big studio scares, but it was this no-budget cautionary tale about two pubescent teenagers that devastated me like nothing else. There’s a voyeuristic element that pulls you in, offering an unprecedent and blunt examination of emerging female sexuality in the 21st Century and, specifically, how the Internet encourages and endangers young women. A brutal rape almost reaches Irreversible levels, but it’s an utterly hopeless, heartless, and harrowing conclusion that makes revisiting the film a near impossibility.
Snowtown aka The Snowtown Murders (2012, Directed by Justin Kurzel)
Official Synopsis: A charismatic but violent predator (Daniel Henshall) takes his girlfriend’s teenage son (Lucas Pittaway) under his wing and makes him an accomplice in a murder spree.
Base on the real life “Barrel Murders” that rocked Australia, even true crime fanatics will grimace at realistic portrayals of sexual abuse, animal cruelty, and indoctrination that are absolutely soul-crushing. In addition to a detestable villain, The Snowtown Murders also offers one of the most sympathetic and tragic victim-of-circumstances in cinema. At its core, the movie is an examination of poverty and violence in a racist/homophobic community—one that rings surprisingly relevant in today’s sociopolitical climate.
Hidden in the Woods (2012, Directed by Patricio Valladares)
Official Synopsis: Two sisters report their abusive and drug-dealing father and he is sent to prison. They think the worst is over until their psychotic uncle arrives looking for his brother and his missing merchandise.
The sisters in Hidden in the Woods are uniquely terrifying. They don’t have a shred of natural evil in their hearts, but were raised is isolation by and abusive, cannibalistic father; it’s the only life they’ve ever known and they simply don’t understand any better. There’s something triumphant about the sisters’ escape from captivity that’s triumphant, but it’s impossible to shake the deep depression and hopelessness Hidden in the Woods elicits. You might be able to make it through the incest, rape, and graphic mutilations once, but twice would be a task of herculean proportions.
Nothing Bad Can Happen (2014, Directed by Katrin Gebbe)
Official Synopsis: A pious teen (Julius Feldmeier) endures torture at the hands of a sadistic couple (Sascha Alexander Gersak, Annika Kuhl) because he thinks God is testing him.
Green Room meet The Girl Next Door/An American Crime with a dash of The Passion, nothing can prepare you Nothing Bad Can Happen. This German import is made all the more harrowing by the fact that it’s based on an actual case of extreme abuse. A young man’s idealism collides with a jaded father’s nihilism in a battle of wills that descends into depravity.
The Eyes of My Mother (2016, Directed by Nicolas Pesce)
Official Synopsis: Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) has been unfazed by death from an early age because her mother, formerly a surgeon in Portugal, imbued her with a thorough understanding of the human anatomy. When tragedy shatters her family’s idyllic life in the countryside, her deep trauma gradually awakens some unique curiosities. As she grows up, her desire to connect with the world around her takes a distinctly dark form.
The Eyes of My Mother was on my Best Horror Movies of 2016 list, and I couldn’t wait to buy a Blu-Ray for my collection when it was released earlier this year. Still, I haven’t built up the strength to watch it a second time yet. I’d happily revisit that beautiful cinematography and bold storytelling, but the film is an emotional drain. It’s likely to leave you stunned and impressed, but also deeply saddened. I would recommend everyone looking for fantastic horror cinema to give it a whirl and I bet you’ll thank me; I also bet you’ll agree it’s a traumatic experience one might be hesitant to repeat.
Vinyan (2008, Directed by Fabrice du Welz)
Official Synopsis: A couple are looking for their child who was lost in the tsunami – their search takes them to the dangerous Thai-Burmese waters, and then into the jungle, where they face unknown but horrifying dangers.
Fabrice du Welz is probably best known for writing and directing Calvaire, a tale of backwoods horror that’s also difficult to endure twice. Vinyan, an English language film, is as terrifying, but also incredibly tragic. It’s a meditation on the extent a mother will go for her child—not matter how slim her chances of success or how far into the Heart of Darkness she must travel. The natural beauty of South Asia is juxtaposed against palpable despair Vinyan creates. Expect an epic ending that will leave you breathless, but don’t expect to want to see it again.
Tideland (2005, Directed by Terry Gilliam)
Official Synopsis: Little Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) has a very warped childhood. Her parents (Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly) are both drug addicts, and one of her daily chores is to prepare their syringes. After her mother dies of an overdose, her father, Noah, takes her away to his childhood home, but his own mother has passed away and the house is decaying. Then Noah overdoses, and while his body rots in his chair, Jeliza-Rose meets a taxidermist and her unstable brother.
Looking for an underrated sleeper that’s horrifying and devastating? Tideland is perhaps Terry Gilliam least known-films, and the heartbreaking story it tells may be the reason. Still, Tideland delivers magical realism and nightmarish surrealism as we experience tragedy through the eyes of a child. Tideland is a film I find myself constantly recommending, though hesitant to experience again for myself. Interesting bit of trivia: Child actress Jodelle Ferland grew up to play redneck-zombie-torture-daughter Patience Buckner in The Cabin in the Woods (a film I have no problem watching twice—or 10 times).
Requiem for a Dream (2000, Directed by Darren Aronofsky)
Official Synopsis: Imaginatively evoking the inner landscape of human beings longing to connect, to love and feel loved, the film is a parable of happiness gloriously found and tragically lost. “Requiem for a Dream” tells parallel stories that are linked by the relationship between the lonely, widowed Sara Goldfarb and her sweet but aimless son, Harry. The plump Sara, galvanized by the prospect of appearing on a TV game show, has started on a dangerous diet regimen to beautify herself for a national audience.
While Black Swan and mother! were marketed as horror movies, Darren Aronofsky’s best-known film, a drama, is actually his most horrifying. Requiem for a Dream defies genre classification, delivering jump-scares, body horror, and nightmarish terrors the likes of which your average slasher can’t touch. The film is close to perfect and, yes, I’ve watched it more than once; but each time, it takes another piece of my soul and tosses it into the Abyss of Utter Hopelessness.
Martyrs (2008, Directed by Pascal Laugier)
Official Synopsis: A young woman’s quest for revenge against the people who kidnapped and tormented her as a child leads her and a friend, who is also a victim of child abuse, on a terrifying journey into a living hell of depravity.
I’m a huge fan of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (don’t get me started on that unnecessary 2016 remake) and, yes, I’ve watched the film twice. I may even watch it a third time in this lifetime; who knows? But most people drawn the line with one viewing of Martyrs, and I can understand why. True, there’s something beautiful about the film (on an extremely macabre level) and the concept is fascinating, but the experience is the definition of vicious. Anyone who can watch it more than once must have a bizarre curiosity about the nature of pain, be it known or subconscious. So, what does that say about me?
Hard Candy (2006, Directed by David Slade)
Official Synopsis: Hayley (Ellen Page) is a precocious teenager who goes to a coffee shop to meet Jeff (Patrick Wilson), the photographer she met on the Internet. Jeff thinks he is in for a real treat, but Hayley plays a trick on him. After drugging Jeff and tying him down, Hayley reveals that she knows Jeff preys on teenage girls and she has a plan to wring a confession from him.
Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson are such amazing actors who, usually, play awesome characters, which is a huge part of why Hard Candy is a one-time-only horror experience. Okay, it has a lot to do with the forced castration too (if I’m really being honest) but the story of an internet predator getting his comeuppance is devastating. We find ourselves hoping it’s all a misunderstanding, that things don’t have to go down this depraved path—but we get no relief. Of course, if Page’s vigilante had been more prolific, maybe those kids from Megan is Missing would still be alive.
Blue Velvet (1986, Directed by David Lynch)
Official Synopsis: College student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home after his father has a stroke. When he discovers a severed ear in an abandoned field, Beaumont teams up with detective’s daughter Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) to solve the mystery. They believe beautiful lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be connected with the case, and Beaumont finds himself becoming drawn into her dark, twisted world, where he encounters sexually depraved psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).
Hardcore David Lynch fans never forget Blue Velvet, but many people who saw the film in 1986 probably wish they could. Despite the knock-out cast, all of whom have mainstream chache, the film is uncomfortable to watch and a dreaded chore to revisit. Even the nightmare world of Eraserhead is somehow more soothing that the exploration of violence lurking below suburbia’s pristine veneer. But you should definitely see it; like everything Lynch touches, there’s beauty and magic in the tragic travesty.
Funny Games (1997/2007, Directed by Michael Haneke)
Official Synopsis: When Ann, husband George and son Georgie arrive at their holiday home they are visited by a pair of polite and seemingly pleasant young men. Armed with deceptively sweet smiles and some golf clubs, they proceed to terrorize and torture the tight-knit clan, giving them until the next day to survive.
Funny Games is a must see, if for no other reason than to participate in the debates surrounding the infamous “Rewind” scene. No need to see the original and the American remake, as they’re literally identical (except for language). Funny Games is a home invasion horror movie meta-film, as director Michael Haneke breaks the fourth wall to remind us that this is what we asked for. Unrelenting and unforgiving, Funny games is engrossing yet challenging, humorous yet frustrating, challenging yet… insulting? The film is definitely worth discussing but believe me, you only need to see it once for it to be burned into your brain. Nothing about it is forgettable.