The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of the word controversial is, “causing disagreement or discussion.” The films below are definitely an example of that. Whether they sparked outrage among conservatives, left audiences in a state of nausea, or just pissed people off, the following films have definitely caused a buzz. They generated reactions that permeated the mainstream and caused uneasiness within the hive.
A Serbian Film (2010)
This movie is banned in 46 countries. Four minutes had to be cut for UK viewers and the U.S. asked that over one minute be cut just to get an NC-17 rating. The themes and depictions portrayed in this film are unnerving. If there were such a thing as thought police, they would have certainly interfered with director Srdjan Spasojevic’s impetus which on the surface is unthinkably horrific, but equally provoking when it comes to what humans will do when faced with dire circumstances and lack of money. It also says something about how those in power will take advantage of the downtrodden for the sake of profit.
Are you religious? Do you believe in the afterlife? What really happens after you die? If these questions are intriguing to you (don’t) watch Martyrs (the 2008 original, not the 2015 remake). Exploring the intricacies of the human spirit in both its corporeal form and transcendence, Martyrs plays out like a visual roadmap through depression. Nihilistic by design, this movie is filled with torture, the literal decimation of the human spirit, and an incredibly heavy unresolved denouement. The crisis hotline number should be superimposed over every frame. In this film, it definitely does not “get better.”
Faces of Death (1978)
It’s been long debated whether or not the content in Faces of Death is real. iHorror answered that question back in 2014. But in 1978 the answer wasn’t so clear. Even today where everything is viewable on the internet, Faces of Death remains an uncomfortable watch even for the most desensitized critic.
Mother! may be the most divisive on the list. It has big-name stars, a big-name studio, and a big-name director. Still, it sits nearly in the middle of people who like it and people who hate it. For example, it concurrently received both boos and a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. There are so many theories on what this film is actually about. The director Darren Aronofsky has stated that it is a metaphor for the current state of the world. Given that prompt and what you can imagine the visuals to be, you’re halfway there to understanding it.
Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven had his forefinger on the pulse of what scares people. But he also had a penchant for redemption, meaning his protagonists always got their revenge. Although Last House on the Left skews that formula bit, it still holds up as one of the best forceful sexual abuse revenge movies ever made. Raw and unflinching, Craven’s masterwork just goes for it, so much so that the MPAA board made him remove some footage for an X-rating. He did, but even that wasn’t enough and they asked him to edit it again. For sensitive 1970s theatergoers at the time, the intense brutality contained in the movie was too much. One person is reported to have had a heart attack during one viewing.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The mother of all found footage movies. This movie, other than A Serbian Film, might be the most visually disturbing than any other on this list. All of the kills are extremely realistic, it was enough to cause Italian authorities to insist director Ruggero Deodato prove his cast was still. If he didn’t, he would face murder charges. Deodato probably should have had the forethought to not have his cast sign contracts that stated they had to disappear for three years after the movie’s release to give the illusion that he killed them on film. Of course, they showed up alive and the charges were dropped, but that only goes to show you how cruelly deceptive this movie really is. Unfortunately, the cast of animals brutalized in the movie were really killed on-screen.
The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist hype was real: people passing out in the theater, instant panic attacks, vomiting and nausea in the lobby, and triggering faith-based existentialism, The Exorcist had people understandably traumatized back in 1973. Still, curious moviegoers wanted to experience it for themselves, lining up for blocks to get in to see it, if by chance they were able to get a ticket.
Halloween Ends (2022)
This movie isn’t as disturbing as some of the others on this list. What makes it controversial is the dissatisfaction of the fanbase. The Halloween franchise is beloved by many, and Michael Myers is a certified horror icon. But the last film in the David Gordon Green trilogy threw people for a loop because it strayed so far off of the well-traveled path. One point of criticism was the lack of kills, something that is synonymous with a slasher. The other was that Michael Myers isn’t predominantly featured in the movie until about the last 15 minutes, even though the poster and all promotional materials show him front and center.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Back in the 80’s America was having an identity crisis. It was the age of the “concerned parent.” For every cultural step forward, there was a court of judgey moms who acted as gatekeepers to Hollywood’s key masters. So when filmmakers created a film about an ax-wielding Santa Claus, besmirching Christianity’s holiest of days, there was a problem. A big problem. The film itself is tame even by 80s slasher standards, even though that was the crux of the conservative argument. Mostly parents were unsettled by the one sheet which depicted Santa carrying an ax down a chimney.
Thankfully, the movie wasn’t at the mercy of free-thinking video store owners (except Blockbuster) and tape rentals were through the roof, sparking the cult movie rental craze and inspiring independent filmmakers who, rather than face the disdain of the pulpit, opted to make movies straight-to-video. Enter the UK and their own hit list called the “video nasty.”
Terrifier 2 (2022)
Arguably, the first Terrifier film wasn’t a great success, still, it did have its fanbase. However, it couldn’t hold a clown horn to the sequel which came out this year. Terrifier 2 also has the distinction of being one of the most successful MPAA unrated (nee NC-17) films of all time (we didn’t adjust for inflation). For the most part, it follows the standard slasher formula, but what makes it controversial is the gore. The practical effects are extreme and seemingly unedited (138 mins. movie runtime). Like so many of the movies listed above, theatergoers got sick. Those who watched the film’s antagonist, Art the Clown, hack and slash his victims was too much to bear. Vomiting and fainting were reported as well as calls to the paramedics.