SHOCK’s Howard Gorman exhumes 10 essential death-centric horror movies that you must see before you meet your maker.
Whilst all too many horror filmmakers are way too obsessed with milking those last remaining sacred cows in their “creative” attempts to take audiences to all new traumatic lows, a completely different cinematic approach is to blame for my sleepless nights.
Its the films that delve into our vulnerability and inevitable departure that have a very, very nasty habit of staying with us longer than we might like them to.
For the perfect example we need look no further than the recently released CREED – coincidentally everything BUT a horror film – which still has me pummeling with my emotions, and for good reason, as we find the Italian Stallion on the verge of throwing in the towel of life, even if just for a fleeting few moments. To see Rocky Balboa, the ultimate heavyweight symbol of strength and perseverance, ready to toss it all in as lifes packed him much heftier punches than any opponent in the ring really strikes a chord. Case in point, when handled properly, narratives that dabble in death, degeneration and mortality are one of the most potent tools for rattling moviegoers, whether it be a horror flick, a love story or even a kids animated movie.
Having basked in the gutter of delightfully unsound content for the sake of this article, you won’t blame me for bailing on you as I go and cleanse the soul with some more lighthearted entertainment. Whilst I do that, heres my list of ten relentlessly unwholesome slices of cinema to raise your spirits. Sit back, forget those machete-wielding maniacs or cannibalistic tribes and enjoy the real stuff of nightmares. Welcome to “paradise” folks!
1 – THE HEXECUTIONERS (2015)
First up is the sordidly morbid treat, THE HEXECUTIONERS, from Director Jesse Thomas Cook (SEPTIC MAN), and scribe, Tony Burgess (PONTYPOOL).
Blending sanctioned euthanasia with vengeful spirits, Tony Burgess incurable penchant for socially sentient satire certainly makes light of the weighty subject matter. But this flick makes it onto this list based on the sheer physical and psychological pain the hideously disfigured plutocrat, Milos Somborac (a heavily incognito Tony Burgess) endures coupled with the alarming amounts of money people are willing to pay, not only to put them out of their misery, but also be able to bid farewell in an a la carte sick and tormented way.
Tis a sick and twisted yet worryingly relatable world that Cook and Burgess have concocted here.
2 – CARRIERS (2009)
The infected are already dead!
Not a horror movie in the strictest sense, CARRIERS is a clever little road movie that navigates territory not often explored in the pandemic virus sub-genre. Starring Chris Pine before he got beamed up, the film follows a group of four uninfected youths trying to avoid the virus and make it to a safe haven. The virus symptoms are as vile as they come, but the real terror takes hold when the brutally believable script really puts things into perspective and we cant help but relate to the characters as they are forced to make the toughest of decisions, almost always with the survival of their best friends and/or loved ones at stake.
When a director manages to get his audience believing the characters might actually be better off catching the very virus theyre trying to escape that speaks marvels about the effectiveness of the film.
3. INFECTION (KANSEN) (2004)
Those with a white coat syndrome should probably hop on over to film number 4 right about now.
Hospitals are the last place anyone enjoys having to pay a friend or relative a visit, let alone being admitted to one themselves but Masayuki Ochiai succeeds in heightening this common fear to godawful proportions.
Welcome to the dingiest, shabbiest and slimiest hospital on the planet run by equally slimy nursing staff hell-bent on covering up their carelessness. If that wasn’t enough, a new patient is admitted, host to a lethal parasite that turns its victims into raving loonies before eroding their internal organs into a gangrenous pulp.
That’s all pretty bleak in itself but what makes matters worse is the fact that Ochiai injects a scathing health care commentary guaranteed to have you eating an apple a day to keep the doctor the hell away.
4. THANATAMORPHOSE (2012)
Those with a bad case of Thanataphobia should avoid THANATAMORPHOSE like the plague. Writer/director Éric Falardeaus deranged, depressing and absolutely exhausting arthouse piece is the bastard son of two bastions of body horror, namely THE FLY and the more recent STARRY EYES.
Prepare yourself to “enjoy” a few days in the life of Kayden Roses nameless character as she spends her days living like an automaton whilst literally wasting away before your very eyes.
It’s unclear if there’s some kind of esoteric social soliloquy behind Falardeaus putridity but it really doesn’t matter as THANATAMORPHOSE’s gruesome grotesquerie proves to be one hell of a potent tool to keep the audience hooked, even if theres not all that much to write home about in terms of narrative.
As long as you can stomach some of the most impressively disgusting effects ever seen in an indie film, youre in for a torturous treat.
5. CONTAGION (2011)
CONTAGION is by no means a horror movie at its core but theres no faulting director Steven Soderberg for creating one of the most disturbingly authentic pandemic films of recent years. Its also blatantly obvious from the off that both he and his fantastic ensemble cast went way beyond the call of duty when it came to doing their pre-shoot homework.
It had been a while since Id revisited this one, but seeing poor old Gwyneth Paltrow riddled with the MEV-1 disease got right under my skin again. What makes this an even tougher watch is its depiction of just how frighteningly ill-equipped the health service is when it comes to dealing with a pandemic outbreak.
CONTAGION is one hell of a wake up call and its pretty damned petrifying to see just how easily a freak outbreak really could take us out in our millions in nothing flat.
6. CABIN FEVER (2002)
That simple fact that director-writer Eli Roth wrote this one based on his own first-hand experience with a nasty little skin rash helped ensure CABIN FEVER and its body-binging virus was all the more disturbingly relatable, despite Roths characteristic OTT touches.
Seeing the disparate band of protagonists get swiftly picked off by the deadly virus with symptoms ranging from bloody vomit to slabs of flesh dropping off limbs its a rough ride to stomach. This is one infection you dont want to pick up any time soon but the film is definitely worth catching. I just hope Ill be able to say the same when the impending remake gets a limited theatrical, VOD and Digital HD release on February 12, 2016.
7. EBOLA SYNDROME (1996)
Number seven plays host to another extant virus and, in the light of a very recent and very real Ebola scare, Herman Yau’s exuberantly savage piece of cinema cuts severely close to the bone right now.
As the title suggests, audiences can expect an EVD outbreak of global proportions, but thats not even the half of it. Cutting a crazy story short, Kai, a restaurant chef cum wanted criminal, rapes a woman in South Africa, contracting the Ebola virus in the process. Lucky for him, but not the rest of the planet, he just so happens to be immune meaning he takes it back with him to Hong Kong where he proceeds to spread it any which way he can – spitting being the simplest, and grinding victims into Ebola burgers for his ill-fated diners being a slightly more sophisticated recipe for success.
Virtually every perversion in the book rears its explicitly graphic head, ranging from golden showers through to food fornication. It all makes SWISS ARMY MAN’s flatulence problem sound like sweet smelling perfume in comparison. And while the thrust of the film is its stark raving outrageous obscenities and kinetic carnage all of that somehow manages to never mollify the films intrinsic morbid streak, and thats exactly why its sitting in this here list.
If insane in the membrane Category 3 films are your dish of choice then this will have you salivating. Talking of which, even if it doesnt tickle your fancy, I highly suggest you refrain from saying anything to offend the chef. You really, really dont want to know what Kai puts in those patties.
8. THE LIVING AND THE DEAD (2006)
From one madcap slice of cinema to quite the opposite. Writer/director Simon Rumley‘s THE LIVING AND THE DEAD is a grimmer than grim tale of human deterioration, inspired by the helmers own mothers death from cancer.
This deeply depressing tale sees mentally disabled son, James Brocklebank, intent on caring for his terminally ill mother whilst his father has to head away for a spell. Delusional, overdosing on a salmagundi of drugs, and out to prove he can even nurse his ill-fated mother back to health, you just know everythings about to spiral way out of control.
Buoyed by absolutely stainless performances, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD serves up a too close for comfort case of the creeps that will linger with you until its more than overstayed its welcome.
9. THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ (2015)
Whilst all of the films above deal with death in all its forms, Ive left the last two spots to dabble in the afterlife.
First up is writer/director Hèctor Hernández Vicens’ pitch-black tale of a group of youths who just cant keep it in their pants when they happen across the corpse of the beautiful actress, Anna Fritz, laid bare in a mortuary. If that doesn’t already have you thinking cremation might be the better of two options, the film is also loosely based on the real life case of a mortuary worker who did indeed violate a cadaver which awoke from a catatonic state mid-coitus.
Despite my sinister preamble and the fact that necrophilia is one of the worlds eternal anathemas, it has to be said that Hernández Vicens handles the topic with just the right amount of sensitivity. Even though you know what you’re watching is about as repulsive as it comes, theres something in the way its shot that keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
If you think you are up to the ordeal then the early “necrophilia” scenes are more than worth stomaching because the aftermath is to die for.
10. THE ACT OF SEEING WITH ONES OWN EYES (1971)
Here we go with the last, and by far the most, depraved slice of morbid cinema on this list. All the above are pieces of fiction but THE ACT OF SEEING WITH ONES OWN EYES is the real deal; a documentary which dissects, both figuratively and abso-fucking-lutely literally, autopsy procedures in the most candid of fashions.
Despite its art-house approach, this is filmmaking at its barest bones, albeit with some very serious meat on said bones. Even medical waiting rooms crank out some hypnotizing piped music to ease that painstaking wait to see the doctor but director Stank Brakhage offers absolutely no distracting sounds or music whatsoever to take even a little bit of the morbid edge off of things.
Forget all the emotional sucker punches the previous films in this list might hold. This is the unvarnished reality as to what we all become when we cash in our chips. THE ACT OF SEEING WITH ONES OWN EYES was one of the most mentally exhausting 30 minutes of my life, yet at the same time its a film thats impossible to ignore, arousing way much more curiosity in you than youd ever care or dare to confess.