Most Haunting/Nightmarish/Unsettling Films

  1. Inland Empire - David Lynch (2006)
  2. Eraserhead - David Lynch (1977)
  3. The Exorcist - William Freidkin (1977)
  4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Tobe Hooper (1974)
  5. Lost Highway - David Lynch (1997)
  6. Possession - Andrzej Zulawski (1981)
  7. Repulsion - Roman Polanski (1965)
  8. Funny Games - Michael Haneke (1997)
  9. Mulholland Drive - David Lynch
  10. Blue Velvet - David Lynch (1986)
  11. Pi - Darren Aronofsky (1998)
  12. The Shining - Stanley Kubrick (1980)
  13. Cries & Whispers - Ingmar Bergman (1972)
  14. Silence of the Lambs - Jonathan Demme
  15. Time - Kim Ki-duk (2006)
  16. The Kingdom - Lars Von Trier (1994)
  17. Hour of the Wolf - Ingmar Bergman (1968)
  18. Deliverance - John Boorman (1972)
  19. Seven - David Fincher
  20. Persona - Ingmar Bergman (1966)
  21. Taxi Driver - Martin Scorsese (1976)
  22. Videodrome - David Cronenberg (1983)
  23. Rosemary's Baby - Roman Polanski (1968)
Author Comments: 

As with any of my lists, a key word is depth. Therefore, even with all its startling violence and gore, you probably won't be seeing any of the Saw movies on here. Immediacy and visceral impact are important and definitely considered but, more important, is how much depth the nightmarish factors of the film have. How singular is its horror?

Texas Chainsaw Massacre will definitely be on here, if I ever get back to finishing the damn film!

Cremaster Cycle!

Only seen one Cremaster film (#3 I think), but not all the way through. Not sure what to think of it--someday I'll probably get back around to finishing it.

Vampyr is on my "to add" list with about 30 others.

Never seen Seconds

Seconds is by the guy who did the original Manchurian Candidate. It's also one of the things that caused Brian Wilson's mental breakdown in 1966. It is pretty fucked up.

I just finished Riget, and can see why it is second. :\

It was extremely good, and reminded me of condensed Twin Peaks at times with how it mixed horror/documentary/comedy/drama. They are also opposites, as The Kingdom feels very personal, while TP is quite distanced and detached.

I am curious as to why it's so high on your overall film list?

Ah, The Kingdom... The camera is a "blood-soaked" POV of a horde of ghosts darting through the hallways and rooms of the hospital as well as hovering above and encircling it. The "Greek chorus" of the dishwashers, the bleeding walls and erupting streets, the haunted ambulance, the amazingly absurdist cast of characters with Stig Helmer taking the cake as one of the most outlandish in all of cinema, Dr Bond (am I remembering that name right?) and his obsession with hepatomas and dead bodies, Operation Morning Breeze, the cult rituals, the virtually braindead dying little girl, the elder woman who can hear strange things and speak to the dead, the terrifying nightmare memory sequences from Mona, the "ghost baby"...etc... the film is a maniacal, absurdist hospital drama - perhaps the most blackly comic film in all of cinema - it is uproariously funny while also quite disturbing/horrific/haunting with the end being a series of climaxes that leave on the ultimate, shocking cliffhanger. On top of its themes, its editing is absolutely astonishing, in that even though it is 5 hours and presented in a shaky, handheld pseudo-doc style it pulls off the herculean feat of being both "out-of-control" yet every shot serving a real purpose. The more closely one watches it the more nuanced it becomes and the more intricately composed it becomes. It's all very awe-inspiring.

Well, I'll be jumping into Riget II soon enough. And it was Bondo!

Also, the end was completely messed up. As I said on my blog, I yelled out 'what the f!ck' at the end.

Check out Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent. Watching it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I've ever had. It was incredible. Your best bet is to evade anything that gives away even the most trivial detail of the plot. I don't know if it fits exactly under the list title, but Sleepaway Camp also came to mind.

Good call on Possession, Inland Empire and Repulsion.

I totally agree. I've seen it (7.3/10 Greatest Films Extended List), but I could use another watch. Indeed, it should be on here. I'll add it when I update this list, which I'll do soon.

Sleepaway Camp: remarkable call! I watched that movie as a teenager...the last scene...I was just like, "oh my Gaaaaaaaa."

How did The Shining not end up on this list?

It definitely would be in the top 5 if I updated it, which I'll do soon.

Have you seen Pasolini's Salo? I think a little part of my soul died after seeing that. Not the best film of his films to start with really. Takashi Miike's Audition had me shaking by the end. Todd Haynes' Safe is probably the film that most haunts me (and it doesn't contain any violence). The film that i've found to be the most nightmarish is on your list - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre*.

*Sorry for being pedantic but that's the correct title. The director spelled it wrong for the copyright.

Thanks, I haven't had much, if any, desire to see Salo. If I get convinced that it is truly artistically redeeming of its content (as in, intellectually/emotionally rewarding and not just a "novelty act"), then I may give it a go. Haven't seen Safe or Audition, but I've been interested in both of them before.

Thanks for the correct title -- I'll fix it :)

Note: this list needs to be updated...

I would never recommend Salo but i wouldn't dimiss it as schlock. It's Pasolini's vision of fascism and the complete control it can give some people. He must of felt unable to depict it in any other way. Probably a film better read about than seen.

The Birds!

Maybe... :) I find most Hitchcock films more emotionally/psychologically revealing, "perverse games" between the director and his actors/audience than being particularly haunting/nightmarish -- albeit that in itself is, to a degree, "haunting/nightmarish" ... (and it doesn't mean many of them don't have their moments. The Birds, as you mentioned, being a very good example).

But really, I need to revise this list. Inland Empire and Eraserhead are probably 1 and 2 (though I do need to rewatch Inland Empire), but after that, it's a bit of a free for all.

Don't you think Possession and Lost Highway are more haunting to men than to women, generally, because they threaten male insecurities? Is that unfair? Would they be that inherently haunting if we (actually, just people in general) were not so terrified by infidelity? Divorce is definitely terrible for both sexes - but the fear of an octopus (?) monster taking your partner is not equally distributed. And, another example, Adjani's "You disgust me" line (I think) is more meaningful as it is directed at the male loser side of the coin. Would we really be as moved if Adjani were the recipient of that abuse?

You may have a valid point there, those being more haunting for men -- though from personal experience it seems that women, on average, tend to get more easily unsettled or haunted or scared at the movies than men seem to (just a cursory observation). Lost Hwy and Possession aren't ranked that highly in this category due to the theme of infidelity but much more due to how extremely and atmospherically they present it (and their other themes). Lynch's nightmarish, surreal noir atmosphere, along with the strange, unpredictable, psychotic cast of characters and the twisted bizarro, mobius strip of its plot... Possession takes its themes to such ugly, distorted, extreme losses of innocence, hurtling its main characters from an arguing couple to a total annihilation of their values, morals and expectations that it upends the viewer dramatically, becoming a tragic "shock to the system" so to speak... So its much more about how they do it than the base content of their themes. I think its different for everyone as to how impinging they find the films, but I think most serious, observant filmgoers -- male or female -- that were impressed by singular experiences such as these, would likely be able to assimilate both sides roughly equally. Though its hard to be sure.

You're right. I think the intensity of the experience does largely depend on how much sexual infidelity terrifies us as a preconceived fear, but while men are in ways more prone to its horror, females are in ways equally terrified by cheating or by inadequacy and so forth. I don't think the horror lies more in the moral decay or surreal shifts in reality than in the sexual jealousy though. Without sexual jealousy we aren't really more than superficially horrified by the octopus monster thing or by the mystery man at the party. It all hinges on the male's fear of their woman being taken away. In fact, the horrors that become in both movies can be interpreted as being simply a manifestation of subconscious male paranoia, curiosity, and jealousy. But, nonetheless, the concept of "lying" (and secrets) haunts people in general to no end because of the alienation and dissonance that it causes. And anybody with enough compassion can be terrified by what really happens in the human condition even if they don't relate. If I were to subtract points from something for being too "male egocentric" I would effectively remove most of any art form's top choices, since the female is such a prevalent object.

Yes, I agree, I think everything you've pointed out here could hold relevance in any given case.

I just watched The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her I love it. Part of its haunting effect is that the restaurant/dining room is such an intimate and central part of our lives and culture, and the film extends the setting metaphorically until it attacks both our physical and moral/political disgust. I think current research says physical disgust might be the foundation of "moral" disgust: our disgust with images of things like tyranny seems based on our innate disgust with images of disease, like poop and spoiled food. Our physical nourishment and intellectual nourishment (books) is spoiled by tyranny and narcissism, as if they are bad food. Also, the chaos and acts of deviance that disrupt the norms and table "manners" are ultimately the ones that progress the society, like the events of a revolution, an acquired taste that will lead to malnutrition at first. In the conclusion, Albert can't "stomach" the grievances against him, the remains of his actions he is accountable for. I think the compassion of the film cuts some of its "nightmarishness" - that is, the revolutionary aspect wins over the terrorizing aspect - but it remains "nightmarish" in a cinematic sense, so I think it's a pretty good choice for this list

Thanks, love your insights! Maybe you'll inspire me to dive back into some film reviews :)

Un Chien Andalou - Buñuel (1929)
Meshes of the Afternoon - Deren (1943)
Alice - Švankmajer (1988)

Thanks! I haven't seen Alice yet but really want to check out some Svankmajer (especially that one and Conspirators of Pleasure). Meshes would probably make it if I extended the list, and Un Chien might too, though I consider that one a bit more satirical/absurd than haunting -- though it's certainly a "surreal nightmare" of sorts, so I can see possibly adding it too.

You're right about Un Chien, I was thinking about the "nightmarish" part rather than the "haunting" one.

Martyrs by Pascal Laugier is perfect for this list.

Thanks, never heard of it! Do you want me to add it to my "Recommended" list?

Yeah throw it on! Vicious cinema!