To further expand upon my definition of extreme horror movies I've put together a list of the top 13 extreme horror movies that aren't strictly torture porn. All of these movies have a plot, character development and emotional depth to a story that adds to the overall terror provided by the no-holds barred, renegade approach to filmmaking, where everything and anything occurs on-screen and the audience is forced to witness the entire bloody process of terrible mutilation, dismemberment, rape and even the most brutal of murders. While some of these may shock you, all of them have a good amount of blood and gore, and most will definitely be nightmare fuel for days to come.
13. Hellraiser (1987)
"Hellraiser" is based on "The Hellbound Heart", a novella by Clive Barker, who also wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. This extreme horror movie is actually a really complex tragedy, a story about a named woman Julia and her illicit affair with her husband Larry's brother, Frank.
A sexually depraved man, Frank stumbles upon a puzzle box in the search for the ultimate pleasure. He solves the puzzle box and it opens a gateway to hell, of which hooked chains whip out of and rip him apart. The Cenobites, including the infamous Pinhead, appear to collect the remains of their latest plaything/victim.
Frank finds a way to escape the Cenobites sadomasochistic hell and makes his way to the attic of Julia and Larry's new home. Larry cuts his hand on a nail in the attic and when his blood drips on the floor Frank uses it start his hideous and painfully slow resurrection. When Julia's step-daughter Kirsty discovers that she is murdering lonely men in her attic, all hell breaks loose. Can Kirsty save her father from Julia and his resurrected brother, or will the Cenobites drag them all into hell?
You can read my analysis of the soundtrack of "Hellraiser" in The Sound of the Scare Part 3: Hellraiser
12. The Last House on the Left (1972)
According to Adam Rockoff in his book "Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986" "The Last House on the Left" tore through theaters, alternately attracting and disgusting audiences. It was one of the earliest rape-revenge films and among the first to broach the question whether cinematic violence, no matter how debase, could have any socially redeeming value."
Craven shows the brutal rape, mutilation and murder of two college girls without cutting away even once from the realistic violence in order to shock and horrify the audience. This movie has aged quite well and isn't for those sensitive to violence towards women. Seriously. You will become emotionally disturbed by watching it.
11. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
When a group of five college kids go on vacation at a cabin in the woods, they soon discover that they are not alone and that monsters are real.
"The Cabin in the Woods" is a perfect deconstruction of the extreme horror movie genre. It has everything, from crazy zombie rednecks that want to mutilate and kill you to an end scene with every single movie monster you can imagine in it and buckets of blood. Joss Whedon's tongue in cheek humor and over the top violence puts "The Cabin in the Woods" in the extreme horror movie category.
You can watch the trailer for "The Cabin in the Woods" here and read my review here
10. Suspiria (1977)
Suzy Bannion is a new arrival at a famous ballet academy in Freiburg Germany. One by one, students are being viciously murdered by an evil monstrous entity. Suzy soon learns that the academy is run by witches that are hellbent on killing anyone that stumbles upon them. Can Suzy stop the coven of witches from killing anyone else, or will the evil Black Queen of the witches, the Mother of Sighs, consume her soul?
This is the first movie in Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy, and one of the best movies Argento has ever done.
"Suspiria" shows off Argento's unparalleled ability to make dead women look beautiful and yet grotesque at the same time. Rotten Tomatoes calls it a "candy-colored nightmare" and states that "Suspiria weaves a menacing tale of witchcraft as a fairy tale gone horribly awry."
You can read my analysis of the soundtrack of Suspiria in The Sound of the Scare Part 2: Suspiria
9. Zombi 2 (1979)
"Zombi 2" (aka "Zombie," "Island of the Living Dead," "Zombie Island," "Zombie Flesh Eaters") by Lucio Fulci has some of the more memorable scenes of carnage and violence of any of the zombie movies that came out of Italy during the late 1970s including zombie vs. shark and a slow excruciating "eye scare" where the victims face is shoved towards a large sharp splinter of wood and is shoved on it, eye first.
A boat drifts ashore the New York coastline belonging to Ann Bowles' scientist father that has a zombie on board. Soon afterward, Ann finds herself on a trip to the tropical island of Matool where her father was working and has fallen ill. A terrifying disease has been unleashed on the island that is turning people into zombies that are seemingly indestructible.
8. Dagon (2001)
"Dagon" happens to be one of my favorite Lovecraft films. It ranks up there with "Necronomicon" and "Re-Animator" on my list of the best Lovecraft movies of all times. It keeps all of the weird strangeness and terrifying moments of the original Lovecraft story, while still providing enough gore to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty splatter hound. The violence and blood shed in this horror classic is definitely true to Gordon Stuart's style of filmmaking. You won't be disappointed.
Paul Marsh has been having strange dreams of swimming in the deep ocean with a mermaid. And lucky him, he and his girlfriend Barbara have gone boating for vacation. Things begin to go horribly wrong when the boat is shipwrecked off the coat of Spain. Paul and Barbara find themselves in the abandoned fishing village of Imboca, desperate for help. But, there is something wrong with the people in the village and nothing is as it seems. A cryptic warning from the town's drunk turns out to be true as inhuman fishmen come out after dark and try to kill them all.
7. Dead Alive (1992)
"Dead Alive" aka "Brain Dead" is a gore fest masterpiece by none other than Peter Jackson. Yes, that Peter Jackson, the very same one that made the fantastic Lord of the Rings trilogy. Before Peter Jackson became a big name in movies, he made cheesy ultra-violent horror films. "Dead Alive" is an extreme horror comedy that holds nothing back.
Loinel Cosgrove's domineering mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey while he is on a date with the love of his life at the zoo. His mum soon falls ill and dies. Shortly thereafter, she returns to life and goes on a huge eating binge, starting with the neighbor's dog. Every person she bites, becomes infected and the zombie disease quickly spreads throughout the town. Some of the more memorable scenes include attacking a mob of zombies with a lawnmower, a creepy doofy headed infant on the loose and a melting zombie head.
6. Dead Snow (2009)
"Dead Snow" is a brilliant gem of a Norwegian horror movie full of unbridled violence and frenetic blood sprees the likes of which haven't been seen on-screen since Ash took up his chainsaw in "Evil Dead."
Seven college kids travel to a remote cabin owned by one of their friends. It's party time on the snowy hills of Oksfjord until a mysterious hiker appears and tells them a grim warning tale about the Nazis that came and tortured the local townsfolk. The people fought back and drove the Nazis into the mountains where they froze to death. Soon, the kids are being stalked by the evil Nazi undead who are out to recapture what was stolen from them, a stash of gold coins that they hoarded and hid in the floorboards of the cabin that the college kids uncover when they go to stash their beer.
5. The Evil Dead 2 (1987)
"Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" or just "Evil Dead 2" is a retcon of the first "Evil Dead" movie. Ash Williams, (a role that would make Bruce Campbell a horror household name) and Linda, his girlfriend, head out to a cabin in the woods for a romantic weekend. In the basement of the cabin is an audio tape left by an archeology professor. When the tape is played, it is revealed that the professor found the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis aka the Book of the Dead and he reads an incantation from the book which summons the evil spirits of the Deadites which possess Linda, animate the trees and wreak unholy havoc upon Ash and his friends.
You can watch the trailer to "Evil Dead 2" here
4. Cabin Fever (2002)
"Cabin Fever" is about a group of college kids that head to a cabin in the woods for summer vacation. Something vile is in the water supply. A local hunter contracts a flesh eating virus. When he approaches the kids for help, he becomes violently ill and begins vomiting blood all of the place and one by one the kids contract a virulent flesh eating virus that consumes their bodies whole.
You can watch the trailer to "Cabin Fever" here
3. Mother of Tears (2007)
The last member of the trio of ancient black witches, Mater Lachrymarum, is out for revenge and world domination. A whirlwind of violence is engulfing the world as white witch Sarah strives to uncover the secret of Mater Lachrymarum and stop her before it is too late.
The last installment of the Three Mothers trilogy by Dario Argento, "Mother of Tears" is full of scenes that use actual torture devices to kill people and a very memorable final death scene where Mater Lachrymarum is impaled quite spectacularly.
2. Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)
"Return of the Living Dead 3" is far darker and grim than the other two Return of the Living Dead installments and by far the goriest. I like to think of "Return of the Living Dead 3" as Romeo and Juliet of the Undead.
Military brat Curt Reynolds is madly in love with his girlfriend Julie. They break into a military base to look in on what his dad has been working on, and discover that they are reanimating the dead to use as soldiers in the Army.
Julie is tragically killed in an accident. Curt's grief drives him to take her corpse to the military base and resurrect her. Unfortunately, she soon begins to crave human flesh and starts to spread the zombie infection to all those she attempts to consume. In order to stave off her cravings, she begins piercing her flesh with shards of glass and sharp pointy pieces of metal, as pain is the only thing that stops her from eating her beloved Curt.
You can watch the trailer for "Return of the Living Dead 3" here
1. Splinter (2008)
Polly and Seth are setting up their tent for a nice romantic camping trip. When clumsy brainiac Seth ruins the tent, they have no choice but to go find a cheap motel to spend the night at. While on their way into town, they come across a distressed woman, Lacey, walking along the side of the road. Polly decides to stop and let her in the car, which results in them being hijacked by Dennis, the Lacy's partner in crime, who forces them to drive to Platt.
While they are driving Polly runs over something and pops a tire. As they frantically work to fix it without angering their captors, Dennis inspects the odd and sinister splinter filled corpse of road kill that popped their tire.
They are soon back on the road and stop at a gas station to refuel. Lacey is attacked by gas station attendant, who was taken over by the splinter creature, which soon takes over her body as well.
One by one the characters are killed and absorbed by the parasite as they become trapped in a lone gas station at the edge of the forest.
As it takes over more bodies, the parasite melds them together into a huge clumsy monstrosity that oozes black ichor and flings splinters at its victims like a berserk porcupine. This creature feature has it all; dismemberment; mutilation; ambulatory corpses being controlled by a fungus-like splinter parasite that can puppet the flesh of any creature that is living or dead. I've never seen anything like it, it is morbid and utterly fantastic in its grotesque imagery.
The splinter creature is described by director Toby Wilkins in an interview with Wild About Movies as not being a creature at all, but more of a substance, like sea urchin spines that puncture skin and break off inside, only to burrow its way deep into your body and expands using your blood and nutrients to grow its own tendon or musculature under your skin, around your skeleton. It takes over your body before you're dead, and kills you from the inside out.
The best part about this movie? It doesn't use one lick of CG to animate its monsters. It's all puppets and awesome prosthetics made by an extremely talented people at Quantum Creation FX.