The Ford Five: Best Torture Films
Being a fan and reviewer of horror films, it’s a certainty that I will stumble across films more commonly referred to as ‘torture porn’. However, in some cases, this label has struck me as being incredibly derogatory. First used to describe Eli Roth’s mediocre 2005 flick Hostel, torture porn is generally used for a film which often features gratuitous gore, interminable torture scenes and lack of plot or character. There are innumerable cases of films ticking these boxes, but there have been a few nasty films that are well made, well executed and genuinely fine horror films, including some on this list that were up there as the finest of their respected decades. Before I start the countdown, I will point that I have chosen not to include any of the Saw films, because the first Saw is barely a torture film and the sequels are uniformly bad, nor have I included Hostel or Wolf Creek, for the simple reason that I don’t really like them that much. With that aside, let’s count down what I believe to be the five best torture films of all time.
There weren’t a lot of films I considered to be close to my top 5, but of those nearly placed, special mention goes to Simon Rumley’s intense revenge film Red White and Blue, which I reviewed before and the intense Australian film The Horseman, which I called one of the best unseen horrors of the noughties.
W Delta Z (AKA The Killing Gene) (2008)
One of the first films of the torture porn era to prove that you could have both explicit gore and real drama, W Delta Z is a grungy, darkly shot crime mystery in the same vein (if obviously not as good) as Se7en, in which a detective, played with a grizzled intensity by Stellan Skarsgård, investigates a disturbing case in which local gangsters, involved in an infamous, thrown-out-of-court case years earlier, are apparently being give the choice of be tortured, or kill their loved ones. Focusing more on a creeping atmosphere and only flashes of violence for the most part, W Delta Z is an interesting film that wouldn’t even qualify as a torture film if it wasn’t for a few scenes down the stretch. Housing good performances from Skarsgård, the underrated Selma Blair and a pre-fame Tom Hardy, W Delta Z is a well made and intriguing crime film that features torture scenes both physically and emotionally painful.
The Loved Ones (2010)
In times of uninspired remakes, pointless violence and dull found footage, you often have to turn to foreign cinema to find truly remarkable horror films. Though Australia did produce the overrated Wolf Creek, we also got The Loved Ones, one of the most utterly demented, madcap, and criminally underseen horrors of the decade. Starring the wonderfully batty Robin McLeavy as the disturbed Lola, who just wants a prom date, The Loved Ones is horribly over the top high school flick about a loner (Xavier Samuel) trying to get over the death of his father, only to find himself kidnapped on prom night by Lola’s father. Taking in incest (the father-daughter relationship is icky as hell), cannibalism and cringe inducing torture (knifes through feet, drills in skulls), The Loved Ones is no easy watch, but has a sharp sense of humour, and is possibly the most entertaining of all torture films.
Eden Lake (2008)
The hoodie horror is a very British subgenre of horror in which hoodies, or ‘chavs’, usually attack innocent likeable people. Though the theme has been seen in the terrifying Heartless, the claustrophobic Cherry Tree Lane and the brutal Harry Brown, the pinnacle of hoodie horror flicks is Eden Lake, one of the most intense British films ever made. Following nice London couple Steve and Jenny (pre-stardom Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly) on a weekend break out to the country, things begin to go wrong when Steve gets into something of a beach turf war with a bunch of local youths. Soon, tires are slashed, possessions are stolen and tongues are cut out. Boasting one of the most gruesome, realistic torture scenes depicted onscreen, Eden Lake is a living nightmare for middle Englanders, a reactionary piece to newspaper articles and television reports. It isn’t for the faint of heart, and boasts some terribly disturbing imagery (a boy lit on fire, gaping stab wounds), but with terrifying performances from a relatively inexperienced cast, as well as dependable work from Fassbender and Reilly, Eden Lake is an outstanding British release, and truly difficult to stomach.
Before Eli Roth kickstarted the torture porn genre with the rather dull Hostel, torture films were far and few in-between. From Japanese auteur of all things disgusting Takashi Miike came one of the most bewildering, unique, and terrifying torture films of all time, Audition. Strangely enough, Audition barely qualifies as a torture film, because for most of the film, it seems to be a gentle romantic comedy about widowed film producer Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi) ‘auditioning’ women to be his new girlfriend. When he discovers the shy, vulnerable Asami (the extraordinary Eihi Shiina), things seem to be going well, until Shigeharu discovers Asami’s past, in which brutally mutilated several men. Finding himself drugged by Asami, he is then subjected to an unflinching torture during which he has acupuncture needles pressed into his eyelids, all while Asami sweetly says the nightmarish words, “Kiri, kiri, kiri”, meaning “Deeper, deeper, deeper”. The torture scenes lasts for nearly the entire final act, and is a shudder inducing experience, especially when we’ve seen the romance between the two blossom and have grown to like the two. It’s a risky move, completely changing tack to deliver the gore, and Miike truly delivered a bold, brash and very uncomfortable masterpiece.
Could it be anything else? Those who’ve followed the blog from the beginning know I regularly sing the praises of this French Extreme film from Pascal Laugier, directed of recent thriller The Tall Man. Following Lucie and Anna (Mylène Jampanoï and Morjana Alaoui) who attack a family who apparently abused Lucie when she was younger, Martyrs kicks off with a young mutilated girl running away from a place of abuse, moves onto the massacre of an average suburban family, and only goes downhill from there. Early on, there’s a disturbing metaphor about how abuse continues to haunt you in your adult life, and a revolting scene of Anna finding a torture victim in the basement, but as Anna is taken by a cult who want to prove there is a heaven by torturing women until they see God, Martyrs turns into an astonishing religious horror. It certainly proved too extreme for most, with reviews of either five stars or one, but with stunning performances from the two leads, genuinely scary moments and imagery, a climax involving a character being flayed alive which becomes truly transcendent, and a sharp, unusual punchline, Martyrs is an incredible achievement, and most certainly the best torture film of all time.
If you have a strong stomach and have yet to see any of these films, track them down and let me know what you think of the list. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!
By Harry J. Ford
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- Tagged: audition, australian, british, disturbing, eden lake, eli roth, french, gory, horror, hostel, kelly reilly, martyrs, michael fassbender, pascal laugier, red white and blue, saw, selma blair, takashi miike, the horseman, the killing gene, the loved ones, tom hardy, torture porn, violent, w delta z, weird, wolf creek, xavier samuel