10 Most Controversial Horror Movies Ever

1. Le Chien Andalou (1929)

While not technically a horror movie as we know them today, this film from Luis Buñuel and painter Salvador Dali is fantastic Freudian free association at its best.

What made this surreal bit of celluloid so controversial was its opening sequence in which a woman’s eye is slit by a razor. Buñuel has stated that “Nothing in the film symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.”

2. Freaks (1932)

Audiences were so “freaked” by director Tod Browning’s flick that they ran from the theatres. Studio executives where nearly apoplectic when they saw Browning’s cut (not surprisingly, his career took a serious slide downwards after this movie hit the screens). In fact, “Freaks” was such a terror that it was banned for viewing in England for 30 years.

3. Peeping Tom (1959)

What is actually the precursor to and importation for Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” this 1959 horror film all but ended the career of British director Michael Powel. The story revolves around a young man who murders women while using a portable movie camera to record their dying expressions of terror. Later it became a studied and appreciated masterwork.

As a card-carrying member of the Orson Welles club of under appreciated-in-their-own-lifetime moviemakers, Powell notes in his autobiography, “I make a film that nobody wants to see and then, 30 years later, everybody has either seen it or wants to see it.”

4. The Exorcist (1973)

Before its release in 1973 there had been few movies dealing with demonic possession, especially in full color, state-of-the-art special effects. Who could ever forget the scene where possessed Regan’s head spins 360 degrees, while she spits green bile and utters obscenities? Then there’s the violent act with the crucifix. The devout everywhere were up in arms.

5. Zombie 2 (1979)

Originally titled just “Zombie,” this entry from Italian harror master Lucio Fulci was awarded its release moniker when the producers discovered that an unrelated film named “Zombie” was about to be released at the same time.

While not as controversial as some of its siblings of the subgenre, the infamous scene in which an eye is slowly and painfully gouged out on a splintered piece of wood is unforgettable, and was edited from many subsequent releases. “Zombie 2″ wasn’t available in the U.K until 2005.

6. I Spit On Your Grave (1978)

This controversial rape-revenge film directed by Meir Zarchi caused quite a stir upon its release in 1978. Critics scolded its depictions of gang rape, and the MPAA awarded it an X rating upon its original U.S. release. It was finally released in the US after cuts with an R rating in 1981, but wasn’t available in Canada on video until 1998.

Film critic Roger Ebert says it is of the worst films he has ever seen, referring to it as “a vile bag of garbage…without a shred of artistic distinction.” He also adds that attending its screening was one of the most depressing experiences of his life.

7. Cannibal Holocaust (1981)

A precursor in many ways to the 1999 film “The Blair Witch Project.” Only in this version there is no unseen enemy. Directed by Ruggero Deodato and filmed in the Amazon rainforest, the film focuses on four documentary makers who travel into the jungle to film the primitive native tribes that live there. After two months and no word from the team, a renowned anthropologist is sent to rescue them. The only thing he recovers is their film reels, which document the team’s harrowing final experiences.

After premiering in Italy, the film was seized by the authorities and the director was arrested for obscenity, accused of making a snuff film amidst rumors that the film’s actors were slain for the camera. Six animals were actually killed during the making of the film. On the flip side, legendary director Sergio Leone called it a “masterpiece of cinematographic realism.” Legend tells that is banned in over 50 countries.

8. Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Kicking up a flurry of controversy in its day, this Charles E. Sellier Jr-directed entry in the slasher subgenre was one of the most divisive films of the decade due to the fact its killer comes dressed as Santa Claus. Siskel and Ebert condemned the film and went so far as to read its production credits on air, saying “shame, shame” after each one.

9. House of 1000 Corpses (2000)

This Rob Zombie-directed homage to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was completed in 2000, but not released until 2003 due to its surrounding controversy and its inability to find a distributor. ultimately called it “too highbrow to be a good cheap horror movie, too lowbrow to be satire, and too boring to bear the value of the ticket.”

10. Hostel (2005)

Set in a dystopic, post-communist Slovakia, this 2005 Eli Roth flick was the first to earn the suspect moniker of “Torture Porn.” While a stepchild of the “Saw” series in many thematic ways, it’s the most compelling entry in the newly-minted subgenre in which audiences are thrilled by scenes of devastatingly graphic human on human violence.

“Hostel” spawned numerous imitators, including “Captivity.” Needless to say the Slovaks weren’t too impressed with the depiction of their homeland.

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