I have long been a fan of horror films, and before I learned that I was color blind and did not have the patience or talent for makeup, I wanted to be a special effects artist. Movies like F/X and magazines like Fangoria really nailed my desire home. And while I will never be able to be the FX artist I dreamed of being as a kid, I can live vicariously through horror films.
And in the early aughts, there were a ton of films that really pushed envelopes when it came to gore and torture. So much so that some of the hoity-toitier of moralists dubbed them “torture porn.” A number of the films listed here were part of the New French Extremity movement since many hail from France or French writers/directors, but there are a splattering of artists from around the world in the larger New Extremity movement.
I started in 2000 and ended in 2009, so films like A Serbian Film from 2010 which people love to point out is not on this list. There are multiple movies for different years since I wanted to include them. I know, I’m a stickler for rules, especially when I want to break them.
It should go without saying from this introduction that none of the films listed are for the faint of heart. They are also not recommended as films to introduce new people to the horror genre. They will most likely turn off new people, and a number of them have turned off fans of the genre as well.
I added links to free (usually with ads) sites that were available at the time of writing, but since the various sites rotate content they may not be available later.
Baise-Moi (2000) written and directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi is more of a crime thriller than a horror film, though the intense rape scenes are horrific in their extremity. In some regions of the world, the scene where a man is raped by gunpoint (not at gunpoint) was edited out in many regions. The sexual content, the consistent violence, and general tone of the film set the stage well for the wave of extreme films in the 2000s.
Ichi the Killer (2001)
Ichi the Killer (2001) from Takashi Miike (三池 崇史) and Sakichi Sato (佐藤 佐吉) chronicles a psychotic enforcer and the inner circle of the Yakuza. With mind control, sexual violence, and bloody CGI, Ichi is a lot of fun to watch. While not Miike’s best work, it is one that people in the West paid attention to.
Cabin Fever (2002)
2002’s Cabin Fever put filmmaker Eli Roth on the horror world’s radar. Set in an isolated cabin rented by friends to hang out and party, the group runs into a man in need of help. A skin-eating disease is liquefying him, and the group accidentally set him on fire. With the rush of an impending Greek tragedy, everything goes to shit and the group becomes infected and fall prey to the disease as well as each others’ fears.
Irreversible from 2002 is largely known as the movie with the nine minute single take rape scene that Monica Bellucci, the lead actress of the film and in the scene, still has not watched.
Haute Tension / High Tension (2003)
High Tension from 2003 is a thrilling ride full of murder, mayhem, and big reveals. The ending was often hated by most horror film fans due to its change in tone from the tension of the title to a classic slasher confrontation, but it is hard to imagine it going any other way upon re-watching. Once the reveal occurs, the rest is balls-to-the-wall mayhem.
Surreal and brutally abusive, Calvaire from 2004 tells the tale of a minor entertainer named Marc on the road as his van breaks down. He takes refuge in an inn, only to have the master of the house fall into rambling delusions where he believes Marc to be his wife who had cheated on him and left him years before. The villagers nearby get caught up in the fantasy of the delusion and the terrified Marc is subjected to even more abuse before he is able to escape into the woods.
Everybody hates Americans, which means that if you’re going to run a business built around letting rich people play out their more horrific fantasies, then it would behoove you to pick up a few Americans along the way. And what better way that to pick up annoying Americans out to party in Slovakia? This was the first film where I actually heard the term “torture porn” tossed around in commentary about the movie.
Wolf Creek (2005)
As with most movies “based on true events,” Wolf Creek leaves a lot open to interpretation. However, Greg McLean as the writer/director proved with this film that it didn’t matter if it was real or not if you can tell a good story about a massively maniacal madman. And casting John Jarratt as Mick Taylor was absolutely perfect since he played the character note for terrifying note perfectly to induce as much psychopathy as possible from the role.
Frontier(s) from 2007 is one of my go-to horror flicks. It is brutal, bloody, and weird. A family of Nazis running an inn and trying to breed a master race of freaky inbred children who are hiding in the mines nearby… Oh hell yes, it had pretty much everything except comedy.
And Karina Tesla’s performance as Yasmin was astounding. The trauma-shake of her whole body at the end of the film is devastating to watch as the movie concludes.
À l’intérieur / Inside (2007)
It’s Christmas Eve and pregnant Sarah is at home, still grieving from the death of her husband in a car crash, readies herself for the birth of her baby the next day. An unidentified woman tries to get into her home, so she calls the police. From there, Sarah ends up on the receiving end of blood violence as the woman breaks in, kills police, and reveals that she wants the child for her own.
In 2007, Nimród Antal decided to take the term “torture porn” to the mainstream with Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson starring in Vacancy. A couple take a wrong turn on a mountain road and their car breaks down. A tow truck driver takes them to a motel where they discover cameras. Rather than just selling low-quality porn, the proprietors have a snuff film business going, and they have to try to survive the night. Sometimes marital problems have a way of fixing themselves in life and death situations.
2008’s Martyrs depicts a world where a group abducts children and tortures them to discover the truths of life and death as the girls must be taken to the absolute edge of pain and horror to see into the beyond.
A number of people walked out of the film due to its prolonged scenes of torture.
After the death of their toddler, the parents go out to a remote cabin to grieve. Caught within their own horrendous cycles of grief, the couple undergo a horrific metamophasis that cuts deep into them. The scissor scenes are certainly not for the squeamish.
The Collector (2009)
When a man who is deep in debt plans a robbery, he discovers that someone else is already in the house. And he is much more dangerous than the debt collectors.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
While I prefer the absolute gonzo madness of the second film, 2009’s The Human Centipede played into the gross-out zeitgeist by creating a mouth-to-anus line of victims that became a meme by just existing.
Melancholie der Engel / The Angel’s Melancholy (2009)
Repulsive nihilism at its 2009 extreme, The Angel’s Melancholy depicts a relationship devoid of judgement, where every excess is on display but empty of meaning and purpose. From beheading an infant after birth to cutting out a woman’s uterus to rape and coprophagia and rape and murder, this film portrays a small subsection of experience run amok.
I also thought it was entirely too long and way more boring than any extreme film should have been.