Film violence has been around since the slapstick of the silent era. It has though, like every other element of the film-making process, developed a great deal since then. As black-and-white became colour and stop-motion became CGI, so too did pratfalls and ‘planks to faces’ evolve into graphic, detailed evisceration and shotgun-based anatomical dismantling.
So, shall we pause for a moment to take stock of just how far we’ve come? Click on, to find out how deep the bloody, gore-stuffed rabbit hole now goes. We’ll also explain which of these films succeed because of their violence, which did well despite it, and which are just plain crap.
Evil Dead (2013)
The violence: Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead remake is hilariously vile. Hilariously. Eschewing the original trilogy's steadily growing penchant for overt comedy in favour of a relentless escalation of savagely brutal - and nastily creative - practical gore effects, it takes in nail guns, broken glass, bludgeoning, and no small amount of dismemberment, all in prolonged, graphic detail. With a lot of spurting.
The reaction: Some old-school ED fans were disgruntled by the film's lack of obvious humour, but a great many more love it for delivering on the original film's promise - let's not forget, it was never meant to be a comedy - of delivering the most gruelling splatter movie ever made. And besides, while it might lack jokes, Evil Dead 2013 takes a huge amount of glee in what it does, meaning that if you're the type who can find slapstick in excessive gore, it's rather a giddy hoot regardless.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The violence: Don’t like seeing people skewered like pigs? Then don’t watch Cannibal Holocaust, which features the memorably grisly image of a girl doing a really good impression of a kebab.
The reaction: Cannibal Holocaust received just about the highest form of praise such a shocking film could, when it was banned in the UK. Meanwhile, director Ruggero Deodato was arrested in his native Italy where he was charged with making a snuff film. Now, the film is celebrated for its horrific, terrifying realism.
The violence: So gory it’ll make your eyes water. Constantly escalating from its start point of inverse home-invasion horror to surreally horrible levels of torture and torment, Martyrs climaxes in possibly the most upsetting scenes ever put in a horror film. That said, it’s a very smart, brilliantly crafted movie with points to make.
The reaction: In France, the film’s extreme levels of violence meant it was slapped with an 18+ rating, which is akin to an American NC-17. It was the first time a French genre film ever received the rating.
The violence: The last 20 minutes are a blizzard of super-violent activity. Beheadings, bodies torn asunder by a turret gun, and then best of all, Sly clawing out a guy’s intestines. God bless the Noughties.
The reaction: Ah, the fickleness of the movie-going public. Spear a girl on a pole and it’s exploitation. Arm Stallone with a massive gun and it’s action entertainment. Although it largely skips the ‘legitimately good’ aspirations of the original First Blood, Rambo’s knowing embrace of the series’ later excesses makes it a heck of a lot of fun, if you’re in an ‘80s dialled up to 11’ mood.
Ichi The Killer (2001)
The violence: “Just a little torture, nothing special”, says Kakihara at one point. But this is special. One of the most brutal, bruising films ever committed to celluloid, Ichi features no end of gory sequences, including a wince-inducing scene with some hot oil and suspension chains, and some brilliantly inventive deaths.
The reaction: Ichi is a cult masterpiece and a rite of passage for any lover of extreme Japanese movie-making. If you can stomach this, you can pretty much stomach anything.
The violence: See the image above for a particularly gruesome example of the grim deeds contained in this gleeful ‘80s classic. Emil Antonowsky gets melted after he’s covered in toxic waste. And then splattered into mist by a speeding van. Other victims of Paul Perhoeven’s bloodlust include an executive who gets shot into soup by ED-209, and pre-Robo police officer Murphy himself, who’s sadistic ‘death’ scene is still legendarily painful to watch.
The reaction: The levels of violence in RoboCop earned it a severe X rating (11 times) in the States, forcing Verhoeven to dial back the gore. He also cleverly inserted humorous TV spots throughout to lighten the film’s sombre mood. Though ironically, the later director’s cut revealed that some of the film’s intended black comedy was actually lost through the initial reduction in violence.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
The violence: Sexual assault, bottles in faces, mass murder… Natural Born Killers really lives up to its title. Its shocking opening is the clincher; Mickey and Mallory play eeny, meeny, miny, moe, burying bullets in the customers of a roadside diner.
The reaction: Director Oliver Stone cut four minutes of footage in order to appease the MPAA, which earned the film an R rating. Ireland was having none of it, though, banning the film entirely. In the UK, the film was delayed while the BBFC investigated reports that copycat murders were taking place in the US and France.
The Raid 2 (2014)
The violence: So, so much. The original Raid is an immaculate ballet of brutal, crunching, martial arts destruction, but from the very opening seconds, its sequel cranks things up exponentially. Huge-scale, bone-snapping, tendon-slashing beatdowns, hammers, baseball bats embedded in skulls, improvisational use of hot-plates, and dear God, that last battle.
The reaction: Rapturous. The Raid 2 consistently matches its brutality with artistry, crafting fights that are equal parts expertly choreographed violence, nigh-musical feats of pacing, and powerful pieces of unfurling character drama. There's probably no better martial arts movie out there right now, and its conclusion delivers quite possibly the best fight scene of all time.
A Serbian Film (2010)
The violence: Rape, necrophilia, paedophilia, the desperately unpleasant A Serbian Film’s got it all, including some stuff that we don’t really, really want to talk about. Sorry.
The reaction: The film is so horrific that it resulted in the Serbian state prosecution opening an investigation to determine whether or not it actually violated the law. Its depiction of questionable sexual morals was found to be particularly offensive. In Spain, it was banned entirely, while Norway pulled distribution after two months.
Men Behind The Sun (1988)
The violence: Secret experiments? They’re not to secret here, as we watch the Japanese do horrible things to their Chinese and Soviet prisoners in Unit 731. It's very, very bloody.
The reaction: Censors across the globe have railed against Men Behind the Sun's gory depictions. Director Mou Tun-fei received death threats, mostly resulting from allegations of his using real autopsy footage.
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
The violence: Both physical and psychological violence is inflicted throughout Salo. People are urinated on, teenagers are forced to engage in lewd acts, faecal matter is practically smeared across the camera lens, and a young boy has his tongue sliced off. Worst by far, though, is the scene in which faeces is served on plates, which dinner guests happily shovel into their gobs.
The reaction: An almost universal ban greeted Salo in the beginning. The film finally got an uncut UK release in 2000, and in Australia in 2012. The film has its defenders though. Both Martin Scorsese and Alec Baldwin argue it possesses artistic merit.
The violence: Scissors slicing into navels, the accidental murder of family members, an aerosol canister used as a flame-thrower, stabbings… Inside doesn’t pull any punches, right up to its vicious, club-wielding final stretch.
The reaction: Widespread acclaim, as it happens. A cliche-bending home invasion horror, Inside is rightly cited as a smart film indeed, while also brutal and unrelenting in its depictions of violence.
Hostel: Part 2 (2007)
The violence: Cranked out during the height of torture porn's cinematic reign, Hostel 2 pushed the limits of on-screen gristle and gore. Ramping up the viscera like a caffeine-rushing abattoir worker, it gives us heads in boxes (cheers, Fincher), murdered children, circular-saw action, death by dog, needles in ears...
The reaction: Even liberal ol' Germany sliced and diced Eli Roth's film before granting it a cinema release. Lorna's torture and death scene is still missing from the German Extended Edition, as well as the New Zealand release. In the UK, the Government branded it as "an hour and a half of brutality". Cinema-goers didn’t seem fans either, Hostel 2 had only managing to scrape together a measly $17m. That explains the decision to release the third film direct-to-DVD...
Saw VI (2009)
The violence: “This movie is a lot more violent than the previous five”, proclaimed producer Mark Burg. No kidding. The Saw films revolve almost entirely around the various traps masterminded by Jigsaw and his accomplices, and while this one’s no different, it does rather scale up the spectacle. One involves the victim cutting off their own arm, another a sinister breathing apparatus. There’s also a horrible place called The Hanging Room, and don’t even get us started on the Carousel
The reaction: Spain awarded Saw6 the series’ first Pelcula X, a rating that the country usually reserves for pornographic films.
Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985)
The violence: That would be where the woman getting taken apart comes in...
The reaction: Director Hideshi Hino had to prove that his film wasn't, in fact, a grisly documentary. Which, in a weird twist, is all Charlie Sheen's fault. He caught a portion of the film and, convinced it was real, got in touch with the MPAA. They in turn alerted the FBI, which resulted in Hino having to go to court to prove that the special effects weren't the real deal.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The violence: As spake Roger Ebert in his (positive) review:
"The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen"
Yeah, The Passion of the Christ is so brutal it’s otherwise been critically referred to as a legal recreation of snuff. It’s a film so relentlessly savage you should see it as a biblical Hostel, basically.
The reaction: Mixed. Many praised the standard of film-making, singling out performances, audio-visual production, and overall direction as being of very high quality, but there was as much feeling that the violence detracted from the point as there was that the violence was the point.
Philosophy Of A Knife (2008)
The violence: Some truly grisly reenactments of the experiments that took place in Unit 731 take centre stage here. You may want to avert your eyes (we know we did).
The reaction: It was released on DVD in 2008 and didn't seem to cause much of a stir anywhere, to be honest. Guess it's doomed to live forever in the shadow of Men Behind The Sun.
The violence: That opening scene is a nightmare, but it’s nothing compared to the film’s infamous rape scene. Monica Bellucci’s character is threatened, then beaten and finally assaulted for what feels like an age. In crushing, unrelenting detail.
The reaction: Gaspar Noe’s film caused outrage among viewers when it opened at the Cannes Film Festival. In general, critics were divided, some admiring its bravery, others condemning its apparently adolescent approach to sinister material.
Battle Royale (2000)
The violence: Unlike the similarly themed Hunger Games, the violence is up there for everybody to see in all its blood-drenched glory. As if the incendiary collars around the students’ necks – and many killings via a great many different weapons – weren’t enough, some turn to suicide in a gory escape. Most affecting is the death of Sugimura at the hands of his crush Kotohiki. High school is basically awful.
The reaction: Japanese parliament labelled the film crude and tasteless, and opened up a forum for debate about violence in the media. Politicians used the film as a scapegoat for troublesome youths, which is ironic, given that the scapegoating of Japanese youth themselves is what the film is actually about. Otherwise, Battle Royale is hailed as a salient, sobering social commentary.
Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)
The violence: The very first shot of the film sets the tone, as a dead woman lies naked in a field. From there on in, it's all screaming, sweaty deeds filmed in a gritty handheld fashion that only serves to deepen the disturbing nature of the film.
The reaction: Certification disagreements between the filmmakers and MPAA meant that Henry’s release was delayed for four whole years after the cameras stopped rolling, the film finally getting released, unrated, in 1990. Things were equally complicated with the BBFC. It wasn't until 2003 that the film finally received an uncut DVD pass. Though in the long-run, none of that matters when your film's got an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Considered a low budget tour de force, many critics now celebrate the film as the antithesis of slashers - here, the violence is unrelentingly realistic and full of weight.
The Expendables (2010)
The violence: Abuse of various sorts evident here, from Lacy getting her face busted in by her boyfriend, to Christmas' basketball court rampage of revenge. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Things only really kick into gear when the (many) bombastic shoot-outs begin, at which point it’s like the ‘80s never ended. You have never seen so many squibs die for such noble purpose.
The reaction: The reviews weren't exactly filled with high-brow praise, some calling it "the brain-dead male equivalent of Sex And The City 2", while others celebrated the film's camp '80s action thrills. You can't argue with the numbers, though. Made on a budget of $80m, The Expendables grabbed back a whopping $274m in box office returns. Also, it’s really, really fun.
The violence: The scenes of sexual violence and torture contained in MSP are so extreme that it's yet to receive a release on either side of the pond without severe cuts. Most disturbing is its depiction of women through its sadistic killer's eyes - the resultant graphic rape scenes and murders are almost impossible to stomach. Film Threat called it "so violent I actually felt like I was going to throw up a few times".
The reaction: Murder Set-Pieces was deemed so violent that it's been banned entirely in the UK. The BBFC refused to award it even an 18 certificate, and argued that it is potentially in violation of UK obscenity laws.
The violence: You don't get a reputation as one of the goriest films ever made for no reason. Squelchier than a baby's nappy and redder than the Chinese flag, Braindead is packed full of deliriously OTT violence. Fancy seeing a baby wielding a lawnmower to deadly ends? You got it. How about zombies that just refuse to stay dead, whatever punishment they take? Oh yes...
The reaction: The US took the most offence to Peter Jackson's early, punishingly gory caper, reducing the original running time of 104 minutes to a paltry 85, removing almost all of the messiest scenes in the process. Then there was the weird case of the lawsuit filed by one Mr. Bradley, who was unhappy that Jackson filmed his family crypt for the movie. Twenty years later however, all of that is forgotten, and Braindead is celebrated for what it is – a giddy and hilarious splatter comedy that's as outrageous as it is brilliant.
The violence: Both emotional and physical violence take precedence here, Dae-Su's torment extending beyond the tangible. The film's final, devastating twist leads to some shocking self-inflicted injury, and then there's the small matter of torture, that jaw-dropping corridor fight (replete with hammer), and the chowing down of live cephalopods…
The reaction: Considering the film's extreme, controversial content, it's surprising its release didn't foster more controversy. Instead, it was rapidly – and rightly - accepted as a modern cult classic, both brutal and intoxicating. Just er, make sure you watch the Korean original rather than the awful American remake.
Cutting Moments (1997)
The violence: It might be a 25-minute short, but Douglas Buck’s tale of carnage spilling out of the emotional disaffection in a suburban marriage contains more than enough to win it a place on this list. Need examples? Well, the 'cutting' part of the title comes into full effect when a woman slices off her lips by way of appeasement – relationships are complicated in Cutting Moments - only for her husband to reciprocate by chop off her breasts and his own todger. Non-traditional relationship therapy, but it seems to work.
The reaction: Though critics commented that the film's excesses hurt the intelligent points it attempts to make, the New York Times commended it as containing "scenes [that] are almost unwatchable but have a curious, grotesque power".
Haute Tension / Switchblade Romance (2003)
The violence: Alexandre Aja’s horror feature debut does not, for a second, mess about. A deliciously punchy, punk-ass slasher film, its pace is matched only by its invention. Gory axe murders abound, but the real highlight involves a head, a banister rail, and a wardrobe. Not all of those elements remain intact. It’s a bloody film, but rather a giddy one as well.
The reaction: Two minutes of film were cut in the US in order to escape the NC-17 rating, with considerable amounts of gore removed to nab the desired R. As such, you should make sure to watch the uncut, subtitled, 91-minute DVD edit, because A) the gore is kind of the point, and B) just don’t watch the dubbed version, okay?
August Undergrounds Mordum (2003)
The violence: This is a simulated snuff film, so we're talking pretty dark stuff. Infanticide, some rather graphic depictions of necrophilia and even paedophelia. It’s, er, pretty choice material. And if that wasn't enough, Mordum also contains over 500 utterances of the word "Fuck". Because at that point, what’s the point in holding back?
The reaction: You'd be hard pressed to find anybody who's actually seen it, to be honest. Though those who have have not enjoyed it. Exploitation film database Worldwide Celluloid Massacre judged the film “worthless”, and director Fred Vogel was arrested in on Canada on the way to the Toronto Rue Morgue Festival of Fear, on charges of importing obscene materials. The charges were later dropped, but in 2004, copies of the film were seized by Australian customs for similar reasons.
Shogun’s Sadism (1976)
The violence: So in the first of this splatter anthology’s two stories, a girl gets kidnapped, enslaved, and is variously beaten, raped and tortured in the foulest ways possible. We’re talking foul as in ‘dumped in vats of snakes and ripped apart by oxen’. And that’s the first part.
The reaction: The film was basically made in order to sate the Japanese thirst for torture-related movies in the ‘60s and ‘70s – Eli Roth did not invent this stuff – and is a significant work in the Ero guro nansensu (Erotic grotesque nonsense) genre. After the success of Teruo Ishii’s eight, loosely related Joy of Torture films, director Yuji Makiguchi was commissioned to make Shogun.
Snuff 102 (2008)
The violence: Beatings, finger 'amputation', stomping and kicking, nipple biting, genital mutilation, gutting, hammer beatings, eye gouging, asphyxiation, tooth chiseling, hacksawing, necrophilia, and meat-hook impalations. That enough for you?
The reaction: The film debuted in 2007 at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, where it shocked audiences who believed that some of the footage was real. After the screening, director Mariano Peralta was attacked and injured by an outraged audience member.
The violence: Based on the real-life case of Armin Meiwes, who killed and ate a volunteer he met online in 2001, Cannibal plays out roughly as you’d expect if you followed the case back then. Penis chopping, penis cooking, throat-stabbing, human butchery, and a fair amount of flesh eating.
The reaction: Director Marian Dora was assigned to make a film documenting the Meiwes case in 2004, by German director and producer Ulli Lommel. Ultimately, Cannibal was far too graphic for Lommel, and was rejected. Dora released the movie himself, while Lommel went on to make his own version, Diary of a Cannibal, in 2007.