5 Sinister Old Films Way Too Disturbing For Modern Audiences
Once upon a time, moviemakers weren't terribly concerned with trivial little things like "commercial appeal," "content ratings," or "not making viewers have nightmares for weeks." And as we've shown you before, this led to madness that makes modern horror movies look tame by comparison.
L'Age d'Or (1930): A Film About Incest, Serial Murder, And Shooting Children In The Face
What kind of movie features a kid getting shot in the head ...
If you're happy, and you know it, *clap* you're dead
... twice ...
"He'll think twice before not eating his vegetables again. Except he won't, I guess."
... the murderer bribing his way out of punishment ...
"Five dollars?! They'll let me kill an adult Dutchman for three the next county over."
... while a man trying to make out with his girlfriend hemorrhages from the face for absolutely no reason?
Not the head he wanted all his blood flowing to.
Why, that would be L'Age d'Or, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's sequel to their movie about slicing eyeballs open and growing armpit-hair beards. The movie was inspired by their shared disappointment over people somehow liking their first film, so they devised a sequel guaranteed to seriously upset every living human being on the planet. That's how art works, kids.
The story, such as it is, is about a couple so horny that they try to have sex in public (the child getting murdered in the beginning was just a fun non sequitur). Unfortunately, they keep getting interrupted by the laws of civilized society. Left desperately unfulfilled, the man beings to terrifyingly hallucinate sex everywhere he looks. Like in this advertisement:
"Wow, even your hallucinations don't know how to do that."
When the couple is finally able to take a proper trip to Pound Town, the man suddenly discovers that he has no fingers.
"I swear, this never happens to me!"
Before he can furiously thumb his lover to an exciting climax, they are interrupted by a phone call. Understandably angry about getting sex-thwarted by the fingerless meat blocks that used to be his hands, he insults the man on the other end of the line until he kills himself. Meanwhile, the woman is so wound up by the promise of impending sex that she fellates the toe of a statue ...
The only way this scene makes sense is if that statue is made of cocaine.
... and tries to swallow her dad's face.
"Stop kissing me like I'm your sister. Show some passion!"
We then cut to an upper-class sex retreat at a castle, where a Jesus lookalike is weaving his way through a full-blown orgy.
While the real Jesus watches above, weeping.
When one woman tries to leave, Jesus takes her back inside. A scream is heard, and the final shot of the film is a crucifix of women's scalps, because holy shit did this movie want you to hate it.
The one that's second from the right would go on to fame and fortune in Star Trek.
Art and film historians claim that the movie was a commentary on contemporary attitudes towards sexuality, the cruel indifference of the upper class, and the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. Honestly, you could tell us that it's supposed to be an anti-littering PSA and we'd believe you. Regardless of how you interpret the lunacy, Bunuel and Dali got their wish, as people hated the film so damn hard that they rioted over it.
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1959): A Man Tries To Murder Random Women To Find A New Body For His Decapitated Girlfriend
Like most films from the '50s, The Brain That Wouldn't Die is about a mad scientist shattering the laws of nature. This particular mad scientist, Dr. Cortner, is busy keeping his fiance's head alive after a car crash decapitates her. You know you're in for a treat when a movie features the main character carrying his lover's head around in a jacket -- which is not something that moviegoing audiences were used to seeing during the Eisenhower administration.
"I told you to wash this thing."
"Nag, nag, nag."
The understandably distraught doctor's plan is go on the prowl for a sufficiently sexy woman to decapitate. It's not as though he can pop down to Woolworth's to buy his fiance a replacement torso. However, said fiance, Jan, is less enthusiastic:
No woman looks forward to a life of blowjobs as her only sexual options.
Furious at her main squeeze for not letting her suffering end, Jan hatches an evil plan with a monster in Cortner's lab using telepathy. Neither the presence of the monster nor her randomly acquired powers are ever explained, but before you can put much thought into it, the monster ambushes Cortner's assistant and rips his goddamn arm off.
"That was my sciencing arm, damn you!"
As the man bleeds to death, Cortner finally manages to kidnap a suitable replacement woman and drag her unconscious body back to the lab, where he tapes his fiance's mouth shut to silence her annoying objections to the whole "murder some random innocent person to give your severed head girlfriend a new body" plot.
"Nag, nag, nag."
Unfortunately for Cortner, that fucking monster is still shambling around his office. It ambushes Cortner and rips his entire goddamned voice box out.
And spits it out, before getting a lecture about starving mutant cannibals in China.
The lab gets set on fire, because Cortner is terrible at maintaining a safe work environment, and the monster escapes with the unconscious woman while Jan's head burns away to oblivion, laughing maniacally. We assume the audience sat in total silence for several moments before gently setting their tubs of uneaten popcorn down and shuffling out of the theater, never to speak of this again.
She'd have to settle for a dead acting career.
Land Without Bread (1932): A Fake Documentary Tortures/Kills Animals In The Name Of Realism
Having thoroughly angered the French, Luis Bunuel (the Dali collaborator from the first entry) returned to his native Spain to film a bullshit documentary about the rural region of Las Hurdes. This is another way of saying that he made a horror movie about poor people. According to the filmmakers, the day they arrived, they encountered a marriage ritual wherein the new grooms would violently rip off roosters' heads, because this film was in no way produced in conjunction with the Las Hurdes tourism board.
Or taste. Or decency. Or ...
The film suggests that the region's main source of income is orphan labor. One collapsed little girl (according to the film) lay in the same place for days. When the filmmakers heroically bring her plight to the mayor's attention, he complains that she should be killed already to make room for more workers.
"You got five bucks in bribe money? I know a guy."
The film's title, Land Without Bread, refers to the filmmakers' thesis that the locals are so ignorant that they don't know what bread is. (Note: This is not true.) They survive by eating berries which give them dysentery, they set fires in their homes despite having neither chimneys nor windows, and they frequently die of snake bites because no one knows how to treat the wounds. As far as the movie's concerned, Las Hurdes is a region that's actively trying to wipe itself out through sheer incompetence, and has only managed to last this long thanks to a cosmic stroke of idiot luck, sort of like every major event of Forrest Gump's life.
But Bunuel didn't think that orphan abuse, disease, and starvation were shocking enough. He knew that in order to really connect with audiences, he needed to kill some animals onscreen. To illustrate the treacherousness of the mountain terrain of Las Hurdes, they showed a goat supposedly slipping on the rocks of a cliff and plunging to its death. However, in order to get the goat to slip and fall, they had to shoot it. With a gun. You can clearly see the gunshot explode from the right edge of the screen as the obviously-already-dead goat goes spilling down the mountainside.
Which sadly puts it's truthfulness on par with some of the most popular documentaries of all time.
That wasn't enough to satisfy Bunuel's raging animal murder boner, so he slathered a donkey in honey and filmed bees stinging it to death to really drive home the point that he was a civilized human stuck in a backwards land. The people of Las Hurdes were so pissed off at being portrayed as a savage community of subhuman morlocks that when another crew attempted to make a follow-up film 67 years later, they received death threats.
A Short Vision (1954): A Prime-Time Cartoon About Nuclear Holocaust
In the 1950s, the looming threat of nuclear annihilation drove people to make sure we were all aware of the horrific destructive power of atomic weapons to an obsessive degree. For instance, this six-minute cartoon, A Short Vision, explores the potential aftermath of a nuclear attack by making us watch every living creature in the world melt into screaming oblivion for the entirety of its runtime. We open with an unidentified object streaking through the air, looking super ominous, as an accompanying spooky score sings it to the Earth.
"This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a ... flying narwhal?"
After flying over startled animals and sleeping people, there's a blinding flash, and everyone turns into the lobby of the Clamp Building at the end of Gremlins 2.
This may have inspired Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and also countless night terrors.
Every character we were introduced to, human and animal, melts into a shrieking pile of goo not unlike a boiled candy cane.
Wait, how'd the deer open its mouth?
The only survivor of the unidentified city is a single tiny moth ... which promptly flies directly into the fire left behind by the explosion. Because this wasn't an optimistic time in human history, and to hope was to waste valuable energy that could be used preparing for the hellacious destruction of humanity. The film then ends on what sounds like a particularly morose slide whistle.
This chilling vision of nuclear holocaust was broadcast on both the BBC and the goddamn Ed Sullivan Show, which was the same program responsible for bringing the Beatles to 73 million Americans. Rather than warn audiences of what was coming, Sullivan said "I'm gonna tell you if you have youngsters ... tell them not to be alarmed at this, 'cause it's a fantasy; the whole thing is animated." Which is basically saying, "Tell your pussy-ass kids not to be afraid of a cartoon." Some shocked viewers protested, which naturally prompted networks to show the cartoon a second time.
Freaks (1932): Dwarfs, Conjoined Twins, And Amputees Are Murderous Psychopaths
The poster for the 1932 exercise in criminal exploitation, Freaks, tasks moviegoers with asking whether Siamese twins can have sex and if a grown woman can love a midget. This is the gentlest thing about this film.
Freaks starred legless, limbless, and otherwise disabled people at a time when such folks were so hated that there were government programs to involuntarily sterilize them. So we suppose it's not hard to see why eugenics-loving Americans were so disturbed by the armless and legless Prince Randian rolling and lighting a cigarette.
He had a mustache in the first take.
The story is about one of the sideshow performers, a German dwarf named Hans, inheriting a large sum of money, and able-bodied trapeze artist Cleopatra scheming to steal it. She seduces and marries Hans with the intent to poison him, take his money, and run away with Hercules, the strongman. The plan hits its first snag when she gets creeped out by the freaks' post-wedding acceptance chant of "One of us! One of us!"
"This part's famous! This part's famous!"
Cleopatra, not being the brightest murderer, drunkenly calls them filthy and slimy, which immediately makes the group suspicious, considering she just married one of their members. After finding proof of her evil plan, the freaks confront Cleopatra on a dark and stormy night.
"Can't be murdering with dirty weapons. That's simply unseemly."
They also hunt down Hercules, crawling underneath a cart like a swarm of goblins to drag him out and slice off his penis (the actual penis-slicing scene was deleted, because apparently that was the one line of good taste the filmmakers refused to cross).
Three of them almost drown.
Meanwhile, in a scene that was very much not cut from the film, Cleopatra is turned into Bird Girl, the circus' newest attraction. We're told that her hands were melted, her legs were cut off, and her body permanently tarred and feathered, leaving her unable to do anything but try to squawk "help me" with her mutilated tongue.
So essentially a deviantART piece come to life.
To be fair to the film, it does go out of its way to portray the "freaks" as human beings. They're missing limbs and are uncomfortable to look at, but they're not monsters. Well, not for most of the runtime, anyway. The movie also employed a bunch of deformed performers, and they were treated well on set. Still, the image that was seared into everyone's memory was of the "freaks" crawling through the mud to butcher the normal people. Oddly enough, that didn't go over too well with audiences. Reviewers didn't make things any better, insisting that one of the film's failings was the fact that "it is impossible for the normal man or woman to sympathize with the aspiring midget."
It was banned from the United Kingdom for 30 years and ruined the director's career, although nowadays it's considered a horror classic. And we can almost guarantee that if you watch it, you'll be horrified. For one reason or another.
Adam Koski's short film may not be as creepy as some of these movies, but it tries, dammit!
We're pretty sure older folks only lived to terrify future generations. If you need further evidence, please check out 16 Real Old-Timey Photographs That Will Give You Nightmares and 13 Old-Timey Photos That Prove History Was Haunted, and then never sleep again.
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What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror, the third book in David Wong's John Dies at the End series, is available now!