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10 Most DISTURBING 1980s Movies

 10 Most DISTURBING 1980s Movies
VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
More disturbing than 1980s fashion sense? Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for movies from the 1980s that left an indelible mark upon our collective psyches. A spoiler alert is hereby declared, as well as a content warning for some seriously sensitive subject matter being discussed. Our countdown includes movies “The Shining”, “Blue Velvet”, “River's Edge” and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for movies from the 1980s that left an indelible mark upon our collective psyches. A spoiler alert is hereby declared, as well as a content warning for some seriously sensitive subject matter being discussed. Have you seen any of these movies? Would you watch them again? Let us know in the comments!

#10: “The Fly” (1986)

Practical special effects remain a hallmark of horror cinema from the 1980s. “The Fly” from 1986 possesses some of the most effective ever put to screen, as director David Cronenberg creates a horrific vision of science gone awry. The loss of Seth Brundle’s humanity as he devolves from man into fly is troubling, to say the least. Additionally, there’s the sexual and romantic subtext at play within the relationship Brundle has with his lover, Veronica Quaife. It all comes together to create a cinematic experience that many who saw it back in the theaters will never forget. Even if they wanted to.

#9: “Altered States” (1980)

Ken Russell just has to be one of the most idiosyncratic provocateurs to ever work in the film industry. The man’s creative visions were never half-measure, from films like the ultra-controversial “The Devils” to 1980’s “Altered States.” The plot points of sensory deprivation and psychedelia are adapted from the 1978 novel by Paddy Chayefsky, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s Russell’s established penchant for wild visuals that allows these points to come to the forefront, however, creating set pieces that defy logic and imagination. No subject is taboo or off-limits for Russell’s maverick sensibilities, and “Altered States” works as a profane head trip of the highest order.

#8: “River’s Edge” (1986)

Teen movies don’t necessarily require a happy ending or likable characters. “Heathers” proved that in 1989, as did “River’s Edge” three years earlier. The occasional apathy of youth and a feeling of being disenfranchised runs strong throughout “River’s Edge,” which is reflected in the confrontational soundtrack. Punk rock and heavy metal blare out at the audience, as a young cast of future stars (including Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover) work wonders with Neal Jimenez’s uncompromising screenplay. This is a defiantly DARK film that never holds its audience’s hand for a moment, and instead practically dares them to stare directly at the darkest parts of themselves.

#7: “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989)

Here’s a question: when was the last time watching a film made you feel assaulted? If you answered, “1989,” then perhaps you’re one of those people who caught “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” back when it was first released. This film was written, produced, and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, and is an audio/visual attack on the senses. “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” is artistically shot, but simultaneously gruesome, as it depicts a man who’s undergoing a violent and physical change into a machine. The reasons are never really explained, with “Tetsuo” instead relying upon heady, often disorienting visuals and Chu Ishikawa’s unnerving score to leave its audience with one nasty mental scar.

#6: “Videodrome” (1983)

What is it about David Cronenberg’s films that creep us out? It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about “Dead Ringers” from 1988, or the classic “Videodrome” from 1983: the man just gets under our skin. There’s a perversity at play concerning this story of deadly entertainment, a celebration of amorality amidst our modern entertainment industry. Themes of dominance, submission, mind control, and more are all explored within the confines of “Videodrome,” and the lines between fantasy and reality are continuously blurred. The special effects of the snuff film footage in particular feel dirty and real; the kind of thing we’re never sure if we should be watching or not.

#5: “Blue Velvet” (1986)

This film from director David Lynch may be incredibly quotable, but it’s also one of the darkest explorations of human obsession, degradation, and sexuality ever committed to celluloid. The combination of sex and violence is never one that’s executed with ease on screen, and “Blue Velvet” is a frankly difficult film to watch. Dennis Hopper is practically coming apart at the seams with his performance as Frank Booth, a demented local crime figure and drug lord. The elements of film noir and mystery are there, but largely take a backseat to the explicit themes regarding sexual politics and the rotten underbelly often lying just below the surface of our everyday relationships.

#4: “Nekromantik” (1987)

It’s perhaps one of humanity’s greatest taboos, yet it’s also at the forefront of this transgressive West German effort from director Jörg Buttgereit. Sex, death, and real animal violence all collide with an impossibly creepy musical score to create a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. “Nekromantik” was banned in multiple countries and often censored to bejeezus, but it’s also an artfully and occasionally even melancholic expression from its director. Buttgereit is an amateur filmmaker, sure, but the themes of social apathy, anxiety, and the finality of death are all explored with a style that’s unlike any other.

#3: “The Shining” (1980)

Stephen King notoriously disliked director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of the former’s novel, “The Shining.” Still, Kubrick’s vision remains, for many, the definitive telling of King’s story, largely in part due to the disturbing nature of its finished product. “The Shining” is an austere and isolated film, a creepy viewing experience that makes audiences feel uneasy from first frame to last. Wendy Carlos’ score, together with Kubrick’s haunting visuals highlight King’s tale of one man’s descent into madness. However, the themes of Wendy and Jack Torrance’s already-troubled marriage speak volumes about domestic violence and substance use disorder.

#2: “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986)

One criticism that seems to come up again and again when it comes to true crime is humanity’s nature to find something “cool” or attractive within our serial killers. There’s thankfully no danger of this when it comes to this film from director John McNaughton. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is a deliberately grim and lo-fi vision of a criminal, his accomplice, and the wretched deeds they do over the course of 83 minutes. Future “Walking Dead” star Michael Rooker is anything but likable or sympathetic as Henry, nor is Tom Towles as Otis. Both men’s actions are laid out in stark black-and-white, and the audience feels legitimately uneasy and unnerved as the true faces of horror are revealed.

#1: “Cannibal Holocaust” (1980)

It’s one of the most controversial horror movies of all time, and a film that continually takes top honors on lists such as this one. It’s “Cannibal Holocaust,” a film that remains a calling card for Italian horror and the extremes to which that industry was willing to go for a shock. Director Ruggero Deodato wasn’t a hack, however, while screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici inserts a “found footage” narrative that predates “The Blair Witch Project” by nearly 20 years. The real-life animal violence included within the film is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how “Cannibal Holocaust” attacks its audience. This is a transgressive viewing experience that’s not for the faint of heart.