1. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Magician Montag the Magnificent commits horrific acts of violence onstage, but nothing seems amiss to the audience — until his victims die shortly thereafter. Herschell Gordon Lewis is the king of the splatter film, in which the extreme gore is secondary to the plot. It’s a lot like porn, with violence instead of sex.
2. The Last House on the Left (1972)
Director: Wes Craven
When a girl named Mari is raped and brutalized by a gang of murderers, her parents seek revenge against her attackers, turning into monsters themselves. The controversial rape-revenge genre has never been harder to watch: Even the 2009 remake, while more violent, wasn’t nearly as perverse.
3. The Gore Gore Girls (1972)
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Strippers are being murdered, and it’s up to private investigator Abraham Gentry to find the culprit. Another splatter film — and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ last for 30 years — The Gore Gore Girls ups the silliness of the genre. The violence is still there, but it’s all that much more absurd.
4. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
The cannibalistic clan at the center of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre butcher their victims horribly — but hey, at least they find good uses for the leftover parts. Ignore all the sequels and remakes: The 1974 original remains a classic for a reason. It’s gleefully bloody and thoroughly bizarre.
5. Zombie (1979)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Zombies attack New York. It’s not a particularly original premise — Zombie was actually titled Zombi 2 in Italy, implying that it was a sequel of Dawn of the Dead. (It wasn’t.) But the execution here is great, including the infamous sequence in which Paola’s eye meets a giant splinter of wood.
6. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
A documentary crew heads into the Amazon to film cannibal tribes, and they’re never heard from again. Found-footage horror has come a long way from Cannibal Holocaust, but there’s something truly upsetting about this early entry. Some sequences were so realistic that the movie was condemned as a snuff film.
7. The Thing (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
An Antarctic research station is ravaged by a shapeshifting creature that can hide undetected in seemingly normal people. The monster is scary because it could be anyone, but also because it’s really, really gross. The body horror — including a scene where a corpse’s chest collapses to form a giant mouth — is unmatched.
8. Videodrome (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Max Renn is the CEO of a small TV station who discovers a broadcast of graphic violence and torture. He looks for the source and ends up in over his head, suffering from horrifying hallucinations. Like The Thing, Videodrome is a body horror classic, complete with some of the most memorable gross-out visuals ever depicted.
9. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Director: Tony Randel
In a psychiatric hospital after the events of the first film, Kirsty must protect herself against Pinhead and her evil stepmother, back from the dead. The first Hellraiser is a classic, but there is way more Cenobite action — and gore — in the sequel. The two go hand in hand, of course, as the Cenobites traffic in torture.
10. Dead Alive (1992)
Director: Peter Jackson
It all starts with the Sumatran Rat-Monkey and quickly becomes one of the funniest and most disgusting zombie films ever made. Dead Alive, known as Braindead in its native New Zealand, is a bloody and bizarre mess, crafted by Peter Jackson before he went mainstream and started making movies about hobbits.
11. Scream (1996)
Director: Wes Craven
You know the plot of this one: Scream is perhaps the most mainstream movie on this list, and the least violent. But the opening scene is sufficiently bloody — not to mention gutsy — and the film as a whole reignited the slasher genre. Where would modern horror be without it?
12. Audition (1999)
Director: Takashi Miike
Aoyama thinks he’s found his new wife in the alluring Asami, but he soon learns there’s more to her than meets the eye. Audition is a slow burn, culminating in a brutal torture sequence. The violence — much of it done with needles — is bad enough, but Asami’s sadistic enjoyment of the ordeal makes it all so much worse.
13. Trouble Every Day (2001)
Director: Claire Denis
All you really need to know about Trouble Every Day can be summed up by its niche genre: French erotic cannibal horror. Add to that the incredibly intense Béatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, and you’ve got a distressing cinematic experience that will make you not want to eat for quite some time.
14. High Tension (2003)
Director: Alexandre Aja
Marie and Alex are two friends staying at Alex’s parents house for the weekend when they’re attacked by a brutal serial killer. High Tension’s graphic violence originally earned it an NC-17 rating in the U.S., but Aja’s use of blood is actually quite stunning. Just try to ignore the unfortunate twist ending.
15. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Director: Rob Zombie
The Firefly family from House of 1000 Corpses return to torture and maim more people — and end up on the receiving end of some violence themselves. Far better than its predecessor, The Devil’s Rejects is both disturbing and darkly comedic, with one of the finest endings of any horror film.
16. Saw II (2005)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Serial killer Jigsaw once again forces his carefully chosen victims to mutilate themselves in order to survive. The Saw films became increasingly complicated and lost a little something in the process, but Saw II is perhaps the best. And the pit of hypodermic needles is not easily forgotten.
17. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Director: Alexandre Aja
The 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s classic sticks to the source material pretty closely, as a family on a road trip gets lost in the desert and attacked by bloodthirsty mutants. But Aja again shows that gore can be an art — even the film’s bloodiest sequences are beautiful, if you can stomach them.
18. Hostel: Part II (2007)
Director: Eli Roth
It’s a pretty straightforward conceit: A group of girls is tortured by a secret club whose members pay exorbitant fees for the thrill of killing innocent people. Like the first Hostel, you’re forced to identify with both the torturers and their victims, creating an uncomfortable but ultimately cathartic viewing experience.
19. Inside (2007)
Directors: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
A pregnant woman named Sarah is tormented by a relentless assailant who wants to cut out her unborn child. The cat-and-mouse game between the two women plays out with shockingly violent consequences: The film is brutal from start to finish, but worth the emotional trauma it takes to endure.
20. The Ruins (2008)
Director: Carter Smith
When a group of tourists explore a Mayan ruin, they’re trapped by plants that quite literally get under their skin. Evil vines might not sound like the most compelling basis for a horror film, but The Ruins is equal parts scary and gross. It’s not for the squeamish, or anyone with house plants.
21. Martyrs (2008)
Director: Pascal Laugier
Revealing too much about Martyrs can ruin the experience — the less you know, the better. All you really need to know is that the film is another entry into the new French extremism genre, which means it pushes the limits of on-screen violence and will almost certainly make you squirm in your seat.
22. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Bradley Cooper stars as a photographer tracking down a serial killer known as the Subway Butcher. Everything about Midnight Meat Train is extreme, from the way the butcher kills his victims to the method with which he prepares their bodies. It’s completely horrific and effective, even if the supernatural twist is silly.
23. The Loved Ones (2009)
Director: Sean Byrne
Social outcast Lola kidnaps Brent, the boy she wants to take to prom. Instead of dancing, she and her family spend the night brutally torturing their victim. This dark Australian film walks the fine line between horror and comedy, but no matter how comedic it becomes, it’s always horrific.
24. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Director: Kim Ji-woon
National Intelligence Service agent Soo-hyun seeks revenge against Kyung-chul, the man who killed Soo-hyun’s fiancée. I Saw the Devil is more of a crime thriller than a horror film, but it’s bleak and gory enough to qualify for this list. It’s also over two hours long, which makes it a serious undertaking not for the faint of heart.
25. Hatchet II (2010)
Director: Adam Green
Picking up where the first Hatchet left off, Marybeth faces off against homicidal monster Victor Crowley. The Hatchet series is an awesome throwback to classic slasher films — with some disgustingly gory additions, thanks to new innovations in makeup and special effects. Hatchet II is the best of the trilogy, but they’re all fun.