EXTREME HORROR: Deranged Animated Movies

EXTREME HORROR: Deranged animated movies

In this next instalment in the EXTREME HORROR series, we take a look at something people might not usually consider to be horror-related or disturbing: animated movies.

Whether it’s because of companies like Disney and Illumination Animation or due to popular belief, in the Western part of the world we are led to believe animated films are something exclusively aimed to children. This is not the case, it never has been. Even though mainstream animated movies undoubtedly target a young audience, animation is only another mean to tell stories: it’s not exclusive for kids and it has the potential of telling any kind of tale, even more so than live-action movies in certain ways.

The list of great animated movies targeted towards an adult audience can go on indefinitely: Japanese masterpieces like Perfect Blue and Princess Mononoke, American works of art like Anomalisa and Isle of Dogs, experimental French films like Fantastic Planet and My Life as a Courgette, British socially-relevant classics like the original Animal Farm and Watership Down are only a few examples. Obviously, the horror genre found its way into animation as well: the exhilarating Vampire Hunter: Bloodlust and the tension-filled Seoul Station are gory and action-packed, Rob Zombie’s The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is a raunchy and violent horror-comedy, the 1981 punk-rock Heavy Metal is a great mashup of adult scenes and themes.

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Some filmmakers, however, took the concept one step further. There are many more extreme horror movies presented in animated form than you might think. As a big fan of animated movies and horror cinema, I’ve seen quite a few of them – this article will feature five of the most extreme and disturbing animated horror movies I laid eyes on, presented to you in chronological order. Be warned: don’t underestimate the power of animation, because the twisted minds of these filmmakers came up with some really depraved stuff!

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Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Japan) – Sitting through this film is an experience comparable to watching Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) on acid: it’s scary, disturbing, confusing and mesmerising at the same time. Hand-drawn and 2D animated, the movie is set in the Japanese feudal era and follows a young woman (Jeanne) who gets raped and beaten up by the land owner, who then proceeds to torment hers and her husband’s life. After Jeanne is banished from her own village, she goes to the forest and makes a pact with the devil to gain the powers necessary for her bloody revenge.

If you think an animated movie would steer away from showing torture and sexual abuse on screen, you’d be mistaken. Belladonna of Sadness doesn’t shy away from the violence and, in fact, it makes it even more extreme and realistic using the means of animation. Without the restraints of actors and editing, this film takes the audience through a journey of violence and gore that can’t be easily forgotten. Part of what makes Belladonna of Sadness a great picture, though, is that you really feel for the characters and fully embrace Jeanne’s quest for revenge, which is very satisfying even though it might leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Despite its deranged and distasteful content, Belladonna of Sadness is beautiful in the way it’s presented: every brush stroke feels purposeful and provides an extra layer to the picture, which is oddly dreamlike and surreal, despite the hard-hitting realism of the story. Belladonna of Sadness is really hard to watch, not just because it’s very extreme, but also because it’s incredibly sad and depressing. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt once said, though, «there is something beautiful in revelling in sadness».

Midori (1992, Japan) – Speaking of depressing and disturbing movies, Midori is so out there and fucked up that, upon completion, no production company wanted to release it in theatres or distribute it on VHS. In fact, the director, Hiroshi Harada, directed, storyboarded, fully animated the film and also wrote the screenplay for it because no studio was willing to finance such a tasteless and brutal project. On top of that, it’s confirmed that Japanese audiences hated this movie so much that the public tried to destroy it, leaving only a very small number of surviving copies behind! Midori is still banned in numerous countries all over the world, including Japan… but obviously you can find it on the internet easily now!

What can be so disturbing and extreme in an animated film, though? Well, the movie centres around a little girl whose mother dies and father runs away from. She’s then approached by a circus owner who convinces the titular character of Midori to join his freakshow: this doesn’t end well, since Midori winds up being constantly abused, beaten up, tortured and molested by the circus folks… and, well, this is pretty damn disturbing and horrific.

Despite its very short runtime of only 54 minutes, it took me three sittings to finish Midori. This film genuinely scarred me, because the hideous things Midori is subjected to made me feel powerless and disgusted from beginning to end. This film doesn’t sugar-coat anything and the raw/grotesque style of animation makes the overall vibe even harder to stomach. I can’t really tell whether Midori is a good film or not – I was too busy trying not to cry and feeling sick to focus on the filmmaking – but I can tell you this: if you’re looking for a true example of extreme horror this movie is your Holy Grail.

Felidae (1994, Germany) – There are quite a few German (or Austrian-German) extreme horror movies, so naturally some filmmakers from that area tried their hands on adult animation. One of the most popular examples is Felidae, a neo-noir violent crime story… with cats as the main characters!

The story is super simple: a cat named Francis must investigate brutal murders of other cats in a neighbourhood he has moved into with his owner. This might sound like a cute little movie, since the protagonists are fluffy puppies and the premise sounds like a joke, but Felidae is, in fact, known as one of the most gruesome and violent animated horror movies ever made. The film isn’t afraid to show mutilation, murder, gore and sex on screen, and the story itself gets pretty dark thematically as the movie progresses.

However, I didn’t find myself particularly disturbed by Felidae. Part of it depends on the animation style, which is very reminiscent of those lame morning-cartoon movies for kids. Yet, the German voice acting sounded rather comical to me, which didn’t help in keeping the tension. Also, the characters in the movie (or should I say catracters?… sorry, I had to do it!) feel rather shallow and little compelling, so whatever happens to them didn’t affect me on an emotional level. Still, if you don’t mind watching (hand-drawn) cats being decapitated, I would recommend Felidae as a gruesome yet forgettable animated horror-thriller.

The King of Pigs (2011, South Korea) – In this criminally overlooked South Korean film, we follow two men struggling with domestic issues of their own; they meet after 15 years and reminisce about their extremely difficult school days. What ensues is a series of flashbacks documenting the bullying (and “bullying” is an understatement) they went through in high-school: in this picture, the haunting class struggle in Korean society is depicted in a hard-hitting, very effective way.

With its nightmarish art-direction, The King of Pigs stimulates many radical emotions in the viewer, from extreme anger to powerless sadness to disgust and anxiety. This is a great film where the immaculate pacing helps introducing the viewer to more and more disturbing occurrences that happened to the two main characters.

Despite not being for the faint of heart, The King of Pigs is undeniably less gratuitous than the aforementioned movies. In fact, this film has a much more tasteful way to present violence and abuse: it’s not an easy watch, but it isn’t extreme just for the sake of it either. I personally experienced this picture as a deeply emotional and depressing watch rather than your “typical” extreme horror film. I would absolutely recommend it even to those of you who don’t usually delve into disturbing cinema: The King of Pigs is just a great film!

Where the Dead Go to Die (2012, USA) – Last but (definitely) not least, we have an anthology movie that’s very well-known among fans of extreme horror: Where the Dead Go to Die is often regarded as the most disturbing animated film ever made, even though it only came out 7 years ago. In fact, this twisted hellish tale is banned in Canada, Ireland and United Kingdom among other countries.

The main storyline revolves around a troubled group of children living in the same miserable neighbourhood. When each of them is approached by a demonic dog, we witness three different tales filled with gore, abuse, violence and graphic imagery. Indeed, the three stories featured in Where the Dead Go to Die are extreme and disturbing, with the central segment (which is about a young girl forced into hardcore pornography by her depraved father) taking the cake when it comes to being hard to watch. However, this anthology is lacking in quality and meaning.

In other words, what’s shown is shocking and distasteful for the sake of it – the director (Jimmy ScreamerClauz) even claimed all the surreal and graphic imagery has no deeper meaning behind it and it’s just there because he liked it. On top of that, the art-direction is very poor, the style of animation feels sloppy and unappealing, the voice-acting is atrocious and the character-design almost comedic at times. Despite it not being a good movie (to say the least), Where the Dead Go to Die delivers in terms of extreme horror: if that’s what you’re looking for, give this anthology a shot… if you dare!

So, that’s all for this 10th instalment in the EXTREME HORROR series. These animated movies, or most of them at least, managed to be more effective and disturbing than most live-action films of the same ilk I’ve seen for this series. Which one are you most curious to watch? And what are the ones you’ll skip for sure? Let me know in the comments and get ready: the EXTREME HORROR article for December will feature some great extreme films from a certain country in Europe… tu m’as compris?

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