Recently, I’ve been fascinated with Eastern European classic and cult movies, and so I’ve embarked on a quest to watch more of them and develop a better knowledge of film coming from the former Soviet Union. From the mind-bending filmography of Andrej Tarkovskij (Stalker, 1979, is a masterpiece: check it out!) to Karel Zeman’s ground-breaking animation (Invention for Destruction, 1958, has been incredibly influential for Studio Ghibli), there is a lot to appreciate and discover in terms of Eastern European cinema.
As a horror fan and critic, though, my curiosity brought me to delve into Eastern European horror movies. Specifically, I decided to focus this new entry in the EXTREME HORROR series on extreme Russian horror films. I know I could’ve extended the theme of this article to Eastern European disturbing horror (as my good pal Kieron suggested), but that would’ve meant including A Serbian Film… and I really have no intention to re-watch that movie right now! So, let’s waste no time and delve into the 5 extreme horror movies from Russia I decided to cover in this article. As always, the movies featured in this post will be listed chronologically.
Continue reading and check these five extreme horror movies from Russia below…
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Father, Santa Klaus Has Died (1992, Evgeniy Yufit)
In this joyful film (*insert sarcasm here*), we follow a biologist obsessed with the idea of writing a treatise on a new kind of mouse: through some sort of plot device (which I didn’t fully understand), he becomes witness to a number of bizarre and horrific events, from his son’s suicide, to the S&M engaged in by respectable middle-aged men, to his own family’s psychic morbidity.
Although Father, Santa Klaus Has Died doesn’t feature a traditional narrative nor any character development (the protagonists in the movie don’t have names even), the film manages to be engaging and visually enticing throughout. This movie can be compered to some sort of visual dark poetry that – I guess – explores human subconscious and depravity. Comprised of different “storylines” (for lack of a better word), Father, Santa Klaus Has Died is extremely bleak and dour, with the disturbing aspect coming from how incomprehensible and senseless every moment of extreme violence and pointless death seems to be. This is a very different kind of extreme horror, but fans of the sub-genre should definitely seek it out. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a very interesting and disturbing experiment in terms of underground filmmaking.
The Green Elephant (1999, Svetlana Baskova)
I hated this movie. Sorry, but I really did. The Green Elephant focuses on two Russian prisoners who share a cell, where their forced sharing of space leads them to abuse each other mentally and physically. Some reviews claim The Green Elephant is a movie about freedom, some others say it’s a critique of the Soviet Union. To me, it’s just a boring and gross student flick with no agenda nor anything intelligent to communicate.
However, if you’re looking for something gory, off-putting and disturbing, this movie should do the trick. Aside from the first 30 minutes, where nothing happens aside from ugly close-ups and annoying sound effects, The Green Elephant is filled with distasteful content: rape, violence, mutilation, cannibalism, vomit… you name it, they’ll show it in the movie.
Visions of Suffering (2006, Andrey Iskanov)
Although I personally didn’t like Visions of Suffering either, I thought it was a very interesting and unique little extreme horror flick, unlike the previous title. What is it about? Uhm… It’s set in some sort of parallel universe. There are demons. They cross the divide between the world of dreams and reality. They capture a victim and drag him back to their nightmarish realm. They torture him and show him loads of crazy stuff.
Visions of Suffering is definitely the most extreme film out of the bunch I covered in this article. The movie shows a lot of disturbing and hallucinatory content: whether this is pointless or not, what makes it stand out is the insane visuals. The odd combination of camera work, colour palette, makeup effects and 3D CGI images turn Visions of Suffering in what I can only describe as a 4D nightmare: your eyes are glued to the screen and you feel like you’re part of what’s happening on screen. As I said before, I don’t fully get this movie either and I don’t really like it, but Iskanov’s experimental cinema deserves at least some appreciation for how unique and disturbing it manages to be. Oh, the movie is two hours long, which is definitely too long.
S.S.D. (2008, Vadim Shmelyov)
In S.S.D., five young men and five girls, led by TV presenter Alice Ten, participate to a reality show that takes place in a camping site. The rules of the TV show state that every week someone would be eliminated from the show, with the last one remaining winning the main prize: one million roubles. Suddenly, the rules are changed: a masked assailant is introduced, which starts killing these kids one by one. The last one alive, will win the prize.
Despite its super dumb premise, S.S.D. is a very entertaining slasher flick with tons of characters to kill off, plenty of satisfying gore and the right amount of creative practical effects. However, I’m not sure why it’s often considered as an example of Russian extreme horror: to me, this movie isn’t more intense or disturbing than, say, the Wrong Turn franchise or any number of modern slashers. So, if you like slasher movies, give it a go. If you’re looking for an extreme horror film, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
The Tourist (2009, Andrey Iskanov)
For our last stop in this journey through Russia to find extreme horror movies, we go back to Andrey Iskanov’s station. 3 years after Visions of Suffering, the director made a much more “traditional” disturbing horror movie: The Tourist (AKA Ingression) centres around Alexander, a desperate man who tries to seek solace in alcohol and drugs after his wife left. One day, Alexander is given the address of a mysterious man who promises to give our main character a strange, powerful narcotic that will take away his anguish. Alexander can’t take anymore, so he visits the dealer and is given the drug. For a while he feels fine, life is good again, until he realises that shadowy figures are pursuing him.
Weirdness and surrealism are part of this movie as well, but unlike Visions of Suffering here we have a narrative, a story that’s somewhat easy to follow and a main character you can care about (if not relate to). Yet, The Tourist is extremely graphic, gory and violent, with tons of chase sequences that end up in bloodbaths. Despite its 154-minute-long runtime, this movie feels much more fast paced and watchable than, basically, all the others mentioned in this article. Still, I wouldn’t have minded if the runtime was 30-40 minutes shorter. With all of that said, The Tourist isn’t traditional enough to please mainstream audiences, but it’s much more suitable for fans of extreme horror who also don’t want to delve too much into surrealism and experimental filmmaking.
I’m not going to lie: this article was the hardest for me to write in the EXTREME HORROR series, mostly because I didn’t love any of the movies featured in it. However, I would recommend Father, Santa Klaus Has Died for fans of arthouse disturbing cinema, The Tourist for aficionados of gory extreme horror and S.S.D. as a decent time-waster for slasher fans. I would, instead, suggest avoiding both The Green Elephant (which, to me, it’s pure crap) and Visions of Suffering (because I don’t think many of you would enjoy it).
Have you seen any of these five extreme Russian horror movies before? What did you think of them? If not, which ones sound more interesting to you? Let me know in the comments and have a nice day!
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