Horror films with impressive practical effects. And some films that seem so real, you’ll think they were!

April 9, 2013

I was recently asked by somebody I know if there were any other films that had similar practical effects to the new EVIL DEAD.  If there’s one thing the new EVIL DEAD got right, it’s definitely its use of practical effects.  They’re violent and look pretty real except for some over the top moments.  The question inspired me to write this article.

I’ll split it into two parts.  The first part will be films that use practical effects in a gritty, visceral way that makes you cringe because you believe what you’re watching is really happening.  The second part will be films that, while the practical effects are still amazing, you’re still aware that you’re watching a movie.

1. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)

The turtle scene in this movie almost made me a vegetarian, almost.  In fact, a lot of the animal violence in this movie IS real. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT made found footage movies very popular over the past decade, but I consider this one of the first and best “found footage” movies ever made.  How real are the effects in this movie?  Well, the filmmakers were arrested because the public thought this was a snuff film where people were actually dying. They were only released after the actors showed up to prove they were still alive.  It feels more like a documentary that went horribly wrong than an actual film.

Synopsis: A New York University professor returns from a rescue mission to the Amazon rainforest with the footage shot by a lost team of documentarians who were making a film about the area’s local cannibal tribes.

2. A SERBIAN FILM (2010)

This is probably one of the most depraved movies I have ever seen.  Well, actually I only watched half of it. I didn’t want to continue because it’s that messed up. This is another movie that almost has that snuff film feel and it’s not surprising considering the plot.  You might be asking, “surely it can’t be that bad?”.  Well, any film that has a naked man raping a newborn baby straight out of the womb is disgusting.  The fact this movie exists and people agreed to make it astonishes me.  However, at the end of the day, it’s a movie and not real.  Watching it is definitely an unforgettable experience, but is not for most people.

Synopsis: An aging porn star agrees to participate in an “art film” in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a pedophilia and necrophilia themed snuff film.

3. ANTICHRIST (2009)

I watched this movie because it had Willem Dafoe in it and I like him as an actor. The film is very similar to the one above because it blurs the line between “is it an effect or is it real”. Much like EVIL DEAD, there are many cringe worthy moments.  The ones that will haunt me forever are the close up shots of a penis ejaculating blood and a girl cutting off her clitoris with scissors… Yep, just when you think you’ve seen it all.

Synopsis: A grieving couple retreat to their cabin in the woods, hoping to repair their broken hearts and troubled marriage. But nature takes its course and things go from bad to worse.

4. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009)

I’ll mention both this film and it’s 2011 sequel because they’re both gross.  In fact, I think the sequel is even worse in terms of how unsettling it is. Much like A SERBIAN FILM, this is a movie that amazes me it was even made.  How do you pitch a movie about a crazy scientist stitching people together, ass to mouth, and they eat poop.  AND then how do you give the go ahead to fund and make that movie?

Synopsis: A mad scientist kidnaps and mutilates a trio of tourists in order to reassemble them into a new “pet”– a human centipede, created by stitching their mouths to each others’ rectums.

5. THE EXORCIST (1973)

When I was very young, my local theater was showing THE EXORCIST and my mother took me to see it.  This is the only movie that I think I was too young to see.  I grew up watching a lot of horror films, but seeing this movie in theaters is the only time a movie scared me.  I thought what I was seeing was real.  It’s the only time I covered my eyes and ears because I couldn’t take it any longer.  I slept on the couch in our living room for a year because I was scared to sleep in my room.  Watching the movie again when I was older made me really appreciate how effective it is.  To me, and many others, it’s considered the scariest movie ever made and it’s because of how real and disturbing the effects are.

Syopsis: When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

* Now it’s time for something a little more light hearted.  While the above films blur the line between effects and reality, the only ones I actually like are CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and THE EXORCIST.  The below films are a lot more enjoyable and feature some amazing practical effects.

1. DEAD ALIVE (1992)

This is a New Zealand horror movie directed by Peter Jackson and is hailed as the goriest movie of all time.  The practical effects in this movie are amazing and even left me scratching my head at times wondering how they pulled off certain shots.  It’s over the top, creative and gory.  A great popcorn movie if you don’t lose your appetite.

Synopsis: A young man’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbors.

2. THE THING (1982)

I consider this movie probably the best remake of all time. Carpenter took the story, greatly improved upon it and made it his own.  Not only does the plot draw you in, but the film features some of the best practical effects in horror. If you have never seen this movie, go watch it.

Synopsis: Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.

3. THE FLY (1986)

One of David Cronenberg’s best films which stars Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. The thing I love about this movie is the practical effects during Goldblum’s slow transformation throughout the movie. It’s small stuff at first like his fingernails falling off, but it eventually leads to whole body parts.  The shot of him crawling around the ceiling, on the walls and then to the floor is pretty impressive too because there was no computer trickery involved.

Synopsis: A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.

4. DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

George Romero’s zombie films usually have great effects, but to me this was the high point in the series.  The zombies looked great, the gore was inventive, people were ripped apart, and arms were chopped off.  It’s not scary or suspends your disbelief, but it does have some great practical effects.

Synopsis: A small group of military officers and scientists dwell in an underground bunker as the world above is overrun by zombies.

5. EVIL DEAD 2 (1987)

You could argue that the effects are amazing, but you could also argue that they’re cheesy and unrealistic. You may occasionally see the wire involved with the gag, but these movies work because of the practical effects.  It’s bloody, over the top fun. The EVIL DEAD films inspired many young filmmakers and has one of the strongest cult followings ever.

Synosis: The lone survivor of an onslaught of flesh-possessing spirits holds up in a cabin with a group of strangers while the demons continue their attack.

Honorable Mentions:

ALIENS

AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

SAW

CABIN FEVER

HIGH TENSION

There are MANY other films that feature amazing practical effects, but I wanted to limit it to ten horror films.

I recommend any movie that features practical effects done by Jack Pierce, Tom Savini, the company KNB, Stan Winston, Jim Henson or Greg Nicotero.

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