A-List: Gross Out Films
By Sean Collier
July 31, 2008

I've had first dates like this.

When I was a kid, I was scared of everything. Ghosts, monsters, the dark, bugs, disease, madmen; if you could put it in a campfire story, I was scared of it. In second grade, someone told me the Bloody Mary story, and for the next five years, I slept facing the mirror – so I could see her coming.

Yet, I was obsessed with horrific media of any kind. I read every kiddie and teen horror story I could check out of the library, and was a passionate devotee of the church of R.L. Stine. I begged my parents to let me watch watered-down horror movies on TBS, and wondered what they might look like with all the glorious violence and profanity restored.

My imagination, of course, was infinitely more vivid than the films turned out to be. I think that when you're young, you imagine that the world of grown-up entertainment is an endless orgy of sex and violence, the likes of which your little brain can't possibly fathom. Somehow, you're just convinced that a parade of gore and nudity is what adults are into.

Obviously, this is usually not the case; however, there are certain films that manage to outdo the dreamed-up splatterfests of even the most creative ten-year-old boy. Some directors enjoy celebrating just how sloppily, outrageously gory (or perverse, or hysterical) they can be, and some that believe a heavy dose of disgust is the best way to get a message across.

Obviously, most of these films only appeal to a certain type of filmgoer, but it seems that we're more willing to accept gore now than ever. Eli Roth has made a fortune out of finding ways to make us gag, and the Saw franchise has turned into a blood-and-guts cottage industry, cranking out a new, financially successful entry every October for the past five years. Gross has made the jump from midnight showings across town to a multiplex near you.

In honor of the impending release of Midnight Meat Train (which could also head up an A-List of most descriptive titles,) The A-List presents the best gross-out films.

Pink Flamingos

The only pure comedy on the list, Pink Flamingos is one of the original midnight films. The plot is so pure in intention, it's hilarious – angry lowlifes compete for the title of "Filthiest Person Alive." Horror films disgust by presenting violence and humanity gone horribly wrong – Pink Flamingos is repulsive just by showing how vile we can be quite naturally. The show truly belongs to the confusingly captivating Divine, whose outrageous appearance and films overshadowed the fact that she was a gifted actress – see the original Hairspray for proof.


Some would argue this inclusion as a gross-out film, but I could eat eggplant parmesan while watching Hostel with greater ease than I can gaze upon the monster in Eraserhead. Almost all of David Lynch's films could be described as nightmarish, but Eraserhead is the most troubling of them all. An incredibly dark and hallucinatory meditation on the fear of parenthood, few things ever captured on film are as disgusting and haunting as the being that Henry Spencer (the late, great Jack Nance) sires. If you ever get a chance to see Eraserhead on the big screen, take it – it's one of the most disturbing, terrifying experiences you'll ever have in a theater.

Cannibal Holocaust

Look – you probably shouldn't watch this film. You think you're tough, you think you can handle any level of celluloid violence, Cannibal Holocaust will make you scream uncle. One of the most controversial films of all time, director Ruggero Deodato was arrested for murder after the film was released – because the public truly believed that what they had seen was entirely real, and his cast had been murdered while the cameras rolled. He had to publicly produce his cast and recreate certain scenes in open court to prove his innocence. This, of course, is to say nothing of multiple, graphic scenes of real, honest-to-god animal slaughter captured in the film. In all honesty, however, it is a well-made, effective film – one of the most upsetting horror films I've ever seen – and well worth your time, if you can handle it.

The Evil Dead

Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell, Bruce Campbell, Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell; Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell? Bruce Campbell! (One of my all-time favorite horror films, I couldn't sleep for days after The Evil Dead. Every other alone-in-the-woods scare flick doesn't come close to capturing the terrifying isolation of The Evil Dead; the cast is spot-on, and Sam Raimi's direction is brilliant in how simply he can terrify. The sequel, effectively a remake of the original with a higher budget, and Army of Darkness, the comedic conclusion to the trilogy, are also good, but The Evil Dead is the best of the bunch.) Bruce Campbell.

Braindead/Dead Alive

Few directors have made a more dramatic jump than Peter Jackson. The beloved auteur behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the King Kong remake was once better known for shredding zombies and aliens apart than leading lovable hobbits through adversity. Braindead, a campy zombie comedy that makes Shaun of the Dead look positively tame, was long considered the messiest film of all time; my favorite bit of trivia about the film is that during the climactic lawnmower scene (figure out what happens there,) fake blood was pumped from the lawnmower at a rate of five gallons per second. Furthermore, if the phrase "adorable baby zombie" appeals to you, rent this film now.

Cabin Fever

The Hostel films have attracted more attention, but Cabin Fever is easily Eli Roth's best movie so far. Capturing all that's good about gore and terror without the exploitation of his later films, Cabin Fever borrows liberally from The Evil Dead in setting and mood, to great effect. It's also frequently hilarious, sometimes accidentally, but sometimes just in bizarre, uproarious moments. I saw this during my first semester of college, and my friends walked around for weeks, randomly exclaiming, "Oh, he's a professor – of being a dog! FACED!"
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

All Releases by Troma Films

The reigning kings of gross for 35 years, Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Films production company is not only one of the longest-running horror houses, it's one of the most prolific truly independent studios ever. All of their films are irreverent, hilarious, sophomoric exercises in outrageousness, but are endlessly more entertaining and watchable than the countless imitators that have cropped up over the decades. Some of there best-known titles include Cannibal: The Musical (one of the first films by Trey Parker and Matt Stone,) Tromeo and Juliet, and The Toxic Avenger; their latest, Poultrygeist, is best described as a musical comedy about Native American chicken zombies. That's a description that sells a film if I've ever heard one.

One to Watch For

I somehow got through this list without mentioning Japanese shock-and-gore director Takeshi Miike, so I'd like to put in a quick endorsement for the upcoming Sukiyaki Western: Django. Starring a laundry list of Japanese stars...and Quentin Tarantino, Miike's film is a remix of Sergio Corbucci's 1966 original, with a western-style war between rival Japanese gangs. I can't promise that it'll be a true gross-out picture, but that would be a fairly smart bet to take.