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12 Mind-Melting Movies You Need To See Before You Die
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Genre films make the world go ’round. That seem like a bit of a dramatic statement, but we stand behind it. Without movies that push the limits of depravity, that test our durability, that question the world around us in thrilling, biting ways—art would be incredibly basic. We love genre films around here, which is why we’re super excited to attend Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, this year. The festival—which is a celebration of genre film from around the world—has featured and premiered so many of the movies that we’ve spent years talking about. Sometimes for pleasant reasons, sometimes because we were so disturbed we can’t stop thinking about them, but always because it’s a festival that brings in quality works from both established and up-and-coming talent.

Mind-Melting Movies Fantastic Fest

This year, Fantastic Fest celebrates its 15th year in the business, and to celebrate, we’re looking back at some of the most unforgettable, diabolical, absolutely mind-melting movies that have played at the fest in years’ past. This should help you get a taste of what Fantastic Fest has to offer, and why you should consider making time for it in future years.

Wolf Creek

Mind-Melting Movies Wolf CreekRoadshow Entertainment

This Australian horror film has become a cult classic, heralded for its genius-level scares and how gleefully it simmers in terror. Inspired by a pair of real-life murders, Wolf Creek is centered around three backpackers who are taken captive in the Australian outback by a deranged killer named Mick Taylor, who subsequently hunts and torments the trio. The movie was filmed on high-def cameras, giving it a gritty, realistic quality. It’s the stuff of nightmare, and Mick Taylor is a villain for the ages.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon here.

Bug

Bug is one of those movies that grows increasing more bizarre as you try to explain it—and that doesn’t even begin to compare to the experience of watching it. The film was directed by horror veteran William Friedkin (director of The Exorcist) and stars Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd as a couple who suffer delusions that their home is being infested by bugs sent by the government. Based on a play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), Bug is an uncomfortable, claustrophobic peek into the minds of two people totally tweaked out on a diet of conspiracy theories. It’ll get under your skin—literally.

Where to watch: Stream on Hulu with a Starz subscription or rent on Amazon here.

Hatchet 

Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a good, old-fashioned slasher film. That’s why we love Hatchet, a 2006 horror movie set in the haunted swamplands of New Orleans, that follows a tour group that gets stranded in the wilderness. In the vein of similar throwback movies—like Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—being alone in the quiet of nature can only mean one thing: there is definitely a terrifying, deformed killer somewhere in the shadows, waiting to strike. Like Mick Taylor, the villain of Hatchet—Victor Crowley—is an all-timer, who inspired three sequels.

Where to watch: Stream on Amazon Prime.

Martyrs 

Mind-Melting Movies Martyrs 2
TCB Film

If you ask a horror fan to list the most disturbing movies they’ve ever seen, you’re almost guaranteed to hear the name “Martyrs” come up. That’s because this 2008 French film is loaded with some of the most intense and viscerally upsetting imagery you’ll likely ever see. It follows two women—Lucie and Anna—who were victims of terrible childhood abuse. Now adults, they go on a quest for revenge, but encounter more than they they could have possibly imagined. We’ll leave it at that, but trust us when we say Martyrs is both a beautiful and a painful cinematic experience.

Where to watch: Stream on Shudder.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

This 2010 Finnish film is a hoot, and takes “bizarre holiday movies” to the next level. Two young boys suspect the tomb of Santa Claus is buried in the mountains near their village—and they’re right, but this is no holly, jolly Santa but a murderous, terrifying beast of a creature. After one of the boys’ fathers traps an old man in a wolf trap, they come together to learn how to stop this reindeer-eating, children-trapping madman. This may not be a Christmas classic the way It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story are, but it’s the perfect holiday antidote for weirdos and horror lovers.

Where to watch: Stream on Amazon Prime.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

If you caught Nicolas Cage in Mandy last year, then you’re already familiar with the technicolor splendor that is a Panos Cosmatos movie. Maybe you’re even familiar with this 2010 Canadian science fiction horror film, about a woman with ESP (extrasensory perception) who attempts to escape the secluded commune where she’s being held. The film is a beautiful thing to look at, full of visuals and music cues that are very specific to Cosmatos’ work. It’s about as mind-melting as a movie gets.

Where to watch: Stream on Shudder.

Antiviral 

Mind-Melting Movies AntiviralAlliance Films

Did you know Canadian legend David Cronenberg has a son who’s also a brilliant director? Brandon Cronenberg made his directorial debut with Antiviral, a film that takes celebrity worshipping to a whole new level. It follows a man named Syd who works for a company that purchases viruses and other pathogens from celebrities who fall ill, so that they can be injected into clients who want to feel connected to them. When a celebrity named Hannah Geist dies, Syd becomes embroiled in the conspiracy surrounding her death—one that takes him on a personal and physical journey of his own. It’s a premise so disturbingly weird that it doesn’t feel so far removed from our celebrity-obsessed culture, and that makes it even scarier.

Where to watch: Stream on Hulu.

Holy Motors

It feels almost impossible to explain Holy Motors. It’s a movie best experienced, not explained, but here are the bones of the story: a man named Mr. Oscar who travels around Paris, performing many different roles in different locations and for seemingly no real reason. It sounds kind of silly, but Holy Motors is anything but; you’re so quickly transported into Mr. Oscar’s weird and fully realized world that you don’t question anything. What transpires is one of the most unique, delightful, and entrancingly bizarre movies we’ve ever seen.

Where to watch: Stream on Amazon Prime with a Shout! Factory TV subscription.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

This 2016 supernatural horror movie is the sort of thing that feels more and more major as time passes by and we realize what a special experience it is to see it for the first time. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is centered on a father and son coroner team who start experiencing bizarre phenomena as they examine the body of an unidentified woman. The clues they uncover on the body lead them down a path that ties back to—of all things—the Salem Witch Trials. It’s as whacky as it sounds, but director André Øvredal pulls it off in spectacular fashion.

Where to watch: Stream on Netflix.

Colossal 

Mind-Melting Movies ColossalNeon

Anne Hathaway plays a woman named Gloria in this truly out-of-this-world Nacho Vigalondo movie. Gloria is a writer struggling with alcoholism who is kicked out of her New York City apartment by her boyfriend due to her increasingly errant behavior. With nowhere else to go, Gloria returns to her New England hometown, where she works in a bar that only exacerbates her problems. Around this time, a lizard monster begins tormenting the city of Seoul, South Korea. Gloria soon realizes that her movements and behavior mimic that of the monster, meaning he’s some sort of physical manifestation of her disease. It’s a surprisingly heartwarming movie—even with its weirdo plot—and Anne Hathaway shines in the role of a troubled woman just trying to get her head on straight.

Where to watch: Stream on Hulu.

The Lure

If you’ve ever wanted to see a horror musical inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, then look no further than The Lure, a 2015 Polish film from director Agnieszka Smoczyńska. The movie is alluring, with beautiful colors that swoop you into every frame and tantalize you with their haunting, kinetic vibe. It tells the tale of two mermaid sisters who come to land to perform in a nightclub. The two get trapped in a love triangle with a mortal man, which is where the fairy tale element comes in; only this one is more the stuff of nightmares than of little girls’ dreams.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon here.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

This beautiful horror film is set in Mexico and follows a group of orphaned children caught up in the country’s devastating drug war. One of the children, a little girl named Estrella, is given three pieces of magical chalk by her schoolteacher that will each grant her a wish. Along with the others, they run from the dangerous world around them, and Estrella uses her chalk to get them out of trouble. It’s a film loaded with magical realism and also with some truly upsetting imagery, but together they make for a powerful experience; just the sort of thing that every genre movie should be.

Where to watch: Stream on Shudder.

Header Image Credit: Les Films du Losange