Valentine’s Day has passed us by once again, but that doesn’t mean you should stop watching erotic horror...
...It’s a sub-genre that’s often overlooked and sometimes considered quite shallow, but I dove into the deep end last year and found that it is home to some of the most intense and emotionally complex films I’ve ever seen. So, I wanted to recommend five of my favourites!
All of these films could be considered very disturbing and they contain a lot of triggering content, such as: Violence, sex, alcohol and drugs, and sexual assault.
I would also like to preface this list by saying that I don’t find all of the things that happen in these movies erotic; they are very violent and scary at times. But I do feel that they all have elements that make them erotic in some way, whether it’s the performances, the visuals, or even the way they’re shot.
May is a 2002 American film written and directed by Lucky McKee. His directorial debut follows May (Angela Bettis), a lonely young woman who is traumatised and unable to connect with those around her thanks to a difficult childhood.
May is a disturbing, uncomfortable, and incredibly beautiful movie. It explores how isolating and heartbreaking it can be to try and fail to fit in, unable to form those vital connections simply because of who you are and the things that have happened to you. All May wants is to be close to someone and to feel seen, and with each unsuccessful attempt she becomes more and more desperate. It’s painful to watch her try so hard only for people to push her away over and over again.
This film is visually beautiful, but also awkward and even gross in parts. There is a lot of violence and some impressive gore, but the thing that I connected to the most was May herself. Bettis’ performance managed to scare me and break my heart at the same time.
Raw is a 2016 French coming of age film written and directed by Julia Ducournau. It follows a young vegetarian just starting her first year at veterinarian school. Justine (Garance Marillier) has never tried meat in her life, until she’s subjected to some cruel hazing and made to eat rabbit kidneys. Afterwards she undergoes a strange transformation and begins to develop a craving for human flesh.
This film is about a lot more than just a cannibal loose at a college. It explores what it’s like for a young woman struggling with an internal battle that threatens to change the way she lives forever, and the very complex relationships between Justine and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), and her closest friend Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella).
This film feels erotic to me primarily because of the way it was made, the cinematography and the tone, as well as the incredible performances that had me hooked right from the beginning. But the cannibalism can very easily be seen as a metaphorical struggle with sexuality and being authentic to yourself.
Bliss is a fresh, unique take on the vampire mythos from 2019 written and directed by Joe Begos. The film follows Dezzy (Dora Madison), an artist who descends into madness after she takes a hallucinogenic drug to try and overcome a creative block.
This is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen in terms of the aesthetic, the cinematography, and the actual pieces of artwork that went into it. Madison’s performance is incredible; she delivers so much emotional depth and some of the best body acting I’ve ever seen.
Bliss builds quickly in intensity and explores creative expression and catharsis in a completely unique way that really resonated with me as an artist. I still think about this one regularly.
Excision is a 2012 American horror film written and directed by Richard Bates Jr. It is a feature-length adaptation of the 2008 short film of the same name. In it we follow Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord), an alienated teen who struggles with the pressures of fitting in at high school, pleasing her mother, and her burning desire to lose her virginity. Because of her curiosities about strange and morbid subjects she’s considered a social outcast and retreats into her own beautiful, disturbing, incredibly violent fantasies.
This film hit so many of my triggers, especially in regard to mental illnesses, and even names the personality disorder I suffer with. But I loved it because of how deeply the story resonated with me and how visually pleasing I found the two strong aesthetics running alongside each other, each one arresting and gorgeous in their own ways. But this aspect required a lot of extra work from McCord; she played both regular Pauline, who is weird and off-putting, and fantasy Pauline, who is completely different in both looks and personality. She delivers an incredible performance that had me captivated from the first moment I met her. I was fascinated by her, and I’ve been keeping an eye on McCord’s work ever since.
You should be warned that Excision gets quite bloody and intense in the last half with an ending that will linger long after it’s over.
Knife + Heart (2018)
Knife + Heart, otherwise known as Un couteau dans le cœur, is a 2018 French film directed by Yann Gonzalez, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cristiano Mansion.
Set in the summer of 1969, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) sets out to film her most ambitious movie yet to win back her editor and ex-girlfriend Lois (Kate Moran). But a mysterious killer begins killing off her actors one by one, and when the police prove unhelpful, she has to take things into her own hands before they all end up dead.
The first thing I fell in love with about this film was the characters. They all felt extremely flawed and real and were also very queer. The performances were all incredible, but I loved the friendship between Anne and her closest companion Archibald (Nicolas Maury) the most. He’s there for her throughout everything and even goes on to play her in the porn version of their reality.
I also loved the visuals; everything about them was reminiscent of gialli and ‘70s porn. Simon Beaufils’ cinematography was absolutely stunning and had me admiring every single shot.
Knife + Heart is erotic in every sense of the word, but it delivers on the horror in equal measure, with a killer that genuinely gave me the creeps whenever they were on screen, a lot of blood, and gore that had me wincing at times.
The part that resonated with me the most was that this story is centred entirely around queer people who are all extremely different and felt fully formed. They made a point of showing how useless the police are when it comes to protecting a marginalised community like that and how they come together to protect each other when no one else will.
By Wren Crain
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