The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
Movie Title Screen
Film Title/Year, Director

Blood Sucking Freaks (1976) (aka The Incredible Torture Show and Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins)
D. Joel M. Reed

Women Against Pornography unwittingly raised this ugly horror movie's profile by denouncing its relentless, misogynistic violence.

This unredeeming, misogynistic and depraved grindhouse horror/sex exploitation film from Troma Entertainment was originally unrated, due to its controversial and violent nature, but later reduced to an R-rating when cuts were administered. Its poster tagline exclaimed: "JOIN THE FUN!...Human Dart Boards..."Home Style Brain Surgery"...Dental Hijinks!" In some ways, this film set the stage for modern-day torture porn films, such as Hostel (2005) and Wolf Creek (2005).

Voted one of the worst films ever, the mean-spirited film was also targeted by the feminist group Women Against Pornography for its depictions of violence against women, although it was counter-argued that the gore was for comedic effect. It was reminiscent of Herschell Gordon Lewis's earlier film The Wizard of Gore (1970).

This low-budget nauseating film, originally titled The Incredible Torture Show and renamed for its 1980 re-release, told about a macabre Grand Guignol-type theatre in downtown New York (the Soho district) run by sadomasochistic Master Sardu (Seamus O'Brien) and his obnoxious, deranged, cackling midget assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus), that held performances mostly of humiliation, gruesome torture and murder - using real victims - but were the tortures faked? The staged torture acts in the horror film included:

  • thumb-screws
  • skull-crushing vices
  • dismemberment - wrist-amputation with a bone-saw (Sardu: "Oh yes! Now we're getting the proper reaction"), eyeball gouging (followed by a scene of cannibalism), loss of fingers with a meat cleaver (severed fingers were later used as betting chips in a game of backgammon), and amputation of feet with a chainsaw
  • electro-shock to a nude female's nipples
  • human dart boards (a woman's backend was painted with a bulls-eye)
  • teeth extraction (followed by threatened oral sex indicated by the unzipped fly of the depraved and sadistic doctor (Ernie Pysher)), and then the drilling of a hole in the woman's shaved skull to suck out her brains with a straw
  • body-stretching on an X-shaped cross (Sardu commented: "This will go far beyond every STRETCH of the imagination")
  • caning and guillotine self-decapitation (Ralphus later used the severed head to perform oral sex on himself)
  • whipping and flagellation

The performers in the staged productions were discovered to be female kidnap victims, who were held in locked cages below stage in the basement, and often were later sold into white slavery.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976, Jp./Fr.) (aka Ai No Corrida, or L'Empire Des Sens)
D. Nagisa Oshima

Nagisa Oshima's graphic examination of all-consuming sexual obsession was seized by US Customs and cut before being released.

This erotic Japanese masterpiece about painful passion told the story of a torrid, increasingly intense and dangerous, true-to-life, almost non-stop sexual affair between gangster businessman/inn owner Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji) (the husband of the brothel madam Toku (Aoi Nakajima)) and one of his maid-servants, former prostitute Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) in mid-1930s Japan.

The film, produced in France, reflected the tradition of erotic Japanese wood-block prints, the shunga, in which the faces were stylized, but the sexual organs (especially the phallus) were shown aroused, enlarged and delineated with almost topographical detail and care. This sexually adventurous, lurid arthouse film about unadulterated desire deliberately broke the taboo in Japanese cinema against showing female pubic hair and sex organs.

The shocking film of extreme, all-consuming sexual obsession and immersion, bordering on pornography in its uncut version (with frequent shots of an erect penis and fellatio), was seized and banned by US Customs and postponed in its censored release. It caused a sensation - and lively discussion - at the Melbourne Film Festival in 1976 when first released.

After spying on Kichizo and Toku having sex, Sada developed a crush on Kichizo. In the scenes between submissive Kichizo and a dominating Sada Abe, there were explicit shots of unsimulated fellatio (while he passively laid back and smoked a cigarette) with a close-up of semen dripping from her mouth, unsimulated penetration, a wide variety of sexual positions and sexual acts (some in close-up), a sex game including vaginal insertion of a hard-boiled egg before consumption, sexual touching during a bloody menstrual period, penis fetishism, and masochism (forcible use of a wooden dildo, bite-wounds, S&M, among other practices). Almost penis-fixated, she innocently stated: "Isn't it natural for a woman to love the sex of the man she loves?"

Eventually, when Sada grew jealous of her partner's continuing sexual relations with his wife Toku and wielded a knife at her, she also threatened to destructively cut off Kichizo's penis - an eventuality that came true.

The most controversial and infamous sequence in the film was the depiction of the violent and disturbing practice of auto-erotic asphyxiation to aid their sexual excitement - first with her bare hands, and then with a red scarf. The film climaxed with his bloody genital dismemberment/castration after murderous strangulation so that she could keep his member inside of her. Afterwards, the empowered female carried around her master-lover's severed genitals in a handkerchief for four days - an enactment of her proprietary feelings about his member - until she was arrested.

The Message (1976, 1977) (aka Mohammed, Messenger of God)
D. Moustapha Akkad

Though this epic biopic deferred to Islamic law by never showing Mohammed, it was still condemned as sacrilegious and banned in many Arab countries.

Taglined as "The Story of Islam," this epic-length 178 minute dramatic biopic was the debut feature film of Islamic, Syrian-born producer/director Moustapha Akkad (who later produced John Carpenter's successful horror film Halloween (1978)). It starred Mexican-born actor Anthony Quinn (Abdallah Geith in the 198 minute Arabic version) - following his success in the desert epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) -- as Mohammed's desert-dwelling warrior uncle Hamza. It was set in 7th century Mecca and documented the beginnings of Islam and the life and teachings of the prophet. The film's script - written by Irishman H.A.L. (Harry) Craig - took two years of research and writing before its readiness for filming, due in part to the restriction that Muslim authorities had to approve the finished screenplay before filming could commence.

Problems began almost immediately when it was unfoundly rumored that Peter O'Toole, and then American star Charlton Heston, would star in the lead role, causing two days of bloody riots in Karachi, Pakistan. This caused a stir because it was feared that the film would violate the strict Muslim belief (forbidden by Shari'a, Islamic holy law formed after Mohammed's death) that any representation of the Diety Allah or His Prophet Mohammed (and his immediate family including wives, daughters, and sons-in-law) could not be depicted on screen nor could his voice be heard. However, the politically-correct film represented him either off-screen, as the camera's point-of-view, or with occasional symbolic appearances (i.e., his camel-riding stick, his tent, and his holy camel). Nonetheless, endless protests, riots and death threats (by telephone) accompanied the film's production and making (totaling seven years).

In its troubled production history, the film was forced to move from Saudi Arabia to Morocco for filming, where Akkad promised that he would construct a $100 million film production studio, as well as recreate the city of Mecca (and a model of the town's sacred holy shrine, the Kaaba, at a cost of $400,000), and hire thousands of extras. [The film was originally backed for up to $60 million by Saudi monarch King Faisal, until he pulled out of the project while disallowing filming on location in Mecca and Medina. Later, Faisal denounced the infidel filmmakers in Morocco and caused the dismantlement of the whole film operation, resulting in relocation costs of more than $2 million.] Akkad was forced to move and find financial backing and sponsorship from terrorist-friendly Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi. Ultimately, The Message was shot in two versions with different cast members, a Western version in English and a special Arabic version (entitled Al-Ris-Alah), adding to the costs.

The film faced a dilemma regarding its marketing for US audiences, for its emphasis on a non-Western religious leader who didn't even appear in the film. Eventually, it was decided to use the tagline: "In four decades only four... "The Robe" "The Ten Commandments" "Ben-Hur" and now... For the first time...the vast, spectacular drama that changed the world!" Difficulties with the film's title forced it to be changed to The Message for its world premiere in London in late July, 1976. Various religious groups called the film 'sacrilegious' and 'an insult to Islam' and it was banned from showings in much of the Arab world. Without all the surrounding controversies whirling about, the film was still viewed as a bland, compromising film that was overlong.

There was further controversy when the film was scheduled to premiere in the U.S. in Washington, DC, in March, 1977. The Hanafi Black Muslim extremist group led by Hamas Abdul Khaalis staged a heavily-armed siege against the local Jewish chapter of the B'nai B'rith (its national headquarters) under the mistaken belief (without having seen the film) that Anthony Quinn played Mohammed in the film. During the two-day crisis, they took nearly 150 people hostage, and threatened to blow up the building while demanding the film opening's cancellation. Future DC mayor Marion Barry was shot when the terrorists overran the District Building, and many others were injured. The hostage situation was eventually defused by the FBI and Muslim ambassadors, and the theater chain that had booked the film cancelled the showing. This disastrous opening unfortunately ruined US box-office for the controversial film, as various moviehouses were forced to cancel their showings due to political pressures and further fears of violence.

Ironically, in late 2005, Akkad died from injuries sustained during terrorist attacks in Jordan.

A Real Young Girl (1976, Fr.) (aka Une Vraie Jeune Fille)
D. Catherine Breillat

Hired to make a soft-focus, sexy-teen movie, French filmmaker Catherine Breillat instead delivered an explicit evocation of disturbing desires.

Director Catherine Breillat's feature debut was this erotic drama with strong and shocking sexual content - it was made in 1975, but not released until 25 years later due to financial problems with Breillat's production company and controversy surrounding this sensational, raw and strange film. This film was promptly banned upon its initial release in France in 1976.

Breillat would later become famous for the similarly-explicit Romance (1999, Fr.) and Fat Girl (2001, Fr.) which were also preoccupied with the representation of female sexuality.

This original, unapologetic and bold film charted the budding sexuality, self-exploration and awakening of sexually-curious and self-analytic teenaged Alice Bonnard (Charlotte Alexandra), a French boarding student during her summer holiday. It showed various closeups of her genitalia, her fascination with bodily fluids and smells (including vomit, urination - shown in closeup, and writing on a mirror with vaginal secretions, even her own ear-wax), and her sexual fantasies.

Crude and realistic, she lustfully fantasized about sex with factory worker Jim (Hiram Keller) in her father's sawmill, would often drop her panties to her ankles, and compulsively (and frequently) masturbated, once with a spoon and a bottle-top, and once spread-eagled between railroad tracks. She also rode her bicycle bare-assed.

In one surreal and shocking fantasy scene, 14 year-old Alice was lying naked on her back (with her hands tied back with barbed wire), as Jim dangled a live and wiggling earthworm over her genitals, then tried to insert it into her vagina, and when unsuccessful, finally segmented the worm into pieces and left the remains in her pubic hair.

Snuff (1976, Argentina/USA)
D. Michael and Roberta Findlay

Tacking a cynical "real" murder sequence onto a ho-hum exploitation movie generated enough media outrage to make Snuff a lucrative hit.

This disturbing and infamous film (one of the first 'snuff' films, but only according to urban legend) by grindhouse directors named the Findlays (a husband-wife team) was eventually revealed to be a publically-marketed scam, promoting the idea that the film's real-life murders were in fact real (although they weren't). The video cover asked:

The rumor was that a woman was actually killed during the filming of this picture! Was She?

Protests regarding the film (by Women Against Pornography) only added to its notoriety and fueled audience attendance when it was reported by various media outlets. [Other recent fictional snuff film narratives include Joel Schumacher's 8MM (1999) and Nimród Antal's Vacancy (2007).]

For the most part, Snuff was composed of footage from the Findlays' previously-released, crudely-made, low-budget ($30,000) exploitation film Slaughter (1971) made in Argentina, which did very poorly. It was purchased by Allan Shackleton's Monarch Releasing Corporation shortly afterwards, and then shelved for four years. Shackleton decided to re-release the film as 'new', hoping to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the Manson murders, with a brief, tacked-on 5 minute epilogue containing a "snuff murder" - filmed much later.

The snuff killing was the film's most outrageous footage of all - the disembowelment and murder of a female cast or crew member. He also removed the credits from the previous film, and gave it the new tagline -- "The film that could only be made in South America...where Life is CHEAP!"

The film told about director Maximillian Marsh (Aldo Mayo) who took a film crew to South America to make a sex film with his star girlfriend Terry London (Mirtha Massa). The story had Charles Manson-esque plot elements (similar to the Sharon Tate murder scheme in 1969) regarding a group of female hippies following a leader named Satahn (Enrique Larratelli) who wished to murder the rich in the Buenos Aires area. In the film's climax, a Argentinian playboy named Horst Frank (Clao Villaneuva) and his pregnant actress-mistress, the same Terry London, were both murdered. The gory and gruesome murders also included the killing of Horst's party guests and some relatives, Horst himself (who was castrated) and blonde Terry (who was stabbed in the belly while still pregnant by Satahn's cult favorite Angelica (Margarita Amuchastegui)).

In the film's cinema verite coda or epilogue (a film within a film), the camera pulled back to reveal the set of the film during its making - the bedroom where the murders had just been shot. Following filming, one of the cast members (or the 'director'), who was wearing a blue T-shirt proclaiming: "Vida Es Muerte," began making out with a blonde female (another cast or crew member?). Then, he suddenly and surprisingly straddled her, held her down (with help from another smiling female named June), and cut into her left shoulder with a large-bladed knife. When she squirmed and screamed loudly, he cut off a few of her left hand's fingers (including her ring finger) with scissors. Another male helped him to cut off her entire right hand with a jigsaw. As the crew kept filming, he used the knife to disembowel her (he reached inside the opening), after which he held up her bloody intestinal entrails or viscera, and screamed triumphantly.

Then, the camera appeared to run out of film as the screen turned white (and then black), and two male crew members were heard saying to each other: "S--t, we've run out of film! S--t!" "Did you get it? Did you get it all?" "Mmm, yeah, we got it all. Now let's get out of here." The film ended abruptly.

The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time
(chronologically, by film title)
Intro | Silents-1930s | 1940s-1950s | 1960-1961 | 1962-1967 | 1968-1969
1970-1971 | 1972 | 1973-1974 | 1975 | 1976-1977 | 1978 | 1979
1980-1982 | 1983-1986 | 1987-1989 | 1990-1992 | 1993-1995 | 1996-1999
2000-2002 | 2003-2005 | 2006-2009 | 2010-present

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