The 100+ Most Controversial
Films of All-Time


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

The Exorcist (1973)
D. William Friedkin

The sight of 13-year-old Linda Blair vomiting, swearing and abusing herself with a crucifix horrified a broad swath of moviegoers and critics.

Friedkin adapted William Peter Blatty's best-selling, 1971 blockbuster book about Satanic demon possession (based on a true-story of a 13 year-old Maryland boy in 1949), and created one of the most disturbing, frightening, shocking, and exploitative films ever made. The notorious movie, well-made and sobering, was about a young 12 year-old girl entering puberty and womanhood, who also happened to become possessed.

The horror film masterpiece, the first major horror blockbuster, was one of the most opposed and talked-about films, especially during its pre-release time period. Viewers and the studio took note that there were accompanying ominous events, including the deaths of nine persons associated with the production (including Jack MacGowran and von Sydow's brother) - and a request was made to exorcise the set.

Its controversial content, sensational, nauseating, and horrendous special effects (360 degree head-rotations, self-mutilation/masturbation with a crucifix, the projectile spewing of green puke, a mixture of split-pea soup and oatmeal, etc.), for its depictions of desecrations, vivid representations of evil, and for its intense scenes of exorcism (accompanied by blasphemies, obscenities and graphic physical shocks). One of the most controversial scenes was the long sequence of invasive medical testing performed on the hapless patient - criticized as medical pornography.

A sweet pre-teenaged girl Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) became possessed by a malevolent evil spirit - and after urinating on the carpet in public and experiencing a shaking bed, was soon transformed and disfigured into a head-rotating, levitating, green vomit-spewing, obscenity-shouting creature.

The film's most horrifying scene was the notorious crucifix-masturbation scene, symbolically simulating the loss of virginity for the young teenager. The camera registered the horror on the face of Regan's mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) as she saw her daughter's sacrilegious self-abuse. In an obscene gesture simulating masturbation, a horribly-disfigured Regan repeatedly thrust her bloodied hand clutching the crucifix into her vagina under her blood-splattered nightgown, as she bellowed obscenities in the Devil's voice: "Let Jesus f--k you, let Jesus f--k you! Let him f--k you!" [The demon's voice was enhanced with various animal noises and other grotesque sounds.]

There was a struggle to get the cross out of Regan's super-strong arm and her mother tussled with her for control of the offending object. Regan held her mother's head down into her crotch and repeated: "Lick me!" - covering her mother's face in blood. Regan then punched her mother with a violent blow, sending her backwards across the bedroom floor. As a bloody-faced Regan sat on her bed, she spun her head backwards 180 degrees, threatening in a deep malevolent voice as she imitated the British accent of a dead family friend to taunt Chris about his murder: "Do you know what she did? Your c--ting daughter?"

In fact, one of the other most objectionable and blasphemous scenes was the sight on the Georgetown University campus of a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary. It had been desecrated with red paint and other materials, and taken on the appearance of a harlot. The defiled statue had long red-tipped breasts, red color on both hands, and an elongated, erect yet sagging penis-shaped clay protuberance also daubed in red.

Her divorced, film-star mother was at wit's end, until she called on a dedicated, faith-questioning Jesuit priest Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) to exorcise the malevolent devil from her daughter's body. An elderly priest Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), whose archaeology project released the Satanic being, also risked his life (and died of heart failure) to administer rites of exorcism with incantations and holy water.

In a supremely self-sacrificial act during the cathartic finale of the horror film, the formerly-rebellious priest Father Karras taunted the demon inside the possessed devil-girl Regan as he wrestled against her. He provoked and welcomed the demon to leave her body and come into his own so that he could destroy the Evil. He hurled himself toward the bedroom window - his body was thrown through the glass and he fell to his death on the steep concrete steps below.

The film was enormously popular with moviegoers at Christmas-time of 1973, but some portions of the viewing audience fled from theaters due to nausea, convulsions, fainting or sheer fright/anger (Headlines proclaimed: "The Exorcist nearly killed me!"), and it was reported that one patron in San Francisco literally attacked the screen in an attempt to kill the demon. Mass hysteria led to paramedics being called to some theatres, and others were picketed in protest.

The film's showings also led to a reported increase in temporary spiritual possessions or psychoses by individuals, and an increase in requests for priests to exorcise everything from loved ones and pets to houses, neighborhoods and appliances. Evangelist Reverend Billy Graham stated that he "felt the power of evil buried within the celluloid of the film itself". The film was also banned on video in the UK for fifteen years.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka They Call Her One Eye, Hooker's Revenge, or Thriller - En Grym Film) (1973, Swe.)
D. Bo Arne Vibenius

A US distributor added hardcore inserts to Bo Vibenius' grim 'rape-revenge' movie, and the combination of porn and violence confused and angered moviegoers.

This notorious and controversial Swedish violent revenge sexploitation film from writer/director Bo Arne Vibenius was advertised with the tagline:

"The Movie That Has No Limits of Evil. First They Took Her Speech...Then Her Sight...When They Were Finished, She Used What Was Left of Her For Her Own Frightening Kind of Revenge - THEY CALL HER ONE EYE"

It was repeatedly edited (from 107 minutes original length to an excised 82 minutes), censored and banned in its own country (and elsewhere) for its rape and revenge themes and hard-core sex. It was reported to be one of the first totally-banned films by the Swedish censorship board. Allegedly - crude and explicit inserts of a body-double being penetrated vaginally and anally, and ejaculation were added to the film, to further validate the reasons for the hooker's vengeful actions. [After this film, star Christina Lindberg ended her acting career, as she refused to perform hardcore sex scenes and expressed discomfort over the use of explicit, full-penetration inserts being used for her characters.]

The main character was mute Frigga/Madeleine (23 year-old Christina Lindberg) whose life was forever traumatized after a molestation-rape at a young age by a derelict elderly man in a park. Fifteen years later, her existence was overshadowed by sexual abuse, heroin addiction, and forced prostitution.

[A similar story was first detailed three years earlier in Gustav Wiklund's roughie Exponerad (1971) (aka Diary of a Rape), also with Lindberg (in her third film). Reportedly, Quentin Tarantino based his own Kill Bill, Vol 1 (2003) and Daryl Hannah's one-eyed killing character Elle Driver upon this tawdry, grindhouse snuff film.]

After missing her bus one day, Madeleine was given a ride by smooth-talking pimp Tony Dill (Heinz Hopf), who hooked her on heroin and forced her into prostitution. In the film's most infamous POV scene, he sliced her left eyeball with a scalpel (the mutilation was performed on a fresh cadaver) shown in graphic close-up detail, when she refused to service her first john and clawed his face. She was forced to wear an eyepatch that changed color (from pink to red to black) as the film progressed.

When she learned that her parents committed suicide on account of her (after reading a faked letter), she turned to training herself for self-defensive revenge (buying weapons, taking driving, firearms and karate training, etc.). Completely wordless, she resorted to graphic and violent blood-letting retaliation (often filmed in slow-motion) as long, dark leather coat-wearing "One Eye" (against Tony and other clients) with a sawed-off shotgun.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
D. Tobe Hooper

Disenfranchised rural cannibals slaughter soft city folks in the first "meat movie," a horror tale rooted in realistic violence and social malaise.

Hooper's low-budget, seminal exploitation horror film (with a quasi-documentary feel) was made on a budget of $300,000 - and became highly profitable (approximately $31 million) through its advertising campaign ("Who will survive - and what will be left of them?"). Surprisingly, there were no close-ups of the fatal blows and more foreboding than real violence, although it became the 70's most controversial cult horror film and the precursor of later slasher films.

Its unpleasant storyline was loosely based on the real-life Wisconsin serial killer and skin-fetishist Ed Gein - as was Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The skillfully-directed film (Hooper's directorial debut) told about a family trio of unsympathetic, cannibalistic, homicidal, ex-slaughterhouse workers/fiends:

  • a Gulf gas station proprietor, Old Man (Jim Siedow)
  • a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) (Leatherface's brother)
  • Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen)

They slaughtered college-aged kids (and anyone else) who happened to trespass in their area - and then intended to eat their human flesh and sell the remains as 'sausage'. Leatherface wore a bloody butcher's apron and a mask stitched out of human skin - and wielded a roaring chain saw.

The R-rated, painful-to-watch, nightmarish film opened with a sober narration about a crime spree - vandals had been desecrating graveyards in a remote section of Texas. A visit to Grandfather Hardesty's grave to check on the reports of grave robbing and vandalism was made by five individuals:

  • Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns)
  • Sally's wheelchair-bound, paraplegic, sadistic and fat brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain)
  • Sally's friend Pam (Teri McMinn)
  • Pam's boyfriend Kirk (William Vail)
  • Sally's boyfriend Jerry (Allen Danziger)

The murders began with the first appearance of Leatherface at a nearby run-down, deserted farm that the group investigated after the grave visit. Kirk entered the unlocked front door of an empty-looking clapboard house, as he repeatedly called out: "Hello, hello...Anybody home?" He heard squealing noises and saw a open doorway in the hall beyond which was a red-colored wall covered with skulls and bones. There, he was immediately and surprisingly attacked by a lunging, apron-wearing, skin-masked Leatherface who clobbered him in the head with a large mallet or sledgehammer - his legs kicked and twitched during a seizure as he was dragged into the killer's lair - and its steel-metal door was forcibly slammed shut.

The masked man then hung a screaming Pam on a meat hook through her upper back. After carving up the dead Kirk with a chain saw, Jerry was also killed with a sledgehammer after discovering a deep-frozen, half-dead Pam in a large chest freezer, and at night, Franklin was slaughtered through his stomach with the chain saw. Running in terror and escaping, Sally unfortunately fled to the gas station, where the proprietor bound and gagged her and brought her back to Leatherface's house, where she was soon held captive in the infamous dinner scene (and had her finger cut as a blood-appetizer for the weakened, withered, vampiric and patriarchal Grandfather (John Dugan)). In the film's climax at dawn, a bloody and deranged-looking Sally again escaped. Leatherface's brother was run down by a passing semi-trailer truck, while she fled in the back of a pickup truck and left the killer spinning on the highway with his buzzing chainsaw.

The horror flick deeply divided critics - some praised it for its depiction of deprived, 'off-the-main-highway' rural America and the social effects upon its people. Others deplored it for its effective yet mindless slasher mentality. It was banned twice in France for potentially inciting violence, and for 25 years in the UK.

(Gunnar Hansen)

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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