10 Great Horror Films That Embraced Taboo

5. Hard Candy (2005)

Taboos are controversial because they involve topics that we’d all rather not think about, but there are a few taboos that we could all benefit from talking about a bit more. Case in point: child sexual abuse. Nobody wants to discuss pedophilia, least of all the people who have fallen victim to it, but survivors often need catharsis and emotional excavation in order to process what happened to them. David Slade’s Hard Candy is an uncomfortable journey to catharsis that does something powerful by putting the language needed to describe child abuse, which often escapes victims due to factors beyond their control, into the mouth of a child herself. Framed through the eyes of a teen (Ellen Page) confronting an adult photographer (Patrick Wilson) who invited her to his home, Hard Candy pulls no punches. Page’s character tortures Wilson’s as she interrogates him, believing him to be the man responsible for a local girl’s disappearance. The rare torture porn outing that focuses on a righteously furious (yet sadistic) female perspective, Slade’s film spits rage as it slowly peels the right to violence away from the man at its center. (Valerie Ettenhofer)


4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Freddy Krueger is a beloved horror icon who genre fans can’t get enough of. You could even say that he’s very entertaining and easy to root for, as the main appeal of these movies is watching teenagers being hacked up in their dreams. At the same time, it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s a pedophile and a child killer, both of which are frowned upon traits that shouldn’t be endorsed. Still, Krueger is rightfully portrayed as a villain and we’re under no illusion that he’s anything other than a creepy weirdo. He also just so happens to be so great at being bad that he’ll always be welcomed back to our screens with open arms. (Kieran Fisher)


3. The Exorcist (1973)

Well. Look. Any film featuring a teenage girl violently stabbing her vagina with a crucifix is crossing a line or two. While The Exorcist was (believe it or not) a huge success with church officials, for many religious folks, quote: “the Devil is in every frame of the film.” Which is, in one sense, an accurate plot summary. But indeed: Linda Blair’s foul mouth, bodily spewings, and graphic insults are unnerving to this day. Seeing a child so compellingly portray possession automatically wafts of the uncouth. And what a marvelous promotional film for Ouija boards, the popular parlor game that here figures as a vessel for voluntary demonic possession — of a child! Heaven forbid! (Meg Shields)


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper‘s landmark film wasn’t the first to deal with cannibalism, but it was certainly the most popular of its time and arguably remains so today. While the Sawyer family is a far cry from what is considered the typical American family (though that’s debatable), they do act as if they believe they are. The dinner scene, in which the family is munching down on human flesh, is a parody of Americana. This is the twisted version of the Cleaver family (which actually would’ve been a good name for them). For everyone else, this is taboo, for the Sawyers this is just another home-cooked meal. (Chris Coffel)


1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero always said that the casting of Duane Jones in the lead role of Ben in his debut feature was because he was the best actor for the role, not as a statement on race in the United States. But I call bullshit because it would take a zombie not to see how subversive it was to cast an African American actor in this role at the tail end of the civil rights movement. It’s a casting choice that would have resonated with everyone who watched it, from the indignant racists pockmarking the country to audiences of color unaccustomed to seeing someone who looks like them not only in the lead but as the outright hero commanding the white characters around him. Jones in this role doesn’t just feel revolutionary, it is – even if Romero would never say so. (Jacob Trussell)

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Brad Gullickson: @@MouthDork Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.