If you want to an R rated movie in theaters, you’ll need to be of age – or at the very least accompanied by a guardian. The guardian in question needs to be at least 17 years old, and said guardian is required to chaperone you for the entire duration of the film. Theater employees will observe the you like hawks, and if the rules are broken, removal from the theater goes into immediate effect. The MPAA ratings system is a way of letting you know what you’re in for before you see a movie.
Television is a whole different story! Modern television – particularly with the advent of cable television like HBO and AMC – has given artists creative liberties to essentially tell whatever stories they consider to be worth telling. Assuming these stories consist of gore or nudity, they get the okay from their respective studios, and the ball gets rolling. Unlike network TV, cable television doesn’t need to get as much approval from advertisers on content – they are paid subscription services, and so can take things way farther. Netflix is working on a other whole other level, as we’ve covered previously.
That said, fair warning: some shows are not for the faint of heart. So, keep reading to check out 15 TV Shows Too Disturbing To Watch.
15. The Exorcist
Considering that the film on which this series is based typically lands in the number one spot on “Scariest Movies of All Time” lists, it makes sense that this show follows suit.
The Exorcist deals with demonic possessions and broken families (as a result of demonic possessions), but it also gladly deals with crossing disturbing lines on a casual basis.
Now, if you thought William Friedkin’s original adaptation of the William Peter Blatty novel in 1971 was difficult to stomach, the FOX series is clearly trying to up the game. For example, if you thought the crucifix scene in the film was disturbing (and it was), a similar scene from the show involving a hot curling iron easily beats it.
14. Channel Zero
Horror anthologies played a major role in the 1980s, and then took a break until a minor comeback in the 2000s with films like V/H/S and Trick ‘r Treat. However, these short film compilations didn’t just exist as movies. In 2016, Nick Antosca partnered up with SyFy and created Channel Zero, a TV series anthology inspired by Creepypastas – viral scary stories shared over the internet.
If Creepypastas already wig you out enough as it is, it’s safe to say that this series will only elevate that fear exponentially. If a creature like the Tooth Child (it’s literally a character covered head-to-toe in teeth) doesn’t bother you on all grounds, then a psychoanalysis is highly recommended.
13. Masters Of Horror
Art and inspiration go hand-in-hand. One artist takes inspiration from another artist, creates something new, and the process continues over and over again, equally harkening back to days gone by, while also crafting something new and unique.
This pretty much sums up the Showtime series Masters of Horror.
Iconic horror filmmaker Mick Garris wrangled up some of the greatest classic horror directors, like John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Dario Argento, allowing each of them to create or adapt episodes of their very own for his horror anthology series. In terms of effective horror, it was a success. That said, though, success may as well have been synonymous with material arguably too disturbing for most viewers.
In one instance, Showtime was forced to pull an episode directed by Takashi Miike on account of material being taken too far. Miike had already gained acclaim within the horror genre from his film Audition, so it shouldn’t take too much imagination to wonder why this particular episode was too much to stomach for most audiences.
12. True Blood
When Alan Ball adapted Charlaine Harris’ book series The Southern Vampire Mysteries for HBO, he did so in the same year that the Twilight adaptation hit theaters. It was 2008, and up until this point, vampire lore was primarily associated with either Dracula or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
However, following True Blood’s release, not even the tween-friendly love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob could have steered audience’s attention away from how brutal a tale of small-town vampires could actually be. Right off the bat, this series was relentless, unforgiving, and bloody as hell.
Between vomiting up an entire body’s worth of innards, twisting a head around mid-coitus, and a bunch of weird intercourse, True Blood is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for anyone who has trouble stomaching an uncomfortable amount of blood (which shouldn’t really be surprising, considering the title).
11. True Detective
The horror in True Detective isn’t just in the abysmal reviews for its second season, but in the content overall. Especially in the series’ first season with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, the dread is thick and the horror is potent, and it’s made all the worse from director Cary Fukunaga’s brilliantly dark visuals.
The show revolves around a murder investigation, but weaves in several other horrific layers as it tells its story. Audiences witness the dread experienced from a survivor who might never heal from what she experienced, the revelation of child abuse, and while there is some gore littered throughout both seasons, it’s the overall atmosphere that breeds the most disturbing elements.
American Horror Story wasn’t the only American horror story on television within the past year. Outcast, starring Patrick Fugit and Philip Glenister, centers around a man (Fugit) who was allegedly the victim of demonic possession. Instead of inciting sympathy from locals in his small hometown, the opposite happens, considering what he seemingly put his wife and daughter through. Glenister plays a local reverend.
From Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead, Outcast focuses on demonic possession in a uniquely intimate, but all-around horrific way. The theme and context of the show is disturbing enough, but certain visuals sprinkled throughout are more than likely to mess with your head (though likely not possess it).
A show doesn’t need to exist within the horror genre to be considered disturbing. Case in point: HBO’s Oz. Set in a maximum-security state prison, this show highlights all of the worst sorts of horrors that might exist within a location such as this one. Brimming with criminals (both behind the bars and in uniform), Oz is powerful show that often wear its misery on its sleeve.
Aside from the overall disturbing elements surrounding its prisoners, Oz played host to a plethora of horrific violence and assault enacted by the male prisoners upon each other. Many of these men had horrible lives on the outside and are now trapped in prison, without hope of release or improving their lives. The real horror of Oz is what men without power will do to one another.
8. Fear the Walking Dead
Seeing as The Walking Dead was such a success, it was only a matter of time before AMC figured out how to drain its creative well. In 2015, it did so with the prequel series titled Fear the Walking Dead, covering narrative ground that took place prior to the zombie apocalypse, as well as events happening shortly thereafter.
Considering that the Walking Dead universe isn’t one to shy away from gory visuals, one shouldn’t expect anything different in this prequel. A zombie has its face mutilated with a motor, a father attacks his daughter (and tries to eat her) while she’s in the middle of exchanging vows with her soon-to-be-husband, and someone eats a recently killed dog.
7. Ren and Stimpy
Can a children’s show really belong on a “most disturbing” list? When the show is Ren and Stimpy, the answer is: yes, a children’s show can absolutely belong on a “most disturbing” list.
Now, Nickelodeon hasn’t exactly been the kind of studio that ever bothered straying away from disturbing content. That said, though, Nickelodeon eventually had to put the kibosh on its own material, ultimately banning an episode of Ren and Stimpy titled “Adult Party Cartoon” on account of how intensely it delved into unquestionably adult themes (hence the title).
In episodes that did somehow make the cut, abuse is especially prevalent in the show, with Ren beating himself in the head with a hammer, pumping his hips to-and-fro with a pelvic saw, and all other manner of “cartoon violence” that will haunt your dreams.
6. Top Of The Lake
In between Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale (more on that later), Elisabeth Moss starred as Detective Robin Griffin in Top of the Lake, a series that circles around the investigation of missing girls. Specifically, it focuses on cases dealing with incidences involving potential sexual assault and a pregnant underage girl, automatically steeping the series in a deeply sensitive and disturbing light.
What’s more is that the show hardly bothers shying away from how horrific the crimes in which Griffin is investigating can be.
The show became a critical success, and even attracted the likes of Nicole Kidman for its latest season. That said, though, the celebrity presence does little to take away from the disturbing content consistent within the series. The show is meant to highlight the abhorrent horror that is sexual assault, and pulling no punches is what lends so much to its stark authenticity.
5. The X-Files
The X-Files is one of those shows that pivots back and forth between camp and horror. But when it’s handling the latter, it does so with disturbing perfection. In fact, one episode titled “Home,” which dealt with an inbred family hell bent on murder, was banned from syndication for a few years on account of how negatively viewers responded to it. That said, this episode isn’t the only example of disturbing elements within the show’s exploration of science fiction and the unknown.
Evil dolls like Chinga, mutants who feed on human brains, and Leonard, one half of a conjoined twin who can actually detach himself from his brother (but only because he wants very much to kill people while he does so), are just a few examples of what makes The X-Files not only so famous, but so disturbing as well.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale, an adaptation of the novel by Margaret Atwood, is not your typical horror story. That said, considering what the women who are depicted in the the story are forced to endure, it’s perhaps more horrific than any zombie or vampire movie could ever hope to be.
Set in a dystopian future where women are treated as property of the state, Elisabeth Moss plays Offred, one of the many women have no choice but to live as sex slaves in order to help repopulate the planet. A woman is hanged for being gay, while her partner is forced to endure a clitoridectomy, and another has her eye plucked clean out of its socket. Equally as horrifying are the flashback sequences to the slow decay of women’s rights that led to this dystopia – many of which read too close to home in our present day.
When you’re watching a show based on the cannibal doctor Hannibal Lecter, you ought to know exactly what will ultimately show up on the menu.
The TV series Hannibal, which explores the confounding romance between Lecter and FBI special investigator Will Graham, is as graphic as anything you might find inside Dr. Lecter’s refrigerator. One scene that especially takes the cannibalistic cake is in the episode titled “Sakizuki” – featuring a human “mural”. Each episode is carefully designed by Bryan Fuller to be as gorgeous and disturbing as possible.
The gore is artistic and intense, but even more disturbing is watching our heroic protagonist Will Graham fall inexorably into Lecter’s web. The corrupting, corrosive effect Lecter has on the people around him will stay with you long after the impressions of Hannibal’s kills have faded from behind your eyelids.
2. Game of Thrones
Despite the fact that Game of Thrones is very much rooted around fantastical elements like dragons, ice warriors, and magic, that’s not to say that it isn’t one of the most disturbing television shows that has ever existed. That’s because, along with the dragons and ice warriors and magic, there is an abundance in gory murders, each one somehow exponentially more graphic than the one before it.
In fact, some death scenes are so graphic that had the show only ever aired one of them, Game of Thrones would still be on this list. One character has searing hot liquid gold poured onto his head (and through his skull), another character has his eyes gouged out, and an entire (red) wedding party is killed. That’s not to mention all the assaults added to the show that aren’t depicted in George R.R. Martin’s books.
If you’re going to watch a show about plastic surgery, keep in mind that it’s more than likely going to be quite a gory spectacle. Especially if it airs on FX and is created by Ryan Murphy. It’s kind of a perfect marriage of gore-happy entities.
In Nip/Tuck, two plastic surgeons indulge in their bloody craft, giving patients the “perfection” they desire. However, no matter how beautiful these patients may hope to be, the journey getting there is gory and raw, and viewers get to sit front and center to watch the body horror take place without the slightest concern for blurring or cutting away.
If you can’t stomach gore, but you still feel inclined to watch this show, good luck. This show doesn’t pull a single punch, and you’ve been warned.
Can you think of any more shows that are more disturbing than these? Let us know in the comments!
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