I\'m In Hawaii And Just Got The Scariest Alert Of My Life. Here\'s What I Did Next.

In March, Netflix released a list of the 10 hardest-to-watch horror films on the platform. These films were reportedly so damn horrifying that tons of viewers turned them off before they were over—but made it at least 70 percent of the way into the story before jumping ship.

I approached this news, as I do most things, with skepticism. How scary could these movies possibly be? The viewers knew what they were getting into—that is, they actively elected to press play on something intended to be frightening and/or disgusting—so it’s fair to assume they are either fans of the genre or were prepared for a difficult 90 or so minutes. That the movies could be so intense that even this self-selected group of daring viewers couldn’t get through them just didn’t sound right to me.

It sounded like a challenge.

I’m not a horror movie buff by any means. I’ve probably seen 10 in my life, and I found most of them to be disappointing. I never went in seeking Oscar-worthy directing or performances, but I did at least expect to be scared—and most of the time I didn’t even get that. So, when I heard about these 10 so-scary-even-horror-fans-can’t-get-through-them movies, I was like, OK, Netflix, let’s see what you got.

I decided I’d test my mettle by seeing if I could watch all 10 from start to finish. And to test the movies themselves, I’d use science—in the form of a fitness tracker. The goal of the films is to get one’s heart racing, right? So, to see if they succeeded, I borrowed an Apple Watch and tracked my heart rate as I watched. That way, my results wouldn’t just be subjective: If I thought a movie was garbage, but it made my heart beat faster, then I’d have to give it credit for a mission accomplished.

The so-scary-you-can’t-help-but-turn-them-off films were:

  • Piranha
  • Teeth
  • Raw
  • The Void
  • Human Centipede 2
  • The Conjuring
  • Cabin Fever
  • JeruZalem
  • Carnage Park
  • Mexico Barbaro

My highly scientific methodology: I wore an Apple Watch and downloaded an app called Cardiogram to track my heart rate during the films. Whereas Apple’s Health app logs your heart rate every few minutes, Cardiogram does so continuously—as long as you hit the “continuous mode” button. This method mostly worked, though the app logged some rogue data and glitched a couple times (I’ll point these issues out as I go along).

My hypothesis: In my limited experience with horror movies, the last thing you’d want to do is turn off a good one. So, my theory is that people aren’t turning off these movies because they’re too scary; they’re turning them off because they suck. I was prepared to be bored and disappointed, as always. But I was also willing to admit when they legitimately frightened me—with the heart rate data as proof.

1. First up: Piranha, a charmingly bad film about killer piranhas.

Piranha was exactly like most of the horror films I’d already seen: It was an amusingly uninspired story about something going wrong for a bunch of teens on spring break. In this case, dinosaur-era piranhas that had lain dormant for many, many centuries had come back to life to terrorize a lakeside community.

When I first put on the film, I was delighted to discover it starred Parks and Rec’s Adam Scott and Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr. I’ll watch Adam Scott in anything, and I’d forgotten Jessica Szohr existed until watching this movie. I was also immediately charmed by the film’s garbage CGI and cheesy playlist. (If a horror film is going to be bad, the least it can do is be amusingly bad.)

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I took notes throughout the film, and I included being extremely bored about 30 minutes into the movie. Then again 37 minutes in. Then again 47, 48, 50, 52, and 60 minutes in—then one final time there at the end. (See those blue lines? Those are all periods where my heart rate slowed so much it dropped below its average 70 beats per minute. A visual illustration of my boredom, if you will.)

As you can likely infer from the graph, there were several "big scares" throughout the film. (You can see my heart rate jumping to 86 beats per minute nine different times.) I noted vomit-worthy gore (including a penis getting eaten and subsequently regurgitated by a piranha) around 6:08 P.M., 6:17 P.M., and 6:25 P.M., but none of these registered above 80 beats per minute. That final scare—the jump at the very end of the chart—caught me off-guard, and I loved it.

The verdict: Piranha wasn’t particularly scary, but it was a generally fun and amusing film that was boring at times and gross at others. I wouldn’t have turned it off, and I might even watch it again (in a group setting where we’re looking for something lighthearted—not frightening).

2. Next on the list: Teeth, a satirical film about a girl who discovers teeth in her vagina.

Right after I watched Piranha, I sat down with my boyfriend and his roommates to watch Teeth, a horror-comedy that very narrowly walked the line between being cleverly self-aware and entirely offensive. The film’s protagonist is sexually assaulted a minimum of four times throughout the film—a spoiler I only reveal because I think it’s important information for a potential viewer to have before deciding to flip on the film.

At its best, Teeth is a funny story about a virgin-turned-vigilante who punishes evil men by cutting off their penises with her tooth-filled vagina. (The film was inspired by the myth of the "vagina dentata"—Latin for "toothed vagina." Teeth touches on this myth, but I had to google it to learn more.) At its worst, it’s an ignorant film that perpetuates the same misogyny it tries to satirize. (In one particularly harrowing scene, Teeth portrays date rape in a positive light—a choice that director and writer Mitchell Lichtenstein later admitted was a mistake.) All things considered, it was a generally entertaining (albeit uneven) watch—though I wouldn’t call it scary.

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As you can see, my resting heart rate was higher during this film—75 beats per minute, rather than the 70 beats per minute I averaged during Piranha. My heart rate was also a little steadier; it never dropped below average and peaked only semi-periodically, due more to discomfort than genuine fear. The jump you’re seeing around 10:40 P.M. was the result of the film’s first sexual assault scene; I was not expecting it and didn’t really know how to process it.

The verdict: Teeth was not at all frightening, but it was a generally interesting watch—if you can get past the myriad sexual assault scenes. This was an undoubtedly flawed film, but it ended up being one of the more intriguing of the bunch. I see why some people would turn it off, but I wouldn't have. And I might even watch it again.

3. Then, Raw, a French film about a vegetarian-turned-cannibal college student.

Raw tells the story of a vegetarian college student who begins craving human flesh after eating meat during a hazing ritual. I expected a lot of gore, but there (thankfully) wasn’t much; the movie felt more like a foreign indie than a horror film, which I appreciated.

My resting heart rate during this film was 84 beats per minute—notably higher than my heart rates during the first two movies I watched. This is less a reflection of *Raw’*s ability to thrill and more the result of how anxious I was feeling that day (as well as how much coffee I’d had). In other words, don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat during this one.

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Looking at the graph, you’ll notice a couple jumps—one around 12:50 P.M. and another around 1:20 P.M. Both of these were gorier moments (read: hair vomiting and body part eating) that made my palms sweat.

The verdict: If you’re looking for a horror film that feels more like an indie, Raw is for you. Some might find the slow pace off-putting, but I didn’t mind it; I found the whole thing to be an interesting approach to the horror genre, and I definitely wouldn’t turn it off. (That said, I probably wouldn’t watch it again. It was interesting enough for one view—not two.)

4. Then, The Void, a garbage movie about, uh, scary stuff happening in a hospital?

I was riding a high when I went to watch The Void. Piranha, Teeth, and Raw were all interesting in their own ways; I was three for three, and I expected the fourth film on my list to follow suit.

It did not. The Void was incredibly boring and confusing. I’m still not entirely sure what happened during that movie, and I’m surprised people made it 70 percent of the way through. I *definitely* would’ve turned it off earlier.

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Here are some of the notes I took throughout the film:

  • “booooooOred”
  • “Oh my god. Seven minutes have passed, but it felt like 30. I was ready to type a new update—‘bored’—but it hasn’t even been 10 minutes since my last one.”
  • “Still bored.”
  • “This is literal trash.”
  • “This is just a really bad movie.”

Looking at the chart, you’ll see that my heart rate mostly coasted—dropping below its average a couple times toward the end of the film. You can see a few heart rate jumps on the graph, but these correspond with the moments where I’m writing in my notes about how boring the film is and subsequently realizing how much longer I have to go; the film isn’t scaring me—the amount of film I have left to watch is.

The verdict: The Void was one of the most dull, convoluted films I’ve ever seen. I still have no idea what happened in it. I rarely (rarely!) turn off movies part-way through, but this one would’ve gotten the axe from me, and long before the 70 percent mark.

5. Then, Human Centipede 2, the most disgusting thing I’ve ever subjected myself to.

I went into the Human Centipede 2 full of dread, and I emerged full of misery. “Never in my life have I wanted to watch a Human Centipede film,” I wrote before putting on the film. And after watching it, I realized how well-founded my disgust for the franchise was.

For those of you who don’t know, Human Centipede is about a surgeon who sews people together (mouth to anus) in a massive chain resembling a centipede. Human Centipede 2 is about a Human Centipede fan who seeks to recreate the spectacle in the original film by luring the film’s actors there under false pretenses, knocking them out, and sewing them together while they’re unconscious.

As you can see in the graph, my heart rate never exceeded 80 beats per minute during this movie. In fact, it largely coasted at 70. That’s because this movie wasn’t scary—it was just fucking disgusting.

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A few minutes into the film, I noted excessive gore. At 10 minutes, I wrote, “This guy has already killed everyone he’s encountered. Slow your roll, man.” At 30 minutes, “So I’m reaching the conclusion that this film is going nowhere and is literally just gross?” Four minutes later: “Literally I might vomit.”

A few other choice notes: “How did anyone come up with this disgusting franchise, and why are there four of these,” “I’ve closed my eyes for this part, and the sounds are enough to make me throw up,” and “I just want this to be over.”

Toward the end of the movie, I realized I’d failed to hit the “continuous mode” button on Cardiogram, meaning I didn’t have detailed data for my story. But, reader, I could not watch this movie again. Here’s the note I wrote upon discovering my error: “I JUST REALIZED MY HEART THING WASN’T MEASURING THIS WHOLE TIME OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO CRY. I’m sorry for my lack of technical accuracy here, but seriously I cannot watch this movie over again I will die.”

Also worth noting: As you can see, the app logged some rogue data. My resting heart rate was far from 121 beats per minute, and it never reached 139 beats per minute. I’m not sure where this data came from, but it certainly wasn’t when I was watching the movie.

The verdict: This was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever forced myself to watch. I’m not at all surprised that people turned this movie off; I’m honestly shocked they lasted as long as they did. I was so dejected after watching this movie that I took a three-week hiatus from working on this article—not kidding.

6. After a much-needed hiatus, The Conjuring, a generally boring film about an exorcism.

Three weeks passed before I sat down to watch The Conjuring, a cult favorite that’s inspired several other films. And honestly, it was very boring. The Conjuring tells the story of a family that’s being haunted by some kind of demonic spirit, and most of the film is just that demonic spirit doing creepy stuff. Spooky? Sure. Terrifying? Nah.

As you can see on the graph, my heart rate hovered somewhere between 60 and 90 for the majority of the film (I watched it between 12 and 2 P.M.). There was one huge jump shortly after noon, but that wasn’t from the movie; my doorbell got stuck and started buzzing continuously, and I had to quickly run downstairs to shut it off.

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And to quickly address the elephant in the room: Though I remembered to hit “continuous mode” on Cardiogram this time, the app didn’t store my data. It just wasn’t there. I reached out to Cardiogram for help, and a representative told me they’d had “some server issues over the weekend.” At her behest, I refreshed the app, double-checked the sync settings between the Apple Watch and iPhone, and deleted and reinstalled the app—no luck.

I never found the data for this movie (and the data for the next film was lost too), but I was able to get a snapshot using Apple’s Health app. The data isn’t nearly as detailed, but it gets the job done.

The verdict: For a horror film with several sequels and a cult following, The Conjuring proved to be generally blah and disappointing. I *might* have turned this one off part-way through, and I definitely wouldn’t watch it again.

7. Then, Cabin Fever, a more lighthearted film about flesh-eating bacteria.

The movie, portraying a handful of college students whose cabin-getaway goes awry when one of them is infected with flesh-eating bacteria, felt a lot like Piranha—charmingly uninspired, generally fun, and completely unfrightening (albeit a little bit gross).

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My heart rate hovered somewhere between 60 and 125 beats per minute during the film (which I watched between 1 and 3 P.M.). That’s, uh, a huge range—and this is where that minute-by-minute data would’ve really come in handy. What I can say is this: The movie wasn’t terrifying, but there were a few jump scares, gory moments, and surprises that got my heart racing.

Also worth noting: This movie was way more fun to watch than the previous three. I felt so, so happy to have the opportunity to watch a silly scary movie after the horrifyingly gross or boring ones that preceded it.

The verdict: Cabin Fever was an OK movie. I wouldn’t turn it off early, but I probably wouldn’t watch again.

8. After another hiatus, JeruZalem, a very ho-hum movie that had the potential to be much more interesting than it actually was.

The film tells the story of three friends who take a coming-of-age trip to Jerusalem—only to end up in some kind of Biblical nightmare. (Don’t ask me what the nightmare was. I had a really hard time following the narrative.)

I was heartened—or at least intrigued—when I first put on the movie. It was filmed entirely from the protagonist’s point-of-view, which gave the cinematography an off-kilter (but interesting) feel. Plus, there was some Black Mirror-esque technology commentary woven in. I figured if worse came to worst and the film sucked, I’d at least be thankful to have experienced this stylistic experiment. Unfortunately, even the eccentric directorial choices could not save this convoluted mess from itself.

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I’ll be honest, I have no idea what happened in this movie. There was some sort of gargoyle or demon or zombie narrative happening, which probably has something to do with the aforementioned Biblical nightmare. But I really don’t know. What I do know is it wasn’t particularly scary.

Forty minutes into the film, I wrote the following note: “We’re almost an hour in, and nothing scary has happened—though a dog barked earlier and that was semi-frightening.” My complete lack of interest in this movie is evident if you look at the graph; my heart rate hovered close to its average and even dropped below it several times.

The verdict: JeruZalem was weird, confusing, and mostly tedious. I would’ve turned it off halfway through out of sheer frustration. (Before writing this story, you would’ve been hard-pressed to get me to turn a movie off before I’ve finished it. These movies have ruined me.)

9. Then, Carnage Park, a not-very-captivating homage to Quentin Tarantino.

The movie is a crime-horror hybrid about two robbers who kidnap a woman, flee to the desert, and run into a man who’s pretty intent on killing them. The movie didn’t feel like a horror film in any traditional sense; there were no monsters, jump scares, or real protagonists to root for. The only note I took during the film: “At least this one is short.”

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The graph shows that my heart rate fell somewhere between 76 and 90 beats per minute for most of the film. There were no real jumps or serious dips—just some standard vacillation. Worth noting: Though the app lists my peak heart rate as 123 beats per minute, it never exceeded 100 beats per minute during the film.

The verdict: Carnage Park was whatever. It wasn’t offensively gross or boring—plus it was short—so making it to the end wasn’t that hard. It just wasn’t enjoyable, either. I don’t think I would’ve turned it off; again, it was short.

10. Finally, and after a very long hiatus, México Bárbaro, a Mexican horror film told in eight gore-filled parts.

I took several more weeks off to not watch horror films and instead catch up on Riverdale, Silicon Valley, and the latest season of Arrested Development. I just couldn’t power through another disappointing film.

Eventually, I came back from my break to finish off the article with México Bárbaro, a horror film that focuses on a eight different Mexican old wives’ tale. I went into this one a little excited; it seemed potentially educational, and I’m always down to learn something. But the movie ended up being disgusting and disturbing—in the worst way possible.

For starters, each segment is introduced by a brief title card that gruesomely depicts the violence ahead. (One of them shows a head bouncing after getting hit with a hammer, which is kind of all you need to know.) And some of the segments are equally hard to watch. In the fourth one, you watch a teenage girl get kidnapped and raped by a troll. And yes, you see the rape in gratuitous detail. Knowing the story was fictional didn’t mitigate the shock and disgust I felt while watching that scene (which went on far longer than it needed to); I watched this scene around 4 P.M., and you can see my heart rate jumping while I did.

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In the next segment, you watch a young child get kidnapped, strangled, and eaten by someone who lives and works in his apartment building. As the camera pans out, you see countless missing children flyers, inviting you to imagine those myriad children facing the same fate. I rarely have emotional reactions to movies, but watching these scenes back-to-back was incredibly hard. (I watched this one shortly after 4:15 P.M., and again, you can see my heart rate jump.)

I would’ve turned this movie off during the gruesome rape scene. And if for some reason I’d made it through, I would’ve certainly turned it off after watching the child get kidnapped and devoured. The 70 percent point (in this case, the 80-minute mark) doesn’t come for another segment or so, and I’m thoroughly surprised viewers didn’t abandon ship earlier.

The verdict: I hated this. For what it’s worth, some of *México Bárbaro’*s segments were less horrifying than others, but the horrible ones were really, really bad. I wish I could’ve turned this one off sooner.

TL;DR: Most of these movies weren’t hard to watch because they were scary, they were hard to watch because they were boring, gross, or some combination of the two.

My hypothesis was correct! Whether you agree with my movie tastes or not, it’s clear that these are not the heart-rate graphs of a seriously scared viewer. These are the heart rate graphs of someone who’d really like to have back that day’s worth of gore and shaky filming—and who probably wouldn’t have made it 70 percent of the way through these movies if she didn’t have an article to write.

If you’re looking for an actually good horror film to watch, might I suggest The Babadook or Rear Window, the only two horror movies I’ve ever actually loved? Genuine, on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrills—no gore, cheesiness, or boredom required.

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