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:
- The Void
- Human Centipede 2
- The Conjuring
- Cabin Fever
- 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.)