The Most Disturbing Movie Visions of Hell
Let’s all hope Hollywood has got this one wrong…
This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Back in the old days, paintings, carvings and engravings of Hell were used to shock sinners into mending their ways – promising them an eternity of pain and suffering, usually at the end of a red hot poker. Most world religions have their own ideas about what Hell looks like, but filmmakers have since thrown in a lot of their own ideas too – with movie villains heading everywhere from fiery torture caves and spikey chasms to bottomless voids and empty prison cells.
Personally, we’re hoping for the one in The Good Place (because at least Ted Danson will be there), but almost anything is better than spending any time in any of the Hells on this list…
Hell’s Bells (1929)
There’s something inherently disturbing about the idea of Walt Disney making a cartoon about Hell. Maybe it’s the eerie movements of the rubber-armed imps as they play music on a bleached human ribcage? Or the scene where a cow gets fire milked out of its udders? Or the bit when Satan feeds a demon to a three-headed dog? It’s probably just the realisation that Hell even exists in the Disney universe – and that loveable baddies like Captain Hook, Shere Khan and Sid from Toy Story are probably writhing around in a black-and-white cavern being tortured by infernal percussionists.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) pisses off a gypsy by denying her a credit extension and gets condemned to eternal damnation in Sam Raimi’s ultimate horror of slight over-reactions. To be fair, she does also kill a kitten in the film, so she probably deserved it. We find out midway through the film that the demons want Christine’s soul so they can “feast upon it while her body festers in the grave”, but we only see where she’s actually going in the shocking last scene – pulled down beneath the earth of the railway tracks into a Hell that’s basically just all groping arms and burning fire. Pretty horrifying stuff, but she did kill that kitten…
Here’s one you can try at home. Sit on a chair with your feet in a bucket of water and stare deeply into the eyes of a cat and you might just open up a portal to DC’s take on Hell. Francis Lawrence’s movie gave us an epic CG vision of the afterlife – with a nuclear wind washing over a crumbling cityscape above an underworld crowded with screaming souls being tortured by long limbed demons. The bit at the bottom looked way worse, but the crumbling city up top was still stalked by half-headed dog demons – making this one of the most apocalyptic yet varied visions of Hell in the movies.
What Dreams May Come (1998)
Often overlooked for all the slushy bits, Vincent Ward’s heaven-set fantasy starring Robin Williams gave us just as much salt with its sugar – and the film’s brief detour into Hell is one of the most visually chilling (and horrifyingly restrained) sequences around. There are no flames, no demons and no red hot pokers down here – just an endless sea of upturned faces; buried bodies packed tightly together to form a grey floor of living heads. As if it couldn’t get any worse, along comes Robin Williams to step on you…
Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
The first bit of Bill And Ted’s descent into Hell seems kinda cool – with Satan pulling the pair into the jaws of a big metal wolf head, looking like something from a Judas Priest album cover. Things get a lot more gnarly (in a bad way) soon after though, with Bill and Ted each experiencing their own personal Hells. Ted’s military academy future turns into Bill’s haunting childhood past, and characters from both start stalking them through a metal labyrinth. It’s played for laughs, but there’s something uniquely terrifying about a Hell that tortures you with your own bad memories and anxieties instead of whips and chains.
further reading: Original Ending of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey Revealed
All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)
Another example of a Hell vision that’s made so much worse by being aimed at kids, Don Bluth goes even darker by telling us that our pet dogs might end up “down there” too. Doggie Hell isn’t all just unchewable bones and unscratchable fleas either – it’s a bubbling lake of fire filled with skeletal dragons and biting demons that drag Charlie the German Shepherd down into the flames. Charlie’s vision might just be a nightmare, but since the film revolves around the existence of Dog Heaven, it stands to reason that the other place exists in Bluth’s universe, too.
Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku (“Hell”) is an assault on the senses. Lingering on every horrible detail, it’s an extreme torture horror movie (with a very bizarre, sublimely abstract, art-house edge) that delights in showing all the nasty stuff that happens in Hell. Swords are driven through necks, torsos are sawed in half, people are forced to drink from a bubbling sea of hot pus, y’know, the usual stuff. But it’s the colder, calmer more surreal imagery that lingers longest – with one scene showing one of Dante’s “circles” in Hell as a literal swirl of people, all with their hands bound in wooden stocks, running around in an endless loop. Nakagawa shoots it in such a hallucinogenic way that you can’t really ever stop seeing it once you’ve watched it.
Event Horizon (1997)
Paul W.S. Anderson’s sci-fi horror only contains a few seconds of actual Hell stuff, but it’s more than enough to scar anyone who’s seen it. Shown on interrupted digital feedback on a video playback, Anderson’s Hell is some kind of spherical torture chamber modelled on the spaceship itself. Eyes are gouged out, flesh is eaten and spikes are driven through heads – but it’s nothing compared to what the film was originally meant to show. According to Anderson on the commentary track, scenes were shot that showed screws being drilled into teeth, legs being pulled off and a lot more cannibalism. If anything though, the brief intensity of the vision in the original cut makes it so much worse – letting our imaginations fill in the blanks.
further reading: Exploring the Deleted Footage From Event Horizon
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
As the title suggests, Tony Randel’s sequel to Clive Barker’s cult classic takes us to Hell for the first time in the series – showing us where Pinhead and the other Cenobites come from. The scene in Hell is mostly remembered for the horrifying moment when Dr. Channard gets transformed into a Cenobite himself (spoiler alert: it involves cheese wire and some kind of barbed succubus), but the production design here is also pretty frightening – showing hell as a vast, monochrome labyrinth with no exit. Barker’s nightmare world is full of visions from Hell, but the place itself is chillingly empty.