Hell has been a concept dating back thousands of years, persisting throughout human civilization in some form or another to taunt humanity about the afterlife. Damnation, torture, torment, lakes of fire, punishment for misdeeds or blasphemy… there’s always one of those things involved somewhere. Movies have taken the idea into a whole new dimension of weird though, showcasing every type of Hell imaginable from the mundane to the bizarre.
In this case, we’re treating hell as the concept of punishment after death, not a biblical hell (mostly). Some of these films are hard to watch, and the depictions of hell can be either a gore-fest or a bore-fest depending on your tastes, but these are all some of the best depictions of hell to be put to film so far.
Baskin is a 2015 horror from Turkey about five policemen who accidentally wander into a literal hell when their van crashes near a remote village. This is a more graphic depiction of hell though, with mounds of flesh, mangled bodies, and severed limbs scattered everywhere. It’s not for the squeamish.
It is an amazing descent into this hell though, as the officers enter an empty police station and proceed to find a traumatized officer, a casual cultist orgy, and hell itself. Again, big warning that this film gets disturbing in the second half, so not for everyone. The hell the officers go through is punishment in the worst sense, mirroring their sins.
As Above, So Below
Speaking of punishment for sins, As Above, So Below takes the same route but without nearly as much blood and gore. Taking a more psychological approach to punishment for sins as the explorers make their way deeper into the Paris catacombs, It takes the idea of Dante’s Inferno and applies it to a horror setting, making the characters face their sins or remain forever.
A more notable film from the end of the found footage wave of horror, As Above, So Below still manages to be disturbing while showing minimal gore. Some of the deaths are outright terrifying, playing on the real fears and psychological trauma of the characters. The climax is a creepy, frantic run through the depths of hell.
Though we’ve gotten plenty of Hellraiser sequels throughout the past thirty-five years, Hellraiser 2 is definitely above the rest in every conceivable way. Especially considering Clive Barker was involved in the production, unlike most of the others. Nonetheless, the depiction of hell as a cold, gray labyrinth of horrors is one of the cooler depictions.
Also, there’s a cosmic being called Leviathan that just floats over the Labyrinth and turns people into Cenobites for fun. Despite the cold stone of this hell, there’s plenty of blood to go around as the Cenobites do their pleasure and pain routine around every corner of the maze, while Leviathan watches.
The House That Jack Built
Starting this entry off with- I do not recommend this movie to anyone easily disturbed. There are a lot of very, VERY, graphic murder scenes and even more disturbing things done with the bodies. Seriously, it’s a Lars Von Trier film, expect it to be graphic and pretty pretentious.
That said, the last sequence of the film where Jack is led into Hell by Verge (Dante References again, ugh), is visually stunning and has some fantastic acting from Bruno Ganz as Verge. The hell here is depicted like Dante’s Nine Circles, with each area relating to some sin or transgression and having surreal jumps from one area to the next.
The actual hell in Event Horizon is only seen in brief, flashing sequences, with more apparently left on the cutting room floor and supposedly lost. What it gives is almost more than enough though, as scenes of torture that would make Cenobites and Jigsaw blush unfold in gruesome snippets.
There are maybe twenty seconds of it at most in the final film, with the studio requiring cuts of the rest for release. Flashes of characters who died throughout the film are shown already in barbed wire, being stretched and carved in a surreal landscape. How much worse can that possibly get that it needed to be cut?
A classic with an untold impact on horror that rarely gets the credit it deserves. Jacob’s Ladder released in 1990, follows a Vietnam veteran through different points in his life that are cut up out of order. Most of the terror is psychological, with Jacob undergoing a traumatic injury at the start during Vietnam and events escalating in jumps to the future, showing faceless, blurred people following him and a terrifying descent into a bloody, butcher-filled hell.
The movie itself is a frantic, paranoid descent that studies the character through the lens of a war veteran’s PTSD. Without spoilers, the film becomes a fever dream of “is it real?” as Jacob’s mental state deteriorates and the faceless people make more frequent appearances. Tim Robbins gives a fantastic performance and the emotional rollercoaster is traumatizing while rewarding at the same time.
An early Japanese horror, Jigoku was revolutionary for special effects in Japan’s film industry on release in 1960. For a reason too, as it’s surreal as hell (rimshot). It’s more of a series of vignettes to bring people together and send them into a painful, torturous version of Hell with odd lighting that makes it feel like a surrealist nightmare.
Admittedly, the movie is pretty boring in the first hour or so, but when the characters enter hell the entire movie turns around cinematically, putting characters in some more odd hellish areas such as a field of glass spikes or just dismembered hands grabbing from the ground. But hey, it made the Criterion Collection.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul
Brazil’s first horror icon has one of the most surreal takes on hell in film, with This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse starting in black and white before entering hell and switching to color for vibrantly lit sets and costumes. Coffin Joe, a Brazillian horror icon, has a nightmare about meeting his victims after being dragged to hell.
Hell here is just a literal nightmare too, filled with jagged cave hallways lined with limbs and heads poking out and screams of despair and torture everywhere. There’s even a flesh wall, which is just as terrible as it sounds.
There have been portrayals of hell in other movies too, but we’ve tried to stick to the horror genre to keep some consistency. These are all horrifying, to say the least, and convey that horror and despair of hell we’ve all heard of at some point. The concept is growing though, exploring even more views on what literal and physical hell can be for different people.