I Tracked My Heart Rate While Watching the 10 'Scariest' Movies on Netflix
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 on 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 they were, and they were prepared for the difficult 90 or so minutes. That the movies could be so intense that even this self-selected group of daring viewers could not get through them just did not sound right to me.
It sounded like a challenge.
I'm not a horror movie by any means. I've probably seen 10 in my life, and I found most of them to be disappointing. I never went in search of Oscar-worthy directing or performances, but I did not at least expect to be scared-and most of the time. 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 that I could watch 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 would not 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 70 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 is mostly worked, although the app logged some rogue data and glitched a couple times.
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 are not turning off these movies because they're too scary; they're turning them off. 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 was 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 before 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 be is amusingly bad.)
I took notes throughout the film. 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 the different periods of time where my heart rate is slowed down so much, it's below its average 70 beats per minute.)
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 love it.
The verdict: Piranha wasn ' t particularly scary, but it was in fact fun and amusing film that was boring at times and gross at others. I would not have turned it off, and I might even watch it again. "96
2. Next on the list: Teeth, a satirical film about a girl who discovers her in 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.
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 would not call it scary.
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 is never more than half a time. 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 did not really know how to process it. 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 would not have. And I
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 hazing ritual. I expected a lot of gore, but there (thankfully) was not 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 rate 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. (132 coffee I'd had). In other words, do not expect to be on the edge of your seat during this one.
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 did not mind it; I found the whole thing to be an interesting approach to the horror genre, and I definitely did not turn it off. (That said, I probably did not have enough watch for it again.)
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 Void. Piranha, Teeth, and Raw were all interesting in their own ways; I was three for three, and I was the fourth to follow suit .
It didnt. The Void was incredibly boring and confusing. I'm still not completely 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.
Here are some of the notes I took care of the film:
- "Oh my god. Seven minutes have passed, but it felt like 30. "
- " Still bored. "
- "This is literal trash."
- "This is just a really bad movie."
Looking at the chart, you'll see that my heart rate is mostly coasted-dropping below its average a couple of times. 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 is not 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 has gotten the ax of me, and long before the 70 percent mark.
5. Then, Human Centipede 2, the most disgusting thing I've ever got 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 do not know, Human Centipede about a surgeon who sews people together (mouth to anus ) in a massive chain resembling a centipede. Human Centipede 2 about a Human Centipede fan who seeks to recreate the spectacle in the original film by pretending, 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.
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 did not have the detailed data for my story. But, reader, I could not watch this movie again. Here's the note I wrote on discovering my error: "I JUST REALIZED MY HEART THING WAS NOT MEASURING THIS WHOLE TIME MY MY GOD I AM GOING TO CRY. I'm sorry for my lack of technical accuracy, but I can 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, 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, acult favorite that's several other films. And honestly, it was very boring. The Conjuring ells 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.
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 would not watch it again.
7. Then, Cabin Fever, a more lighthearted film about flesh-eating bacteria.
The movie, portraying a handful of college students That 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) .
My heart rate hovered somewhere between 60 and 125 beats per (which is watched between 1 and 3 pm). That's, uh, a huge range-and this is where that minute-by-minute data. What I could say is this: The movie was not 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 feel 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 would not turn it off early, but I probably would not 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-out-of-the-trip to Jerusalem. (Do not 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 I had come to worst and the film sucked, I'm at least so thankful to have this stylistic experiment. Unfortunately, even the eccentric directorial choices I could not save this convoluted mess from myself.
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 do not know. What I do not know is it was not particularly scary.
Forty minutes into the film, I wrote the following note: "We are almost an hour in, and nothing 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 his average and even few times below it.
The verdict: JeruZalem was weird, confusing, and mostly tedious. I would turn it off halfway through the sheer frustration. (Before writing this story, you would've been hard-pressed to get me to turn out.) 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.”
The graph shows that my heart rate is well-balanced 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 value, heart rate as it should be per minute, it never exceeded 100 beats per minute during the film.
The verdict: Carnage Park was whatever. It was not offensively gross or boring-plus. It was not so hard. It just was not enjoyable, either. I do not think I would turn 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 could not 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 to be 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.
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 turn this movie off during the gruesome rape scene. And if for some reason I'd made it through, I would've turned it off. The 70 percent point (in this case, the 80-minute mark) does not come up for another segment or so, and I'm not completely abandoned 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 they could be scary, they were hard to watch because they were boring, gross, or some combination of the two.
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 they are not the heart-rate graphs of a seriously scared viewer. These are the heart rate of the graphs of someone who's really worthy of having to go back and forth. to write.
If you're looking for an actually good horror film to watch, might I 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.