The viewing of a good horror film can, at times, be likened to an amusement park ride. There’s suspense, action, usually a few laughs, and more than a few moments that’ll make you shriek or jump in your seat. At its conclusion, when the evil characters receive their final comeuppance, you’re rewarded with a heady chemical cocktail of endorphins. Thanks for riding Satanic Cannibal Cheerleaders from Outer Space, kids. Please exit to your right.
As a horror film aficionado, I’ve watched and thoroughly enjoyed films that featured copious amounts of gore. I would not classify myself as a gorehound, but neither do I shy away from imagery I know to be disturbing or taboo in nature. These are, after all, the mainstay of horror cinema.
That being said, I do have my limits. Blood, gore and flesh-eating zombies are one thing. Cruelty and sadism that serves no greater purpose in a film than base titillation — that’s quite another. And that is where I draw the metaphoric line in the sand. Whereas the gruesomely authentic torture scenes in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth were unpleasant to view, these scenes provided an important counterpoint to Ofelia’s dark fantasy world in which she sought refuge from the very real brutality of her step-father. Torture for its own sake, however, is something I prefer not to witness.
I have compiled a list of films that, quite frankly, I doubt I will ever watch. Then again, never say never…
1. Ruggero Deodato’s infamous Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Filmed with handheld 16mm cameras in a cinéma vérité documentary-style that proved so convincing that the Italian authorities seized it and charged Deodato with making an actual snuff film. No actors were harmed in the making of this film, but several animals (including an unsuspecting sea turtle) were literally butchered and dismembered before the camera. I don’t need to see that. I don’t need to see a woman raped, tortured and impaled to death on a stake, either.
2. Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) directed by the Italian poet, filmmaker and famed provocateur Pier Paolo Pasolini. There’s much critical praise amongst cinema’s illuminati for the films of Pasolini. This one, his last and most controversial offering, was based upon the writings of the Marquis de Sade and Dante’s Inferno. While not officially a horror film, it includes scenes of torture, sadism and sexual depravity so thoroughly disturbing that, according to Wikipedia, “Salò was named the 65th scariest film ever made by the Chicago Film Critics Association in 2006.” Pasolini takes his audience on a merciless and unblinking trip through the Circles of Hell. Suffice to say, the Circe de Merde sounds like an especially unpleasant place.
3. The August Underground Trilogy (August Underground 2002, Mordum 2003, Penance 2007) created by the Pittsburgh-based film production/special effects/design company Toetag Pictures. These are simulated snuff films that, based solely on their description, read like a game of one-upmanship amongst gorehounds. One can just imagine the filmmakers snickering: “Does your film have rape, murder, dismemberment, necrophilia, pedophilia and infanticide? ‘Cause ours sure does…(snicker).” A big, juvenile gross-out contest that I can live without experiencing, thanks.
4. The mondo-style films Faces of Death (1978), and it’s imitators Faces of Gore and Traces of Death. See above.
5. Irreversible (2002) directed by Gaspar Noé. A cheap trick by a cheap director who opts for the shock-value and little else. Pass.