Horror films I said I wouldn’t watch, but did.

Back in September of 2010, I wrote a blog entry entitled The horror films I probably won’t watch, and why in which I listed five films that, solely based on my knowledge of their content, I felt unlikely that I’d opt to view them. The five films were:

  1. Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980).
  2. Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
  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.
  4. The mondo-style films Faces of Death (1978), and it’s imitators Faces of Gore and Traces of Death.
  5. Irreversible (2002) directed by Gaspar Noé.

The main issue I had with the listed films were the common element of “cruelty for the sake of cruelty” — or, in other words, that the sadistic nature of their content existed only to titillate in the most exploitative manner possible. Of course, since I had not seen these films, I had only their reputation on which to base my decision.

In the six years since I originally wrote that post, curiosity has — perhaps, predictably –gotten the better of me. Of the five films on that list, I’ve watched two (and almost three) of them. Here are my thoughts on each, in the order in which they first appeared:

Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is, without doubt, a nasty film. Every frame of film looks smeared in blood, grime and sweat, probably because it actually was. The animal deaths are brutal and very real, and the actors endured a great deal of hardship while filming in the Amazon. The film is so notorious for the animal deaths, in fact, that I felt little shock when they finally happened as I’d read a great deal about them already. I was not prepared, however, for the casual manner in which violent rape was thrown on the screen. Now, if you’ve watched any number of 70’s Italian exploitation films, you’ll already be aware that rape is depicted with a great deal of frequency. Cannibal Holocaust is no different in that regard, but it’s much more violent here. Then again, this is a brutally violent world that Deodato is creating for us, and he does this quite effectively. The first half of the film, with the rescue team heading into the Amazon to locate the missing filmmakers, is frankly a bit boring. Things improve considerably in the second half, with the executives in New York viewing the footage recovered by the rescue team. This is where the whole “found footage” conceit kicks in, and is without question the greatest contribution Cannibal Holocaust has made to the horror genre. We’d probably not have The Blair Witch Project without the shaky, hand-held camera and POV-style of this earlier film.

The gore is spectacular and reasonably well executed, with the iconic impalement scene standing out as an impressive achievement in practical special effects. Sure, all the blood looks like red paint but, hey, it’s 1979-80. By the end of the film-within-a-film, you’re basically cheering on the natives to take their bloody vengeance on the monstrous Euro-American filmmakers — and boy, do they ever. If you consider yourself more than a casual horror film fan, then you owe it to yourself to watch Cannibal Holocaust at least once. Of the Italian cannibal films, it’s probably the best (though I haven’t seen all of them).

Incidentally, Eli Roth’s 2013 offering The Green Inferno is basically a mash-up of this film with Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (itself a complete retelling of the basic plot in Deodato’s film). Roth’s rehash pales in comparison to the brutality of the earlier films, partly owing to the fact that one simply couldn’t make those films nowadays (laws protecting animal rights in films were passed after the making of Cannibal Holocaust). The only change Roth makes to his film which I felt worked was the repositioning of the native tribe from “peaceful victims pushed to violence” to very purposeful and sadistic predators. The cheerfully privileged college student-activists in The Green Inferno die out of sheer First World naïveté which — aside from a problematic view of non-white “primitives” as the menacing Other — is an interesting re-contextualization of the traditional cannibal film narrative. 

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Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

 

I tried to watch Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, I really did. I only made it about 45-minutes into the film before I switched it off. Sure, the cinematography was fabulous and the acting seemed very competent … but, it was so fucking boring. Judging from the first 45-minutes only, it appeared that the sadistic fascists planned to bore their adolescent victims to death with all their incessant talking, talking, talking. One has to suppose that all the infamous rape, torture and shit-eating occurs much later in the film. Perhaps several cups of coffee are required to view this lengthy piece of arthouse-smut. I may follow-up with a films I said I wouldn’t watch because they were so boring, but I persevered anyway post at a future date.

I haven’t watched any of the August Underground Trilogy yet, and I’m still on the fence about them. I may give-in to my curiosity late one night, when I’m feeling up to the challenge of a film that features a headless, maggoty toddler corpse. These films are not available (nor will ever be available) on streaming media like Netflix. One has to dig in the deeper, darker places of the Internet to unearth these atrocities.

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One version of artwork for the “Faces of Death” VHS case.

I have, however, watched the infamous Faces of Death (1978), and found the film completely hilarious. I recall closely studying the VHS case at my local Blockbuster Video when I was a teen in the 80’s, curious about the title but too intimidated to actually rent it. Banned in 46 countries! Depiction of actual death!

Lacking any sense of true narrative, the film is a cobbled-together series of newsreel and documentary footage showing fatal accidents, war photography, human autopsies, and animals being dispatched in slaughterhouses, all loosely connected by the authoritative voiceover of our death-tour guide, the fictitious Dr. Francis B. Gröss. Some of the footage is clearly (and, in some cases, laughably) staged reconstructions of reputedly real events. The segment featuring a group of American tourists supposedly eating monkey brains in some exotic locale is laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

The final film, the Gaspar Noé directed Irreversible (2002), I plan to watch at a future date. It’s such a seminal film within the framework of “New French Extremity” that I feel I should, though I seldom feel like settling-in to witness Monica Bellucci get violently raped for several, protracted minutes. Blech. Still, the time-reversal conceit seems like an interesting one.

Anyway, happy Halloween horror-viewing!

Cannibals, werewolves and tentacles: The web searches that bring you here.

Blog statistics are a fascinating gateway into the collective unconscious. While the identities of those who’ve visited my blog remain anonymous, their mouse clicks remain on record and provide an insight into the topics that interest them most. What occupies people’s thoughts during those moments of procrastination when they are not writing that report for their boss or essay for that class? Cannibals, apparently. More specifically, Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 horror film Cannibal Holocaust, a film that’s still considered controversial after 32 years and, likely due to its continued notoriety, received the most “hits” on my blog. If they’re not seeking information on cannibal films, people are looking into the Canadian teenage werewolves of Ginger Snaps which, as far as I’m concerned, is a much better use of their time.

Periodically, I will write about topics other than horror films, though these topics are as equally strange and macabre. Heinrich Hoffmann’s darkly comedic children’s book Der Struwwelpeter (1845) has garnered a great deal of interest on my blog, as well as the eroticized anatomical art of Jacques D’Agoty and anatomists of the 18th-century. The mythological vagina dentata and Japanese ‘tentacle erotica’ draw a fair amount of interest, as one might expect.

Celebrities and famous artists predictably top my statistics tally. People have searched on marquee names from art history including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Odilon Redon, and Hannah Wilke (though the latter is lesser known), as well as contemporary visual artists Loretta Lux, Marcel Dzama and Shary Boyle. And, 45 years after her death, Jayne Mansfield still attracts a large amount of attention. I only wrote about her in a post last week, and she’s #22 on the list of “all-time” top searches. Of course, her story is a ‘perfect storm’ for achieving immortality on the Internet: a beautiful, buxom starlet, who reportedly dabbled in Satanism, died young and in most grisly manner (depending on which account you read, she was either scalped or decapitated in a car accident). We are, as a species, a ghoulish bunch.

Here’s the top 30 searches, according to WordPress:

cannibal holocaust 577
ginger snaps 287
holocaust 279
struwwelpeter 253
loretta lux 247
odilon redon 246
max ernst 246
vagina dentata 184
daguerreotype 123
tentacle erotica 109
cannibal 97
jennifer linton alphabet series 94
walerian borowczyk 91
max ernst collage 84
der struwwelpeter 78
hannah wilke 70
contes immoraux 67
drag me to hell 56
agoty angel 49
anatomical art 46
jayne mansfield 45
marcel dzama 43
the descent 40
macabre art 37
drag me to hell old lady 37
best animated movies of all time………… 33
holocaust pictures 33
redon 33
irreversible 28

Now, get back to work…

p.s. One of the funniest web searches I’ve seen to date would be this one: “horror movie with a women who seducing and kill men with her vagina.” Hey, who am I to judge? Incidentally, there is such a film — not surprisingly, it’s Japanese and called Killer Pussy. You’re welcome.

The horror films I probably won’t watch, and why.

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…

Film still from “Cannibal Holocaust.”

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.

Film still from Pasolini’s “Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom”

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.

Gratuitous rape scene from “Irreversible.”

5. Irreversible (2002) directed by Gaspar Noé. A cheap trick by a cheap director who opts for the shock-value and little else. Pass.