Mother’s Day REPOST: “Your mother ate my dog!”

“Definition of  Freudian slip: when you say one thing, but meant your mother.” –an old joke, as immortalized in Urban Dictionary.

Ever since the days of Sigmund Freud, mothers have endured the brunt of blame for the neuroses of their offspring. The psychologically-complex relationship between mother and child served as the dramatic foil against which the existential angst of Shakespeare’s melancholic Hamlet played out, not to mention innumerable tales of dysfunctional families in horror fiction. There are countless examples of horror movie villains, like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series, who have a rather intense and, um, complicated relationship with their mother. In these films, the character of the mother is the creator — both literally and metaphorically — of the monster. Let’s honour Mother’s Day by paying homage to the most memorable mothers in cinematic horror.

Margaret White (Piper Laurie) presses her traumatized daughter against her "dirty pillows" in De Palma's "Carrie."

1. The abusive Margaret White (Piper Laurie) from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) torments her teenage daughter with her ferocious piety. Unfortunately for Mrs. White, her daughter happens to possess telekinetic powers and a strong desire to attend her high school prom. When the latter proves disastrous, and Carrie finds herself soaked in pigs blood, things go from bad to worse. Convinced that she is “possessed by Satan,” Margaret stabs her daughter in the back before being summarily dispatched by a shower of kitchen knives flung at her by Carrie’s telekinesis. The knives pin Mrs. White against the kitchen door frame in the highly appropriate cruciform stance, offering horror fans one of the most memorable and satisfying death scenes in the genre.

Vera "Mum" Cosgrove gets bitten by the nasty Sumatran Rat-Monkey in Peter Jackson's "Braindead".

2. Long before he ventured into the realm of Orcs and Hobbits, New Zealand director Peter Jackson was much beloved in the horror genre for his “splatter” films. His infamous 1992 horror-comedy Braindead (released in North America as Dead Alive) still holds the title for being one of the bloodiest, goriest zombies films to date. Even highly adept and accomplished splatter-gore directors like Takashi Miike don’t quite attain Jackson’s zany, hilarious, and way over-the-top levels of gore. As if in counterbalance to the excessive gore, Jackson’s Braindead offers an equally excessive character in Vera Cosgrove. She epitomizes the thoroughly controlling, ball-busting mother who simply cannot allow potential happiness to enter the life of her beleaguered son. Once “Mum” is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey and infected with the virus that transforms her into a zombie, Jackson revels in the sadistic pleasure of having various parts of her matronly body impaled, injected, dismembered, consumed, and otherwise compromised. Packed with many memorable quotes, including “I kick ass for God!” and, one of my favourites, “Your mother ate my dog!”, Braindead is a gloriously gory, campy romp. Just don’t watch it soon after eating.

Nola (Samantha Eggers) gives her newborn a clean -- with her tongue -- in Cronenberg's "The Brood."

3. Procreation doesn’t get more bestial than in David Cronenberg’s 1979 Canadian horror classic The Brood. Samantha Eggars (best known for her role as TV-mom to Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays Nola Carveth, a mentally-ill patient who opts for an experimental, and highly controversial, psychotherapy treatment. This unorthodox  “psychoplasmics” treatment causes the patient’s mental illness to manifest physically on their bodies — in the case of Nola, she parthenogenetically births strange, mutated children. This film has all the themes that typify a Cronenberg film: abjection, body horror, bizarre sexuality, and an anxiety/horror over female biology and reproduction. A degree of sympathy exists for Nola, as she’s evidently the victim of childhood abuse perpetrated by her cruel and self-centred mother, although this sympathy soon diminishes once it is revealed that Nola is, herself, abusing her daughter Candice. The ‘birthing’ scene, where Nola licks her offspring clean in the manner of a mother cat, is classic Cronenberg.

Deviance, gender and the ‘aberrant female’ in horror, part II.

The Final Girl and The Slut.

Cécile De France as the chainsaw-wielding Marie in “Haute Tension” (2003).

SPOILER ALERT: Major plot points of Aja’s Haute Tension are discussed, so if you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it first.

In my previous post on Deviance, gender and the ‘aberrant female’, part I, I identified two of the most common female tropes in horror cinema: the Final Girl and her counterpoint, the Slut. These two form a polarity necessary to the moral undertone of the ‘slasher’ horror film: the virtuous Final Girl survives to confront and (usually) destroy her tormentor, while the Slut provides titillation by disrobing and being sexual, offering up a canvas of eroticized female flesh that the (invariably) male serial killer can cut, slash, mutilate and otherwise penetrate. American film theorist Carol Clover, who coined the term ‘Final Girl’ in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, writes on the integral role the Final Girl plays in the slasher genre:

The image of the distressed female most likely to linger in memory is the image of the one who did not die: the survivor, or Final Girl. She is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded; whom we see scream, stagger, fall, rise, and scream again. She is abject terror personified. If her friend knew they were about to die only seconds before the event, the Final Girl lives with this knowledge for long minutes or hours. She alone looks death in the face, but she alone must also find the strength either to stay the killer long enough to be rescued (ending A) or to kill him herself (ending B). — Carol Clover, from Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, 1992.

The psychopathic urge that drives the serial killer to commit his atrocities is often imbued with a sexual energy. The killer is simultaneously attracted to, and repulsed by, the sexual desirability of his young female victims. As Clover points out, he is often depicted as “…a male whose masculinity, and sexuality more generally, are in crisis…”, with prime examples being the cross-dressing of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), or Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The serial killer’s fluid gender identity marks him as a sexual deviant — and deviance in horror fiction is indicative of that which causes fear and anxiety.

Marie hides from her Serial Killer Cliché in “Haute Tension” (2003).

This point brings us back to Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension, in which one of the main female characters, Marie, is identified as lesbian. Her sexual orientation is relevant to the plot, as it supplies the motivation behind her actions. She harbours a secret passion for her friend Alexa who, evidently, is completely oblivious to Marie’s romantic feelings. When her friend’s family is brutally murdered and Alexa kidnapped by a male psychopathic killer, Marie quickly adopts the Final Girl role and leaps to her friend’s rescue. From the outset, Marie’s short, boyish hair, androgynous clothing and slim, tautly muscled body appears to conform to the masculinized tradition of the Final Girl. As the plot progresses, Marie is poised for her final confrontation with the killer: a large, stout middle-aged man dressed in grimy overalls, his physical appearance every bit a slasher film cliché as hers.

And then comes the Big Reveal. The clichéd male serial killer is exactly that. He is a creation of Marie’s imbalanced mind, as the surveillance camera at the gas station films Marie — and not the stout, grimy man — as she sinks an axe into the back of the unsuspecting male attendant. The Final Girl and the Serial Killer conflate into one: the homicidal, mentally-unstable lesbian. Is this depiction of a queer woman homophobic? There is, arguably, a trace of homophobia in Haute Tension, as Marie’s sexual orientation serves not only as a plot device, but clearly distinguishes her as ‘the Other’, the deviant that is to be feared. Of course, there is a well-established tradition of LGBT themes in horror fiction and the use of ‘queerness’ as a demarcation of Otherness, and this will be the topic of my next post…

Next post –>

Deviance, gender and the ‘aberrant female’ in horror, part I.

The Final Girl and The Slut.

Unrequited lesbian love gone terribly, terribly wrong in Alexandre Aja’s “Haute Tension” (2003).

Recently, I settled down to watch Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension (2003), a masterpiece of ‘New French Extremity‘ which had eluded me until now. Like many films of its pedigree, Haute Tension features sadistic sexuality, extreme violence, and generous amounts of gore. Without spoiling the end — as the real strength of this film lies near the end — there was also a clever plot twist that plays with gender and the roles typically associated with female characters in the genre. Women are still traditionally cast as victims in horror, and most particularly in the ‘slasher’ or serial-killer subgenre, so it is considered subversive when they are portrayed as the perpetrators of violence. In fact, it is so outside of the ‘norm’ that an additional reason is frequently given for the violent woman’s aberrant behaviour. In the 1978 ‘exploitation’ film I Spit On Your Grave, the motivation behind the female lead’s murderous rampage is revenge for her brutal gang rape. The homicidal intruder in À l’intérieur (2007) has been driven insane by her obsessive desire for a child. In Haute Tension, unrequited lesbian love factors into the killer’s actions. These various reasons — trauma, mental instability, and homosexuality — firmly place the behaviour of these women outside of ‘normal’ and in the realm of the deviant.

The depiction of deviance, women & gender in horror cinema is a big, big topic indeed — one that warrants more than one blog post. Let’s start by looking at two of the most common tropes in the horror genre:

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the Ridley Scott sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” (1979).

1. The ‘Final Girl’ or ‘The Virgin.’ She’s that pretty, but not too sexy, girl-next-door who just might have a boyfriend, but he’s never gotten passed First Base. In the formulaic ‘slasher’ film — a subgenre of horror that dominated the late 70’s and the decade of the 1980’s — she’s the only girl left standing at the finale. The slasher film is a modern-day cautionary tale, and the Final Girl is spared the violent deaths visited upon her sexier classmates by reason of her virtue. She is frequently characterized as tom-boyish, even androgynous. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from the Alien series is a prime example of the masculinized Final Girl. Recent horror cinema has reconfigured and, at times, even subverted the Final Girl: an argument can be made that Marie in Aja’s Haute Tension is a subversion of this trope (her very short boyish hair, her extreme athleticism, apparent heroism, and her sexual orientation).

Margot Kidder plays Barb, the drinking, smoking, sexually active Slut in Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas” (1974).

2. The Slut. She’s the counterpoint to the Final Girl, the girl in the film who engages in all sorts of nasty vice and most likely has a nasty attitude to match. According to the morality play/slasher film, she’s destined to meet a grisly end, probably twitching at the end of a pitchfork. A big, rigid pitchfork. The chain-smoking Barb (Margot Kidder) from Bob Clark’s genre-defining Black Christmas (1974) fits this role perfectly. While her lifestyle has her marked for an untimely death, she’s also the sororiety sister with the most moxy. (You can read more about Black Christmas in my earlier post on the film.)

Next post –>

“Your mother ate my dog!”: Lady Lazarus’s favourite ‘Mommies of Horror’.

“Definition of  Freudian slip: when you say one thing, but meant your mother.” –an old joke, as immortalized in Urban Dictionary.

Ever since the days of Sigmund Freud, mothers have endured the brunt of blame for the neuroses of their offspring. The psychologically-complex relationship between mother and child served as the dramatic foil against which the existential angst of Shakespeare’s melancholic Hamlet played out, not to mention innumerable tales of dysfunctional families in horror fiction. There are countless examples of horror movie villains, like Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series, who have a rather intense and, um, complicated relationship with their mother. In these films, the character of the mother is the creator — both literally and metaphorically — of the monster. Even though Mother’s Day is still several months away, let’s pay homage to the most memorable mothers in cinematic horror.

Margaret White (Piper Laurie) presses her traumatized daughter against her "dirty pillows" in De Palma's "Carrie."

1. The abusive Margaret White (Piper Laurie) from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) torments her teenage daughter with her ferocious piety. Unfortunately for Mrs. White, her daughter happens to possess telekinetic powers and a strong desire to attend her high school prom. When the latter proves disastrous, and Carrie finds herself soaked in pigs blood, things go from bad to worse. Convinced that she is “possessed by Satan,” Margaret stabs her daughter in the back before being summarily dispatched by a shower of kitchen knives flung at her by Carrie’s telekinesis. The knives pin Mrs. White against the kitchen door frame in the highly appropriate cruciform stance, offering horror fans one of the most memorable and satisfying death scenes in the genre.

Vera "Mum" Cosgrove gets bitten by the nasty Sumatran Rat-Monkey in Peter Jackson's "Dead/Alive".

2. Long before he ventured into the realm of Orcs and Hobbits, New Zealand director Peter Jackson was much beloved in the horror genre for his “splatter” films. His infamous 1992 horror-comedy Braindead (released in North America as Dead Alive) still holds the title for being one of the bloodiest, goriest zombies films to date. Even highly adept and accomplished splatter-gore directors like Takashi Miike don’t quite attain Jackson’s zany, hilarious, and way over-the-top levels of gore. As if in counterbalance to the excessive gore, Jackson’s Braindead offers an equally excessive character in Vera Cosgrove. She epitomizes the thoroughly controlling, ball-busting mother who simply cannot allow potential happiness to enter the life of her beleaguered son. Once “Mum” is bitten by the Sumatran Rat-Monkey and infected with the virus that transforms her into a zombie, Jackson revels in the sadistic pleasure of having various parts of her matronly body impaled, injected, dismembered, consumed, and otherwise compromised. Packed with many memorable quotes, including “I kick ass for God!” and, one of my favourites, “Your mother ate my dog!”, Braindead is a gloriously gory, campy romp. Just don’t watch it soon after eating.

Nola (Samantha Eggers) gives her newborn a clean -- with her tongue -- in Cronenberg's "The Brood."

3. Procreation doesn’t get more bestial than in David Cronenberg’s 1979 Canadian horror classic The Brood. Samantha Eggars (best known for her role as TV-mom to Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays Nola Carveth, a mentally-ill patient who opts for an experimental, and highly controversial, psychotherapy treatment. This unorthodox  “psychoplasmics” treatment causes the patient’s mental illness to manifest physically on their bodies — in the case of Nola, she parthenogenetically births strange, mutated children. This film has all the themes that typify a Cronenberg film: abjection, body horror, bizarre sexuality, and an anxiety/horror over female biology and reproduction. A degree of sympathy exists for Nola, as she’s evidently the victim of childhood abuse perpetrated by her cruel and self-centred mother, although this sympathy soon diminishes once it is revealed that Nola is, herself, abusing her daughter Candice. The ‘birthing’ scene, where Nola licks her offspring clean in the manner of a mother cat, is classic Cronenberg.

Horror Films 101: Overlooked and Obscure Gems of Horror Cinema.

1. Director Bob Clark’s debut feature was the campy and extraordinarily low-budget zombie film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972). A theatre group is brought to a graveyard located on a remote island by its flamboyant and eccentric director Alan. With the aid of a magical grimoire, Alan performs a necromantic ritual as some sort of elaborate sick joke, presumably at the expense of both his frightened comrades, as well as the deceased buried on the island. His violation of the dead is further compounded when, disappointed by the seeming failure of his ritual, he opts to desecrate a grave — exhuming a corpse named Orville with whom he amuses himself. Needless to say, when the dead finally do rise from their graves, they’re out for bloody vengeance. A strange and darkly comedic film, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things has a slow build that rewards its audience with a satisfyingly creepy ending.

2. The post-Vietnam/Watergate/Charlie Mansion paranoia of 1970’s America played out in that decade’s horror films. Beginning with seminal genre films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), terror was primarily psychological in nature. Claustrophobia, paranoia and mental illness are themes central to 1977’s The Sentinel, a horror film populated by Satanists and other strange, eerie characters. A beautiful but mentally fragile NYC fashion model moves into a furnished Brooklyn brownstone, unaware that the reason for the remarkably cheap rent is the “portal to Hell” that exists in her building. While an impressive list of American actors — including John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, José Ferrer, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Ava Gardner and Tom Berenger — appear throughout, its the creepy, nightmarish atmosphere which elevate this film from your typical ’70s Satanic-horror fodder. The film is controversial for its inclusion of physically deformed people to portray the ‘souls of the damned’, a choice by director Michael Winner which does seem exploitative even as it is effectively off-putting.

The creepy cast of 1977’s “The Sentinel.”

3. Hong Kong director Fruit Chan serves up a dubious feast in Dumplings (2004). Originally released in a reduced, 37-minute long form on the pan-Asian horror omnibus “Three… Extremes” DVD, Chan’s film has been reissued in its original, 91-minute length with additional subplot and alternate ending. In Dumplings, the aging actress Mrs. Li seeks out the dumplings of “Auntie Mei” that allegedly contain a secret ingredient which offers eternal youth. The nature of this “ingredient” is revealed early in the narrative, a fact which makes the desperate vanity of Mrs. Li all the more grisly. Darkly comedic in parts, Chan offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Chinese culinary culture and the socio-economic class divide still present in modern-day Hong Kong-Kowloon.

Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) consumes the titular “Dumplings” in Fruit Chan’s gruesome film.

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Lady Lazarus’s Halloween List: Top 10 Best Horror Films of the 2000s.

The past decade of the 2000s — or the Naughts, if you prefer — were an especially good one for the genre of horror. On television, we were treated to blood-soaked series like Dexter and True Blood, and in the movie theatres, the vampires and zombies ran amok. As is customary this time of year, I like to compile a film-geek list relating to horror. Halloween shall soon be upon us, my deadlings. Let’s revel in the macabre and spooky.

Below are my picks for the past decade’s best offerings in cinematic horror.

Shauna Macdonald in “The Descent,” a horror film by Neil Marshall set in the Appalachian Mountains.

1. The Descent (2005). Directed by Neil Marshall. An exceptionally attractive team of female ‘extreme’ spelunkers are coerced by one of their members to venture into a series of previously unexplored caves. So begins the ill-fated journey of The Descent, one that starts with squirm-inducing claustrophobia and eventually leads to the discovery of something much, much more sinister — and deadly.

2. Låt den rätte komma in (2008). English title: Let the Right One In. Director: Tomas Alfredson. Have not seen the recent English-language remake of this stellar coming-of-age vampire story and, quite frankly, I don’t feel the need. This one got it right. From its very first frame, you can feel the tangible ache of loneliness in the main characters, as well as the relentless cold of the Swedish winter.

3. [REC] (2007), Directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. The first two-thirds of this film were somewhat underwhelming for me. Sure, it was a serviceable, well-crafted ‘documentary’-style zombie film, but I’d seen many of its kind before. And then, the main characters unlock the door to that mysterious, (supposedly) uninhabited penthouse apartment. At that moment, this film transformed from a decent zombie-flick into something almost sublime.

The main character Alison is harassed by a vengeful (and apparently indestructible) Gypsy woman in Raimi's 'Drag Me To Hell.' Someone call the Roma People's Deflamation League.

4. Drag Me To Hell (2009). Director: Sam Raimi. A thoroughly enjoyable, gross, hilarious and, at times, truly scary film from the master of the comedy-horror, Sam Raimi. Watch for the scene with the animatronic goat. Hysterical.

5. Ichi the Killer (2001). Director: Takashi Miike. Just when you think that the saturation point for bloody splatter-gore has been reached, along come Japanese directors like Miike to push the limits beyond all previous imaginings. This film, along with Miike’s 1999 offering Audition, is completely unhinged. My major misgiving with Ichi the Killer is its graphic and highly sexualized violence toward women. Misogyny is a regrettably common characteristic in many of this genre’s films — particularly from countries such as Japan. All the same, I would recommend this film to the seasoned horror fan, simply on the basis of its insanity.

The character Kakihara admires the handiwork of Ichi in Miike's 'Ichi the Killer'.

6. À l’intérieur (2007), English title: Inside. Directors: Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo. This past decade has witnessed the growth of a strong horror-film industry in France, a country not previously known for films in this genre. Dubbed by some in the media as ‘New French Extremity,’ films such as Maury and Bastillo’s À l’intérieur confront the viewer with images of intense ‘body horror.’  The alone and heavily pregnant Sarah battles with an insane, homicidal intruder wielding impossibly-sharp — and profoundly effective — tailor scissors.

7. Ginger Snaps (2000). Director: John Fawcett. The mythology of the werewolf gets a modern feminist overhaul in this Canadian horror franchise. The hormone-induced lunacy of puberty is cleverly aligned with lycanthropy when the titular Ginger begins menstruation around the same time as she’s bitten by a ‘big dog’ in the forest surrounding her suburban home. It’s hard not to love a film that has as it’s tagline: “She’s got the curse.” Incidentally, the sequel Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) was surprisingly good. The third installment, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning should be encased in cement, tossed down a mine shaft, and buried for eternity.

One of the feigned 'death scenes' staged by the Fitzgerald sisters. Kids these days.

One of the feigned 'death scenes' staged by the Fitzgerald sisters in 'Ginger Snaps'. Kids these days.

8. Ju-on (2003). English title The Grudge. Director: Takashi Shimizu. Hands-down, my favourite amongst all of the J-horror films I’ve seen over the past decade. And I’ve seen quite a few. The English-language remake is laughable by comparison. Avoid it and seek out the original Japanese film.

9. El orfanato (2007). English title: The Orphanage. Director: Juan Antonio Bayona. With contemporary French horror-film directors so successfully flooding the cinema with blood and viscera, it’s a rare treat to view a relatively subtle, classic ghost story like Bayona’s El orfanato. One of the very few horror films at which I openly wept. The ending is heartbreaking, and wonderful.

Autocannibalism + feminism combine in Marina de Van's disturbing 'In My Skin.'

10. Dans ma peau (2002), English title: In My Skin. Directed, written by and starring Marina de Van, this is a strange, atmospheric and generally overlooked gem of New French Extremity. The main character Esther develops an erotically-charged, cannibalistic fixation with her own body after being disfigured in a freak accident. Ponderously slow in parts, it does offer a unique and interesting premise.

Honourable Mentions:

1. Pontypool (2009). Director: Bruce McDonald.

2. Død snø (2009). English title “Dead Snow.”

3. Bakjwi (2009). English title “Thirst”. Director: Park Chan-Wook

4. Grindhouse Presents: Planet Terror (2007), Dir. Robert Rodriguez.

5. 28 Days Later (2002), Dir. Danny Boyle.

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.