Thursday, August 1, 2013
Extreme Horror 101
I'll get this out of the way: I adore this film. In fact, this is one of my favorite horror movies of all time. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Cannibal Holocaust is an Italian cannibal movie that created the 'found footage' sub genre of horror that's been heavily borrowed since. The premise of this sick-flick is that a team of young documentarians travel to a remote location to study a cannibal population and never return. Upon finding their film-reels, a professor returns from the Amazon with the film reels the team left behind. The majority of this movie is watching the "found" footage from the reels.
What makes this movie so special is how unflinchingly aggressive it is. It contains intense brutality and incredibly realistic effects (for which the director infamously had to bring the actors into court to prove he didn't actually kill them). It also includes several scenes of real animal deaths. While these scenes are uncomfortable to watch, it does make a statement as to how far they were willing to go with on-screen violence. A lot of movies have shown more extreme violence than this one, but it's how well done and realistic it is that has created such a legendary reputation. The infamous tagline for Cannibal Holocaust reads "The one that goes all the way!" and it lives up to it.
Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom (1975) - Pier Paolo Pasolini
This movie isn't technically horror in the traditional sense of the word, but it's so extreme and disturbing in its depiction of sex and violence that it's built a monumental reputation in the extreme horror world. This film was based on Marquis de Sade's infamous book "The 120 Days of Sodom," which is arguably the most depraved and controversial book in history, and was directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (who was mysteriously murdered by a gay prostitute shortly after its completion). This movie covers the full spectrum of de Sade's degenerate perversion, from pedophilia, coprophagia, murder, rape, incest, etc. that will surely disgust most viewers, but what makes this particular movie so interesting was that Pasolini was a true maestro of cinema, yet he adapted such a despicable literary source. Salo, like it's source material, is rightfully polarizing are repugnant, but for those with the endurance to stomach it, there are some interesting themes and ideas behind its ugliness.
Irreversible (2002) - Gaspar Noe
Irreversible is another one of my favorite films. Gaspar Noe is a relentlessly bleak, nihilistic director, but his eye behind the lens is so razor-sharp and stylistic that his work is impossible to dismiss. The arc in this film plays backwards, opening the movie with the ending of the story, and shows the traumatic events of a brutal rape and revenge occurring in Paris. The first 20 minutes of the film feature a camera that never stops moving to create a feeling of physical nausea from the viewer and doesn't let up from there. Irreversible features two scenes that are infamously painful to watch (one of which being a 10+ minute unflinching scene of rape), that has created a polarizing reputation among horror fans and critics alike. I personally think there's a lot to admire in this movie if you can stomach the gruesomeness.
August Underground Trilogy - Fred Vogel
This series is about as dark and uncomfortable as horror films can be. There is no storyline or real characters, everything is shot on a handheld camera, and these movies are very, very graphic. These pseudo-snuff films go out of their way to cross nearly every boundary imaginable and they do it with incredibly realistic effects work and believable acting. I wouldn't personally recommend these movies to anybody, but their intense commitment to the extreme has earned its spot as the horror community's bastard child.
A Serbian Film is the most recent movie on this list and it has quickly snowballed its reputation to infamy. This movie follows Milos, a retired porno actor, as he slowly becomes entangled into a brutal scheme devised by a rich lunatic. Without delving too much into details, let's just say the reputation here is more than warranted. A Serbian Film is angry, pitch-black, ultra-violent and (dare I say?) -- hateful. This movie, like Irreversible, is also of extremely high production value, acting, lighting, etc. which creates an odd sheen for the atrocities that take place. This is one that can only be recommended with a warning for the morbidly curious and those looking for the darkest annals cinema has to offer.
Aftermath(1994) - Nacho Cerda
Aftermath is a 30 minute film with no dialogue about a mortician who has sex with a corpse. That's it. Now, while the story, or lack thereof, is clearly skeletal, it's really the execution that separates this nasty little feature. The horrific scenes are shot with stark precision and are set to a classical music score. It's bizarre and both easy to praise and discredit, but it has rightfully become a staple of extreme horror and is truly one-of-a-kind.
Nekromantik - (1987) - Jorg Buttgereit
This German nasty is legendary among horror and sleaze fans. The story is what you'd expect based on the title and iconic cover art: a man and his girlfriend have a manage a trois with a corpse and things go even further downhill from there. I personally enjoy all of Buttgereit's films and think they have an interesting balance between sleazy depravity and charm. This movie is low-budget and clearly a labor of love but its maintained its legend this long for a reason. It's also home to one of the wildest climaxes in horror history.
The Last House on the Left - (1972) - Wes Craven
I have to admit that this selection may be biased since it was the first movie that truly disturbed me. There are plenty of movies more extreme than this by today's standards but something about this one has always set the precedence for me. This movie the first movie Wes Craven ever made, and it's easily the grittiest and most aggressive in his catalog. It's essentially a remake of Ingmar Begman's "The Virgin Spring" whereas a group of savage criminals unwittingly stumble into the hands of their murder victim's father. To me, Last House on The Left is the first horror movie that has such an angry tone to it. There are some out of place scenes that obscure the mood briefly every once in a while, but overall this is a very bleak exploitation movie at its core.
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