Monday, January 31, 2011
At Left- The far too lurid DVD cover for Flavia The Heretic, which is actually a quite thoughtful film loaded with grotesque imagery, but also a fiercely feminist message. A mini-masterpiece with an ending sequence of images just short of the hysteria Russell captured in The Devils; a real gem for The List.
Hallucinations Of A Deranged Mind Brazil, 1978 Dir: Jose Mojica Marins
A surrealistic-hallucinatory masterpiece of previously shot footage, menace, palpable insanity and horror; I can't even begin to describe the unease with which I saw this film, the apotheosis of the "Coffin Joe" series of films by a true avant outsider, Jose Mojica Marins. While its reputation is one of Grand Guignol guts and gore and rampant nudity, Hallucinations is a much better shot film that it is given credit for. A real acid trip if there ever was one, this is one of the few films on The List that I think every film buff absolutely must see.
Eraserhead United States, 1976 Dir: David Lynch
Another one of the canon that precious little can be added with my musings. One of the first truly disturbing moments of cinema I ever had, I saw Eraserhead again recently for the first time in years. And you know what? It's still incredibly fucked-up. Absolutely wonderful cinematography and a deft touch with the black-and-whites of the film make this not only an important film- but a beautiful elemental of the true vanguard.
Viridiana Mexico, 1961 Dir: Luis Bunuel
Bunuel was sometimes inconsistent as a director, in my view- but this gorgeous, depressing and altogether Disturbing film is one perfect shot after another, completely hypnotic, and one of the most unnerving indictments of "good intentions" ever filmed- indeed, on one level, it could be argued that Viridiana is the most nihilistic movie ever made. A stunning performance by both Silvia Rinal as the sadly wasted novitiate nun Viridiana, and Fernando Rey as her vulgar and predatory uncle- one of the lesser-known films on The List that I think should be required viewing for all cineastes.
Titicut Follies United States, 1967 Dir: Frederick Wiseman
Almost impossible to sit through, so disturbing because all of what you are seeing is horrifyingly true, Titicut Follies is a movie so grimly real that it makes perfect sense why it was banned for over thirty years. Documentary filmmaker Wiseman utilizes a stripped-down, minimalist style that puts you unnervingly in the midst of a chamber of horrors mental institution that for whatever vile reason holds a "talent show" every year, for the delights of the staff and other officials. Absolutely horrifying. Like the worst visions of Foucault come to life in glaring black and white, this is a lurid, shocking and completely enervating film. Without question one of the most devastating films I have ever seen.
MS 45 United States, 1981 Dir: Abel Ferrara
So far outside of the usual confines of the cliched and dread "Rape And Revenge" sub genre of masochistic misogynistic Horror, MS 45 is actually a skillful and superbly well-done movie that- if it wasn't for the grim subject matter- would probably be highly regarded by critical types for its qualities as a film, rather than an exploitation. Zoe Lund plays the shockingly beautiful Thana, who slaves away for a fashion district mandarin in Manhattan, and one night coming home is brutally attacked. Getting back to her dungeon-like apartment, a second rapist awaits her, and the ordeal begins anew. Mute, Thana gains her voice by taking to the streets with a pistol- and there is one scene in particular where a man tries to shoot himself on a park bench whilst sitting besides Thana that will never leave me. I actually jumped off of my couch watching Thana's reaction to this failed violence. Well directed and with Lund absolutely riveting in her silent role, this is an underappreciated classic, highly Disturbing, and most upsetting in revealing the talent of Ferrara, as opposed to the garbage he later shoveled onscreen.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture Sweden, 1974 Dir: Bo Arne Vibenius
Infamous as Quinten Tarantino's most-pilfered from source material, Thriller really is a damn cruel picture. Christina Lindberg is one of the most beautiful women to ever appear in cinema; the abuse and torture she receives as the hands of her odious and absolutely despicable captor makes her eventual reign of terror and revenge as satisfying to watch as anything in movie history. The training sequences where the mute Lindberg learns the arts of killing are particularly well-done; the only thing sinking Vibenius' material is the inclusion of the tawdry and frankly disgusting hard core porn material, which adds nothing but filth to an otherwise captivating narrative. Absolutely worth a watch, the most disturbing parts of this film are top of the list, in my opine.
Almost Human Italy, 1974 Dir: Umberto Lenzi
My first Giallo; although, I guess, this doesn't really count as a "Giallo", and is best described as an "Italian Crime Film". Fine, whatever; I do remember being absolutely shocked by the nastiness and pointless cruelty and violence of this film, then discovering that there was an entire industry devoted to making films like this in Italy in the 70's. The rest, as they say, is history. Still one of my favorites, Lenzi- a problematic and somewhat sloppy director, never really in Fulci or Deodato's class as a true artist- here creates a classic kidnapping gone horribly wrong film, with the grotesque Tomas Milian playing a vile and sub-human brute who relishes torture and seems almost to deliberately foul things up so that he might "have" to kill his captive. Shocking ending, brutal film; Lenzi's best, and a real white-knuckle affair.
Who Can Kill A Child? Spain, 1976 Dir: Narciso Ibanez Serrador
Fabulous Horror shocker with a real twist; the villains here are the children themselves, who have murdered an entire island's worth of people while seemingly possessed by pure, remorseless Evil. The twist is, of course, that rather than some grim orgy of child killing, the reason everybody is dead is because they refused to defend themselves- "who can kill a child", after all. Superbly well done film that is more surprising than you might expect, and of course, very Disturbing.
Hunger Denmark, 1966 Dir: Henning Carlsen
Taken from one of my very favorite novels of all time- Knut Hamsun's absolutely perfect book of the same name- this is one of those rarities that I so delight in finding every so often: a great movie made of a truly great book. Per Oscarsson wanders the streets of Christiana- as it was before it became Oslo, capital of Norway- in a nightmare of delusion, emaciation and shocking and unredeemed need. Trying to keep his sanity while also going through a grueling daily ritual of finding a place to sleep for the night, Oscarsson is heartbreaking; a perfectly gorgeous film, watching the wastrel wander these streets one moment high and the next filled with rage is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. A truly great film.
The End Of Saint Petersburg Soviet Union, 1927 Dir: Vsevolod Pudovkin
One of the great silents, and one of the truly great Soviet films before the enforced nightmare of Socialist Realism snuffed all artistic individuality from the screen and its "engineers", The End Of Saint Petersburg is a parallel on the Revolution, on betrayal, on the inevitability of violence and the seeming uselessness of loyalty. Depressing, amazingly cynical for the age in which it was produced, this is a true classic- worthy of this, and any other list to be made of great cinema.
Night And Fog France, 1955 Dir: Alain Resnais
The definitive short history of the Concentration Camps, lean, remorseless, absolutely debilitating in effect. The use of archival footage here is masterful; interspersed with recent, color footage that Resnais shot for his film, the effect is like one of entering a world of ghosts, death all around, omnipotent, pitiless. A masterpiece.
Ils France, 2006 Dirs: David Moreau & Xavier Palud
The best new Horror film I have seen in several years, along with Malefique (below). What makes this movie work so well is that you are never sure who- or what- is tormenting the young couple off in the country at their fine Romanian estate. But a siege of some kind is definitely under way, and when the final results of this intensely claustrophobic journey are made clear...I trust you'll see what I was so surprised, and pleasantly Disturbed.
Malefique France, 2002 Dir: Eric Valette
A real treat. I wasn't expecting much when I downloaded Malefique two years ago, just a diversion, a time waster, some good Horror to watch on a quiet evening at home with a nice bottle of cheap red wine. How exciting it is to get 15 minutes into a movie and realize you're seeing something altogether different and splendid; this is a very disconcerting film, one of the most claustrophobic I've ever seen. Four prisoners share a cell, and one night an ancient manuscript is found in the walls. It concerns black magic, and the fate of the convict who wrote this creepy journal a hundred years before. Every single actor in this movie is magnificent- it's a real joy to see Horror treated with such respect, by a fine and talented director and all of these performers who not once gave into the ham-handed American affliction of making terror deliberate kitsch. A fucking terrific film, and the ending sequences are...deeply unsettling.
Zero de Conduite France, 1933 Dir: Jean Vigo
Disturbing because the anti-authoritarian message of the film was too much even for France, who banned the thing for thirteen years until after the Liberation in 1946. A repressive boy's school is the setting for intrigue, conspiracy and rebellion of two youths who have had it with authority and decide to wreck a holiday pageant. Incomplete, but disturbing mainly for what this charming little film evoked from the authorities: brutal censorship, shod of all rational thought. A perfect coda to a movie that dares attack fascism at its most basic root: the tyranny of adults over children.
Coup de Torchon France, 1981 Dir: Bertrand Tavernier
A superb retelling of Jim Thompson's gritty crime novel masterpiece Pop. 1280, Tavernier cleverly moves the action of this distinctly American novel to colonial West Africa, right before the Second World War. Everything works. The colonial policeman- played with startling insouciance by Philippe Noiret, who really nails Thomspson's malicious nincompoop with icy precision- is bullied by seemingly the entire town, including two of the sleaziest pimps to ever grace the screen. Is Noiret really all that thick, or is he just playing everybody for a sucker and with a big surprise indeed lurking for them? Pitiless in exposing the miserable cruelties of humanity in its every day incarnation- like all of Thompson's best novels- Coup de Torchon is a strange film to look at, and one that really rewards the viewer for getting deeper into it.
Salo, or The 120 Days Of Sodom Italy, 1975 Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini
One of the most banned films in history, and quite possibly the only movie so outrageously at odds with all of polite society's most basic values that it earned a governmental assassination of the director, Salo is an endless series of the most brutal and sexually sadistic images, crushing all known taboos, engaging in filth for the seeming sheer decadent thrill of it all, and- even to me- morally indefensible as just "Art". The use of actual juveniles by Pasolini in his scenes of coprophagous and carnal invidiousness is just something that society can't tolerate; the fact that the movie is barely held together by any narrative thread save human cruelty and domination only makes that taboo all the worse, since there seems to be absolutely no point to the film except to shock and degrade- both the actors and the audience. No doubt it must be on the list, but I still debate whether Pasolini really pulled one over on his defenders, making a flat-out nihilistic porn film and having all the pointy heads line up to defend it as some kind of "statement". Only for the most seasoned viewer of gravely disturbing films.
Mark Of The Devil 4: Tombs Of The Blind Dead Spain, 1971 Dir: Amando de Ossorio
The very best of the "Blind Dead" franchise of resurrected Templar Knights, remorseless in their killing and thirst for revenge. These are some of the best monsters ever to appear on screen; the make-up is outstanding, the idea behind them is fucking fantastic, and the execution on screen absolutely terrifying. While some of the "Blind Dead" films got a little silly later on, this one is wall-to-wall nightmare, and as the resolute army of dead killers continue on their rampage and it is clear that nothing can stop them...the concomitant level of Disturbingness goes through the goddamn roof. An absolute 70's Horror classic.
Don't Torture A Duckling Italy, 1972 Dir: Lucio Fulci
In a better world, Lucio Fulci would receive the respect he deserves as a Thriller director of the very first rank; and in Duckling, the great man puts all of his gifts for perversion and menace on display in one of the finest Giallo ever filmed. Florinda Bolkan is her usual ravishing self in this odd story of child killing in an isolated town that lives with superstitions and mistrust from the Middle Ages; disturbing scenes of adolescent seduction and children with the same twisted moral compass of their parents make this the kind of film you just want to sit down and watch with no distractions, then go make some popcorn and watch again. Superb story, even better pacing and direction from one of Italy's alternative Masters.
Wet & Rope Japan, 1979 Dir: Koyu Ohara
A Japanese exploration of the curious 70's phenomenon of "Nunsploitation", Wet & Rope is a grueling film that treats all human sexuality as aberrant, and all aberrance as titillation. The combination is very unsettling. Poor newlywed Yuko gets raped by three maniacs while her husband is forced to watch. Naturally, he banishes her now that his honor is trammelled, so she tries to kill herself. A priest just happens to be on the scene, and he convinces Yuko to become a nun. Now the real perversity begins. All of the nuns masturbate, uhm, "religiously", and in a surreal scene combining racism, bestiality and venomous rape, the sisters invite some hoodlums to stop by and watch them all violate each other to raise funds for the convent- hey sisters, ever hear of a fucking bake sale???
Flavia The Heretic Italy, 1974 Dir: Gianfranco Mingozzi
Not surpirsingly, most films of the ephemereal "Nunsploitation" genre are flat-out trash. Flavia is a huge exception; this is an amazingly thoughtful film, filled with risible imagery, to be sure, but featuring an ending sequence so bizarre, filled with suffering and ultimately tragic that only Disturbing can be a word to describe it. The great Florinda Bolkan dons the habit for this splendidly strange little number, as a nun whose convent is defiled by the deliriously named Sect Of The Tarantula, and in the process of her rebellion all sorts of proto-feminist themes are developed. The violence is incredibly nasty, the torture gut-churningly realistic, and the nudity and rape both rampant and fully realized; still, this is a "real" movie, and one that you will find yourself oddly drawn to once the lust to see naked nuns in slaked. One of my favorite films on The List, and a real 70's classic.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
At Left- Frankie gets his revenge on the scum of Staten Island in the most brutal and nihilistic American film ever made, Combat Shock.
Combat Shock United States, 1986 Dir: Buddy Giovinazzo
Now we're really getting down to business. I tried to not establish a "scale" for these films- they're all pretty damn disturbing, in their own way- but Combat Shock is in a rare air of surrealistic, nihilist hell. The director's brother plays one of the most lost, pathetic and irretrievably damaged characters to ever appear on screen- Vietnam Vet, Agent Orange victim and serially-unemployed Frankie. Frankie lives with his equally physically repulsive wife in a tenement hell somewhere in the soul-crushing wastes of Staten Island. Frankie's days are pretty much the same- shiftlessly wandering around the neighborhood, being bitched at by his wife for being so worthless, and trying to scrounge food for the couple's radically deformed mutant offspring, a creature so scabrously misbegotten that it makes the baby from Eraserhead look like a Gerber model. In an endless series of more and more disturbing encounters with the vicious and slimy underworld types of the Forgotten Borough, Frankie drifts gradually away from all reality, entering a psychotic state that may be from chemical exposure in 'Nam- or maybe just the unending misery of his torpor and wretchedness snug down in poverty's slime with no hope of succor, no dream of extrication. This is one hell of a grim film, man. I had heard the ending was beyond shocking, but no one can possibly be prepared for the grinding and uncompromising nihilism and violence of the final shots. One of the few films on this list with a "red" rating for reasons other than child nudity, animal abuse, violent rape/sexual torture and similar ultra-taboos, Combat Shock is without question one of the most disturbing films ever made, and also a real artistic triumph for the gritty and raw Giovinnazo.
Goodbye Uncle Tom Italy, 1971 Dirs: Jacopetti & Prosperi
The ultimate Mondo movie. A raging holocaust of imagery so relentless and frightful as to literally leave the viewer in a state of disbelief, Goodbye Uncle Tom is either (by far) the most racist movie ever produced, or the most brilliantly uncompromising denunciation of any of man's "peculiar institutions" ever filmed, written or orated. This movie is astonishing. An alternate history of slavery with absolutely nothing left out- from the purulent confines of a cargo hold loaded with pathetic Africans awash in their own filth and dying by the score, to the indifferent eyes of their white overlords seeing such misery, to the castration of "randy nigger bucks" by the means used to geld a horse, to waves of naked children being held up for inspection by pseudo-science charlatans studying the reek of their sweat to determine their "breed"- Uncle Tom is a movie that really is as incendiary a device as the cinema has ever produced. Certainly, the tameness of other, more noted "shock directors" (Craven, Eli Roth, et al.) stands out in gaudy, insignificant relief compared to the sheer barbarism of the tortures recreated here- and apparently, all of it historically accurate. Shot with accomplished skill by the legendary "Mondo Kings" Jacopetti & Prosperi, it would be one thing if Uncle Tom was cheaply made and clearly an exploitation vehicle for frenzied racists. But its not. I really think this was meant to be the first really "real" exploration of living hells like slavery, the Holocaust, the Gulag, etc., ever produced for the screen. And it is truly overwhelming. the kind of movie that could literally be expected to start a riot- or a Revolution- I've never spoken to a black person about this film, and I admit that I am afraid to. A true limit-experience for the viewer, and the equivalent of psychic rape for an unprepared viewer. To be watched strictly at the discretion and risk of the viewer.
L'immoralita Italy, 1978 Dir: Massimo Pirri
Another one that you will be left stunned as to how it was ever made. Beginning with the most stark and appalling image to ever greet a viewer upon commencement of the viewing experience- the disgusting form of Federico holding a dead 12 year old girl in his hands, her mouth agape in lifelessness, his eyes scanning the horizon for a place to bury the poor child- L'immoralita actually finds a way to become more despairing and depraved as it continues. After he is wounded fleeing from the law, Federico is aided by 11 year old Simona. She falls in love with him on site, and they immediately begin a very graphic sexual affair- the scene of the child laying down prone, blankly, completely nude, arms at her side, to accept her defloration at the hands of this beast is surely one of the most vile moments in the history of cinema. The fact that Simona's nyphomaniac mother also falls in love with Federico, and hatches a plot to murder her crippled husband and run off with the child killer...it actually almost becomes silly, to be honest. Definitely not for any but the most hardened cineastes, L'immoralita is the very definition of the Cinema Disturbed.
Shoah International, 1985 Dir: Claude Lanzmann
And now for a film that I would say every living person should see- as opposed to all of this red-ink stuff I keep warning you all about. Lanzmann's 10-hour documentary- and not one second of it from archived sources- is a graceful and devastating investigation of the uses of memory, of history, of man by man and perhaps even the purpose of living itself. I have never had an experience like Shoah; there is too much to catalogue here as the great director journeys to Poland, Ukraine, West Germany, Israel and other places in presenting the impact of the Holocaust 30+ years on, but the image of the lovely man in Tel Aviv who works as a barber and was forced to cut the hair of women and children headed for the gas chambers at Treblinka...beyond devastating. One of the great achievements in the history of film, this is masterpiece and will probably never be equalled as a visual representation of the horrors of Nazism.
Rollerball United States, 1975 Dir: Norman Jewison
One of my favorite movies ever. Very well-known, not much to add here, except skeptics should return to this movie and watch the way in which the violent, cocksure and super-tough Jonathan E ("I love this game!") turns into a muddle-mouthed and essentially uncomfortably shy man off of the track. It's a subtle performance gem that most "sports" movies never would consider exploring; the gladiator as essentially only at home on the killing ground, and emasculated in the "real" world. Incredible camerawork and set design, great futuristic costuming and furnishings, and one of the 70's most iconic images to end the film on one final, violent, furious shot.
Zombie (AKA Zombi 2) Italy, 1979 Dir: Lucio Fulci
There may be disagreement about the King Of The Cannibal films, but there is none when it comes to Zombies. Fulci's gut-churning slaughterhouse saturnalia masterpiece is one of the great Horror films of all time. Sure, it's fit to make even the hardest-constitutioned trauma surgeon blow chunks by the gallon with all of the guts, mayhem and evisceration ensanguining the screen, but there is an actual movie here that is pretty damn suspenseful and ends up with...well, all I can say is, Start Spreadin' The News, the zombies are here to stay...
Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror Italy, 1981 Dir: Andrea Bianchi
One of my favorite Zombie movies, precisely because it is so bad that you just have to watch it through to the bitter, nasty and depressing end. Why does it make this list? Because it is incredibly rare that a movie can be so hackneyed (Plot, in its entirety: Famous Professor opens a haunted crypt all had been warned to stay away from, invites some friends over to a mansion, the dead walk again and besiege the mansion, everybody gets ate, roll credits...) an yet so freshly inept at the same time. There's great zombie make-up, to be sure, some imaginative killing (the maid dies a particularly gruesome death from an upstairs window she should have stayed the hell away from) but what makes this movie truly DISTURBING is...The Dwarf. If you've seen Burial Ground, you know what I mean. If you haven't...when I tell you a very beautiful woman suckles her "son" right there on screen, and that "son" is clearly a very fucked-up looking Little Person who somehow has conned this woman into letting him have some of that boobie...man, you are just praying that little fucker gets eaten and turned to human sausage...you'll see. Fucked-up, man- FUCKED-UP.
I Spit On Your Grave United States, 1978 Dir: Meir Zarchi
The King Of The "Video Nasties". Or should I say "Queen"? Like several other, almost "mainstream" perversion cinema gems on my little list, there is very little I could possibly add to the vast literature and scholarship on what is, quite probably, the most hated, censored, banned, protested, burned, expurgated, Bowdlerized and otherwise chopped-up piece of cinema ever made. Roger Ebert's least favorite film and perhaps the ultimate expression of "Grindhouse"; the multiply-raped and tortured Camille Keaton probably endures more than any actor in any role ever, and I'd like to meet the hard-hearted sonofabitch who isn't rooting for her as she exacts her murderous, castrating revenge on the squad of red neck sleezebags who beat, violated and sodomized her for a full forty fucking minutes of this movie. Perhaps the least sexually appealing movie nudity ever filmed; I Spit On Your Grave has lost none of its punch 30 years later, and all other modern "shock" treatments are absolute frauds and nothings compared to it.
Last Cannibal World Italy, 1977 Dir: Ruggero Deodato
The hellish torments that actor Massimo Foschi endure in the course of Deodato's second-most grim movie are in a category shared only by lovely Camille Keaton, above; Foschi spends the majority of this film nude, in a cave underground, deep within a narrow pit, while literally hundreds of half-nude, mud-caked savages wave spears, threaten to castrate him, urinate upon him...Jesus Fucking Christ, they just don't make them like this anymore. What's great about this extremely well-made film is that it turns into one hell of an adventure half way thru; Foschi's character escapes, takes the great Me Me Lei along with him (who in their right mind wouldn't?) and hacks his way through the Phillipine jungle in search of a way home. This is very good and suspenseful stuff; Papillon gets more respect because it has this supposed "Existential" angst thing going on, but the jungle sequences here are just as good and no male actor ever had to endure a more "exposing" role than Foschi in Deodato's other great Cannibal masterpiece.
Cannibal Holocaust Italy, 1980 Dir: Ruggero Deodato
We all know this one, I suspect. Like I Spit On Your Grave, this movie has run afoul of more censors than the works of de Sade, Nabokov and Henry Miller combined; at one point, I'm pretty sure the only place in the world where you could see Holocaust uncut and uncensored was Italy, and of course the Italians just don't plain give a fuck about anything when it comes to aberrant cinema (perhaps explaining why they have such a healthy society with a low incidence of rape and murder, certainly by American yardsticks). This one really takes things way beyond the proverbial pale, however; the completely unnecessary tortoise slaughter is what has pushed so many of my Psychotronic films into denouncing this movie as "trash", while, of course, noted Depraved Film Expert Dr. Micah Moses of Brooklyn, NY hails it as one of the cinema's great triumphs. Me, I just don't know; I'd really have to sit down over a few beers for about a week to come up with a gestalt explanation for Holocaust's fantastic, primordial hold on the attentions of underground culture mavens everywhere; I don't think it's a "great" movie, but it certainly is much more than the prudish and simultaneously puerile critics of the mainstream would have you believe. Great early use of "gonzo" technique coupled with established cinema verite elements and the "found" documentary nature of so much inferior trash of today, the completely unabashed cast delights in their roles and assumes them to the bloody hilt. Bonus round: For real Cannibal Holocaust freaks, see 2005's Alan Yates, a Sage Stallone film about- you guessed it- Holocaust star Alan Yates. He is intensely likable, has a recall and garrulous nature on par with the eponymous Dieter of Herzog's Little Dieter Needs To Fly, and avails one and all with numerous hilarious anecdotes from the making of Holocaust that will give you a great idea about what kind of actor would go off to the jungles of New Guinea to make a porno-slash-snuff film about fucking cannibals with the already notorious Ruddero Deodato. Great stuff, and a must watch- even if you loathe the original Holocaust.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
At Left- One of the saddest films ever made. Period.
Chekist USSR, 1992 Dir: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
For all those fond of the idea of not being able to make an omlette without breaking some eggs. This is a brutal film. Srubov arrives in a provincial Russian town shortly after the October Revolution, as part of Lenin's CHEKA (roughly, "extraordinary committee"). All intellectuals, land owners, many Jews, any conceivable "enemy of the people" are tried in five-minute sessions, invariably convicted, stripped of their clothes, and shot- this is the entirety of the film. This mind-numbing procession of murder takes place in the basement of a slaughterhouse, and not one thing- not one indignity- is omitted. Rises above the level of sleaze as I truly believe Rogozhkin is exploring the psychology of a professional killer, especially as the grim duty starts to take effect on Srubov and his men. Overwhelming stuff.
Landscape Suicide United States, 1986 Dir: James Benning
I saw this at a Seattle arthouse theater several years ago. The crowd started at about 30, and within half-an-hour it was me and two other people left. I gather those fleeing were "bored"; as for me, I was stupefied into a state of aesthetic drugging. This is not a narrative film; Benning ostensibly is examining two murderers in this film- one of whom is a high school girl, the other our old friend Ed Gein- but the real "text" of the film are the endless landscape portraits of Middle America delivered in ice-cold repetition, like a visual representation of a Magma album, or an endless drive through a frosted-over grain-and-freight belt Hell. This is a very difficult film to sit through, and I can't imagine it will have a wide following. But for someone looking for a director who is totally committed to the structural mechanics of film, and committed the point of provocation and disturbance- this will be a remarkable experience.
Kapo International, 1959 Dir: Gillo Pontecorvo
A Holocaust film without peer. Susan Strasberg- here a mere child of fourteen- gives a performance far beyond her years as a young girl snatched from her home and sent with her family to Auschwitz. Her parents are, apparently, immediately gassed- and now the girl must survive on her own, descending to horrible levels of betrayal in order to do so. Like the works of Primo Levi or the impossibly depressing This Way For The Gas, Ladies And Gentlemen by Polish former sonderkommando and writer Tadeusz Borowski, Kapo explores the ultimate taboo of the lager- Jewish culpability in their own destruction- and does not hesitate to make clear that, as Levi wrote, the "first and only law of the Camps was survival". Overwhelming, and stunningly beautifully shot; no film- not even Pontecorvo's later masterpiece The Battle Of Algiers- ever looked quite as surreal and simultaneously ultra-real as Kapo.
Silip: Daughters Of Eve Philippines, 1985 Dir: Elwood Perez
Beginning with- by far- the most gratuitous and nauseatingly-real animal slaughter in film history (some kind of Filipino water buffalo being beaten to death with a huge mallet by absolutely real blows to the head, while screaming children look on- as if one taboo weren't enough...) Silip then commences to bring on endless nudity, rape, physical violence and emotional abuse, grown men fighting naked and a graphic depiction of a woman enduring her period. So there. The two female leads are impossibly gorgeous- and quite naked, for most of the film- but there are so many brutal and disturbing goings-on about that I can't really call this a "sexploitation" shocker; it's merely a very disturbing film, well-shot, superbly edited, and therefore all the more unsettling.
Traitement De Choc France, 1973 Dir: Alain Jessua
Famed actor Alain Delon is the draw here, but for me the whole film is all about the absolutely gorgeous Anne Giradot, playing a woman heading into middle age and desperate to do something about it. Arriving at an island clinic run by Dr. Delon, a series of tests begins, some beguiling gratuitous nudity is involved, and then the heart of the matter- what's really going on at this clinic- is revealed. You'll have to see it yourself, because that part is really disturbing. What is even more disturbing, however, is Jessua's unrelenting critique of the Cult Of Youth as he explores the pointless, pseudo-aesthete lifestyle of the bourgeois who flock to his island and frolic naked on the beach, torment servants, engage in meaningless sex and generally fulfil the role of a vampire that any good Horror jaunt would seek to serve. Well made, and with lots of perks- including Madame Giradot's sumptuous bottom- Traitement is a bold film that confronts the viewer with now-aging bodies in a way that would be unthinkable in today's Pedo-standard body type criterion of Hollywood.
Human Pork Chop Hong Kong, 1993 Dirs: Danny Lee, Herman Yau
One of the few black comedies to make this list, Human Pork Chop is that most rare of films: one that explores cannibalism unabashedly, yet not in any manner cliched. Let's face it- at this point of the game, most every cannibal theme has been done to death, or "over cooked", if you prefer. We all know how funny it is to see somebody get killed and eaten; so how does a film keep this tender subject matter fresh, and not just a stew of preserved fat? By being perfectly silly, of course. The film is disturbing; the restaurant owner is likable and creepy at the same time, which is a much needed ingredient to any film addressing a possible murderer who would turn his victims into pork buns. But the police sent to investigate the matter are hilarious in their incompetence and insouciance; this was a pleasant surprise to me on viewing, being convinced as I was that the cannibal genre had been picked to the bone. Fortunately, there was one more joint I could steak my viewing time on.
Avere vent'anni Italy, 1978 Dir: Fernando Di Leo
What starts out as a boisterous Italian sex romp featuring the absolutely delicious asses of Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati ends up joining Deep End (q.v.) as one of the all-time downer endings, and not just that; the violence comes almost out of nowhere, with very little to prepare the viewer for the horrible fate of these two beautiful and carefree young women. A nasty coda to the Free Sex ethos of 70's Europe, or maybe just a cynical and misogynistic manipulation by director Di Leo- who can say for sure. The film is shocking, and that there can be no doubt about; you'll certainly never look at young women hitchiking the same way ever again.
What Have You Done To Solange? Italy, 1972 Dir: Massimo Dallamano
From the delightfully-named "Schoolgirls In Peril" trilogy of Italian adolescent pulchritude slaughter comes the most abstrusely-plotted and effective narrative of perhaps all of Giallo-dom. While Martin Scorcese may dismiss this entire genre as "trash" while he fellates the bloated corpse (and reputation) of Bernardo Bertolucci, make no mistake: this is a GREAT early 70's movie, terrific fun to watch, truly engaging in story and character development, loaded with eye-popping nudity and altogether superior to American efforts in the roman policier genre from the era. Fabio Testi is his usual suave and circumspect self as a teacher at a girl's school who may be the cause of several grisly sexual murders. The plot takes some attention from the viewer, but it's worth it; and the theme- while disturbing enough by its very nature- ratchets up the terror and when the pieces all come together...I'd say this is a profoundly disturbing Giallo, precisely because it's such a good movie.
Onibaba Japan, 1964 Dir: Kineto Shindo
One of my favorite movies of all time, and a Horror film that so rises above the limitations of genre that it excels into its own category. One of the most beautiful films ever made, and starring one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen: Jitsuko Yoshimura, here playing the wife of a soldier presumed dead in some internecine squabble of Medieval Japan. The characters of Yoshimura and her mother-in-law live like wild animals along a reed marsh somewhere far from the battlefields; to survive, they waylay travellers and dump their bodies in a pit. The women sleep nude in the oppressive heat, eat with their fingers, and engage in an ongoing duel of silent hate as they wonder over the fate of the shared man in their lives. Yoshimura- here, a mere 20 years old but showing the acting talent of a much more seasoned performer- escapes the hut she shares at night for rendezvous with the sleazy local fisherman Hachi. Her torrid and breathless sprints thru the tall weeds to meet her forbidden lover are some of the most ardent shots in the history of film; the disturbing parts are made all the more so by the incredible beauty of Onibaba. An absolute masterpiece, and one of the most important works of Art in the 20th Century.
Katyn Poland, 2007 Dir: Andrzej Wajda
The Katyn Forest Massacre is an enduring trauma for the Polish nation and people. In 1939, after an act of singular perfidy by Stalin, falling from the East upon the mortally wounded Polish state already overrun by Nazi Germany from the West, the Red Army rounded up 20,000 Polish Army officers, representing the cream of the intelligentsia and potential leaders for that state. Transferred to the Katyn Forest, these men were all murdered, and buried in pits- a crime for which the Nazis were held responsible for fifty years. And while there are some unfortunate sentimental lapses by director Wajda (this is, after all, a big budget spectacular for Polish cinema, designed to sell tickets) Katyn never loses its power to shock by the sheer scale of the massacre. It should be remembered: each of these men were killed by a single shot to the back of the neck, one at a time. While we are spared the overwhelming scenes of carnage and piles of naked, bloody corpses of Chekist (q.v.), the emotional toll is daunting enough. A beautifully made film that is genuinely depressing, and deeply disturbing for what it says about any society able- or willing- to cover-up such a gargantuan hecatomb, hard on its very borders.
The Spirits Of Death Italy, 1972 Dir: Romano Scavolini
Known by various names, I'm using this one as I think it's the easiest one to locate on the Internets. A lush and vigorously-polished Horror/Giallo, Spirits is a genuine Gothic Horror of the kind Hammer so excelled at filming, only since it is Italian, it is of course a thousand times sleazier and loaded with chopped up corpses and jarring, brutal violence. The story of a young girl who witnesses her mother being murdered by her father (who then, but of course, commits suicide) may sound tame, but trust me- Scavolini manages to keep your interest thru the long atmospheric passages, and delivers an outlandishly over-the-top climax that is among the best of Giallo cinema.
Au Revoir Les Enfants France, 1987 Dir: Louis Malle
It has become popular to bag on M. Malle over the years, and I am not sure why; throughout the 70's, Malle was as good as any French director, and when he skipped the pond to bring fare like Pretty Baby to the screen, he was arguably even better. Les Enfants is, however, his masterpiece, and is an amazing document of the Holocaust which simply could not be more disturbing- because we all know what the fate of the Jewish children at the Catholic boarding school will be when the Gestapo finally tracks them down. The blind, numbing, pitiless savagery of the Nazi regime has rarely been so effectively demonstrated, without descending to cartoon-like levels of jackboot-crunching banality; this is a film with a huge grasp, but a small scope, keeping things on a human level throughout and delivering the final horrific end to the children as a fait accompli not engendered by some blind Fate, but by the actions of real live men with true evil coursing thru their veins.
The Night Train Murders Italy, 1975 Dir: Aldo Lado
Far, far superior to the similarly-themed (and frankly stupid) Wes Craven pseudo-classic The Last House On The Left, this is a vicious, voyeuristic, flat-out-fucking nasty Giallo that features one of the most unbearable rape/murders ever filmed. Two young girls are on a train trip across Europe, and have the hellish misfortune of running into the two most depraved psychopaths to ever pop up in a Giallo- Blackie and Curly (the only two names they are ever known as) latch onto the young women, trap them in a sleeper car, and then engage the vile services of a nymphomaniac older woman who just so happens to be on hand and quite possibly is even more depraved than the two hoodlums. I mean, this is seriously fucked-up shit; as I've said, I have seen it all but...this is a Rape-Revenge film so vile, so repugnant, so reprehensible that...well, the title is in red. And we all know what that means. Watch at your own bloody risk.
The Cannibal Man Spain, 1972 Dir: Eloy de la Iglesia
Another of the few black comedies on this list, Cannibal Man is so disturbing because it is played so straight- and is such a collection of bumbling, bad luck and blind Fate as to almost qualify as the world's only Existential serial killer film. Marcos works at a butcher shop (of course he does) and one night, coming home with the world's biggest asshole cabbie, blows his cool and dispatches the unfortunate driver in a spate of complete bad luck. His beautiful girlfriend wants him to go to the police, and turn himself in; she ends up dead not long after, and I think you can see where this is going. There is clearly some kind of philosophical statement being made her by the director, due to the presence of the curiously epicene/aesthete who lives in the new construction apartment tower next to Marcos' dilapidated hovel. They talk, swim, shower together, etc., and meanwhile the Spanish yuppie muses about how "dead" he feels, etc., while never making an overt sexual move on our killer. What makes Cannibal so disturbing is that people are being slaughtered left and right, hacked to pieces and carried in plastic bags to the abattoir where Marcos incinerates them, and yet...you almost are rooting for the guy, as he can't seem to catch a goddamn break. Marcos is remorseless, yet what the hell is he supposed to do in all of this mess? A genuinely interesting film that you just have to see play out, especially funny moments include a pack of stray dogs who begin to congregate in front of Marcos' house as the smell of all that accidentally killed carrion wafts into the Iberian night air. One of the best black comedies ever made.
Au Hasard Balthazar France, 1966 Dir: Robert Bresson
Has there ever been such a depressing and utterly bleak film that did not once descend to showing actual gratuitous physical cruelty to a poor and humble donkey? My god this film made me sad when I first saw it. A little girl loves her donkey, whom she names Balthazar and keeps, seemingly, as a pet. There are quiet, happy times in the village with child and donkey. Things go awry from there. The little girl grows up and is abused by her lover, the poor donkey is sold to increasingly vicious owners and has all his joy beaten out of him and...you just fucking hate humanity when you see a film like this. Arguably as upsetting to watch the iniquities dispensed to this poor beast as the torments levelled out to Camille Keaton in I Spit On Your Grave (q.v.), at least in that Horror the woman gets her revenge. The boor beast...ends up as some kind of figure for a Christian saint. Or something. Beautifully made, philosophically a very troubling message sent by Bresson as he seems to be endorsing suffering as a way to god. Still an astounding work, and one guaranteed to bring the tears flowing.
Germany, Year Zero Italy, 1948 Dir: Roberto Rossellini
The beyond-grim nightmarish destruction of post-war Germany is the backdrop for this, my favorite Rossellini film, and one of the most superbly shot films I've ever seen. The plot is the genius of the intricacies of the every day that the Neo-Realists captured with such unobtrusive directorial style; a former Nazi who is also a pedophile attempts to "instruct" a young German boy living in literal rubble on how to better help his family survive the day-to-day hell of a bombed out Berlin wasteland. The ending is far too grim to spoil here. Rossellini was a truly great director, but he was never so pessimistic and despondent as in this all-too-little-known masterpiece; very easily one of the Most Disturbing Films Ever Made.
The Joke Czechoslovakia, 1969 Dir: Jaromil Jires
Taken from a classic Milan Kundera novel of the same name and unfortunately not as well read as his many others, The Joke is a classically beautiful Czechoslovak New Wave film with a narrative core deeply rooted in the country's rich tradition of ironic humor, from Hasek's Good Soldier Svejk to Bohumil Hrabal's Prague hotel porters and Milos Forman's grossly incompetent (and horny) village firemen. Keeping very close to the novel's story, Ludvik Jahn is kicked out of the Communist Party and sent to a prison camp at a time of fervent Stalinization in the wake of the Slansky Affair. All of this over a fleeting, jocular reference to Trotsky on the back of a postcard sent to his girlfriend. The endless reach of the Totalitarian state is thus seen at its most banal, yet still brutal; Jahn's elaborate plan for revenge brings the human element back to the story, and the fact that he still endures at all provides a counterpoint to the endlessly grim evocations of dehumanization Jires conjures in his bleak, grey scenes.
Peeping Tom United Kingdom, 1960 Dir: Michael Powell
At the time a lurid sensation, now it can be viewed without all of the baggage and seen for what it is: a near perfect film that deals with subject matter simply out of the mainstream question in the early 1960's of Britain. Serial rapist and killer Karlheinz Bohn supplies porn shops with pictures of "naughty bits", yet soon decides taking nudie pics is not enough: only death images will slake his curiosity. Even today, the death scenes of the murdered women are gruesome and upsetting; the fact that the killer chooses to record their deaths- and also forces them to watch themelves die via a mirror cleverly placed on his hand-held camera- lends a frisson of post-modernism to the proceedings, and Powell in his unsettling Thriller clearly had a vision of where media society would be heading in the years to come. A classic for its age, Peeping Tom has lost very little of its punch to this day.
Deathdream Canada, 1974 Dir: Bob Clark
By far the best of the "Monkey's Paw" legends filmed for the screen, Deathdream is a deeply unnerving film made with a modest budget but superb skill by soon-to-be-hack director Clark. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. After their son Andy is killed in Vietnam, the Brooks family of Everytown, USA falls apart. Marital strife and drinking consume their home, and no one can quite deal with the fact that Andy is gone forever. But, unfortunately, Andy is not gone forever; rather, he returns home in the middle of the night, is strangely silent and removed, cold (literally) and emotionless and...decomposing. The ending scenes to Deathdream are genuinely moving; watching the father bury his son- for real, for good, as the poor dead boy seeks his peace- are heartbreaking. This is a damn fine Horror film, one that rises above others from the period that sought to incorporate politics into its message by never becoming pedantic, and remembering that their characters are human beings, not metaphors.
Maladolescenza Spain, 1977 Dir: Pier Giuseppe Mergia
Without question one of the most shocking films ever made. Like a perverse and fantastic fairy tale as if lifted from the combined imaginations of Calvino and Nabokov, never has the cruelty of adolescence been more unrelentingly displayed than Mergia's lush production of what can only be called borderline child pornography. There have been many coming-of-age tales, but none even remotely like Maladolescenza; Laura and Fabrizio seem to inhabit their own world, somewhere in the woods, where no adults ever venture and there seems to be no law except their own. All is idyllic until the arrival of the beautiful Silvia, who enchants Fabrizio, graphically seduces him, and begins a campaign of terror against Laura. The scenes of sexuality between the children are unbelievable; having seen it, of course I had to place Maladolescenza on the List- because it truly is the apotheosis of Disturbing Cinema. That being said...you are really on your own on this one, and I would be very leery of downloading any film with this title attached. At the outer extremes of what is permissable expression in a free society, this is truly one of the Gauntlet films of this list.
Monday, January 24, 2011
At Left: The classic ultra-lurid and outrageously vile and offensive VHS box art for Cannibal Ferox, a movie of absolutely no redeeming social value and filled with gratuitous nudity, torture and violence of a kind that pushes the limits of free expression. In short, a Radio Anthrocide classic, and the most punishing example of Classic Italian Cannibal cinema that your host, DJ Timothy, knows of.
Radio Anthrocide is branching out into film criticism, as a prelude to an upcoming project I am working on with the great DJ Micah of Public Sensory Radio and the celebrated Cinema Terrorisme. To kick off the festivities, I am preparing a list of the Most Disturbing Films Ever Made- a completely subjective and highly personal list developed from my many years of trying to find the most fucked-up and inhumanly cruel movies ever made. For the purposes of this article (which should take another half-dozen or so installments to be complete- like all lists I start, this one got completely out of hand after a complete inability on your author's part to stop at a "mandatory" Most Disturbing Twenty) it should be noted that what disturbs me may not even bother you a pip; equally, the reasons why I find these films disturbing have a lot to do with the contexts in which they were released. A film made in the 1950's, for instance, has a much different criterion of "disturbingness" than a slasher-type psychodrama from the classic period of sleaze in the 1970's. In short, don't write to me asking why such and such film didn't make the list, while another seemingly "less shocking" film did; I have no real criterion for the list than what I felt like putting on it. If you don't like it, write your own goddamn list. (It won't be as good as mine- I promise you...)
Obviously, any list of this kind will be inordinately represented by Horror films; but there is also a hefty dose of documentary and Giallo films, the latter a peculiarly violent and nihilistic genre of which I never tire- and there are more than a few deeply unsettling works in the famed Giallo cannon. These films are organized in no particular order, just at my own whim of the moment, although especially disturbing works will be so noted in the film's summary. Finally, I would like to note that this list is hardly what I would call "complete"; I have assembled as much material from my brain as I can, and perused a few IMDB pages with filmographies of particularly noted directors famous for their grim and unrelenting vision. If I have forgotten something that is outrageously classic, please do not hesitate to send me a note and I'll attempt to redress all iniquities and injustices- pursuant to the noted vexations, above. And one more thing...some of these movies are beyond merely grim; they are shocking and vile in a near-debilitating way. I have seen it all; but there are still moments when a film just goes way over the line, to the point that I could never in good conscience direct someone to view such a thing unless they were completely desensitized to all violence and taboos. Those films are still on the list, because I have no intention of censoring anything, ever; but their titles are marked in red, and you are hereby warned: DO NOT view these films, and if you do...you do so at your own risk. Cheers and Happy Viewing, - TKR
Men Behind The Sun Hong Kong, 1988 Director: Mou Tun-fei
An unceasingly grim and horrific movie that simply refuses to let up for one moment in its vivid and graphic depiction of the actions of a Japanese chemical warfare unit in Manchuria during World War Two. The real-life Unit 731 engaged in a senseless orgy of killing and torture, vile and cruel medical "experiments" on par with anything Josef Mengele could have dreamed up, and were on the verge of releasing billions of plague-infected insects upon Northern China in specially designed ceramic artillery shells that would have resulted in the worst genocide in human history, had the plan come to fruition. They were stopped only by the end of the war, weeks from what would have been an unconscionable disaster. All of this is rendered without blinking by director Tun-fei, with effects that are no doubt exploitative but also historically accurate and well done. Parts of the film- including the "frozen water torture" of the peasant Chinese woman and her resultant traumatic amputation of her hands, as well as the live vivisection of a young boy who had sought to play ball with the young Japanese recruits sent to this nightmare factory- are virtually unwatchable. One thing is certain: you will never forget Men Behind The Sun if you can possibly bring yourself to watch it. An absolute classic of this genre of "unwatchable" cinema.
Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre Hong Kong, 1994 Dir: Mou Tun-fei
From the same production team responsible for Men Behind The Sun and the equally appalling Lost Souls (see below), this third and last sequel to Men is the only one of any cinematic merit, although once again the viewer is taken to the absolute limit of what cinema can portray, and any sane person withstand. The Nanking Massacre of 1937 was one of the worst atrocities to be committed in that low and cruel epoch of human history known as the Twentieth Century; released upon the large Northern Chinese city by a high command seeking to completely destroy the Chinese as a culture and people, a wave of rapine and Saturnalia rarely equalled in the realm of cruelty destroyed Nanking almost completely and left hundreds of thousands dead. Execution squads, organized gang rapes to humiliate and break all will to resist by the citizens, the slaughter of children and animals and mass fires are just some of the bestial acts director Mou once again captures in enervating completeness, with a cinema verite element that makes it virtually impossible to "suspend disbelief" while witnessing such wanton destruction and murder. The story is almost irrelevant; this movie is a limit-experience of how much blood, how many guts, how much rape and killing of defenseless innocents one movie can present. A truly appalling spectacle, and one that will leave the viewer profoundly disturbed afterwards.
Lost Souls Hong Kong, 1980 Dir: Mou Tun-fei
The final entrant in the Mou Tun-fei trilogy of depravity, Lost Souls is one of the bleakest depictions of the truth of mankind's urge to exploit his fellow man- both financially and sexually- that has ever been filmed. A group of boat people attempt to come to Hong Kong, and barely arrive on the coast before they are snatched up by slave traders who proceed to put them thru a Hell that cannot be adequately described: you just have to see what Mou was able to get his actors to submit themselves to, and even then you will hardly believe it. The boat people cast spend the majority of the film completely naked, locked behind wire in a torture barn, covering themselves desperately with newspaper after being assaulted en masse with a fire hose. Quite naturally, Mou treats the viewer to endless scenes of rape and sadism, including a horrifying scene of a young girl being taken to the slave trader's main house and there facing staggeringly vile cruelties. One young woman immolates herself in perhaps the film's one encouraging moment; this film is so bleak that you're left thinking "well, at least her suffering is over". Pure exploitation and trash, yet undeniably effecting. Not for the sensitive, or indeed anyone with any kind of humanistic feeling for their fellow man.
Threads United Kingdom, 1984 Dir. Mick Jackson
A masterful BBC production exploring the consequences of an all-out nuclear war between the West and the Soviet Union, this movie goes so much farther in depicting the truth of the ultimate nightmare than American fare like The Day After that stuff like that seems escapist and light-hearted by comparison. Threads is unbelievable; the characters are going about their daily lives in Sheffield, England and dealing with things like teenage sex and unwanted pregnancies. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a nuclear exchange occurs that gradually turns into a flat-out Doomsday exchange between Us and Them. The script makes mention several times about some kind of crisis in the Persian Gulf, but the terrible truth about such a crisis metastasizing into the End Of Mankind is what makes Threads so devastating. A particularly compelling subplot centers around a group of government workers desperately trying to keep society functioning in the midst of this complete turmoil; it is terribly obvious how useless all of this reference to official manuals is during a cataclysm of such boundless proportions, but watching these remarkably real human beings try to persevere is heart-breaking. The final scenes of a newly Medieval Britain reduced in population by 90% in the years after the Final War are some of the most astonishing in cinema history; there is no let up, no reprieve, no redemption. A film I would rate as required viewing for anyone wondering what the possibilities of television drama can truly be. A first-rank masterpiece.
The House By The Edge Of The Park Italy, 1980 Dir: Ruggero Deodato
Featuring one of the most notorious sexual assault/torture scenes ever filmed, Deodato's The House By The Edge Of The Park is about as nasty as a film can be. What makes the movie so uniquely disturbing, however, is that the scumbag criminals who invade a bourgeois house party are only a tad more repulsive than the victims whom they take hostage. These people really are assholes, and it is impossible to form any real affection for them after they insult the pair of hooligans, in ways that are as condescending as they are snide. It is only when a young, virginal girl arrives to the party and faces a shocking ordeal of being stripped and slashed at the hands of the Satanicly-vile David Hess and his straight-blade razor that the viewer is snapped back to reality, and forced to confront Deodato's astonishingly cynical assessment of humanity. Not a great film, and the "twist" ending is anything but believable...but certainly disturbing- and the torture scene is every bit as bad as you may have heard.
Daydream Japan, 1964 Dir: Tetsuji Takechi
Often referred to as the first of the Japanese "Pink" films of soft-core pornography with lavish production values and adequate budgets, I have seen this film several times and still do not understand what Daydream has in common with 70's tit-fests like the deliciously named Deep Throat In Tokyo. An erotic film, most assuredly; the plot centers on a woman who goes to a dentist and, after some anaesthesia is administered, either hallucinates or actually experiences a series of graphic sexual assaults, including hard bondage and S&M play that must have been a real shock for the time on screen. Still, there can be no doubt about it- this is a Surrealist film, with strong elements of erotica, but Surrealist all the same. The lead actress- Kanako Michi- is absolutely ravishing, including some very alluring armpit hair that director Takechi obviously relished photographing, and is also pleasingly nude for some minutes in the most nightmarish (and disturbing) of the "daydreams". Her torments are graphic and extreme, though like many things in this grandly ambiguous drama, you're never really sure if she is enjoying the torture or, of course, if its "really" occurring at all. Completely beautiful in cinematography and containing some genuinely chilling color addendum to an otherwise black-and-white film, Daydream is probably the best Surrealist movie ever made. Seriously.
The Devils United Kingdom, 1971 Dir: Ken Russell
Where to begin on what I truly believe to be one of the greatest movies ever made? The Devils is pure insanity; all of the foibles and hubris that Russell would later indulge in to the detriment of his entire later body of work are on display here, yet somehow, magically, they all coalesce into a deliriously sublime meditation on injustice, hysteria and cruelty. While Vanessa Redgrave gives the performance of her career as a hunchbacked nun obsessed with the gloriously handsome Oliver Reed, it is Reed himself- as the bravado and libido fueled Father Grandier- who carries this film to epic heights. His torture and immolation are shockingly real; the madness of the crowds- in front of Derek Jarman's deliberately anachronistic set design of a Medieval fortified French town- is palpable, as well as a delirious sequence where a gaggle of nuns run wild and strip nude, perform every conceivable sex act upon each other and go so far as to mount crucifixes in orgiastic glee. In short: fucking FANTASTIC stuff. A serious film that also happens to be incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking, if you are not disturbed by this movie then I really don't know what could ever trip your fancy. A genuine limit experience of a film made by a wildly talented director who simply couldn't control his worst impulses in later excrement like Tommy and the appalling Whore.
Cannibal Ferox Italy, 1981 Dir. Umberto Lenzi
Dr. Micah Moses- of Public Sensory Radio, noted trash film snob and raconteur- and myself have had a serious ongoing dispute about what is the greatest of the great and shocking Classic Italian Cannibal films for several years. Dr. Moses takes the conventional (and I must say, pedantic and scholarly-tendentious) view that Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (q.v.) is clearly the most extreme. While I greatly respect Dr. Moses and his genius for the unusual, bizarre and truly inhuman, I still think that for pure gut-churning violence nothing has ever topped Umberto Lenzi's excruciatingly graphic Cannibal Ferox. In what amounted to an arms race of Italian Cannibal films throughout the late 70's and early 80's, the bar was constantly being raised (or lowered, depending on your level of film-school asshat snobbery) on the amount of nudity, evisceration, impalement and castration that one film could contain. It all reached a crescendo, in my view, with the absolutely vile Ferox, a movie so repugnant that I cannot stress how strongly you must NOT see this film. To be blunt: the woman being impaled on hooks by her breasts scene is incredibly realistic, as is the castration of the male lead by the Stone Age tribe who has taken them captive after a particularly outlandish plot places these attractive white Westerners in the midst of a jungle hell surrounded by primitive savages. Plot is really kind of superfluous in a film like this; Ferox is simply an endurance test, the kind of film that one feels part of a special club for having survived. One of the most vile movies ever made, and deeply, deeply disturbing for the voyeuristic onus it places upon the viewer to get through all of the perversity and nastiness.
J'Accuse! France, 1938 Dir. Abel Gance
While not as highly regarded as the same director's 1919 version of the same film, your author much prefers Gance's later, more vitriolic and pacifistic harangue of a film to the earlier, more sentimental offering. A scientist played by Victor Francen devotes his entire life to developing a machine to stop the plague of war; not surprisingly, the government gets hold of the device and plans on using it for distinctly alternative ends. In scenes of enthralling dramatic power, the scientist then raises thousands of dead French soldiers who fell during the former holocaust, World War One. These images of shattered poilus still in their greatcoats- their faces mashed, caked in filth, shuffling and enraged at the wanton waste of their sacrifice- are made even more disturbing by the fact that so many of these men were real soldiers, who had been hideously mauled by the combat of the trenches of the late, "Great War". Mandatory viewing for all of the French-bashing smartasses who are so in love with war and cannot help themselves but from mocking that great nation for not being more warlike in standing up to Adolph Hitler in the years before the Second World War. Given that 25% of all military-aged men in France died in the former "War To End All Wars", viewing this film might give the militarist some much-needed context on the national mood and why once again murdering an entire generation for the profits of blood-sucking plutocrats was a road many Frenchmen were not willing to trod again without protest.
The Conqueror Worm (AKA, Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General) United Kingdom, 1968 Dir: Michael Reeves
Vincent Price is surely one of the great Horror actors of them all. He was, however, never so remorseless, never so malevolent than in this incredibly grim story of abuse of power, sexual license and general hysteria, The Conqueror Worm (the title I prefer to use, since it is from Poe and very, very chilling and portentous). Price is pure Satanic evil; not succumbing to his oft-indulged penchant for hamming it up, the great actor is restrained by the masterful Reeves, playing with stolid and organic evil his role as Witchfinder, which position he uses to gain favors both financial and carnal. Price is utterly despicable in this role; he's so perfectly evil that at the film's remarkably nihilistic climax, you can't help but root for him to die, and to die as slowly as possible. The final shot- and, more to the point, the final sounds- of the film are as disturbing and enduring as any in the Horror canon. This is one of my favorite movies, and don't settle for anything less than the full, completely uncut version. You're in for a real shock as Worm slithers to its deeply unsettling climax.