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Yaroslav Subbotin
Yaroslav Subbotin

31 - A Rob Zombie Film German.mp4

The bluntness of this film's title should clue you in for the bluntness of its content. A Serbian Filmputs the entirety of Serbia in its crosshairs, its director Srđan Spasojević explicitly commenting not just on the broader implications of living in a war-torn, fascist-leaning society and government, but on the specific hypocrisies of this same government funding bourgeois, "safe" films that seek to whitewash their own atrocities. To make this point, Spasojević and co-writer Aleksandar Radivojević have crafted a plot that takes us past the point of the underworld. Retired porn star Miloš (Srđan Todorović) is having trouble taking care of his family. So, despite his better instincts, he agrees to star in an artsy porn film from a provocative auteur (Sergej Trifunović). But the director's methods and subjects involve tranquilizing Miloš into a state of catatonia and forcing him to do unspeakable things on camera. And when I say "unspeakable," I am not being hyperbolic. Taboos involving sexual violence, necrophilia, incest, and pedophilia are lensed with unsparing detail, giving the film an instant sense of notoriety on the festival circuit. The final shot and decision made are purely evil.

31 - A Rob Zombie Film German.mp4

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Fred Vogel's Toetag Pictures is an independent horror film production company and studio known for low-budget, boundary-pushing works of extreme cinema. Their defining statement comes in the form of a brutal, aggressively nihilistic, found-footage trilogy of mayhem known as August Underground. All three films involve a found family of serial killers traveling around and shooting footage of each other instilling miserable forms of torture and death on their hapless victims. All three films are shot in jagged, low-fi quality, resulting in an aesthetic that feels as close to a literal snuff film as anyone has produced in a narrative feature film. All three films feature stomach-churningly realistic effects, and committed actors willing to do wild, wild shit to each other. But the second chapter, August Underground's Mordum, might be the most abjectly disturbing of the lot. Bodies are nothing more than anonymous opportunities for morbid dissections and corruptions, and the Toetag team is more than willing to shove it all in our face, with each scene managing to top the previous one in its horrific cruelty. Is there a point beyond the chaos of the content on its face value? That's a question I'm not sure Toetag is interested in asking.

A notorious 1980 horror film that is a foundational text in the found footage genre, was straight up banned in several countries, resulted in the director Ruggero Deodato getting arrested and having to prove in court the special effects were faked, helped kickstart a wave of cannibal exploitation cinema, and influenced filmmakers in its wake (perhaps most explicitly Eli Roth with The Green Inferno). Cannibal Holocausttells, in mockumentary form, the story of a group of anthropologists who travel to an Amazonian village to try and rescue a group of filmmakers left there. When they arrive, they discover reels of footage with horrific actions perpetrated by the cannibalistic natives, resulting in a knotted, metatextual narrative that pokes aggressively at white saviorism, colonialism, the role of sensational television news in exacerbating violence, and even the role of the audience member watching this very film. Now, is Cannibal Holocaust only interested in making these points with unimpeachable, intellectual acumen? Certainly not. The images shown, in unsparing detail, are clearly designed to court controversy, and in some sequences of actual animal cruelty, may walk a line into purposeless text for some. But there's no denying Cannibal Holocaust has a lot on its mind, and it's willing to eat some minds to try and make its many points.

The debut feature of notorious nightmare-stirrer/meteorologistDavid Lynch, Eraserheadis likely the closest I've ever felt to living in the casual, gnawing surrealism of a real-life nightmare in cinematic form. Using stark black and white photography and inexplicably terrifying sound design, Lynch tells the story of Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), a feeble and sensitive man who lives in a bizarre, post-industrialized apocalyptic society. He life is turned all matters of upside down by the presence (or threat) of domesticity, child-rearing, sexual intercourse, and even the afterlife. Lynch presents these challenges both with a searingly skin-crawling style and no style at all; while the production design on this film is peerless in its atmosphere, so many of the film's haunting images occur almost inadvertently, with no comment on its bleak oddness. All of this culminates in the revelation of a child whose visage remains controversial for the methods in which Lynch may have made it. Somehow, Eraserhead makes speakable the things in our subconscious we can't speak, by barely speaking at all. Sing it with me: "In heaven everything is fine..."

Tom Six's The Human Centipede, released in 2009, had a raucous premise that instantly became notorious not just among extreme cinephiles, but through the general filmscape. What if you made a "human centipede" by, y'know, attaching people's mouths to other people's butts? I wouldn't blame you if that premise makes you giggle, and the first film's weirdly bright color scheme and charismatic performance from Dieter Laser leans into the accessibly, blackly comic nature of it all. But its sequel, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), takes any sense of accessibility and runs it over with a car, crushing its skull. And yes, that is, unfortunately, a hint at something that happens in the film.

Of all the various subgenres of exploitation cinema, Nazisploitation might be the most eager to break and shove taboos in your face. The ripple effect of psychosexual Nazi-evoking horror-shows like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS and Gestapo's Last Orgy could be seen in prestige pictures like The Night Porter and in modern works like Rob Zombie's Grindhouse trailer Werewolf Women of the SS and the Amazon program Hunters. In a Glass Cagethreads the Nazisploitation needle between "empty shock value" and "something to say" queasily but effectively, using uncommonly atmospheric filmmaking to boot.

Of all the many disturbing films I've seen in my lifetime, only one has had the power to make me fast-forward through a scene because of my own personal discomfort. That film is Man Bites Dog, known in its native country of Belgian as C'est arrivé près de chez vous (a take on the phrase "It could happen to you"). From its title on down, the black-and-white mockumentary (another foundational found-footage horror film) has its sights on how we consume and deify acts of violence and their "fun" sense of fear, especially in the news media. A group of journalists follow a man named Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde, disquietingly brilliant). He's charming, funny, and happens to be a prolific, sadistic serial killer. The journalists aim to film him and his increasingly violent crimes with a sense of objective remove. But quietly, sneakily, queasily, the journalists can't help but actively participate in his crimes, indicting not just news media outlets around the world, but even us for wanting to watch and laugh (yes, laugh, the film is often blackly funny) at a film like this. This all culminates with a midpoint scene of carnage and its aftermath that is shown so casually, so graphically, and so without remorse, that I wish I could fast-forward it in my brain.

Notorious German filmmaker Marian Dova has made numerous works of relentless disgust (do not Google what happens in Carcinoma, for your own good). But in 2009's Melancholie der Engel (The Angel's Melancholia), he just might have made his, um, "masterpiece". At a punishing two-and-a-half hour length, Melancholie der Engel has a lot of philosophical musings on its mind, generally leading to a form of absurd nihilism as practiced by Katze (Carsten Frank), who believes he is nearing the end of his life. Thus, in an effort to push the limits of existence as far as he can before it casually snuffs out, he and a group of, um, "friends" engage in increasingly horrendous, graphic, seemingly unsimulated acts of depravity. This acts of human degradation, filmed in inherently ugly looking digital video, are filtered through all kinds of "big ideas" involving Dova's philosophies and Catholic ideals of guilt and redemption, but it's hard to walk away from this film with any thought other than "why?" Which, I suppose, is the point. If you wished Richard Linklater's Before trilogy had scenes involving shit-eating, Melancholie der Engel might be for you.

The atrocities of war, rendered in miserable detail. Men Behind the Sun, from Chinese filmmaker T. F. Mou, details the horrific experiments perpetrated to Chinese and Siberian prisoners by imperial Japanese military commanders during World War II with sickeningly grotesque special effects. Beyond the film's obvious visceral disturbances, there are psychological ramifications sledgehammered at as well, both within and outside of the text. Men Behind the Sun wants to explore genuine traumas and real-life pain, wants to depict the limits of patriotism and the sliding scale of nationalism, wants to communicate the necessary message that war is, and always will be, hell. But it also wants to be an exploitative horror film with envelope-pushing gore effects. Can it have it both ways? Does it deserve to? If it succeeds, is it still worth our time? Are there other, more palatable ways to digest and process the horrors inflicted on humans by other humans under the guise of war? Or are blunt messages like this really, truly the only way it can stick to our brains? 041b061a72


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