Film is primarily a visual language and if you want to convey something to the audience in under three minutes then your visuals need to be on point and memorable. Such is the case with White Willow which deftly communicates a gruesome little story about self mutilation that won’t soon leave your mind. The film’s sole performer (Emily Lamberski) turns in a solid, compelling performance which is further enhanced by the excellent SFX work by makeup artist Jess Marie. Writer/director Ryan Swantek’s quick cuts and eerie ambiance create a jarring, unsettling experience while establishing a character who I would be happy to see more of in a feature or another short. A fun, nasty little piece that’s sure to get under your skin.
Ambiguity in film is a difficult needle to thread, holding back just enough information to give the audience something to chew on afterwards without omitting key details required for supporting the action onscreen. In under fifteen minutes, Kiddo establishes a very intriguing world brought to life by excellent acting, a great visual style, and some nice moments of brutality. The sense of dread is palpable right from the beginning as we join middle-aged woman Kiddo (Lisa Howard) on a bus full of teens, all of them clad in matching pink jumpsuits. As the bus winds lazily through the bucolic countryside, it’s very clear that all is not right here and it might have something to do with the couple of rough-looking guys on the bus who aren’t dressed like the others.
I can’t go into more detail than that without getting into spoilers but suffice to say Kiddo has a very solid concept and executes it perfectly from a technical aspect. The only points where it falters slightly are a few moments of illogical character choices and some aspects of the world-building that don’t quite connect the dots. It’s still an incredibly accomplished piece of filmmaking and something that I would very much like to see expanded into a feature. This would provide more time to delve into the larger story and answer some of the burning questions about what is really going on to firmly solidify the reality of the world it created.
The Blood of the Dinosaurs is a strange, surreal experience that feels like the fever dream that would play through your head if you dropped acid after bingeing Mr. Rogers. The film opens with a fourth wall breaking convo between writer/director Joe Badon one of the actors (Tiffany Christy, credited as “Natural Mother”) who appears to sincerely be asking him, “what the hell is this movie about?” From there it moves on to the true beginning where a mixed media stop motion scene depicts the cataclysmic comet strike that ended the dinosaurs. After that we segue into the real meat of the film which focuses on Uncle Bobbo the dead-eyed lead of a children’s TV show who has a penchant for staring menacingly into the camera. Everything about the program feels more than a little off as Uncle Bobbo runs through his routine with the help of his young assistant Purity (Stella Creel). As Uncle Bobbo seems to be visibly struggling with mental health issues the world of the film plunges further and further into full-blown surreal territory.
Orgasms are overlaid with imagery of pumping oil derricks and ice cream, hard cuts to fake YouTube videos of DIY experiments, there’s a horrific birth, kaleidoscopic imagery assaults the viewer and so much more that all must really be seen to be comprehended. So, what the hell is it all about? That’s not an easy question to answer as the film is less about a conventional narrative structure and more about the visual exploration of themes and concepts such as reproduction, death, rebirth, and the cyclical nature of existence. Far from being a maddeningly obtuse series of images, The Blood of the Dinosaurs presents an intriguing surrealist expression of ideas with layers that benefit from close examination and interpretation.
No release date as of review, visit joebadon.com for further info.
“The goriest film since the original Fleas in 2016!” a quote attributed to no one boldly claims on the back of the DVD case for Fleas 2: Home Remedies. Now, (shockingly) I haven’t seen the original Fleas, so I can’t speak to its supposed levels of gore, but while Fleas 2 is many things, the goriest of any category it is not. Giving Evan Jacobs (director/co-star/co-writer of this two-man project) the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he meant it was the goriest film within the esteemed Fleas cinematic universe. Maybe (hopefully) it was a joke, but in case it wasn’t, Jacobs might want to take a cursory glance through the horror section on Amazon Prime or better yet see the real contenders for that title at Unearthed Films, Tetro Video or A Baroque House.
The plot (such as it is) follows Quentin (Mike Hartsfield, who also co-wrote) and Bob (Jacobs), a couple of dim bulbs that seem to have avoided the curse of total isolation through companionship with each other. Now, I should take a moment to clarify that “co-wrote” may be a bit of a stretch, as the movie appears to be not so much improved but….unscripted. Anyway, the faux-documentary style production is made up of a series of recordings that Bob makes of his friend trying to dig out an ingrown toenail with a razor, a task that gets more gruesome the longer it goes on.
Yes, that really is the entire plot of this hour long film, but within that limited scope there are actually some things that Fleas 2 pulls off really well. Chief among them is the opening shot which sets a strong tone with a self-mutilation scene that is so effectively cringe-inducing it’s sure to have you squirming in your seat. The FX are very minimal and DIY throughout, but for the most part do an admirably convincing job conveying the grotesqueness of the situation. I also appreciated how the actors managed to do a solid job creating characters that were decently fleshed out (and unsettlingly true to life) while having very little to work with.
The real problem here is that this is a unique and impressively uncomfortable ten minute film that is dragged down by fifty minutes of repetitive filler just to get it to the incredibly awkward runtime of an hour. Currently neither a short nor a feature, Fleas 2 is unquestionably made better by following through on the initial momentum of the opening scene and sparing the audience the incessant repetition of the phrase “you need to go to the doctor” and the brutally compulsive overuse of the word “dude”. If nothing meaningful is going to happen in the story then we don’t need multiple scenes of two guys picking up takeout or endlessly bickering about whether or not this particular home surgery is a good idea. An aggressively trimmed down cut would make Fleas 2 an intriguing curiosity and not the Sisyphean task of endurance that it currently is.
At what point does a sexually explicit art film simply become porn, and what is the distinction between art and porn exactly? A large part is the director’s intention but it’s also about the ratio between scenes with fucking and scenes without and where the real focus of the film is. Porn is porn because the main event is the sex and everything else is either lead up to that or filler. The only value the non-explicit scenes have is how much they prop up and enhance the explicit ones. A sexually explicit art film by contrast is focused on expressing ideas and uses sexuality as a tool in service of that rather than simply being a vehicle for titillating imagery. It seems obvious enough but aspirationally artistic porn films and excessively explicit art films have a way of muddying the waters.
While Hyde’s Secret Nightmare positions itself as an art film, a case can be made that it is nestled a bit more snugly in the gray area than it would like to admit. The story follows a young doctor/mad scientist Henry Chagall (Claudio Zanelli) who is desperately trying to find a scientific solution to cure his impotence. His work involves a lot of shady use of stolen female corpses and (somehow) he stumbles upon an elixir that turns him into a beautiful woman (Roberta Gemma) for a short period of time. Once he is in this new form, he adopts the persona “Eva Hyde” and starts exploring the world from a different perspective. This leads him on a journey of self-discovery filled with graphic ultra-violence and a whole lotta explicit sex.
There’s a lot to unpack in the movie’s more than two hour runtime but what jumps out the most here is that this is a film of strange choices. No, I’m not talking about all the genital mutilation, violent murders, necrophilia, and explicit fucking, that part I get. I’m more referring to the fact that the characters break into near-constant soliloquies delivered straight to camera that cover a range of lofty topics such as feminism, the ethical implications of animal testing, theology, etc. In case these unrelated divergences weren’t 4th wall breaking enough, writer/director Domiziano Cristopharo also occasionally includes the pre-take slates for, uh….some reason. Another piece that sticks out is the fact that Henry’s assistant Hans (Giovanni la Gorga) is constantly referred to as old and crippled but the actor looks barely older than Henry himself and no effort is made to cosmetically adjust his appearance to fit how the character is described.
Curious choices aside, there is also a lot that Nightmare does right and it unquestionably falls into the Extreme Cinema category. There is no shortage of graphic, unsimulated penetration and the film is also not limited to heteronormative coupling, which is nice touch. There are also some moments that really stood out to me such as a blowjob that turns into a dick being graphically bitten off and an unsimulated scene where a couple sews themselves together, piercing various parts of their bodies with a large needle including their faces and genitals. The performances are decent overall and Zanelli especially brings a great energy and earnestness to his role.
I always appreciate explicit sexuality being incorporated into a film but the sheer abundance of it, and the fact that the plot seems structured around it rather than vice versa, cheapens the experience. This is actually a situation where a “less is more” philosophy can give the explicit scenes more impact as seen in more plot-centric films such as Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell, or John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. The film does touch on some interesting ideas, such as gender fluidity and identity, but merely pays lip service to them rather than digging in and exploring more fully. This is unfortunate since a modern, explicit retelling of the Jekyll & Hyde story viewed through the lens of gender identity and societal stigmas could have been fertile ground for some interesting commentary. So, while light on substance, Nightmare does provide a generous amount of unfiltered sexuality and well-crafted violence that should make the journey worth it for fans of Extreme Cinema.
Queer horror is an underrepresented subgenre that despite being around for decades still struggles with visibility and acceptance. Certain filmgoers may be resistant to the idea that you don’t necessarily have to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community to be able to enjoy films created within it or at the very least aren’t actively seeking them out. Regardless, the subgenre continues to gain more mainstream traction as higher profile films are released. There’s a good chance you’ve seen, or at least heard about, 2018’s The Perfection or 2019’s Spiral and if you are part of the Extreme Cinema community, then there’s a very good chance you are familiar with 29 Needles. It’s a bit less likely that you are familiar with the surreal indie gem Playdurizm from 2020 but to be fair, there was kinda a lot going on that year.
After a trippy opening scene, the film starts off with a young man named Demir (Gem Deger) who wakes up with amnesia in a strange apartment that he is told he lives in by his apparent roommates Andrew (Austin Chunn) and Andrew’s (sort of) girlfriend Drew (Issy Stewart). Strange is the operative word here as everything seems a bit off; from the interactions, to the odd decorations and even odder characters who weave into the story. Although Demir has no recollection of his relationship to the people he is told he lives with, he seems to have awoken in the middle of a complicated and hostile situation where tensions are already running murderously high.
In addition to starring in the film, Deger also directed and wrote the short story upon which the film is based. It’s an impressive debut feature and, despite being a low-budget indie film, never feels cheap. The film is ambitious in concept but simple in design and Deger wisely chooses to keep the action contained to a few key locations. I appreciate that, unlike a lot of indie filmmakers out there, he understands that a film looks more professional if you focus on shooting scenes you can actually pull off instead of acting like you’re working with the budget of an Avengers movie.
This film is also weird and I’m there for it, especially when it veers off into surprisingly dark territory with incest, necrophilia and Cronenberg-style body horror. Fortunately, it also grounds itself and instead of just hitting the audience with “weird for the sake of weird” actually has a logic and an order to it that all becomes apparent by the end. Its structure very closely resembles another classic film, although I can’t mention the title without spoiling this one, but when you know, you know.
Now, I hate to call out a particular actor, especially in an indie production, but I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that despite really looking the part, Austin Chunn’s performance was just a bit too stiff and not quite as convincing as the rest of the cast. It’s ultimately a minor quibble though, as it didn’t stop me from enjoying this strange, unique trip that felt like settling into a nice, cozy nightmare. If the only thing stopping you from taking this ride are some antiquated hang-ups about watching a gay-centric story then it’s time to move past that shit because you are missing out on some incredible and creative pieces of art.
Availability: Widely Available
Available on multiple streaming platforms including Amazon Prime, Google Play and Vudu as well as on Blu-ray.
As a site whose primary goal is to feature reviews of the most fucked up and grotesque films ever made, it’s long over due that the underground company A Baroque House (whose bread and butter is extremely graphic erotic horror shorts) had some representation. That’s not to say this is a review of the company’s varied output as a whole but since Sadistic Pleasures was a first time watch for me, it seemed a good one to start on for an unbiased and fresh take on the merits of that particular film.
It’s important to meet films on their own terms and understand the goal of a particular production to be able to assess how successful it is at achieving it. Since this film has about as much plot as early Guinea Pig entries, it’s not really fair to judge what is essentially just scenes of erotic titillation followed by graphic mutilation by conventional narrative standards. Instead, you must understand that this is down-n-dirty underground shock cinema meant to deliver a jolt to the more primal parts of your brain by delivering a taboo experience that you won’t be able to find on any conventional streaming service.
The film starts with a nameless young woman (Kaiia Eve) playing to the camera as she starts to put on a progressively more explicit show for the viewer. This continues for a little while until hands come into frame from an off-screen person (Leila Lewis) and things start to get a lot rougher, even escalating into a bit of cutting and knife play (simulated). The woman is soon drugged with a syringe full of a mysterious dark liquid and the real brutality begins.
Given the previously mentioned criteria, my main complaints center around areas that could have been tightened up to make the viewing a more cohesive and satisfying experience. The fact that the footage cuts between handheld POV and set-up shots is disorienting and makes it hard to establish where the characters are in time and space and what the viewers relationship to them is. The film would have been better served either leaning all the way into the handheld POV and framing the whole thing in more of a found footage context or visually distinguishing between the POV and the other shots so it doesn’t completely demolish the fourth wall when she looks right down the barrel of the camera.
It would have also been nice to have a little bit of dialogue to establish the context and maybe some interaction between the girl and the person behind the camera to make the situation she’s in a bit more clear. Regardless, the film has to be judged on what it does have and to that end there are some impressive visual elements that I want to call out. The scene that was particularity noteworthy was the image of the woman lying on the bed, brutalized and covered in bandages except where Eve’s real life tattoo of a demonic face on her lower belly remains perfectly framed by blood soaked gauze. Its a moment of horrific beauty and works excellently with the ominous sound design that accompanies it.
The FX here are also pretty on point, especially in a scene that features the best graphic breast cutting since The House that Jack Built, helped in large part by the attention to detail that went into making the prosthetic match Eve’s actual tattoos. So while Sadistic Pleasures may not have much to offer from a narrative or intellectual standpoint, it gets right down to business by delivering some edgy, uncensored content and at 23 minutes doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Mutilation performance artist/musician Daniel Valient is back with another batch of twisted videos from his band White Gardenia. While Blood Tastes Like Perfume was more of a standard collection of the kind of videos fans of the band would expect to find (and may have already seen online) How to Raise Women from the Dead takes a big swing with some new content and goes in a very different direction. In art, taking risks is often necessary for growth but is also inherently a gamble, so lets discuss to what degree it did (or did not) pay off in this case.
The first disc in this two disc set is the Blu-ray featuring four separate videos on the main menu. The primary draw here is the short The Secret Perfume of Decay which marks Valient’s first foray into proper narrative storytelling as a director. This departure from the more abstract and experimental work that White Gardenia is known for is part of the risk I was referring too but ultimately was not nearly as significant a change as the other videos would end up being. These are experimental in a whole different way as all three of them are comprised of a series of static images with audio clips playing over them that discussed transhumanism and the singularity in depth with a particular focus on the scientist Frank J Tipler.
For the uninitiated, the concept of transhumanism ultimately boils down to a philosophical and intellectual movement based around the goal of conquering death through advanced technology. The singularity is the hypothetical point at which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, becomes self-aware, and creates an irreversible and uncontrollable change that permanently alters the course of humanity. If this is a subject that interests you then you may find these segments to be informative and enlightening but if not then watching them feels a lot like being cornered by a belligerent family member who is dead-set on converting you to their religion. This is certainly a rich topic to explore but it would have been better done through some kind of artistic interpretation rather than an information dump of raw audio interviews.
On the other hand, in The Secret Perfume of Decay Valient does a good job portraying the story of a nameless serial killer and his most recent victim, both played by uncredited actors. The short still features Gardenia’s trademark self-mutilation, off-kilter tone, and a very interesting appearance by Valient himself which was the highlight of the whole experience. I also enjoyed learning about the real-world practice of re-creating paper mâché busts of unknown victims in the 60’s and 70’s which lead to some incredibly uncanny and downright creepy results. While very different in form from the other shorts it is still tied to them thematically as transhumanist views of death and resurrection play heavily into the story. My only major complaint here is Valient’s over reliance on text cards when he would have been better served following the classic “show don’t tell” rule of filmmaking.
The other disc in pack is labeled as “Extras Disc” and in a bewildering formatting choice features another copy of TSPoD which has been unceremoniously dumped onto an auto-play DVD with no menu, rewind or chapter separation along with ten other Gardenia films. I’m very pleased at the inclusion of these films as this is the first time any of them have been released onto physical media but am confused why they weren’t featured prominently on the main disc with the long form audio interviews more fittingly relegated to the extras section.
While I did like TSPoD, the real gem of this collection is the inclusion of some classic WG shorts that I absolutely adore. Films like (m.i.p.a.m.h, Mobius Strip and Video for Teilhard de Chardin) exemplify White Gardenia at its best, showcasing the surreal, abstract and disturbing content they are known for. These are the kind of deeply unsettling, genuinely strange videos that feel like something you would wander into in the darker corners of the internet and help to make up for the inclusion of some overly tepid BDSM and the absolutely egregious inclusion of the censored version (!) of A Perfume Made from Blood and Tears. In short, the disc is a mix of highs and lows which is an apt description of the overall collection itself but in both cases there is enough great content to be found within to make it well worth having in your collection.
Mirror Mirror is a tight, 11 minute film that focuses on a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (David Brown-King) as his personalities Anthony and Tony wrestle for control of his body. Brown-King is a one man show and does an excellent job carrying the entire film on his own, no easy task considering that the bulk of the movie is confined to a single, claustrophobic bathroom. Even within this limited space, writer/director Harmeet Singh Grewal does an effective job keeping the tension and audience engagement up thanks to compelling camera work and an ominous, foreboding soundtrack.
When dealing with the subject of mental health it can be difficult to walk the line of creating a heightened situation while not coming across as exploitative. I’m no mental health expert but from my perspective, the film did a solid job presenting the condition in its most extreme and dangerous form without crossing over into parody territory. The text at the end re-enforces the fact that the short was made with the intention of bringing awareness to the situation and those afflicted by it rather than using it as a cheap tactic to elicit drama. That’s not to say it’s without entertainment value though, as Mirror Mirror delivers its message with a healthy dose of psychological horror and dread.
Today I’ll be doing something a little bit different as I talk about the recently released double feature by underground Extreme Cinema director Mikel Balerdi (Vore Gore, Larva Mental). The release features both The Girl with the Cutter and Golgota whose combined running time only totals about 78 minutes and as they are packaged together, I will be discussing both within the same review. Things kick off with the more produced of the two,The Girl with the Cutter, which stars Cofi Valduvieux as a woman struggling with mental illness and the urge to self-harm with a boxcutter.
Information about both films is pretty sparse, but from what I understand TGwtC was inspired by a set of real pictures that gained notoriety within certain circles of the internet featuring an unknown young woman who had performed some of the most graphic and extreme self-mutilation ever seen. The film itself seems to be a creative reimagining of her life, the events that lead to her cutting, and where it may have ultimately taken her. Even though the untranslated (Italian?) text in the beginning seems to state that this was based on real events and some of the actual source photos are intercut throughout the film, her story is really more of a creative springboard to launch the fictional narrative than an account of what actually happened.
Golgota on the other hand is a different animal entirely and is about as down-n-dirty and to the point as Extreme Cinema gets. There is no plot to speak of just real footage of a Dark Web performer known only as Wendy putting on her debaucherous show while Balerdi films her in a forever tainted hotel room. Aside from minimal editing and some background noises put in to further enhance the unpleasantness of the experience, this is really just six segments (labeled as 1 hour, 2 hour, etc) that feature ever heightening acts of depravity. Think Two Girls, One Cup crossed with a White Gardenia video so, needles to say, those with weak stomachs need not apply.
TGwtC represents a significant step forward in terms of technique from what we saw from Balerdi in Larva Mental most notably in the editing department. The glitching effect he employs throughout the film really adds a level to the fragmenting reality and surreal aspects of the story as we see Valduvieux’s character spiral further down the rabbit hole. He is also able to create some effectively scary shots using relatively simple make-up effects and camera work. Credit also must be given to Valduvieux who delivers a committed and compelling performance through what I imagine must have been a physically taxing shoot. The graphic special effects are incredibly well made and the inclusion of the real pics adds a disturbing layer of reality to the whole experience.
While this segment is ultimately very successful and well made, there were still a few notes I had about the production. Chief among them is the footage of her everyday life as well as some idyllic memories that I know were meant to give depth and dimension to her character but ultimately succeeded in slowing the film down. The scenes were too disjointed and random to effectively add to the storyline and Balerdi would have been better served by either further expanding the whole segment into a proper narrative with a fleshed out story or excising them in favor of creating a more streamlined and purely surreal, fast-paced experience. Furthermore, opening text tells us the film takes place in 1990 which is a baffling choice as it adds nothing to the story and only succeeds in making the cars, smart phone and the Asus laptop feel incredibly anachronistic.
As for Golgota it’s hard to judge its merits as a film as it isn’t so much a movie as a shock video. Still, there is something compelling and intriguing in the presentation and as soon as the ambiguous title screen comes up you know you are about to journey into some very dark territory with imagery that can shock and repulse, even in this jaded age of easily accessible atrocities. I will say though, the fact that the shot of her actually shitting and everything that happens next is separated by an edit may undermine the credibility of the horror that follows for some. While I can’t say with unimpeachable certainty that what we see isn’t a well-crafted forgery as Pasolini did in Salo, given what I know of Balerdi’s work and the underground nature of the production, I find it extremely unlikely that this is anything but genuine.
So, while these two films may be different in some key ways, they do work together to create an effectively disturbing and truly extreme work of boundary-pushing art. It may not be perfect but in the end it manages to be a harrowing experience that any fan of truly provocative cinema owes it to themselves to partake in. Plus, Golgota has the unsavory distinction of being the only film I’ve ever seen that made me physically gag while watching it. So there’s that.