How to Raise Women from the Dead (2021)

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.

Availability: Limited

Limited copies of the two disc set are available https://www.abaroquehouse.com while supplies last.

Double Feature: The Girl with the Cutter/Golgota (2021)

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.

Availability: Limited

Limited copies of the DVD available on http://www.tetrovideo.com and http://www.goredrome.com while supplies last.

Xpiation (2017)

The term “expiation” refers to a kind of atonement, the act of making amends or the reparation for some kind of wrongdoing. By its title alone, Xpiation is already tipping its hand to show that this brutal, torture-focused film is about more than simply being a showcase for senseless brutality. How much more and how effectively it’s executed is the real question though and today we’ll peel back the layers like so much skin off the face of a terrified man in the bowels of a torture dungeon.

This 2017 entry from hardcore underground filmmaker Domiziano Cristopharo tells the story of an unnamed man, credited as “Latino Guy” (Emanuele D’Elia) who finds himself tied up in a decrepit room being tortured in a variety of ways by a giggling maniac known as (naturally) “Torturer” (Simone Tolu). The event itself is being dispassionately observed by a strange and mysterious woman known only as “Her” (Chiara Pavoni) who sits close by recording it all on her camcorder and occasionally joining in. The graphic and explicit torture scenes are interwoven with surreal moments, hallucinations, and flashbacks that eventually shed light on who these people are and why they are doing what they are doing.

First and foremost, Xpiation is Extreme Cinema and as such delivers on the gruesome violence with excellent practical effects that render the uncompromising brutality in exquisite detail. There’s plenty to satisfy the gorehounds here as the film viciously doles out cutting, burning, beating and even an exceptionally explicit ball smashing scene that’s sure to have every viewer with those parts cringing and crossing their legs. While extreme violence in a film is fun, it can also become repetitive on its own and as someone who has seen a LOT of dirty basement Torture Porn, I was glad to see the film at least attempt to expand on the spectacle of violent titillation through use of surreal imagery.

The attempt was not entirely successful though and the inclusion of these scenes (as well as the flashbacks) made it seem like the film was on track to deliver more of a creative mind-fuck twist on the story than what we ultimately got. I do like how it plays with the concept of perspective and audience expectation but in the end the story itself is quite thin and the success of the experience relies quite heavily on the graphic, shocking effects. I like the violence and the weirdness but I would challenge filmmakers like Cristopharo to bring more attention to character development and story arc to create art that is overall more affecting and ultimately more provocative. As an exercise I would recommend that part of the scriptwriting process should involve removing all the violence, shoring up the story that remains and then adding it back in.

Like the rest of the film, the acting is a bit of a mixed bag as Tolu gives off an energy that is a bit more goofy than convincingly deranged while Pavoni’s stoic presence exudes a more engaging depth of character helped in no small part by her exquisite and unconventional costume design. So while Xpiation may not hit every mark perfectly it’s still an interesting and visceral experience that showcases a level of free expression that you won’t find in mainstream cinema.

Availability: Limited

Limited copies of the DVD can be found at http://www.tetrovideo.com while supplies last.

Blood Tastes Like Perfume: The Short Films of White Gardenia (2021)

When watching an experimental film it’s important to meet the movie on its own terms and view it through that lens. There seems to be a knee-jerk impulse in mainstream culture to immediately label films without a conventional narrative as nonsensical, images of violence as gratuitous, and unsimulated sex as pornographic. This kind of thinking is incredibly reductive and limiting, especially when art in other mediums such as paint and sculpture are more frequently praised as “bold” and “daring” for containing similar depictions. Artists should be free to use any item in their toolkit to make a creative expression that is genuine for them and true artistic freedom means anything and everything that happens between consenting adults must be allowed to be expressed. Art that pushes boundaries must be approached with an open mind and a strong stomach and it is with that mindset that I evaluate the unconventional, provocative collection that is Blood Tastes Like Perfume: The Short Films of White Gardenia.

The band White Gardenia is headed by musician Daniel Valient and are well known in certain underground circles for their shocking fetishistic mutilation and blood drinking short films that are underscored with their original music. White Gardenia’s work primarily exists online but has been featured in some films that received a physical media release such as XXX: Dark Web and Vore Gore, both of which were put out by Tetro Video. Blood Tastes Like Perfume marks the first time the band has received a proper home video release on their own (this time courtesy of Bizarre Theatre) and the collection features eight of their videos including Blood is Sweeter than Honey, Akasha Drinking my Blood, and A Perfume Made From Blood and Tears.

The most pertinent question here is how well this collection works as a showcase for the work of White Gardenia. While this is by no means a complete collection of their work, the eight shorts do provide a solid representation of what White Gardenia is all about and gives viewers a glimpse into their twisted world. Still, I was a little disappointed by the omission of their most provocative film (and my personal favorite) A Midnite Snack which was one of the segments featured in XXX: Dark Web. What stuck out the most as a strange choice as far as the Blu-ray release itself goes however was the occasional references to additional White Gardenia videos online that appeared after some films. I understand the thought process here but the biggest problem with the execution (aside from sometimes neglecting to put in the web address) was that the text after one film advised that “full and uncensored” clips can be found online. Given the explicit nature of the scenes that are shown, the film is clearly not censored for content but that message seems to imply that some of the most interesting parts may be missing. Fans shelling out for a Blu-ray release like this should feel like they are getting the definitive collection, not a tease for more info that has to be found through a series of confusing links. It’s not clear at this point if there will be additional volumes released with more of White Gardenia’s output but if this is to be the only physical release then it is a glaring oversight to not include all the best, nastiest content in its full and uncensored glory.

Like any short film collection the quality varies from film to film as some are inevitably more compelling than others. The couple of bondage themed scenes that were included were actually the least interesting part of the collection as the scenes felt quite tepid and restrained for BDSM play and were further weakened by their juxtaposition to the far more intense scenes of real cutting and blood drinking. Even though it may have been a little repetitive I would have still preferred the inclusion of some of their other cutting and blood play videos in lieu of these to have a more cohesive and consistent experience.

Where this collection really shines is in its ability to showcase boundary-pushing art as Daniel and the rest of the performers go to extreme levels to create spectacle that is beyond the limits of what you will find in most films. Aesthetically, there are some strange choices such as including flubs and outtakes that could have been easily trimmed out but they do have a way of adding to the gritty, cinéma-vérité style of the production. The minimum production values of the scenes where shaky hand-held footage reveals genuine mutilation and blood drinking add to the dangerous, provocative feeling of voyeuristically consuming taboo acts that are shunned within mainstream society.

Another thing I really appreciate about this film is that it is far from simply being a collection of shocking content created to illicit a cheap reactionary response. There is a genuine surreal quality to the footage (especially when consumed all in one sitting) that make for an engaging and unique experience. This is thanks it large part to White Gardenia’s experimental and at times wonderfully discordant music and sound design that underscore most of the film. It is also due to some fantastic editing choices that heighten and enhance the scenes in very interesting ways. Probably my favorite moment occurred in Akasha Drinking my Blood when a constructed shot resulted in a scene so minimalist yet so perfectly unsettling that it felt straight out of Lynch’s Inland Empire. So, in the end while it’s not a perfect release, it is still a damn good one and will provide viewers with a unique experience that is provocative, unsettling and legitimately boundary-pushing.

Availability: Limited

Blu-rays can only be purchased through bizarretheatre.com while supplies last. Not available to stream.

Mai-chan’s Daily Life (2014)

Mai-chan’s Daily Life brings to mind questions I never thought I’d ask such as “what if instead of being a badass superhero Wolverine was a tortured sex slave?” That’s essentially the central plot of this film, where a maid with infinitely regenerative powers (who can still feel pain) is used by her sadistic “master” to fulfill his violent, brutal fantasies. Loosely based upon the 2003 Manga Mai-chan no nichijô by Waita Uziga the film was adapted and directed by Sade Satô in 2014. While the story may deviate quite a bit from the source material, it maintains the same spirit of gleeful brutality thanks in large part to direct supervision of the process by Uziga himself.

The storyline in this adaptation centers around a new character created for the film named Miyako (Miyako Akane) who starts work as a maid at the remote house where Mai-chan (An Koshi) already works. Once Miyako dons her short, fetishistic maid outfit, Mai-chan starts showing her the ropes. This includes how to dust the jars filled with dead puppies, as well as how to be appropriately subservient to their wheelchair-bound employer known only as “Master” (Shôgo Maruyamawho) and the cruel head maid Kaede (Soako Roman). After witnessing the brutal punishment Mai-chan receives for daring to spill the milk that she was forced to lap up from a bowl on the floor, Miyako becomes aware of Mai-chan’s special ability. Rather than horrifying her, this seems to awaken something in Miyako who becomes obsessed with the idea of “devouring” Mai-chan.

Despite its incredibly brutal violence, the film actually feels toned-down from the Manga as it contains none of the graphic sex or (thankfully) pedophilia of the source material. I can’t say that there is really a lot beneath the surface here, as both the film and the Manga seem primarily created to indulge the Torture Porn fantasies of the audience and the lingering shots of bent-over maids and sadistic violence certainly work to support that idea. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it’s great when a film knows what it is and owns it. Despite all the violence, the film has a lightness to it and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s something about Mai-chan that just makes it so damn engaging (dare I say fun) and the experience is reminiscent of the similarly graphic yet lighthearted Guinea Pig 3: He Never Dies.

It helps that the acting and special effects are both excellent which serves to keep you immersed in this strange, twisted story. The film does (for some reason) alternate between black & white and color at seemingly random intervals which may have been an homage to the B&W source material, but I found to be a needless distraction. Even though it originally came out in 2014 the film is getting a proper re-release courtesy of Tetro Video in July of 2021, which is great news for fans who can no longer get a hold of the OOP edition that Redemption Films put out in 2016. Connoisseurs of twisted, splatter cinema would do well to check this one out because at just over an hour, it goes down real easy and has a great rewatchability factor. It may not be the most complex thing on the menu but it’s a satisfying treat that Extreme Cinema fans will want to devour over and over again.

Larva Mental (2021)

Larva Mental is a difficult film to talk about. For a lot of people this would be due to the extremely grotesque and graphic content, the mere mention of which is enough to nauseate and horrify the average viewer. I of course am not the average viewer and as someone who revels in the twisted grotesqueries found in the darkest corners of cinema, the content itself is no problem for me. Instead I find it difficult because I am of two minds about this film; one that thoroughly appreciates and champions the use of profoundly disturbing imagery and taboo performance-art and one that views the movie by the caliber of the filmmaking and the quality of the storytelling.

There are only two credited actors in the film, but since neither is given a character name, I will refer to them as The Father (Mikel Balerdi) and The Daughter (Daieri Gadna). Balerdi also wrote and directed, and the special FX make-up is credited entirely to him and Gadna, so clearly it’s a very DIY project. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that but the quality of the footage as well as the reliance on slightly shaky hand-held and static shots makes it very apparent that this was made without the assistance of a professional crew.

There is almost no dialogue in the film but the story is about a father and daughter who seem to have shared a trauma (and have an “interesting” relationship that involves sleeping naked together in the same bed). One day, The Father puts on a collar shirt goes away on what seems to be a business trip (although what business he works in with those face tattoos is unclear) leaving The Daughter at home to snoop around his computer. When she finds an intensely depraved video of him (that really must be seen to be believed) and some sketchy masks hidden away, she is so upset that she brutally kills herself. Upon discovering the body, he is so distraught that it sends him into a spiral of heroin shooting, self harm, and some good old fashioned corpse fucking.

The main draw of this film is clearly the spectacle of the various depraved scenes, but there is so much of them crammed into the short runtime that it starts to feel like a series of internet shock videos strung together with only a vague semblance of a story filling in the cracks. The rough video quality and down-n-dirty feel work well in service of the unsimulated shock scenes and reinforce the fact that this is indeed an example of legit extreme underground filmmaking at its nastiest. Conversely, the seams start to show a bit more when practical effects are involved. The corpse here doesn’t have the same level of high quality realism found in other films that are light on plot but heavy on gruesome body violence like AGP: Bouquet of Guts and Gore or Aftermath, which give the scenes with it significantly less impact.

Speaking of impact, the shock factor of the scenes would be higher if there weren’t so many of them back to back. Early scenes also ramp up the extremity quite high which results in them taking the wind out of the sails of those that follow and dulls their effectiveness. I would have greatly preferred that story and character development were given priority and that the level of depravity escalated gradually throughout to give it a stronger impact. With a runtime of just over an hour, there is plenty of room to weave the same amount of disturbing footage into a well established character arc that would give the scenes far more bite.

Based on the information I could find, this appears to be Balerdi’s first feature length film, but I hope we see more of him in the future. From a performance art standpoint, this film is able to go to levels that are exceedingly daring and bold and if Balerdi is able to put that same fearless, unflinching energy into a more well realized narrative, he could create some dark art that really shakes things up in the world of Extreme Cinema.

Vore Gore (2021)

For the uninitiated, vorarephilia (more commonly shortened to vore) refers to the fetishistic desire to be consumed or to consume another, typically for sexual gratification. As the opening text of this film clarifies, this has less to do with a cannibalistic desire to eat human flesh and more to do with the fanciful desire to be consumed by a much larger entity (human or otherwise), often swallowed whole. There are different types of vore, but as the title Vore Gore implies, this film focuses specifically on hard vore with a series of nine separate shorts all relating to gruesome, oral consumption of some kind.

In an apparent nod toThe Rocky Horror Picture Show the segments are introduced via disembodied lips, which imbue each title with a subtly salacious inflection. It’s the perfect framing device for a collection like this and the fact that the lipstick thematically ties to each film is an excellent touch. Though all segments do relate to the central concept, there is a wide variety of styles and approaches at play here, each reflecting the unique vision of their creators.

While Mouth, The Egg, and Infernal Gluttony 2 all take an abstract, experimental approach, other segments like Please, Not in My Mouth and Italian Ladies do it Better are more narrative focused horror shorts that bring their story arcs to a clear resolution. Other segments like Sweet as Honey, Finger Licking Good and Stretching take a more meditative (although no less gruesome) approach that falls somewhere in the middle. As I’ve now come to expect with anything relating to the band White Gardenia, their segment Yummy Fur belongs in a category wholly unto itself, but more on that in a moment when I delve into the individual segments in a little more detail.

It can be hard to maintain consistent quality when featuring a collection from various directors, but fortunately the segments in Vore Gore deliver high quality pretty much across the board, with each one bringing something interesting and different to the table, albeit with occasional mixed results. For instance, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about relatively cheap looking special effects and seemingly simple concept behind Infernal Gluttony 2, but in the end, was won over by the sheer audacity of the engaging, surreal spectacle it created. Conversely, Finger Licking Good stood out as an incredible piece of work with its deliberate pacing and gloriously gruesome effects, but eroded some of the goodwill it achieved by tacking on an ending that feels like a bit of an unnecessary cop-out.

While there were a few minor missteps in some of the films, the only one that overall just didn’t work, was Italian Ladies do it Better. I hate to call out a single film like this, but in addition to having the least to do with the subject of vore itself, the highly telegraphed ending of the rather ludicrous plot simply doesn’t deliver in any kind of satisfactory way. The film also has trouble adhering to the rules of the world it creates and would have benefited from putting the script through another draft (or two). Stretching, on the other hand, was a highly satisfying and meticulously crafted piece of filmmaking that did an excellent job visually articulating the emotional experience of having a fetish. Though strikingly different in tone, another standout was Please, Not in My Mouth, a fun, nasty little film that I actually reviewed on its own back in 2018 but thoroughly enjoyed and was more than happy to revisit.

Speaking of films I’ve reviewed, anyone who has read my review of XXX: Dark Web knows that the film contains a segment in which Daniel Valient, of the band White Gardenia, completes an act of gruesome performance art that is fearless, shocking, and brutally real. In Yummy Fur, it’s Daniel’s turn to step behind the camera as the woman who filmed his segment in XXX: Dark Web (Cher Nevin) takes the spotlight for her own piece of hardcore performance art that threatens to outdo even that incredibly shocking scene. This is an amazing thing to witness, and my only complaint is that a unique, irrevocable act like this deserves really thorough and precise coverage to ensure no part of it is lost. Still, the erratic hand-held camera and occasional loss of focus actually work quite well with ambient music and cosmic-themed voice-over to give an unsettling, surreal quality to the segment.

Vore Gore may have a couple of chinks in the armor, but overall remains an overwhelmingly positive experience that I could continue talking about for pages. This is an excellent example of bold, unfiltered Extreme Cinema by a collection of brave artist who dare to push the boundaries of the medium in creative and provocative ways. Connoisseurs of authentic underground cinema take note, this is one twisted treat you’ll definitely want to devour.

XXX: Dark Web (2019)

When you’ve seen as many extremely fucked up films as I have, you start to feel like you’ve seen it all. After watching A Serbian Film, Atroz, Cannibal Holocaust, all the Guinea Pig films, and countless others, what can an extreme film bring to the table that I truly haven’t seen? Well, that’s where XXX: Dark Web comes in and with a name like that, it’s already setting the expectations quite high. No, Vin Diesel isn’t taking his impotent, PG-13 action franchise in a bold new direction; what we have here is far more interesting (although I am now more than a little curious about what that would look like). Rest assured fellow sick fucks, this is a legitimate underground film and the very definition of a piece of truly Extreme Cinema. There’s even a scene toward the end that blew my mind and showed me something shocking that I’d definitely never seen in a film before, but more on that in a minute.

The film utilizes a standard anthology format with five separate segments, each by a different director, plus a wrap-around story to tie it together. The framing device here is a nameless young man (Franz Dicarolo) who is searching the Dark Web for twisted shit to jerk off to and each segment is a different video he clicks on. It’s a clever format for a film like this and pays homage to the inherently voyeuristic role the audience itself is playing as we wait for the next shocking segment to come on and try and outdo the depraved insanity we just witnessed. This also adds an ingenious layer of discomfort for the viewer as we see the audience surrogate eventually taking on a more interactive role in the twisted entertainment he is consuming.

There isn’t a lot of “story” to speak of within this film as each segment plays out with little to no narrative in service of moving along the gruesome visuals as quickly as possible. That’s not a knock against it though because by its very nature, the Torture Porn subgenre tends to be pretty light on story and at no point did I really feel like I needed more character development to keep my eyes glued to the screen in rapt anticipation of what would happen next. In fact, even for seasoned veterans of Extreme Cinema, this is perhaps the most squirm-inducing film I’ve ever had the twisted pleasure of sitting through.

Graphic, unsimulated sex and gruesome Guinea Pig-style evisceration is just where the depravity starts and before you know it you’re seeing dicks being bitten off and sewn back on, vomit blowjobs, knives in bloody assholes, nutsacks full of needles, people jerking off to pics of (probably) real mutilated corpses and so much more. Obviously the bulk of the film is made up of well constructed and convincing special effects (otherwise you’d have to find it on the real Dark Web) but the final segment brings it in a whole other direction with a bit of gruesome reality.

In it we see a real video of musician Daniel Valient (of the band White Gardenia, who also do the music for the scene) and a young woman with black lipstick (Allison Simon) engaging in actual cutting and drinking of each other’s blood. From there we see Daniel turn it up to 11 in a scene that I don’t want to spoil but suffice to say it blew my fucking mind! It would be disturbing either way but the fact that it is 100% real (trust me, I looked into it) officially makes it one of the craziest things I have ever seen in a feature film.

Clearly, this movie has a lot going for it in terms of being an effectively shocking piece of underground cinema. Still, there were a couple of minor tweaks that I wish had been made to really bring it home. There are a few instances where characters speak in another language or text appears on screen but there is no subtitle translation option, which is unfortunate because I was really curious about what was being said. Also, the actual title of Daniel’s blood drinking segment is “Allison’s Mouth fills up with Blood and Semen” and despite seeing his blood-soaked boner, the actual blowjob is more implied than explicit. Not a big deal but given the segment title and the precedent already set of explicit sex, it felt like a situation where edgy material should have been leaned into rather than shied away from if it was to be presented at all.

Regardless, this is an incredible piece of dark art with brilliant, realistic performances and special effects punctuated by moments of visceral reality. It really is some of the most brutal and disturbing footage you’re going to see outside of a real world shockumentary like Traces of Death and frankly, real death compilations are nothing but cheap, artless, shock-value trash anyway. I’d take the brilliant special effects work and hardcore performance art of XXX: Dark Web any day!

Begotten (1989)

Begotten PosterI’m no stranger to abstract filmmaking. From Jodorowsky to Lynch and many others I have certainly seen my fair share of films that eschew standard narrative conventions. Often times these films are so laden with symbolism and metaphor that the story itself can be incomprehensible upon initial viewing. The best of these have meaning behind each image and in-depth examination can peel back the layers to uncover the profound truths that the artist has hidden within. The worst of these are simply a nonsensical series of images that are nothing more than weird for the sake of weird, occasionally containing meaning that has been so obscured by the filmmaker that it is utterly indecipherable. Begotten is definitely abstract, so the question now is where along this spectrum it falls.

There isn’t much to go on as far as a standard plot, but I’ll do my best to summarize it in broad strokes. The credits alone give you a pretty good idea of the kind of film this is and the entire credited cast is as follows: God Killing Himself (Brian Salzberg), Mother Earth (Donna Dempsey) and Son Of Earth-Flesh On Bone (Stephen Charles Barry). The grainy, high contrast, black and white film starts with God Killing Himself living up to his namesake via a brutal disembowelment with a knife. Mother Earth emerges from under his corpse and after some postmortem masturbating of his erection is able to graphically inseminate herself with his cum. She becomes pregnant and before long Son of Earth is born fully grown and spends most of the remaining runtime being tortured by mysterious people in long, hooded robes.

It’s best to think of Begotten not so much as a movie but as a visual experience. There isn’t any dialogue or a linear plot to follow and the various gruesome scenes are accompanied only by ominous music or sound effects, such as the droning buzz of flies. To really get an understanding of what is going on (and what any of it truly means) would require a great amount of rewatching and dissection, for anyone who would be so inclined to do so. What I was able to deduce is that the piece seems to be a representation of the creation of humanity and our inherently violent, destructive nature with a heavy dose of religious allegory thrown in.Begotten Son3

More important than what it all means is what the viewing experience itself is like and in that regard it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There are some very interesting visuals here, the suicidal god being the most recognizable and iconic image from the film, and the gore and suffering on display is well-crafted and convincing. From the grainy black and white footage, to the atonal music and disturbing imagery, everything about Begotten feels like it was carefully engineered to try and set a record for creating the most uncomfortable and upsetting viewing experience possible. Watching the film start to finish is somewhat of an endurance test of nightmarish imagery and that is what I liked most about it. This isn’t a movie to be passively watched but rather an art piece of unconventional expression to be studiously observed.

Not every art piece has something profound to say however and while the lack of dialogue and conventional plot help to successfully create the immersive, nightmarish atmosphere, it is also the film’s weak point. Absent a compelling narrative you are left with only the visual experience which starts out bold, shocking, and intriguing but soon gives way to long scenes that feel repetitive and dare I say, boring. I enjoyed the moments of harsh, upsetting imagery found occasionally within this film and while the surreal journey is a unique one that’s worth taking, it ultimately felt too meandering to be fulfilling.Writer/director E. Elias Merhige has an interesting and provocative short film here, it’s just unfortunately buried within a feature-length runtime that doesn’t sustain it.

3-stars-red

29 Needles (2019)

29 NeedlesAs anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, it’s my mission to track down and review the most fucked up films ever made. Because of this, my idea of what truly constitutes Extreme Cinema may be a bit …..different than many people’s so I’m always at least a little skeptical when filmmakers contact me out of the blue and claim that their film is shocking and edgy. Still, I went into 29 Needles deliberately knowing nothing about it and keeping an open mind. Within the first few minutes one thing became perfectly clear, this is one film that DEFINITELY belongs in the Extreme Cinema category!

The story follows Francis Bacon (Brooke Berry), a troubled man who uses alcohol and pain to help abate the symptoms of his inner turmoil. He is beginning to lose hope as his self-destructive coping mechanisms are becoming less effective and his strange hallucinations more prevalent. When a mysterious young man named Hans (Jamee Nicholson) offers him an invitation to secret society where there are no sexual limits it may be the cure he’s looking for….or the beginning of a whole new nightmare.

One thing viewers should know going into this is that it’s the very definition of “not for everyone” and if copious amounts of unsimulated gay sex is too much for you to handle then this is probably not going to be your particular brand of vodka. However, for Extreme Cinema fans without such hangups this proves to be an interesting and unique ride into some very dark and depraved territory.

My favorite thing about this film and something that is unequivocally true is that it does NOT hold back. 29 Needles is a great example of raw, unfiltered cinematic expression that gives zero fucks about appealing to a mainstream crowd or worrying about who’s 29 Needles Bathoffended in the process. Rape, mutilation, watersports and bloodplay are all on full display here as well as fetishistic acts that even I had never seen before (I have two words for you, eyeball tube). Writer/director Scott Philip Goergens clearly has a vision and takes a punk rock, no holds barred approach to executing it.

So, clearly the film has balls, ones that it’s not afraid to literally skewer with needles, but there’s still the question of how well it’s made. On that front it’s a little bit of a mixed bag as it does fall pray to some of the common shortcomings of indie films such as a flat, digital image quality and some supporting actors whose performances fall well short of convincing. However Berry more than makes up for this with his fully committed, method performance that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. There is also some great practical effects work in the form of a giant sentient cock that looks straight out of Cronenberg’s golden era.

Ultimately this film is an endurance test of shock and depravity and one that real fans of genuinely edgy cinema won’t want to miss. An interesting and engaging plunge into darkness that’s completely fucked up, in the best possible way.4-stars-red