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.

10 Best Extreme Films You May Not Have Seen (But Definitely Should)

Horror comes in so many flavors. Whether you prefer bloodless psychological thrillers, graphic Torture Porn, or anything in between, the genre’s got you covered. With so many films available at our very fingertips, it can be overwhelming to try and find one that’s really worth your time. For this list I’ve decided to focus on the subgenre that’s nearest and dearest to my black little heart, Extreme Cinema. If you’re reading this then you are probably already aware of the extreme movies that have bubbled up from the depths into the mainstream horror consciousness such as A Serbian Film, Martyrs and The Human Centipede franchise. What you may not be aware of is all the films out there that are lurking in the underground, numerous other hidden gems that show you art willing to push past the boundaries of what’s found in conventional cinema.

These are films that provoke reaction and force us to confront subject matter that many of us would rather turn a blind eye to. It’s the truth within these films that make them such vital and essential pieces of art, whether that truth is based on its creator’s own darkest emotions or simply an accurate depiction of real events. Violence in the real world is horrible, it is disgusting and it does provoke an extreme reaction so the art that reflects it should do the same. As someone who has plumbed the depths of the darkest and most grotesque cinematic art ever made I can confidently say that there has never been anything created in a film that hasn’t had a real-world equivalent which was even worse. Art mirrors the world, not the other way around, but you don’t have to take my word for it, just watch the news on any given day and see for yourself.

Due to the inherent subjectiveness of art and a lack of any kind of standardized rubric for measuring quality, it can be difficult if not impossible to make any kind of list that is able to definitively capture the best in any given genre. What I have compiled here is a list of ten of the best films that not only exemplify legitimate Extreme Cinema at its finest but also may not be as familiar to the average horror fan. Whether you’re looking for a jumping in point to Extreme Cinema itself or are curious about the few films on here that you may have missed, I hope that this list will serve as a helpful guide. As many of these movies can be hard to track down I’ve also included the best places to locate the films themselves, as of the date this article was published. I am of course omitting any ad supported services like Tubi because watching them on there is worse than nothing.

29 Needles (2019):

What it is: Francis Bacon (Brooke Berry) is a troubled man who uses alcohol and pain to try and abate the symptoms of his inner turmoil. As his self-destructive coping mechanisms become less effective and his bizarre hallucinations more prevalent, he is plunged into even more hopelessness and despair. A mysterious young man named Hans (Jamee Nicholson) may have the solution he needs when he offers an invitation to a secret society where there are no sexual limitations. Is this the cure he’s looking for…or just the beginning of a different kind of nightmare?

Why it’s great: 29 Needles is a perfect example of raw, unfiltered cinematic expression that gives no fucks and takes no prisoners. Writer/director Scott Philip Goergens clearly has a vision and that vision includes presenting unsimulated gay sex, mutilation, watersports, and blood-play as well as fetishistic acts that even I had never seen before (eyeball tube anyone?) Beyond the shocking content there is a compelling and harrowing narrative anchored by Berry’s incredible, method performance. Top it all off with some great Cronenbergian practical effects work that bring a giant sentient cock to life and you have a truly unique film experience.

Where to find it: Currently available at unearthedfilms.com on Blu-ray and DVD, diabolikdvd.com on Blu-ray and has been found on eBay. Not available to stream.

XXX: Dark Web (2019)

What it is: When it comes to salacious and provocative titles XXX: Dark Web really takes the cake. No, Vin Diesel isn’t suddenly taking his lame action franchise in a very bold new direction; what we have here an anthology film that plummets into depths of darkness rarely seen on film. The framing device has the nameless audience surrogate (Franz Dicarolo) searching the Dark Web for depraved jerk-off material and each segment is a video he clicks on.

Why it’s great: While there isn’t a lot in terms of story within each segment, the beautifully gruesome detail in the special effects and brilliant, committed performances do an excellent job of holding the viewers’ attention. Guinea Pig level eviscerations are just where the brutality in this film starts and before you know it you’re seeing graphic genital mutilation, explicit, unsimulated sex and even a scene that went to a level that I had never seen in a film before (which is saying a lot). The scene in question features a real video of musician/cutting performance artist Daniel Valient doing something that I don’t want to spoil but suffice to say it must be seen to believed. If you’ve got a strong stomach and very morbid curiosity then this is a trip you definitely want to take.

Where to find it: DVD sold through TetroVideo.com but is currently out of print. Not available to stream.

Atroz (2015):

What it is: When an out of control car claims the life of a pedestrian, the two men inside are immediately arrested and taken into police custody. Inside their car the officers find a video camera with a tape that shows them graphically torturing a prostitute to death. The remainder of the film switches between the violent interrogation of the primary suspect in the killing, Goyo (Lex Ortega who also directed) and the graphic content the police find on tapes as the investigation moves forward.

Why it’s great: Atroz is able to achieve a level of disturbing, brutal violence that is rarely seen on film, even within the horror genre. While there are many films out there that showcase graphic gore, few are able to replicate the unflinchingly realistic, vicious, and sadistic ways the murders are depicted here. This can be attributed to the incredibly committed performances from the cast as well as the exceptionally crafted gore effects that are even more impressive given the film’s $7,000 budget. Most importantly, the film isn’t simply a collection of meaningless violence but instead is Ortega’s cinematic representation of the climate of hopelessness and fear that he himself and so many other residents of Mexico City experience on a daily basis. In a city that has an annual murder rate of nearly 30,000 and a conviction rate of less than 2%, that is certainly an understandable feeling.

Where to find it: Available on Blu-ray and DVD through multiple sources including Amazon, unearthedfilms.com, deepdiscount.com, Best Buy, and Walmart and has been found on eBay. Only available to rent or own on streaming through vimeo.com.

Grotesque (2009):

What it is: On their way back from a date, a young couple (Hiroaki Kawatsure and Kotoha Hiroyama) is assaulted and kidnapped by a nameless creep in a van (Shigeo Ôsako). Next thing they know they are being tortured in a room at an unknown location as the man tests their will to live and claims that he will let them go if they can sufficiently excite him.

Why it’s great: Given that Grotesque is light on story and heavy on torture, there are many who would simply dismiss this as a voyeuristic indulgence in suffering. However, there is more at play here as director Koji Shiraishi presents us with a visceral, bold piece of uncensored artistic expression that eschews conventional storytelling and strips down the experience to its raw, base emotional levels. The film itself is a meditation on the experience of watching violent content as it puts us in the position to not only cringe and root for the victims but also indulge in the suffering that the man is inflicting for his own pleasure. The excellent level of realism that both the actors and the SFX team bring to the production really put it over the top and make for a genuinely harrowing experience.

Where to find it: Both the DVD and Blu-ray are currently out of print but have been found on eBay. Available to rent or buy via streaming on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Trauma (2018):

What it is: The film begins in 1978 as on-screen text lets us know that the movie is inspired by true events. After an incredibly graphic opening scene the bulk of the film takes place in 2011 and follows a group of young Chilean women who rent a vacation home in a remote part of the country. Before long, the events of the past are catching up with them in a very brutal way.

Why it’s great: Gore and violence for its own sake is fun to see in a film but what really pushes it into the category of art is the meaning behind the shocking content. In this case, understanding the environment that it was made in is a key part to understanding what Chilean writer/director Lucio A. Rojas is expressing here. In 1973 Augusto Pinochet overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government and seized power as an iron-fisted dictator. Following that, the country experienced an unfathomable amount of death and suffering and the cruel scars of the past continue to rear their heads in the modern era. Like Atroz and A Serbian Film, this is an unflinching expression of the real world pain and fear that is born from living in a country where violence and horror is very much a reality.

Where to find it: Available on DVD only through Amazon, Target, Walmart and has been found on eBay. Available to rent or buy via streaming on Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube and Flix Fling.

Inside (2007):

What it is: There are some films (The Human Centipede for instance) where just the very concept is enough to shock and horrify most people. Another such film is Inside which tells the story of Sarah (Alysson Paradis) who is about to give birth to her first child and the mysterious nameless woman (Béatrice Dalle) who will stop at nothing to break into her house and try to cut the baby out of her.

Why it’s great: The New French Extremity movement brought us many great films around the first decade of the new millennium and this one is an excellent representation of the qualities that those movies embody. Like all of the notable films in the movement, this is exceptionally well made and features gorgeous shots, brilliant lighting design, and realistic, visceral gore. The two female leads both do an incredible job with harrowing performances that really bring the film to the next level. If you want a unique horror experience that delivers gruesome thrills and a tightly paced, unpredictable story then this is one you won’t want to miss.

Where to find it: Uncut import Blu-ray can be found on Amazon, Walmart, daaveedee.com and has been found on eBay while out of print uncut DVD can only currently be found on eBay. The R-rated version is available to rent or buy via streaming through Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and The Microsoft Store but you should stick with the uncut. The uncut streaming version can be bought (but not rented) on YouTube and Google Play.

Guinea Pig 6: Mermaid in a Manhole (1988):

What it is: For the uninitiated, the Guinea Pig films are a collection of underground Japanese horror films made between 1985 – 1988 that are notorious for their levels of sadistic violence and cruelty. The frequently bootlegged series gained exceptional notoriety in 1991 when Charlie Sheen (yes, Mr. Tiger Blood himself) watched the 2nd entry (Flower of Flesh and Blood) and reported it to the FBI, thinking it was a real snuff film. The 6th entry is considered by many fans to be the best and most grotesque of the series with its highly unconventional and disturbing story about an artist (Shigeru Saiki) who brings home a living mermaid that he finds in the sewer.

Why it’s great: Each of the films in the series has a self-contained story and as such can be viewed in any order, so if you want to see what the true Guinea Pig experience is all about, I recommend jumping right in on this one. Despite the fact that this story is actually somewhat atypical for the franchise (featuring a man trying to help a female character rather than torture her) it still manages to be the most grotesque and disturbing entry. The revolting body horror is brought to life through excellent practical effects as the artist paints with her multi-colored pus, pulls live worms out of her tumors, and cleans up piles of them from her bloody puke. Gather the family around and watch this one with dinner!

Where to find it: Used, out of print DVDs can be found on Amazon and eBay and box sets of all 6 Guinea Pig films have been found on eBay. Not available to stream.

American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore

(2014):

What it is: Previously only available via increasingly hard to find VHS copies, the Guinea Pig series was first released to DVD in North America by Unearthed Films. Being a fan of the series himself, the company president Stephen Biro kicked off his own franchise as an homage to the cult classic with his directorial debut American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore. A spiritual successor to the original series, this film is similar in style to the first two entries as it features a light amount of plot and a focus on the graphic torture of two abducted women.

Why it’s great: Based on the above description of the film, at this point you’re either in or you’re out. For fans of the original series though, this serves as the prefect love letter to the franchise as it captures the gritty, dangerous feel that they invoked and possibly even surpasses it in graphic content. Limbs are laboriously sawed through, eyeballs are slit, and jaws hacked off with amazingly realistic detail and any fans of great practical effects work owe it to themselves to check this out. Like all great underground films this is an example of an uncensored, uncompromising artistic expression that hasn’t been watered down and sanitized for mass consumption. The barometer of what’s considered “acceptable” in art is always fluctuating and it’s content creators like Biro who push out against the edges and keep the doorway open for everyone else.

Where to find it: Available on DVD only through Amazon, Walmart, unearthedfilms.com, deepdiscount.com, fye.com and has been found on eBay. Available to stream only through midnightmoviesociety.com.

Brutal (2017):

What it is: Brutal is a film that definitely lives up to its title. Divided into three sections, the first focuses on a character known only as ‘Man’ (played by the actor known only as Butch) as he gruesomely tortures a group of young women. The next section focuses on ‘Woman’ (played by the similarly mononymous Ayano) as she viciously dispatches men in comparably violent ways. In the third section….they meet.

Why it’s great: What starts off seeming like a run-of-the-mill torture porn ends up evolving into a unique, supremely fucked up love story of sorts with engaging twists and occasional detours into surreal territory. It’s a refreshing change to also see males on the receiving end of the abuse and the film actually has a lot of interesting commentary on the subject of gender itself. It also has no shortage of highly disturbing imagery (especially towards the end) that’s sure to linger in your mind long after the credits roll.

Where to find it: Widely available on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, unearthedfilms.com, deepdiscount.com, fye.com and has been found on eBay. Only available to rent or own via streaming at vimeo.com.

Visceral: Between the Ropes of Madness (2012):

What it is: Another film that lives up to its provocative title is Visceral: Between the Ropes of Madness. This brutal Chilean film tells the story of an unnamed boxer (writer/director Felipe Eluti) who tries to rekindle his failing career with one more fight against an undefeated opponent. The story unfolds in a nonlinear format to reveal why he is committing a series of horrifically gruesome murders and who the mysterious figure compelling him to kill really is.

Why it’s great: This film was clearly a passion project for Eluti and it shows in every detailed shot. The nonlinear format is deliberately disorienting and adds to the nightmarish, surreal feeling of the film but Eluti cleverly uses the boxer’s hair length as a guide point for differentiating between the timelines. He is also able to use simple techniques such as voice modulation and an uncanny mask to imbue the mysterious visitor (listed only as Judas in the credits) with an effectively menacing presence. Hardcore gore fans will also be pleased to know that the film is violent with a capital ‘V’ and if you thought A Serbian Film was the only one with the guts to feature an explicit skull-fucking, well, buckle up!

Where to find it: Widely available on DVD only on Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, unearthedfilms.com and deepdiscount.com and has been found on eBay. Available to stream on midnightmoviesociety.com and available to rent or own via streaming on vimeo.com, Google Play and YouTube.

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.

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!

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

 

Madness of Many (2013)

Madness CoverIf you like your torture porn with a hefty helping of pseudo-philosophy, then Madness of Many might just be the film for you. At least, that’s what Danish filmmaker Kasper Juhl is hoping you’re into because his 2013 feature packs a surprising amount of both into its scant 73 minute run-time. Is this an effective combination? Should voice over be used in more than 90% of a film? Who the fuck are all these people being tortured and what exactly is going on here? Read on, for the answers to some of these questions in the review below!

The plot (such as it is) centers around Victoria (Ellen Abrahamson) who we first see walking in the woods in the beginning of the film. We are told through VO that she is 23 and has grown up in the most horrifically abusive home possible. After years of rape and starvation she has recently escaped and now we see her make friends with someone off-screen who brings her back to their home. Things seem to be going well until she is bludgeoned unconscious and spends the next year being held captive and tortured. The bulk of the rest of the film depicts seemingly random other women being tortured who (I think) are meant to represent her inner anguish through depictions of physical torment…..and puking up blood every five minutes.

I’m only pretty sure that’s what’s going on because despite the fact that nearly the entire film contains VO, it seems less concerned with illuminating the details of the plot and more concerned with incessantly repeating its theory that suffering is a transcendent experience that leads to enlightenment. This concept worked in Martyrs several years earlier but that was because it was bolstered up by an excellent plot and a sparing but intense use of violence. The brutality here is certainly the best part but the overuse of it without a solid foundation to stand on makes for diminishing returns. I mean, once you’ve watched someone puke up blood for the fifth time in an hour it’s kind of lost it’s effect.

The fundamental problem here is a real lack of prioritization of the story elements. Sometimes the information is maddeningly sparse, such as how did she get from spending her whole life in tortured squalor to just kind of strolling around in a nice outfit, looking normal and put together? Other times it feels like it’s compulsively berating you with the same information, prattling on about enlightenment and suffering like stoned freshman around a bonfire. This all results in a lack of emotional investment with the events of the film and an attempt at a profound ending that falls flat because it’s not even remotely earned. Madness blind.jpg

This is unfortunate because despite its flaws there are definitely some things that the film does very well. First and foremost, I have to commend the numerous actresses who fully commit to their roles as torture victims and all deliver genuinely great performances. This, coupled with the well crafted gore, makes for some glorious and authentic depictions of violence that are well worth the watch. Additionally, Juhl brings a visual artistry to many of the shots that elevate them from mere set pieces to visually arresting works of macabre beauty.

If only he had spent as much time crafting the story then the end result may have felt more like a provocative art film and less like something made by a film student who took took SFX and intro to philosophy in the same semester.

 

2-5-stars-red

Trauma (2018)

__poster-TRAUMA-V3 (002)Incest! Necrophilia! Rape! Graphic murder! Have I got your attention yet? Because as a fan of Extreme Cinema the Chilean film Trauma certainly got mine. Some movies barely cross the line into Extreme Cinema territory, then there are others that grab the line by the fucking throat as they run past it. Trauma is certainly the latter, with certain scenes even echoing some of the most disturbing content from the legendary shocker A Serbian Film. Yet, at least at this point, this film isn’t talked about with anywhere near the same frequency. Hopefully that will change, because love it or hate it, Trauma is certainly a film that deserves to be watched and discussed.

Beginning in 1978 the film opens with text on the screen letting us know that the following is inspired by true events. It then immediately follows that up by gut-punching the audience with one of the most gruesome and disturbing opening scenes ever committed to film, letting the viewer know right off the bat exactly the kind of ride they are in for. The rest of the film takes place in 2011 and follows four young Chilean women who take a trip to a vacation house in a remote part of the country. From there it doesn’t take long before the events from the opening collide with their lives in an unbelievably brutal way.

When viewing Trauma, it is important to have an understanding of where it’s inspirationTRAUMA_Still_2018-001 comes from to truly appreciate what the film is trying to say. While the exact details of the story and the specific characters may not have actually occurred, the film is steeped in Chile’s modern history and very representative of a significant cultural issue that still impacts life today. In the real world, Chile’s democratically elected government was overthrown in 1973 in a brutal coup that resulted in Augusto Pinochet seizing power as the country’s iron-fisted dictator. During this period the country experienced an unfathomable amount of death and real world horror that left it irrevocably changed. This is important to know because at its core, this film is really about the country’s brutal and traumatic past still rearing it’s head in the modern world, and not simply another violent home invasion thriller.

While viewing Trauma, I found a lot of parallels between it and other examples of Extreme Cinema such as the aforementioned A Serbian Film and the gruesome Mexican horror film Atroz. All three are examples of films that draw inspiration from actual violence and trauma from their country’s past (as well as present) and use very graphic and explicit imagery to convey that collective pain. This is essential because it really gets at the heart of expressing genuine emotion through art. I thoroughly applaud these films (and many others) which are willing to make the audience profoundly uncomfortable in order to give them just a glimpse of the actual suffering brought on by real life atrocities.

TRAUMA_Still_2018-004Another similarity between these films is the fact that they are all very well made, which is also what allows them to be so effectively disturbing. Writer/director Lucio A. Rojas has done an incredible job creating a living, breathing world thanks to gorgeous cinematography, top-notch gore effects, and realistic, believable characters. Speaking of characters, while I do want to make special note of the villainous perfection that Daniel Antivilo brings to his psychopathic character Juan, everyone across the board does an absolutely incredible job.

There’s certainly a lot to appreciate here but my one significant complaint has to do with structure of the film itself. There were quite a few times (especially as the film progressed) when the continuation of the story relied too heavily on coincidence, chance, and poor decision making on the part of the characters. While this did help keep the plot exciting, some minor tweaks to the script could have ironed out these wrinkles and helped events unfold in a more organic, realistic manner. Still, these issues are what keep this from being a perfect film rather than the exceptionally great film that it is and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing this modern classic of Extreme Cinema.

4-5-stars-red

Murder-Set-Pieces (2004)

msp coverTo anyone who has taken so much as a cursory glance at my reviews it should be abundantly clear that I am an incredibly strong supporter of free speech. I’ve made it my mission to track down and review the darkest and most fucked up films ever made and I revel in witnessing cinema’s most disturbing creations. This is all to say that it’s extremely rare that I come across a film with parts that even I find problematic, but it does happen. A classic example would be the unsimulated animal killing in Cannibal Holocaust whose artistic value is superseded by the real world suffering caused by their creation. It had been a long time since I’d seen Murder Set Pieces, so I was surprised to find a similar moral predicament as I wondered to myself “Wait, is this a fucking pro-Nazi film?” More on that in a minute.

The film itself is very light on actual plot and essentially just follows around an unnamed professional photographer (Sven Garrett) as he brutally murders women in Las Vegas. Despite the fact that he’s racking up a substantial body count, the only person who is even remotely suspicious of this obvious sociopath is his girlfriend’s little sister, who is determined to find out what is really going on. MSP 3

Now, if you are going to have a villainous, evil character, a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer is certainly a good choice and as such have been used effectively in many other films. In the case of MSP though it feels very…..different and not just because the protagonist is openly supportive of Nazis and screams in German while he kills people. By themselves these traits could be passed off as simply being used to enhance the evil nature of the character, but when you also start your film with a strange quote about “the Jews” and use a production company named Third Reich Ventures (!) shit starts to add up.

To be fair, this film was made in a different time, years before a peaceful frog was co-opted into an official symbol of hate speech by armies of trolls seeking to make racism “great” again. If I was to play devil’s advocate I could say that it is possible that writer/director Nick Palumbo was perhaps using the imagery more in service of shock value than promoting an ideology. MSP 5However, this more generous read of the subject matter is a tough sell considering how the entire film feels like little more than a vicarious indulgence of Palumbo’s darkest fantasies.

In scene after scene the strong, good looking protagonist is able to effortlessly pick up beautiful women and viciously fuck and murder them in a seemingly consequence-free environment. In addition to this, this unnamed photographer uses nearly all his non-German dialogue on misogynistic rants or fawning praise for Nazis. This is of course when he isn’t busy working out while Triumph of the Will plays in the background. It’s really unfortunate that these things had to be so pervasive within the film because despite the numerous problematic elements there is actually a lot that MSP does very well.

MSP 6

From a visual standpoint this film is absolutely stunning and Palumbo makes excellent use of his two million dollar budget to create mesmerizing visuals on 35mm film stock. Side note, this film also has the bizarre distinction of allegedly containing the only known 35mm footage of the WTC towers going down on 9/11, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, horror fans don’t just come for the pretty pictures though, we come for the gore and on that front MSP delivers incredibly well. So well in fact that the film was thrown out of three labs before finally being processed.

Thankfully, it was eventually processed because the director’s cut of this film has some of the most gorgeous and gruesome gore effects ever put to celluloid. Each murder scene is exquisitely crafted to showcase the raw, visceral bloodshed in all it’s glory. MSP 1The chainsaw to the head scene stands out as a particular highlight but whether it’s a brutal throat slitting, bathtub drowning or vicious beating each violent scene is filled with a raw, vicious energy that makes the kills much more realistic and disturbing. Throw in some corpse eating, severed head fucking and a brutal on-screen child murder (!) and what you get is a truly unfiltered example of Extreme Cinema that goes well beyond where conventional horror films dare to venture.

The glorious gore effects were courtesy of Fred Vogel’s Toetag Pictures production studio and Vogel himself even cameos in the film. He is also joined by horror legends Gunnar Hansen and Tony Todd, who’s disgruntled porn store clerk character is a highlight of the film. MSP 2So, in the end there is a lot to like about MSP and if it hadn’t been infested with Nazi propaganda it would be an easy film to recommend to fans of hardcore cinema. Overall I’m left feeling conflicted because as much of a fan as I am of the gorgeous, unhinged violence I just can’t fully endorse a film that seems like it would be a top pick for a neo-Nazi movie night.

2-stars-red