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Two Decades of Extreme Cinema

For horror and/or cult cinema buffs there will always be that film. You know, that film on the tongue of seemingly everyone, emanating from some foreignland and promising to transgress any and all boundaries. Right now that film is A SERBIAN FILM, from (you guessed it) Serbia.

     In some respects the ascension of A SERBIAN FILM, a low budget product of a culture not exactly known for its moviemaking prowess, to worldwide infamy is surprising, but in other respects not so much. Consider: back in 1976 a shitty no budgeter called SNUFF became a cause celebre due to an elaborate ad campaign alleging, among other things, that it was an actual snuff film emanating From South America, where life is cheap!” Never mind that while the film was in fact lensed in South America, it was made by Americans; as with A SERBIAN FILM, the fact that SNUFF was an alleged foreign import made far outside the Hollywood system lent it a definite forbidden allure.

     Several extreme films followed in SNUFF’S wake, including the Italian CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the Spanish IN A GLASS CAGE and the Chinese MEN BEHIND THE SUN. While those films lacked SNUFF’S marketing campaign, they had something equally potent: underground word-of-mouth. These were the films everyone talked about at horror conventions, and in the pages of rags like THE GORE GAZETTE and DEEP RED.

     For me the extreme movie craze began in 1990, when I began hearing rumblings about something called NEKROMANTIK. This was around the time of semi-mainstream freak-outs like THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER and WILD AT HEART, which at the time seemed about as outré as movies got. Yet the German NEKROMANTIK was said to outdo both films in extremity and outrage. Much like SNUFF, its allure was due in large part to the fact that it was foreign (if life is cheap in South America it certainly can’t be worth much more in Germany), and the tantalizing possibility that just maybe the atrocities depicted in NEKROMANTIK--corpse banging, cat bashing, bunny skinning, autoerotic suicide--might be real (fact: the bunny skinning aside, they’re not).

     Naturally I was quite anxious to see this thing, as was seemingly every other horror nerd I knew. In attempting to track down a copy I was introduced to the grey market VHS underground (and, just as significantly, got burned in the process). But then Film Threat legitimately released the film on video in late 1991 and, like a vampire wilting upon exposure to sunlight, NEKROMANIK lost much of its fearsome allure.

     Not to worry though, because whisperings promptly commenced about another too-extreme-for-these-shores film. It was the Japanese GUINEA PIG--FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD, a rather tawdry shot-on-video torture fest that attained legendary status after news got out that Charlie Sheen contacted the FBI after viewing it, mistakenly believing he’d seen an actual snuff film.

     No sooner had I tracked down this monstrosity than another took its place in the gross-out pantheon: the serial killer sickie DR. LAMB from Hong Kong, which in turn was followed by a string of successors that spanned the remainder of the 1990s. These latter titles included SINGAPORE SLING (from Greece), MAN BITES DOG (Belgium), THE UNTOLD STORY (Hong Kong), ALL NIGHT LONG 2: ATROCITY (Japan), AFTERMATH (Spain) and ORGAN (Japan).

     The trend has shown no signs of slowing down in the succeeding years, as the new millennium provided a wealth of envelope pushers seemingly immediately: the Japanese BATTLE ROYALE, the French BAISE MOI (literally FUCK ME, although it’s known in America under the “less offensive” moniker RAPE ME) and the South Korean THE ISLE--and each succeeding year, it seems, brings another such film: ICHI THE KILLER (Japan), HIGH TENSION, INSIDE and MARTYRS (all from France), and the abovementioned SERBIAN FILM.

     Running the gamut from perverted art films (SINGAPORE SLING, AFTERMATH, MARTYRS) to preachy political statements (MAN BITES DOG, A SERBIAN FILM) to unadulterated exploitation (ICHII THE KILLER, INSIDE), some of these films are quite remarkable and others not-so, while others simply haven’t dated well (these days it’s difficult to believe HIGH TENSION got any sort of attention, negative or otherwise). From a distribution standpoint, all more-or-less followed the NEKROMANTIK release pattern by attracting notoriety on the underground/greymarket circuit long before attaining legitimate U.S. releases. This is the reason shockers like IRREVERSIBLE, ANTICHRIST and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE don’t make the list; those films would seem to fit right in, yes, but they were treated as (semi)respectable art-house releases far removed from the likes of NEKROMANTIK or GUINEA PIG.

     As for the current gross-out du jour A SERBIAN FILM, there’s an excellent reason for its notoriety--namely graphic (if unreal) depictions of sexual mutilation, incest and necrophilia--and it’s difficult to foresee any film capable of knocking it from its perch. But don’t get too comfortable: if recent history is any indication, that film WILL eventually arrive, and probably sooner than you think!

 

--5/31/11 

     

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