Thursday, October 16, 2008

Night 15: Snuff 102 & August Underground: Mordum

If you missed it, I made it clear at the outset that I would not be including any of the so-called "torture porn" (a.k.a. "gorno") flicks that style themselves as the cutting edge of Hollywood horror these days. I've seen those films (The Saws, the Hostels, etc.) and I find them to be aesthetically dishonest and thoroughly unfrightening. The fanboys behind their creation like to think they are pushing the envelope, while also paying homage to the films and the directors that originally brought horror to the mainstream--John Carpenter's Halloween, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left, Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What made those films so powerful, and so unsettling, was the nihilism that underlied their inversion of standard Hollywood storytelling. The killers have no motive in any of these classics. The villains are not captured or killed, with the exception of Craven's film, in which the innocent victims become the villains. The films are not trying to convey a message. There is no redemption. No happy endings. No escape. That, my friends, is what is really meant by the word "horror." Not inflicting pain on pretty people in clever ways. Not rationalizing violence with half-witted attempts at social commentary. Honest films don't depict evil with a droll wink. They reveal its true face, with a cold, unblinking stare.

You have to dig deep to find the real razor's edge of horror these days. And perhaps that is how it should be. I remember renting Faces of Death from my corner video store when I was about fifteen and feeling utterly amazed that I was allowed to do so. Fortunately, it's a bit more difficult to get your hands on either of last night's selections, both of which have been blacklisted from typical distribution channels.

The first comes from Argentina, and the mind of Super Mondo Trasho director Mariano Peralta. Peralta apparently conceived of Snuff 102 while waiting to receive care at his local hospital, and feeling more like a number than a human being. The film opens with a montage of scenes depicting real animal slaughter and medical torture, ostensibly to contexualize what is to follow. We then watch a masked man dismember a body in a bathtub. Then the opening credits roll and things get really disturbing.

The plot of Snuff 102 is thin, but existent, which is a critical distinction between it and the second film I'll be discussing. A female reporter investigating the existence of snuff films interviews a so-called expert on the subject. Spliced inbetween segments of the interview are scenes shot in a hellhole basement, where three women are being tortured with sadistic abandon. The interviewer finds something she isn't supposed to see in the apartment of the expert, and we eventually come to realize that she is among the victims in the basement, and that they are subjects 100, 101, and 102 in a collection of snuff films. There is a small twist at the end. Fade to black.

The violence in Snuff 102 is ultra realistic and very hard core--enough so to convince several audience members at the 2007 Mar Del Plata International Film Festival that what they were seeing was genuine, one of whom famously left his seat and proceeded to assault the director. With that said, the worst examples (involving a pregnant woman) are more suggested than shown. Again, I make this distinction not to praise Snuff 102 but to distinguish it from August Underground: Mordem. What is made explicit is the film's philosophy, as espoused by the snuff expert. Morality is a construct. There are no boundaries to human depravity. There is no need to buy a snuff film, when to do so would cost more than buying a human being and making one yourself.

Pretty bleak stuff, made even bleaker by the film's visual style, which deadens every color but red and captures everything with the emotional neutrality of a lobotomy victim. The only legal way to acquire Snuff 102 is to order it from Argentina through the official website. The DVD promises extras, including a gallery of necrophilia photos. Oh joy.

Let me be perfectly clear. Snuff 102 should never been seen by anyone involuntarily and without full awareness of what is in store for them. It left even this hardened viewer feeling soiled and shellshocked. As disturbing as it was, though, Snuff 102 is a walk in the park compared to Fred Vogel's August Underground: Mordum.

Vogel first made a name for himself with the original August Underground, which he directed while he was teaching makeup and visual effects in the Tom Savini program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Unlike most other horror films, the AU series have no plots and no characters. They are not meant to entertain and they are most definitely not meant for consumption by the general public. Shot on digital cameras, and then intentionally degraded to look even more amateur, they amount to nothing more than the brutally authentic film diaries of a serial killer and his sociopathic cohorts. Had Vogel decided to launch his creations with a viral ad campaign, and simply released them anonymously on the internet, they most certainly would have passed for actual snuff films. Vogel intends to use them as fundraisers and advertisments for his talents as a director and a make-up artist, but I wonder whether the authenticity of these abominations might in fact backfire on him. Vogel casts himself as the main killer, and the atrocities he commits on film, whether faked or not, will make most humans averse to even be in the same room with him, let alone collaborate. With regards to Mordum, we are talking about the holy grail of exploitation films here--what is probably the single most depraved, disgusting, and demented collection of images ever committed to film.

The biggest criticisms I see from the few people who have actually seen Mordum is that it has no plot, that its repetitious brutality is boring and "over-the-top," that its "characters" are foul-mouthed, immature, and annoying. These people seem to be missing the point. Vogel was tired of Hollywood depicting sociopaths as charismatic masterminds with compelling motives and lessons to teach society. He was tired of murder made glamorous. While I do not recommend his films (I never want to see another one, myself) I do applaud the merciless honesty with which he dispels those myths. As much as I enjoy a good scary story, every now and again maybe it is helpful to see the real face of evil, in all its banality and filth. Lest I get too comfortable with its simulacrum.

Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
Scare Factor:

My psychological status:
soiled and never to be the same

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