If you found the films listed in Part 1 or Part 2 of this history not particularly extreme, well I think we can find something for you here. We conclude our history here with films released in 2000 to present day. Enjoy!
On April 20th 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their high school with a case of weapons and killed 13 people before they turned the guns on themselves. The Columbine shooting was captured on grainy surveillance cameras and audio from various phone calls. While the public turned its attention toward the music, video games, and movies the teenagers enjoyed; they showed the footage over and over again, unaware of their own hypocrisy.
Battle Royal (2000) did not see a release in the US since it showed kids killing kids. In the years since its creation it has had many botched attempts at distribution. Had its director decided to use outrageous costumes and toned down the violence to a PG-13 rating, The Hunger Games would have never existed. France let Baise-Moi (Rape Me) into the world which featured its two female leads on destructive path of violence. In Canada Baise-Moi was too pornographic to be horror and too violent to be a porno so could not be released as either.
Takashi Miike continued his foray into taboo filmmaking in 2001. He released both Ichi The Killer and Visitor Q. Ichi features a sadistic hitman with a Joker smile and an affinity for cutting off nipples. Visitor Q is a bleak comedy complete with necrophilia, pedophilia, and lactation porn.
Cannibalism became a popular topic in Germany as the public learned all about the exploits of Armin Meiwes. The twisted Meiwes posted an ad searching for someone that would agree to being slaughtered and eaten. Bernd Jurgen Armando Brandes responded to the post. On March 9th 2001 Meiwes amputated Brandes’ penis and they tried to eat it together. They both complained it was too “chewy,” they eventually fed it to the dog. Meiwes finally stabbed Brandes in the throat and hung him up on a meat hook. Meiwes carved the meat and kept the raw flesh in various containers. As time passed he consumed over 40 pounds of flesh.
Armin Meiwes captured everything on video. The footage has never surfaced, but in his trial it was agreed that Brands was a willing participant. Meiwes was originally convicted of manslaughter, but by 2005 the German courts held a retrial and sentenced him to life in prison. Life as spectacle had begun. The myth of snuff was soon to become a reality.
September 11th, 2001 is the day everything changed. The assassination of JFK, Vietnam footage, the on-air suicide of a senator, and the Columbine shooting were glimpses of tragedy in comparison to the devastation seen that day. We viewed the ultimate extreme horror live. The Grand Guignol closed its doors when it couldn’t match the bloodshed of real life. Filmmakers did not stop producing horror, they instead made their films more horrific.
This leads us to one of the most taboo film trilogies ever created, August Underground. One of its main creators, Fred Vogel, was an instructor at the Tom Savini school. He went on to direct August Underground’s Mordum (2003) and August Underground’s Penance (2007). The trilogy is void of plot, but takes the videotaped exploits of serial killer to a whole new level. Underground features a group of killers who go on a violent murder spree that feels as though you are actually witnessing snuff. The common elements of extreme cinema are present: incest, rape, necrophilia, torture, and humiliation but pushed further than before.
A scene from Mordum sums up the trilogy best. A couple are taken hostage and the girl is forced to masturbate, while the man is forced to castrate himself slowly with dull scissors. Once his member is detached the killers make the girlfriend finish masturbating with it. Her stomach is eventually cut open and one of the killers has sex with the wound. Other horror films push the audience’s threshold, but offer more than just shock and vileness. There is an aesthetic in most of the films covered here. August Underground has no artistic merit except for its horrific realism and effects.
Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible traumatized everyone in 2002. This stylish entry into the Rape-Revenge subgenre is the most innovative of its kind. The narrative moves backwards using long takes and vignettes. The camera acts as a fly-on-the-wall. It can not help those involved, it can only watch. We see the revenge in a gay club where the chaotic camera and the subliminal frequencies used in the soundtrack heighten the face smashing that ensues. Later we see the rape in a static shot – nothing moves but the actors for nearly fifteen minutes. The end of the film is the beauty of the couple’s relationship.
2002 also saw the release of a different type of revenge in Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy. Park created Oldboy as a part of his vengeance trilogy that includes Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. These films tell impressive stories and use violence to push the story forward.
In 2003 the US invades Iraq and a slew of brutal films are released. The Last Horror Movie used the convention of a found footage serial killer who breaks the fourth wall by asking, “why are you still watching?” It was withdrawn from the public after it was linked to a teen committing homicide. 2003 also offered three remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The official remake was the botched Marcus Nispel release, while the other two were remakes in spirit. Wrong Turn featured interesting kills but offered nothing innovative. House Of A 1,000 Corpses was Rob Zombie’s mod podge homage to 70’s cinema. House suffered from numerous forced cuts and has yet to be put back together in its original NC-17 format.
If Man Bites Dog, Baise-Moi, and Irreversible were the buildup to the New French Extreme, then High Tension was its birth. Alexandra Aja’s debut film has been described as nihilistic and homophobic. It has been praised and damned, but no matter which camp you belong to it had an effect. From the home invasion to the final battle, Aja proves his love for the genre in every frame. Calvaire (2004) followed in this movement. It was abstract and surreal while showcasing the insanity of a small village. Sheitan and Ils (Them) came out in 2006. Followed by Frontier(s) and Inside in 2007. Martyrs turned its themes toward the philosophical in 2008, and Livid found distribution in 2011.
The French Extremeties were interested in pushing the limits of the acceptable. Some titles used home invasion as their plot device like the already mentioned High Tension, but also Ils and Martyrs. Frontier(s), Sheitan, and Calvaire used the wrong place/wrong time scenario. Once Torture-Porn was introduced to the mainstream, horror everywhere seemed to change instantly. Pascal Laugier, the director of Martyrs, admits that Torture-Porn was a large influence on his metaphysical film. 2004 was the pivotal year that raised the bar on what can still be shocking. For more on French Extremeties check out PoppaScotch’s article here.
In 2004, the public was made aware of the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and as a result the first leaked beheading video was made available online. With our collective conscious reeling from seeing the horrendous nature of mankind we sought a safe cathartic release. This catharsis came in the form of director James Wan’s Saw. With its focus on torture, there is still an abundance of hope. Other filmmakers that joined the trend would not be as kind.
In 2005 the Torture-Porn subgenre was officially established. With Eli Roth’s Hostel, The Devil’s Rejects, and Wolf Creek torture had is boom. Hostel 2, The Girl Next Door, and Captivity continued the movement in 2007. Deadgirl (2008) fits within the torture realm as does The Human Centipede (2009) and its sequel (2011). There is an ebb and flow with these films. In the late 2000’s there were not a lot of them being produced but by 2012 it seemed to come into fashion again. Lucky Mckee’s The Woman (2011), The Bunny Game (2012), a few segments in ABC’s Of Death (2012), and American Mary (2012).
While torture cinema reigned supreme, Lucifer Valentine was readying his own brand of smut. In 2006 he unveiled the first film in his vomit-gore trilogy, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls. Valentine was raised by Satanists and fell in love with his nearly blind sister. He developed an unhealthy obsession with vomit and claims that it sexually arouses him. In 2008 he followed Slaughtered with ReGOREgitated Sacrifice and in 2010 finished his opus with Slow Torture Puke Chamber. All three tell the story of a woman’s Faustian deal and the hell that devours her. Valentine’s films are stylish and told in an experimental manner a grade above your typical student filmmaker. The buckets of gore and puke are stomach churning for sure.
2006 also saw the release of Cannibal, a German release telling the story of Meiwes and Brands’ pact. In 2007 The Poughkeepsie Tapes had a very limited run but has since not found a release. It is another serial killer found footage film but really drives the documentary angle which makes it very realistic. 2008 also gave us another filmmaker looking to express the worst in humanity. Ryan Nicholson, another special effects genius created a the nearly X-rated Gutterballs which featured a gruesome bathroom sex change operation.
The four hour descent into hell known as Philosophy Of A Knife oozed out of Japan in 2008. If Men Behind The Sun didn’t teach you enough about the experiments in Unit 731, then Philosophy’s attempt at showing you every one of them will give you a full history lesson. Lars Von Trier’s infatuation with castration was shown in 2009’s Antichrist. Ryan Nicholson followed Gutterballs with unsimulated sex, used tampon tea, and botched coat-hanger abortions in Hanger. The ultimate torture film came out of Asia titled Grotesque which proved only a surgeon knows how to really show couples a good time. 2010 starts the decade off with A Serbian Film.
A Serbian Film is an odd extreme, on one hand the events portrayed in the film are some of the worst ever witnessed but on the other hand it is shot with such beauty. In the uncut version there is a man who has sex with a newborn – this is the absolute worst visual I’ve ever seen personally. The film is about making a snuff porno and when the lead decides he does not want to fulfill his contract he is drugged and forced to commit terrible acts. The director claims the film is metaphorically describing the politics of Serbia.
In the last few years most horror films released have been created with an extreme edge to them. The Theater Bizarre (2011) features stories with good gore effects, ABC’s Of Death (2012) has a few extreme letters, V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S 2 (2013) both have elements that push the boundary, and Maniac (2012) is an intense remake. Later this year we have high hopes for The Profane Exhibit since it features the directors who’ve worked on: August Underground, Theater Bizarre, Timecrimes, Cannibal Holocaust, Seed, Gutterballs, Philosophy Of A Knife, Tokyo Gore Police, and the Coffin Joe series. Eli Roth’s love letter to Cannibal Holocaust – Green Inferno will also find its way into the world.
We can predict that what we see as extreme today, will be a child’s bedtime story tomorrow. With the real snuff film “1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick” that surfaced in 2012 – which may have depicted the murder of Lin Jun by Luka Magnotta. It will take even more deranged filmmakers to parallel the horrid nature of humanity that can be seen with a simple web address. What is certain is that extreme cinema has its place. There is a catharsis from viewing the terrible and as Dexter would say, it satisfies the dark passenger. So if anyone asks you, “what is the most disturbing film you’ve ever seen?” You can give them a crash course.