DEATH ON FILM: MONDO, SNUFF & SHOCKUMENTARY | Offscreen
A remarkable selection of films about the presentation of death on screen and the human compulsion to look at it. Classics and cult movies alternate with extreme cinema and pure trash exploiting the pornography of violence. From Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom", "Last House on Dead End Street", the infamous "Faces of Death" and "Guinea Pig" series, to the Belgian "Des morts" and "C'est arrivé près de chez vous", Michael Haneke's "Benny's Video" or "The Blair Witch Project" and "[REC]", these 25 titles couldn't be any more varied. From the sensational Mondo documentaries of the 60s to the mythologies that evolved around snuff cinema - which claimed to have captured real murder on screen - to the phenomenon of "found footage" horror, from 80s so-called video nasties with their unsavoury yet tempting VHS cover artwork, to the 21st century dashcam and smartphone streaming of acts of violence, catastrophe and accidents, our fascination with death is always confrontational, and shockingly topical.
Carl Boehm plays a serial-killing photographer who films his victims' dying moments in this classic psychothriller. A groundbreaking study of voyeurism and, by extension, cinema itself, it's given an extra twist by the film's director, Michael Powell, appearing in flashbacks as the killer's cruel father.
FACES OF DEATH
Nauseating but undeniably compelling collection of (mostly) authentic footage of people or animals dying, often in grisly ways. This compilation video, once considered a rite-of-passage for teenage gorehounds, was such a scandalous success that it spawned no less than seven sequels and a raft of copycats.
Three years before "We Need to Talk About Kevin", Ezra Miller plays Rob, another alienated schoolkid, who relates to the world only via internet clips. One day he accidentally films the deaths of two students... Writer-director Antonio Campos puts us inside Rob's head, and it's not a comfortable place to be.
First and best of the series of "exotic" Mondo shockumentaries that infiltrated cinemas in the 60s, this also provided the template for the notorious "Faces of Death" films and similar compilations of footage of unstaged murders or suicides, depraved rituals, cruelty to animals and other brutish behaviour.
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER
The banality of murderers has rarely been captured as uncompromisingly as in McNaughton's grim but remarkable directing debut. Henry is seemingly incapable of popping out for a beer without killing a couple of people. In the film's most harrowing scene, he and a kill-buddy watch their own DIY snuff video.
C'EST ARRIVE PRES DE CHEZ VOUS
A film crew is morally compromised as it records the crimes of a serial killer (the great Benoît Poelvoorde in his breakout performance) in this trailblazing Belgian mockumentary. The low budget is turned to advantage in a grisly dark comedy that raises ethical questions about violence and responsibility.
An anthropologist scours the Amazon rainforest in search of a film crew that went missing while making a documentary about cannibalism. Deodato's gruesome found footage masterpiece was banned in more than 50 countries, but lurking amid the explicit imagery is a savage critique of cultural imperialism.
LA MORT EN DIRECT
Romy Schneider plays a terminally ill "computer novelist" who reneges on an agreement to have her final days filmed for a reality TV show, unaware that her new friend (Harvey Keitel) is filming her with a camera embedded in his eyes. Tavernier's thoughtful sci-fi, filmed in Glasgow, is eerily prescient.
WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP
The director of "Man on Wire" made his debut with this docudrama based on Michael Lesy's book. Over black and white recreations, Ian Holm narrates a morbid litany of murder, suicide and insanity from late 19th century records of Black River Falls, a town so ill-starred it makes Twin Peaks seem almost normal.
THE TRILOGY OF DEATH: AWAKENING, AFTERMATH, GENESIS
A trio of brilliant shorts by Nacho Cerdà illustrate three degrees of life versus death. In "Awakening", a boy falls asleep in the classroom and has an out-of-body experience. In "Aftermath", a coroner slakes his perverse desires on a corpse. And in "Genesis", an artist is consumed by his own sculpture.
THE KILLING OF AMERICA
This hard-hitting documentary about the collapse of the American dream into full-on dystopia is packed with uncensored newsreel footage of riots, serial killers and assassinations. It's a sledgehammer of a film, as relevant today as when it was made. Produced by Leonard Schrader, older brother of Paul.
Buttgereit's taboo-busting feature-length debut, shot on Super8, was hailed by John Waters as "the first ever erotic film for necrophiliacs." Rob and his girlfriend Betty form a ménage-à-trois with a rotting corpse, but when Rob gets fired from his job, Betty leaves him – and takes the corpse with her.
Ralph Fiennes plays weaselly ex-cop Lenny Nero, a dealer in illegal devices enabling users to plug directly into the emotions of suicides, rapists and murderers. Kathryn Bigelow's dystopic sci-fi thriller, set in LA in 1999, packs some brilliant action sequences; Angela Bassett provides splendid back-up.
Following on from the end of the first film, Rob's corpse is dug up and taken home by Monika, who has sex with it before sawing it up and keeping only the head and genitals. But her attempts to forge a "normal" relationship go horribly wrong after her new boyfriend finds Rob's meat and two veg in her fridge.
THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET
A disgruntled ex-con decides to make snuff movies. Roger Watkins' legendary grindhouse nasty is as sick as they come, but is filmed with a certain sporadic flair, and tips its hat to Welles, Franju and Buñuel in between scenes of graphic disembowelling, drilling through eyeballs, and severed hoof-fellating.
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