Kelly's Taboo Terrors: Beyond Horror: The History and Subculture of Red Films (2019)
Follow Kelly’s exploration into the darkest recesses of horror. Once a month she takes a twisted turn and dissects the most graphic, disturbing, controversial, and obscure films the horror genre has to offer. These are immoral, indecent and offensive; the ugly films that few people talk about and even fewer dare to watch. The films that will stay with you long after the credits roll and infest your nightmares.
Disclaimer: Movies that depict real animal harm for the sake of film making will NOT be watched or discussed (ie: Cannibal Holocaust)
Viewers Discretion is Advised.
February is Women in Horror month, a fantastic time to celebrate women who love, and are involved with, the genre. Whether it be writers, directors, or podcasters, this year I was introduced to a woman named Jessie Seitz. She was interviewed for the Morbidly Beautiful website and Jessie is a filmmaker, producer, director and special effects artist (just to name a few of her talents!). I discovered from her interview that she had created a documentary on extreme horror called Beyond Horror: The History and Subculture of Red Films. I was intrigued because -- since I have started to delve deeper into that genre of film -- I am beginning to find my place in the horror community, so a documentary on this fascinating aspect of my favorite genre was something I was really interested in viewing. I assumed there must be other documentaries about extreme horror, and I was surprised to discover that there really aren’t. There are countless websites dedicated to such an underground niche of film, but no documentary to be seen. So truly, this film is one of a kind, and co-created by a female filmmaker (the other person being her partner, Marcus Koch). I needed to watch it.
Beyond Horror opens with a quick shot of a bloodied, moribund person and then gets to the warning: “The following documentary covers the most extreme films in modern cinema. Depicting strong sexual graphic violence, rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment. Viewer discretion is advised.” I could tell I was in for one hell of a ride.
Beyond Horror is laid out into multiple small sections while taking the time to focus on -- and highlight -- the works of some of the biggest names in the extreme horror community: Jorg Buttgereit, the Guinea Pig series, the August Underground trilogy, Lucifer Valentine, and more. It surprisingly covers a lot of ground! It provides snippets on many aspects of what people within the extreme horror genre have to say, and asks us, the audience, important questions like why do we watch horror? Or what are the repercussions of this graphic entertainment? This documentary could have been five hours and I would have wanted more! The subject matter is highly fascinating to me and we are only given, often, just a glimmer of insight.
Beyond Horror delves into the origins of the violent nature of entertainment, stemming back to the Roman gladiators and up to public executions (which only ended in the last century!). Violence -- and our fascination with it -- has been a part of our culture for over a thousand years, so why do we condemn extreme cinema? We have become used to the mainstream media’s sanitized version of humanity that we have to keep that darkest part of us hidden. Extreme cinema shows us the brutal nature of humanity through a very honest lens, one I think is very important to show and is an incredibly important aspect of the horror genre. My favorite part of Rue Morgue magazine used to be the articles by The Gore-Met (Andrew Bailes RIP). When Rue Morgue removed that column, I felt like the magazine was severely missing something and to me, it hasn’t been the same since.
“Why do we watch horror?” is a question raised by Beyond Horror, and one that Psychologist Patty Scott discusses, albeit too briefly. Horror fans enjoy the genre for a diverse number of reasons: thrill seeking, watching violence in the safety of their own home, curiosity, shock value, and even catharsis. This is immediately followed by director Jessie Seitz verbalizing her own journey into extreme horror. When I started this documentary, I did not in any way expect to be deeply moved by it. I did not think it would be as poignant as it was, or as moving and insightful. Jessie bares her emotions and admiration for extreme horror as for her, a survivor of abuse and assault, it showed honest portrayals of violence. After seeing Last House on the Left, she was enamored by extreme cinema as it showed the perpetrators of violence getting punished - this is not something you see in mainstream media. Jessie, frustrated, reveals how mainstream films essentially sanitize sexual assault and abuse - almost romanticizes it. Rapists don't get punished and survivors do not get justice. In Ms .45 or I Spit on Your Grave, they do; it’s a harsh fantasy but can be incredibly cathartic for victims of abuse. Jessie makes thought provoking statements about the “faux feminism” and misogyny in everyday popular culture. She explains how popular culture, mainstream films and TV shows are much more damaging than extreme cinema; they’re disingenuous. And I have to completely agree with her.
The next aspect of Beyond Horror that I was deeply impressed and moved by was literally everything that Fred Vogel had to say. This is a man who first learned and then was a teacher at the Savini School of Practical Effects; Tom Savini being a renowned man in the practical effects world. Vogel has also been alluded to have created some of the best modern pieces of extreme horror through his August Underground trilogy. Vogel is insightful, articulate, intelligent. He talks of how none of his work ever glorifies violence, but how it shows it for the brutal, nihilistic act that it is - none of it is fun. Violence is uncomfortable and his is as real as it comes, something he was determined to make as realistic as possible. Murder and violence is not pretty, nor is he going to show it as anything but. Vogel shared the story of a fan who killed someone with a hammer bought from him, a movie prop, coming back to the age old question “does violence create violence”? No, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that artists like him don't feel the devastating effects of it.
The interviews with Fred Vogel and Jessie Seitz shows the humanity behind extreme cinema, something that I think a lot of people frequently forget. These are not the leeches of society that you might think they are (and sadly those creeps do exist), but emotionally intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate human beings. They are artists whose craft doesn’t resonate with most, but that shouldn’t discredit them. I am falling more in love with the extreme horror genre each month I write about them for my Taboo Terrors. Am I a terrible person for enjoying the graphic nature of these films? Do I have a sick mind for reveling in it? These people are perfect examples of why I, and them, are not.
Is extreme cinema just fetishism without artistic merit? Is it gory nonsense not meant for human consumption? Are these categorized “red films”, films that are considered too extreme for the mainstream, absolute trash? As Beyond Horror shows us, it’s a complicated question without an easy answer. It’s much more nuanced than we think. But I believe it’s worth discussing, honestly, and makes my Taboo Terrors even more important and valuable to me.
As Stephen Biro from Unearthed Films comments: after seeing so many mainstream horror films (which I still very much love), it makes you want to turn to films that make you actually feel something. You want a visceral reaction, and after a while, mainstream horror doesn’t cut it anymore. As a horror fan of 25 years, I can understand this. Perhaps this is why I am enthralled with the extreme horror genre NOW as opposed to then.
I highly recommend Beyond Horror: The History and Subculture of Red Films (watch the teaser trailer here) for anyone interested in learning more about the genre and hearing behind the scenes interviews with creators of such films. There are so many aspects of it that I wish could have been elaborated on, so I hope that she creates many more volumes (as it did hint to this at the beginning with a title card showing Vol. 1!). However, the warning at the beginning of the documentary is there for good reason as there are many scenes of some of the worst (best) of the extreme horror genre (A Serbian Film, August Underground, Nekromantik, etc). If you can stomach it, I think you will find you come out, barf bag in hand, with a much better understanding of what these labeled weirdos, and these violent films, are all about.
PS: I also learned I have a lot of homework to do in the realm of extreme horror cinema! Note to self, Google what Emetophilia is….