Extras: Director's Introductions, Collectible Postcards
When I received a DVD in the mail entitled "Cinema of Death, " I figured it was another direct-to-DVD horror film from some little-known company. Reading the back of the package, I found that this was actually a compilation of five short "extreme films," with "raw, poetic, explosive images that will enter into and linger in the subconscious." This sounded quite disturbing, and while I am generally a horror buff, I don't usually go for "extreme" underground movies. Needless to say, I put this one off for a while, but I finally decided to give it a go. Well, the DVD pretty much delivered what it promised.
It is probably best to just break down the films one by one:
"Adoration" (1987 — 15 min.) Dir: Olivier Smolders
Filmed almost completely without sound, this Belgian movie concerns a young Japanese boy who invites a young woman to his apartment for dinner. He records their entire date on camera (we see all of the action through his camera), adjusting it every now and then to follow their movement around the room. The only time sound comes in is when he records her voice while she reads passages from a book. As the evening wears on, he expresses his adoration in a truly shocking manner by killing her and then mutilating her body. Then it really gets shocking! The very intimate nature of this film and its rough, black-and-white image lends it an almost documentary aspect. Indeed, it has the look of a snuff film, and I honestly wondered as I was watching it if it wasn't one.
"Dislandia" (2005 — 29 min.) Dir: Brian M. Viveros and Eriijk Ressler
This curious piece is an abstract portrait of a little girl named Lindsey. Throughout the entire film, her face is covered by some sort of bizarre, faceless mask that appears to have been made from paper and cardboard. She wears a leg brace on her right leg and a strange dress that looks like it might have been fashionable in the early 20th century. The film simply follows her as she wanders around on what appears to be a farm, drawing, playing with a radio, rolling on the grass, and cutting a raw fish in half. A soundtrack of eerie music and sound effects provides the only sound in what is essentially a silent movie. There is nothing particularly horrific or violent about this film, but it is genuinely disturbing and unnerving. Of all of the films on this disc, it is probably the one that lingered in my mind the most.
"Pig" (1999 — 23 min.) Dir: Nico B.
After committing a murder, a killer retreats into his subconscious and contemplates the torture and slaying of his latest victim. The murder appears to be part of some ritualistic, S&M fetish, as the victim is bound, hooded, stripped, and subjected to various humiliations, including laceration. The killer, who wears a pig mask, models the torture after images in an art book of sorts. Like "Adoration," this one very much feels like a snuff film. The murder is pretty darn realistic and extremely graphic.
"Hollywood Babylon" (2000 — 4 min.) Dir: Nico B.
This is by far the most perplexing of the films included in this collection. Shot at the Museum of Death in California, it simply shows images from the "Hollywood Babylon" exhibit by Kenneth Anger.
"Le Poème" (1986 — 12 min.) Dir: Bogdan Borkowski
The final short in this set is a French film that documents an actual human autopsy. The soundtrack consists of a recitation of Arthur Rimbaud's poem "The Drunken Boat." The implication is that the corpse being dissected is thinking or reciting the poem. After reading about this one on the back of the package, I was not sure if I would be able to get through it (I'm a wimp when it comes to real blood and carnage), but it was surprisingly easier than I expected. It is, to be sure, extremely graphic, and nothing is left to the imagination.
Released by Cult Epics, these films are all presented in their original fullframe ratios. It is difficult to judge the image quality, as all of them were deliberately given rough, gritty looks with grain and scratches. "Adoration" looks the cleanest, though it still has that underground look to it. "Le Poème" is in the roughest condition, and whether this is due to age or intention is unknown to me. The film does not suffer for it, so I am guessing it is intentional. All things considered, the films appear to be exactly as they were meant to be shown.
The audio comes in Dolby Digital 2.0, and like the image quality, it seems to be deliberately aged and muffled. As such, there is not much I can say about it. Optional English subtitles are provided, though "Le Poème" features burned-in subtitles that are slightly cut off at the bottom of the screen.
For bonus features, Cult Epics has provided brief video introductions for all of the films by their respective directors. These help put the films into context and give us a clue as to what the directors were thinking when they made these truly startling works. The directors of "Dislandia" do not appear on camera. Instead, the camera hovers through a studio, apparently, where we see drawings and sketches for the mask Lindsey wears in the film. The camera then pans down a typed explanation of what the mask was made from, which somehow manages to be just as disturbing as the film itself. Bogdan Borkowski provides the longest and most informative introduction of the bunch. In addition, the package promises five collectible postcards. Alas, my promo copy did not include these.
I am not really sure who to recommend these films to. These are intensely graphic and disturbing films, complete with very realistic violence and full frontal male and female nudity. Although they were all fascinating and effective in one way or another, I most definitely will not return to them. This is just not my cup of tea. To give you an idea of how "underground" these films are, I searched for each one of them on the Internet Movie Database, and only "Adoration" came up. There must be an audience for these films somewhere, and wherever they are, Cult Epics' DVD presentation should certainly be a worthy release.