An Introduction to Extreme cinema
This post contains spoilers – please complain loudly as and when this offends you.
So why do I like extreme cinema?
Its a good question but one I struggle to answer with any real conviction. I love the boundary pushing, enjoy the madness and find sense of danger and that anything can happen feeling, incumbent in such movies exhilarating. There is a real sense with these films that you really never know what’s going to happen or just how far the boundaries will be pushed – the hero might not save the day, the boy probably wont get the girl and the blood will duly flow. Its that break from the norm, that unhinged and unpredictable experience, that sense that this stuff shouldn’t be seen, least not enjoyed, that I think I find so enthralling? Not that it needs justifying of course – so for those unaware of the dark pleasures on offer in this niche corner of cinema – here is a little guide.
So where do you start if you want to delve into this niche corner of cinema?
You have to head to the Asian market I‘d say, seeing as it offers perhaps the most infamous and iconic extreme cinema.
So where better to start than Battle Royal? A truly groundbreaking and shocking film that has garnered a lot more attention in recent years due to the similar Hunger Games franchise. I came across BR many years before I read, enjoyed and watched, any of the Hunger games franchise – but I have to say there is no real comparison to be made (outside of the obvious similarities). Sure they do both feature a competition in which children / teens fight to the death, but in terms of tone, style and audience – they are drastically different.
BR is so much bleaker, so much darker, so much more shocking than the HG. It doesn’t have the expanded world of Panam and is a much more confined and tighter story because of it. There is little concern for explanation, detail, or world building – the Battle Royal exists as a threat and a warning to the populations errant children and that’s it. We skip the training, the costumes and the whole sponsor nonsense. This is a game where no-one wins and no-one is celebrated or supported – it is infinitely much darker, bloodier and weirder than its Hollywood cousin, and so much better for it. For the record I do enjoy the hunger games but it is certainly a family friendly, Hollywood rendering, of a shocking and confrontational premise that Battle Royal established many years prior.
No guide like this would be complete without mentioning Audition. A film so shocking there were reportedly sick bags on the seats of early screenings and reported many audience members fainting! For those unaware Audition concerns a lonely mans quest to find a wife. This involves a strange audition process where he interviews numerous eligible and interested women to an interview / audition, before finally making his choice. Little does he know that his chosen women is utterly psychotic and keeps a mutilated man in a sack back in her house! The most shocking thing about Audition is the shift in tone. The first half of the film plays out like a quirky and light-hearted romantic comedy, before lurching into extreme violence and torture towards the finale. Its a shocking and unforgettable experience.
I would mention 2 other highlights in the Asian market; Old boy and Itch the Killer. Old boy is a truly unique revenge adventure that takes in bouts of extreme violence and a couple of strikingly memorable scenes. One of which shows the main character eating a huge live octopus in one piece as the poor creature struggles for life in his mouth (apparently a delicacy in Asia!). Another great scene shows the same guy taking out a stream of bad guys in a confined corridor. This is so memorable because it is shot side on and looks all the world like a side scrolling beat-em up computer game. Look out for the killer twist ending and don’t look out for the terrible American remake.
Ichi the killer follows the actions of a psychologically damaged gang member who is manipulated into killing rival factions members. It is another extreme classic from the legendary director Takashi Miike, who is also responsible for the above Audition, and a film that has been banned in several counties due to its violence and cruelty. It’s a brutal and unforgettable piece of film making.
Other memorable Asian titles include Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 3 Extremes and The Host.
From Asian to France
There seemed a huge French movement of extreme cinema a few years back that really introduced some incredible titles to the extreme world.
The most memorable of which are Inside and Martyrs.
Inside is a devastating home invasion film about a pregnant women who is terrorised by a mysterious older women who wants her baby and wields a massive pair of scissors. Its a brutal, bloody and messy film, which climaxes with a horrific staircase scene involving the aforementioned scissors and a DIY caesarean! Its every bit as nasty as that sounds.
Martyrs is a film that is hard to describe. Its all at once a monster movie, a slasher film and a torture porn piece. It revolves around two young women as they seek revenge against the kidnappers who tormented them as children. To say too much more would ruin it as the less you know about it beforehand – the more you will enjoy it. Martyrs truly crosses genres and delivers an experience that is at once hard too watch and exhilarating.
Other French delights would include: High Tension, Irreversible and Frontiers
Whilst in Europe there’s a particular film that deserves a mention – A Serbian Film. A controversial and outrageous piece of exploitation cinema, A Serbian Film emerged a few years ago to much disgust and negative reviews. It revolves around a retired porn star who is lured out of retirement by a wealthy director looking to make the most extreme film possible. What follows is a fairly dull but extreme series of images that are tied together thinly by this threadbare plot. It certainly pushes numerous boundaries and has been widely banned in at least 10 countries, but it never really seems to be more than a desperate attempt to upset and outrage.
For those who don’t like reading along to their movies, there are a few English language films that are worth a mention. Well known titles such as the original Saw and Hostel films certainly offer there own original slice of film nastiness. I found the original Hostel to be particularly creepy and nasty given its bleak European location and horrifying murder for pay premise – and the original Saw film was an inventive twist on the usual horror format before the endless sequels ruined it for everyone.
Then there’s the Human Centipede films of coarse, which has gained much notoriety over the years. For me they are fairly silly, crazy German scientist stereotype films that offers little besides the grimly entertaining premise. There nasty fun but not much more than that.
Far more interesting is a little English gem called Mom & Dad. This low budget gem centres around a horrendous family who kidnap a young airport cleaner and keep her hostage whilst forcing her to become part of their mad family. Its a little known film but really has a creepy, dysfunctional family vibe similar to that iconic family in Texas chainsaw massacre.
This guide is supposed to be a introduction so lets not be exhaustive but a few other English language gems include The Devils Rejects, Wolf Creek and Cheep Thrills.
That’s about all of the nasty cinema I can remember for now and more than enough to keep you entertained. Extreme cinema certainly isn’t for everyone but for those who enjoy the dark arts – all of the above will be memorable experiences.