Sadistic Cinema: Is It Fun Being Disturbed?

Pasolini Salò 120 Days of Sodom

Like people who eat nuclear-grade hot wings or force themselves to watch entire episodes of Whitney, some moviegoers like to be permanently damaged by their entertainment choices. It’s not enough to jump at scares or be repulsed by bloodshed. They want to walk away disturbed.

Disturbing movies are those that challenge you to keep watching and sometimes make you feel grimy when you do. I’m not talking about the cartoonishly sadistic violence of Saw movies and their outlandish set pieces. I mean the ones that stay with you for a long time (kind of like your wife’s relatives from overseas).

Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom

A sedate moment from Salò.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò: 120 days of Sodom (1975) is probably the most notorious “disturbing” film, with the bulk of its running time devoted to the unrelenting torture and sexual degradation of a group of teenaged kids at the hands of their fascist captors. If the intent was to make the viewer feel complicit in the abuse through passive observation, well done. Still, it’s not my name in the credits, is it?

Before streaming video and Amazon.com made access to such films easy, a subset of horror movie collectors considered it a quest to track down the most disturbing flicks ever made. Some titles, like 1976’s Snuff, turned out to be limp drivel. Others, like Cannibal Holocaust (the original “found footage” horror movie), deliver on their heinous promise. The latter film offers ample opportunity for the viewer to wonder why he keeps watching, including a sequence in which a woman is raped by a stone dildo and then hemorrhages to death from her crotch. The film’s director, the soft-spoken Ruggero Deodato (what is it with you Italians?) has long been accused of using real corpses in some scenes, though that could very well be an act of subversive marketing.

So anyway, people are still making movies to disturb. I finally caught up with one of them, last years’ controversial Megan is Missing, which is yet another “found footage” movie pretending to be assembled from webcam recordings and camcorder tapes. Director Michael Goi’s tale concerns two teenage girls, Megan and Amy, who, through a chat room encounter, meet “Josh,” a boy claiming to be from a nearby high school. But, as you’ve probably guessed, he already graduated. Like, in 1993.

Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust: As repugnant as it sounds.

The film aims to disturb in two ways. The first, especially for parents of teenage girls, is the peek into the young protagonists’ unsupervised lives. The girls’ graphic discussions of sex border on verbal pornography, and depictions of substance abuse are rampant. Not to be forgotten is a scene of 14-year-old Megan trading a blow job for drugs at a house party.

Jeez. When I was 14, I was still trading comic books for other comic books.

The second way Megan is Missing disturbs is through violence, such as when “Josh” films himself raping 13-year-old Amy. What follows is reputed to have made people storm from screenings and has several Amazon reviewers calling for director Goi’s arrest (interesting how people fear socialism yet embrace fascism, eh? The film is a work of fiction).

Megan is Missing

Did I mention that some people find “Megan” to be disturbing?

Detractors of “disturbing” films typically call for the banning of the film and criminal charges against the filmmakers, while defenders typically claim the movies offer a critical social message. Both of these views are probably nonsense. Sure, maybe Salo is about the evils of government oppression, but do I need to watch a teenage girl eat human shit to understand that point? Perhaps Megan is Missing is a cautionary tale of what happens when parents fail to stay involved their children’s lives. I think it’s more likely a business tale about what happens when a filmmaker says, “What can I film that is cheap to make and shocking enough that I will get tons of free publicity?”

And more power to him for that. The actresses aren’t really 13, no one was hurt, and people got paid to make a movie. Which is better than trading blow jobs for drugs. Or comic books.

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None of these films is as disturbing as the dazed, emotionless expression Katie Holmes has worn on her face these past five years. Her soon to be ex-husband was jumping up and down on famous couches like a hyperactive child to profess his love for her, while the object of his affection seemed in a drug haze, like that guy on the episode of Star Trek with Nazis. You know the one.

Katie Holmes Heels

Hey, Katie. In the world of secular humanists, you can wear flats.

I’m not saying Scientology had anything to do with her hypnotic state, but maybe she got mixed up in some weird cult with bizarre belief systems and financial requirements that many legitimate medical and psychological associations have labeled as harmful. A weird cult like that might even use sedatives to control resistant people. But then, one day, a mix-up occurs, and someone forgets to sedate the beautiful wife of the cult’s figurehead. In a moment of lucidity, the woman realizes she has been under their control all these years and, fearing for her future and the future of her children, she pretends to keep taking the sedatives while secretly plotting her escape.

That would make a cool movie. Oh, you know who should play the woman? Katie Holmes.

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Jack Scalia Undies

Jack, PFC’s preferred Scalia

You think actresses becoming zombies and movies that show people eating poop are bad? How about this quote from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia? After the court struck down most of Arizona’s racist anti-immigration law (though not the worst part of it) last week, he said in his dissenting opinion that the “federal policies of nonen­forcement will leave the States helpless before those evil effects of illegal immigration.”

I’m more worried about the evil effects of Antonin Scalia, frankly. This is a guy who thinks the law of the land in 1787 – when slaves were slaves and women couldn’t own land or vote – was just peachy and that multi-billion-dollar corporations are people. Because, like corporations, people have huge marketing departments and don’t die of old age.

Unfortunately, Scalia doesn’t look like he plans to retire anytime soon. Now that’s disturbing.

Eric J Baker

Comments: 11

  • James Killough July 1, 20129:14 pm

    I have never been able to sit through all of Salò, but there’s lots of S&M porn I’ve had to turn off or turn away from in my life, too. I could never tune into the TomKat thing, either; I deplore hammy acting. As for Scalia, he has no business being a judge. A cranky old conservative senator from some former confederate state, fine, but he is more dangerous where he is than a dozen illegal alien cartels combined.

    Well done on this post, my friend. Shakes things up a bit.

    • Pure Film Creative July 2, 20121:33 pm

      I think you and I were separated at birth, although I really don’t get the attraction to petite brunettes. Like many of the Neo-Realists, which to a large extent includes Fellini, Pasolini lost the plot when he moved into that stagey, presentational pretentious style.

        • Pure Film Creative July 2, 20125:59 pm

          Just don’t shrink any more. You’ll be fine.

          • Bryan Edmondson July 5, 201210:10 pm

            I have to ask. Who is responsible for the blog overhaul. It that you James Killough? The makeover is an exceptional job. Wow. I have seen a lot of blogs and this is the one with the most verve. I am jealous!

            • Pure Film Creative July 6, 20121:08 am

              Thanks, Bryan. As you know, PFC is a group effort. And we’re a magazine now, mhmmmm. So we need to be judged compared to other publications. We don’t use the b-word that sounds like a creature from Lord of the Rings any more. Always good to hear from you.

  • Bryan Edmondson July 5, 201210:05 pm

    I never tend to think that in our decade, with the exception of the snuff films on the black market, that people today ever take part in filming anything that is not mutually consensual, has a paycheck, a safe word, and that they 13 years old is not a day younger than 18.

    If you want something real, watch the fucked-up History channel’s biography of the Marquis De Sade. His real life was fascinating in its repugnance. It is impossible to watch it and not say WTF?
    However all of his writings were similar to fictional BDSM rags today. And it was a shame.
    It is a terrible waste of his writing skills as De Sade was a brilliantly eloquent writer. “The crimes of love” is almost poetic and its vocabulary and prose praise worthy. That book is devoid of all the shit eating, rape, fetus evacuation for the odd masturbation fetishes of of unbelievable fictional characters, necrophilia, pornographic fiction Napoleon and other outraged authorities caged him in prisons for half of his adult life for being able to gross out his private following.
    And even inside the pokey he made a lot of money sneaking out transcripts for publication as well as coordinating other inmates, and several psychiatric patients, to act out his written pornographic play inside the prison.

    120 days of sodomy and the rest of his sellout novels to the private crowd are disgusting. I know because I read each of them until I felt nauseous.

    Holocaust movies? Truly. Abominable. That should be a first degree felony to be caught within a hundred yards of the film canister.
    Other than breaking the law and violating victimized people I have found that my photograph experience with the BDSM crowd very moral. It is not people raping dogs with an electrical fork, it is a lifestyle. And from what I learned it had little to do with sex as it did psychology. Have I done scening in a 200 dollar an hour Dungeon in Atlanta. No, but I am not the least bit afraid of the true BDSM crowd. Most of the people I saw were professionals.

    I am much more afraid of opening a bathroom stall and sitting in the lap of George Michael.
    Good article baker.

      • James Killough July 6, 20125:25 pm

        I’m partial to “Night Porter” myself, but that’s my kind of film: gorgeous fucked-up people styled and shot superbly. Superficial? Bah. Rape me.

  • MastermagicFox March 9, 201512:28 am

    the only thing bad about rape that it is illegal :>)

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