Aftermath (1994) dir Nacho Cerdà
The sound of Mozart’s Requiem washes over the title credits. A morgue worker (Pep Tsar) watches as his colleague runs a skull-cracking autopsy on a male corpse. After some time, his co-worker departs and he is left alone under the fluorescent lights with an eye towards a new visitor, a dead female, spread out on a stainless steel table. Shots of the scissor running across her stomach, undressing her, start the sequence as he strips her down. He caresses her body with a knife drawing blood, he then penetrates her between the legs violently with the blade, only to climb on top of the corpse—replacing the weapon with his own flesh. The camera is cold, as cold as the blue color timing of the film. Aftermath speaks of the power the living lover has over the dead. She is without consent and is meat for him to enjoy and discard.
Blind Beast (1969) dir Yasuzô Masumura
A black and white “pink” film about obsession and death—a blind sculptor, Michio, (Fiji Funakoshi) stalks and then kidnaps a model, Aki, (Make Midori) and brings her back to his Studio where his Mother also resides. As Aki wanders around Michio’s Studio, she notes his fixation with body parts. Walls are filled with eyes, lips, and female breasts. As she is forced to model for him, his depravity grows only to infect her psyche. She attempts to escape, but in a wish-fulfillment plot point, they begin an intense BDSM relationship including knives and finally, amputation. Flesh is clay in Blind Beast, something to be formed only to be cut away—an existence where the sensual knows no limits and where physical loss makes the senses more intense. Again the theme here is fatalism and nihilism, to ultimately lose yourself completely to your object of desire.
Crash (1996) dir David Cronenberg
Based on the J.G. Ballad novel of the same name, Cronenberg takes Ballard’s novel of a super-sexualized world and focuses on a nihilistic group, stimulated by car crashes and lead by a scar-faced, almost cult leader, Vaughn (Elias Koteas). Here, sexuality is fluid. Characters literally have sex with cars, in cars, in junk yards—they crash them into one another as foreplay, dents are obsessed over, scars covered in fishnet stockings are fetishized. Characters are in restraints caused by collisions—Gabrielle’s (Rosanna Arquette) leg-braces and black full body harness. Her limps as she walks with a cane, wishing, even falsely for a “normal body,” to the leg pins jutting out of Ballad’s (James Spader) fractured leg after his first crash. They are stuck with bodies, if only they could be free. Sexual identity is played with; each character is compelled toward sex with one another, gender or object do not come into play, but like metal they want to fuse and find a place less lonely than the death they keep recreating in this world of vehicular violence. “Maybe the next time, maybe the next time...”
Dead Ringers (1988) dir. David Cronenberg
Twin gynecologists, Bev and Elliot Mantle (both Jeremy Irons) take turns with their patient and famed actor Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold). Here again we see Cronenberg deal with sexual nihilism as the twins descend into madness and drug use with plans to wipe out their consciousness and at the same time merge them together—almost incestuously with each other. The themes of medical pageantry, sex and sickness are eroto-clinically depicted: Tied to a bedpost with latex tourniquets, Claire is fucked by one of the twins; the robes the twins wear during their operations is red, the color of lust, the color of blood; even Mantle’s career, the womb, the vagina, the vulva; the obsession with fetishized tools to operate on “mutant woman.” A film filled with sexual organs and yet treated in the most aseptic of ways, theorizing we are meat trying to collide with one another in the most self-destructive of ways. We are meat tied to bedposts, prodded with shiny medical art tools not able to move on from our bodies, only in death.
In A Glass Cage (1986) dir Agustí Villaronga
Horror is gauged by the lens it presents to the world— in this post-WW2 nightmare based on book the Trials of Gilles de Rais by Georges Bataille, a former Nazi soldier, Klaus (Günter Meisner) is visited by the young man, Angelo, (David Sust) he raped and tortured during the War. Klaus, this time is helpless, trapped “in a glass cage” of the title, an iron lung, after a failed suicide attempt. Angelo, both in love with Klaus, but also his tormentor, plays out the sexual acts he was forced to endure. Through Klaus, much like in Story of the Eye, we can only ever be a helpless witness. Here sex, murder and power-plays are a key part of the world Angelo creates. Slowly he assembles bits and pieces to create a battlefield aesthetic around the house with boxes and barbed wire. Sexuality in this case is distorted into a metaphor about the atrocities of war and the crimes that are too unspeakable. What has been done in the past is unforgiveable and inescapable, and we can only roil within the infernal nostalgia of revenge.
In My Skin (2002) dir. Marina de Van
Esther’s (Marina de Van) gash starts to bleed while she’s at a party—blood trailing across the white carpet. She goes to the Doctor, who cannot figure out how she came to have such an injury. Esther doesn’t know, it’s long and deep, but she didn’t feel it. He checks for nerve damage then sews her, while Esther gives a coquettish smile. She watches the Doctor dig into the flesh with his needle, mending the wound. During work she strips in a darkened storeroom to inspect the stitches—she takes a piece of metal and gouges into her leg—her leg lacerations are self-inflicted. The film contains shots of Esther fully naked complete with her wound—a destroyed beauty in body and mind. Stabbing a steak knife into her arms at a work dinner is something she can’t help, her arm does not feel like it was a part of her and pain will bring it back to the body. At home she lays on the floor alone, her gruesome re-acquaintance with her own body having alienated her husband and friends, and she begins to skin herself, licking and kissing the blood and areas of disfigurement—fascinated by her own gore. Blood and self-mutilation fetishes test the very limits of what is Self. The audience can only guess what slow descent into self-destruction awaits—or is it total freedom, to reassert power over one’s own body, even it means the power of hastening the flesh’s unnegotiable mortality?
I Stand Alone (1998) dir Gaspar Noé
Noé’s first feature follows his version of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. Our “sick man” is The Butcher, a lower-middle class character filled with a singular hatred of society, as expressed in voiceover that dominates the movie. He sits in a porn theater expounding on his own nothingness and humiliation—and his desire to make a mark on the world. His discussion turns to incestuous fantasies and to his unhappy marriage. After coming home and attacking his wife, he sets out to become “something;” to find his daughter, to taste the world with his newfound empowerment. We are in his head most of the film, listening to his thoughts on sexuality, birth, and misogyny. These narratives are paired with visuals of him reaching between wife’s thighs, nights on the town—a night with a prostitute. Nothing is beautiful or sensual in this world and that’s part of that tactic; the absence of affectionate sex bears a world of paraphilia and desperation. The Butcher never transcends, even as the film closes, his only tender act is destroyed by his own vulgarity. “Man is Moral.”
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) dir Pier Paolo Pasolini
One of the most notorious of this list is Pasolini’s take on The Marquis De Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom by way of Italian fascism. Youths, gathered by ruling class, are herded into a mansion against their will. Our MC Signora Castelli (Caterina Boratto) relays stories to amuse in graphic detail, regarding her time as a prostitute and the acts she preformed with great joy. The film’s depiction of class power dynamics using paraphilia and fetish are nightmarish and without consent–the lower class’ role is to fuck on command, piss on their Masters, and eat shit in a great banquet hall. You complain, you are punished; you shit when you they tell you not to, you are punished; you are killed just for the ecstatic delight of it. The fascist state and philosophy behind these crimes, these excuses, are heralded in monologues by the powerful depraved. The film’s brutal obscenities are rooted in a strong moral point, that wealth and power left unchecked becomes a vicious perversion of humanity.
Society (1989) dir. Brian Yuzna
Suburban teenager Bill (Billy Warlock) thinks he is going crazy. He does not feel he fits in with his wealthy family or his peers. After hearing a strange recording of his parents and sister discussing otherworldly sexuality—including references of incest and orgies, Billy brings it to his psychologist. When played back, the tape has been replaced with typical family conversation. Billy notices other things—the weird bulges on his sister’s back and her twisted uncanny form he sees in the shower. The high-society girl he fucks unnaturally contorts backwards. Body-horror is key in this social satire—the upper class is indeed “different” from anyone—they engage in body morphing orgies called “shunting,” where they fuse, copulate and drain the sacrificial lower class. The final sequence involves fisting, slime covered bodies and skin fusing with skin. The rich entice each other the more and more they mutate—including Billy’s Mother whom attempts to seduce him in her deformed and monstrous state. Horror imagery along with freak-sex speaks to the horror of the 1% and how they feed on their victims—us. That there is also something erotic about this literal fusing of skin with skin and organ with organ in ecstasy only implicates the viewer in this spectacle.
Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) dir. Ulli Lommel
A retelling of Fritz Lang’s M in color. Kurt Raab, an actor better known for his work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is cast as notorious serial killer Fritz Haarmann whose crimes in this film include drinking blood, black market meat cannibalism and the killing of young men in what the literature calls “sexual murder” (Lustmord). While most movies shy away from exploring serial killer sexuality, Tenderness embraces it. From Haarmann keeping his boys, dead and decaying in his bed, fully exposed—to what happens after Haarmann rips out the throat of a male he has lured back to his apartment. This scene of post-mortem “romance” details how he “plays” with his victims’ blood and what lies limp between their legs. Part art film and part exploitation, Haarmann’s dealing with his victims is both tragic and horrifying as it is explicit, caught in a self-destructive loop that he is too psychopathic to be conscious of. Haarmann in this role is also cast as a government official—adding commentary that a sexual criminal and murderer can so easily pass as part of Establishment.