Faces of Death (1980) is the originator of the “real banned video” trend of the VHS era. Previously supposed “real” films such as Cannibal Holocaust of the same year and Snuff (1976) were obviously faked but the legend of Faces of Death lives on to this day. Many of the film’s subjects are indeed real such as napalm victims in Vietnam, clubbed seals, and the aftermath of a cycling accident, brains, blood and all, are entirely real. The film’s key scene is an ingenious fake however, a man dying in the electric chair. The result is a mondo film in which it’s almost impossible to tell the real gore from the fake. In poor taste and a carnival sideshow spirit, Faces of Death never fails to sicken.
Anthropophagus (1980) is just plain disgusting. Directed by Joe D’Amato, who produced such family favorites as Porno Holocaust (1979) and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), it’s no real surprise that Anthropophagus is the vile piece of trash that it is. A group of shipwrecked tourists are offed in various ways for no real reason. The killer attempts to eat his own intestines and in the most notorious sequence kills a pregnant woman, rips her own unborn baby out by hand and has it for dinner. Gore for gore’s sake, Anthropophagus is for the true gorehound only.
Maniac (1980) is the greatest American slasher film, lean, mean and straight to business. Lacking the humor of most other slashers Maniac wastes no time getting down to the nitty gritty. Featuring a serial killer who kills with a long knife and scalps his victims, the film is disturbingly real despite its obviously fake special effects. Shot on location in 1980’s New York City, this film is so dirty you really do need to shower after a viewing. Perhaps no better actor/director team has been formed in the gore genre since director William Lustig and actor Joe Spinell teamed up on Maniac. A cast of mostly porn stars and a list of prostitute victims further enforce the seediness of Maniac. The crowning scene of the film is an exploding head courtesy of a shotgun, which was achieved by shooting a mannequin head with a real shotgun. Maniac is this close to real life onscreen murder.
Men Behind the Sun (1988) similarly mixes supposedly real footage with dramatized gore and achieves the most disturbing effect. This is, in my mind, the sickest film ever made. A retelling of the atrocities carried out by the Japanese Unit 731 during World War Two, the film plays like a record of violent experiment, cold and unfeeling. Scene after disgusting scene transpires for the nauseating 105 minutes of Men Behind the Sun. Particularly disturbing are scenes such as, a man decompressed until his insides explode out of his anus, a real life cat eaten by hundreds of rats and the real life autopsy of a young Chinese boy. Almost disgusting as the events that inspired it, Men Behind the Sun was meant as an educational film. It certainly does exhibit the total disgusting nature of the atrocities of World War Two.
Lucio Fulci’s poorly remembered masterwork is a hidden treasure amongst fans. Better remembered for Zombi 2 (1979) and The Beyond (1981) Fulci’s immensely huge imagination and flair for atmosphere shine in The City of the Living Dead (1980). While The Beyond is Fulci’s delirious, existential nightmare, The City of the Living Dead is a straight-up spooky ghost story. Influenced equally by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) the film includes zombies, murders, curses and live burials. Key gore scenes include bloody tears, the vomiting of an entire gastro-intestinal track, a skull drilling and wave of maggot-filled air.
Ricky-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) is a Hong Kong martial arts film taken to the furthest possible extreme. Imagine if Kill Bill (2003) were directed by Lucio Fulci and you may get close to visualizing Ricky-Oh. The titular Ricky is a super-powered prisoner in the alternate dystopic future of the year 2001. In prison he must defeated “the gang of four.” The story doesn’t really matter, what does are absolutely bonkers fight scenes including skull crushings, meat grindings, eye poppings, and strangulation with a victim’s own intestines. Ricky-Oh is the Jason Voorhees of Kung Fu flicks.
In the beginning there was Blood Feast (1963) and the devil looked on his creation and said, “it is good.” Director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David Friedman had exhausted the market on skin flicks and needed a new gimmick. In a moment that would change the history of cinema, they conceived of Blood Feast, the lurid tale of a caterer in search human ingredients to fulfill a cult ritual. Starring bikini bodied Playboy model Connie Mason and featuring neon colored scenes of tongue amputation, heart removal and scattered brains. Lewis describes it as “a Walt Whitman poem. It’s no good, but it was the first of its type.”
Cannibal Ferox, also known as Make Them Die Slowly (1981) is the last word in the cannibal genre. Director Umberto Lenzi created the genre with 1972’s Man From Deep River and was in a gore arms race with director Ruggero Deodato, director of 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, ever since. While the latter film is more revered, Cannibal Ferox is without a doubt the better film. The camera is under greater control and the story makes a heck of a lot more sense, well sort of. A balance of cocaine driven crime and savage brutality make Cannibal Ferox is perfect capstone for the cannibal genre. Key scenes include a penis amputation, piranha attacks, hand amputation, hanging via hooks inserted through breasts and the real life butchering of various animals.
Short and sour, Nacho Cerdá’s Aftermath (1994) is an insane, deeply disturbing film. With a sparse plot, almost no dialogue and one primary character Aftermath is an exercise in minimalism yet the camera work is extremely complex and elegant. A mortician’s careful dissection and sexually defilement of a subtle female body is explored with nauseating care and precision. Matter of fact but also fantastically demented no other film has such an effect in such a short period of time.
Aftermath and its director are unheralded masters of the horror genre.
Dead Alive (1992) is director Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. Who cares about Lord of the Rings when you can have zombie sex, zombie babies, child abuse, and a lawn mower used as a weapon and more blood and puss than any other film ever made. Taking cues from The Evil Dead 2, Dead Alive mixes gore with Three Stooges slapstick and is a prime example of “splatstick,” only rivaled by the aforementioned The Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985). A bit more polished than Jackson’s equally stomach-churning Meet the Feebles (1989) and showcasing references to future Jackson film King Kong (2005) Dead Alive is his legacy amongst gore fanatics.