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DVD: Cinema of Death (2007)
Review Rating:   Very Good  
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March 27, 2007



Genre: Short Film / Experimental  
Anthology of five experimental films dealing with death.  



Directed by:

Screenplay by: various
Music by: various
Produced by: various


Film Length: 83 mins
Process/Ratio: various
Anamorphic DVD: No
Languages:  English, French
Subtitles:  English (for films Adoration and Le Poeme and Director Intros only)
Special Features :  

Director Intros / 5 Collectible Postcards

Comments :

The old Short anthology volumes (1999-2001) distributed by Warner Bros. assembled contemporary, classic, and some rare films into eleven thematic collections Invention, Dream, and Ecstasy, for example proving how well DVDs can bring short-form works to audiences, but it's fair to say the graphic and experimental works in Cult Epics' Cinema of Death collection would've been far too risqué for the Short series.

The five films in this limited DVD release will probably test your tolerance, and either challenge or repulse those viewers sensitive to moments of genuine gore, including actual trauma inflicted on living and demised individuals.

The most technically basic film in the collection is Hollywood Babylon (3:40), directed by Cult Epics founder Nico B, and it's a fairly straightforward filming of the photographs and text displayed at the Museum of Death, which held a photographic tribute to Kenneth Anger's collection of photos that contrasted the pristine visages of iconic Hollywood figures with images of their cadavers.

After a short intro from director Nico B (:55), the grainy black & white footage begins outside the skull-adorned and rather generic façade of the museum, and the short's core consists of slow pans and tilts, as we see a collage of Marilyn Monroe and her post-autopsy snapshot (also used in the DVD's rear sleeve art); some cadavers after traumatic events (a male gunshot victim, and a dead Sharon Tate, as previously archived in full colour on Cult Epics Manson Family Movies); and photos of a wide-eyed and very dead John F. Kennedy, placed beside a bust with fractures for where the bullets shattered the President's skull.

Nico B's other film is Pig (21:13), originally released as a standalone DVD. That disc also came with a commentary track, outtakes, stills, tribute materials, plus a thick booklet that reproduced some of the pages from Rozz Williams' book that's integral to the film's nightmare narrative. Nico B's intro (1:04) for this release is a quick, concise preamble about the film and co-star Williams, and those intrigued by the late singer/poet/artist/filmmaker's career should really track down the superb (and apparently out of print) standalone disc.

The basic storyline seems to involve a killer who leaves the apartment of his latest bloodied victim, and picks up a masked stranger on a lonely desert road. After they pull into an abandoned house, the driver, seen wearing a pig mask, takes his bandaged rider into the basement, where various masochistic acts are inflicted.

While the figure of the head-bandaged passenger is generally lifeless, he's very much alive as cryptic text and surreal images from the book are read by the driver/tormentor, and acted out using string, needles, a razor blade, and blood - testing the physical limits of his victim before he's rolled up in plastic and left for dead. The epidermal piercings are real, and that's a clear point in this DVD when graphic concepts are realized on film preparing the viewer for the DVD's piece de resistance, Le Poeme (11:46).

That work is a conceptual piece by Bogdan Borkowski, who made his directorial debut by editing the events of an autopsy to Rimbaud's poem, "Le bateau Ivre" / "The Drunken Boat." Shot on harsh colour stock, Borkowski's film is meant to showcase the suffering and indignities of the human body, and edited in sync with specific stanzas, sound effects, and on-camera sounds, the director contrasts the senses that are physically filleted and extrapolated from the cadaver. Like Stan Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, it's a piece I had to step away from before the cadaver's eyelids were sliced off, as the short moved onwards to more graphic elements of dissection. Each of the shorts are preceded by optional intros from the director, so it's admittedly helpful to hear Borkowski explain (8:15) why he chose to make a film so potent, with such brutal images (click HERE for samples).

A more bizarre intro (5:17) precedes Brian M. Viveros and Eriijk Ressler's Dislandia (28:57). The directors use striking sketches and typed text to outline the physical makeup of the short's main character - a girl who wears a mask and performs extended Lynchian actions.

The directors of Dislandia use various video filters to age, degrade, and tint seemingly disconnected episodes of the girl wandering through a deserted farm and performing odd acts inside a house, such as painting a mask white, or handling ground beef that's piled up throughout the kitchen.

Like Nico B's shorts, the film uses an original score, although the sound design that accompanies the music is less sophisticated, and the emphasis is on rustic, coarse textures - a marked difference between the initially low-key scores for Nico B's films that often evoke the primal, harsh sound textures of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre (one of the most terrifying sound collages ever inflicted on an audience).

The most compact, straightforward, and narratively linear short is Adoration (15:48), which actually starts the DVD. A young man invites a pretty girl to his spartan apartment, where he asks her to read poetry into a tape recorder after a lovely dinner. During her final reading, he shoots her in the back, and after some fondling, begins to devour the appendages he's managed to separate from the cadaver, while the recorded poetry readings that play in the background take on a ghoulishly ironic tone.

French director Olivier Smolders basically uses master shots and silence, but the effect is truly chilling, particularly when the killer periodically picks up the camera and moves it from the ceiling mount to the girl, with flash frames acting as continuity and time breaks between shots. The most bravura moment has the killer approaching the exposed cadaver with the camera and capturing its form, including its separated arm & leg without a single cut, thereby enhancing the film's experimental-documentary style.

Smolders' intro (4:26) is the most gripping because his film was inspired by the actual case of a man who more or less followed the same pre-planned steps to entice, court, disarm, murder, and devour a girl he supposedly adored. When played before the short, the intro actually makes the film even more terrifying, because we know the events are traceable to a genuine murderer, much like the German cannibal in Martin Weisz' 2006 shocker, Rohtenburg.

Cinema of Death is an intriguing collection of films, but the overtly graphic shorts might be too extreme for viewers preferring suggested horror; those preferring works design to provoke and assault will welcome this rare opportunity to see death beyond the more formulaic mondo films.


© 2007 Mark R. Hasan

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