Blumhouse.com

CINEMA IN EXTREMIS: Six Recent Extreme Horror Films You May Have Missed [NSFW]

I’ve always been a passionate supporter of filmmakers who crash the ever-shifting boundary between art and exploitation, to push the envelope a little bit more with each effort, challenging our sanity and our definitions of artistic expression. Since the Latin phrase In Extremis translates as “On the Edge,” I thought Cinema In Extremis would be an ideal handle for a new weekly column on the bleeding edge of genre filmmaking — where I’ll be examining the works of these camera-wielding provocateurs.

While we’ve covered dozens of extreme films over the past year or so [including in-depth essays on A SERBIAN FILM, WE ARE THE FLESH and BASKIN, to name just a few], I’d like to explore the genre from a slightly different angle in this column — by focusing on films created by the “outsider artists” of today’s genre cinema. Some of their names you may already know, but quite a few of them remain off the radar, due in large part to their steadfast refusal to compromise their visions for the sake of wider acceptance.

To kick things off good and proper, I’d like to call your attention to a handful of boundary-busting horror films released within the past few years that walk a fine line between transgressive art and shocking exploitation. Bear in mind “extreme cinema” is not only a subjective term, it’s also more about a creative mind-set than the intent to shock the viewer with high levels of gore, sex or sadism. In other words, to borrow a line from VIDEODROME: “It has a philosophy… and that’s what makes it dangerous.”

If you’re intrigued by what you find here, you’d better strap yourself in tight, because I’m just getting started…

FOUND (2012)

On the surface, it seems the exploits of a psychopathic head-hunting serial killer don’t seem like a natural fit with a heartbreaking coming-of-age drama… but there’s proof for all to see (at least those with strong constitutions), and against the odds, it works amazingly well.

Based on the novel by Todd Rigney, director Scott Schirmer’s feature debut revolves around shy, bullied 12-year-old “monster kid” Marty (Gavin Brown) who, like so many of us, turns to horror movies and comics as an escape from his tormented existence… that is, until he discovers the human head his sullen older brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck) keeps stashed in a bowling bag. As Marty soon discovers, this isn’t Steve’s first rodeo… and big brother soon realizes it might be time to share some of his darkest secrets with the boy.

Schirmer’s skill behind the camera belies the film’s tiny budget by focusing on what matters: compelling performances (Brown and Philbeck are both amazing in their roles), loving nods to ‘80s-era VHS horror, and shockingly effective makeup effects.

On a side note, the film’s cult popularity enabled the filmmakers to crowd-fund the making of HEADLESS, the sleazy splatter flick the brothers in FOUND are obsessed with. FX artist Arthur Cullipher makes his feature directing debut on the project, and the two films make an awesome double-feature… provided your stomach is tough enough.

THANATOMORPHOSE (2012)

Body horror never seems to go out of fashion… and the subgenre pioneered by icons like David Cronenberg is still being explored by a wide range of filmmakers who aren’t afraid to push the material far enough to make even jaded viewers uncomfortable. The idea of one’s body rotting while they’re still alive and fully aware is one of the most horrifying scenarios imaginable — and Canadian writer-director Éric Falardeau manages to capture that horror with an intimacy that is nearly unbearable.

Less of a “story” than a concept played out to its ultimate extreme, the film treads much the same ground as CONTRACTED, but pares the concept down to its bare essence, focusing almost entirely on the plight of a young woman (Kayden Rose) who wakes up one morning to discover her flesh is decaying. Bizarrely, she reacts less with alarm than with somber resignation, and her sexual relations with two different men turns from simply joyless to straight-up nightmarish as her body literally falls apart.

It’s hard to believe this concept could be approached from such polar-opposite perspectives, but oddly enough Netflix series THE SANTA CLARITA DIET is basically a lighthearted comic spin on the same theme — minus the gut-wrenching despair, of course.

EAT (2014)

Much well-deserved critical praise was heaped on last year’s RAW, which used cannibalism as a shocking metaphor for a young woman’s loss of control. But two years earlier, this lesser-known feature — though much rougher around the edges — turned that notion completely around, with a protagonist’s mental breakdown driving her to literally devour herself.

The first feature from writer-director Jimmy Webber, EAT stars Meggie Meddock as Novella McClure, a struggling actress who watches her dreams of Hollywood fame receding with each new rejection. Her emotional anguish ultimately surfaces in self-harming panic attacks… but in Novella’s case, it goes far beyond the limits of human endurance, as she’s compelled to chew huge strips of flesh from her body.

While it’s not the first horror film set within the soul-grinding machinery of Hollywood’s fame machine [read this essay for more on that theme], it’s definitely one of the most disturbing. Much like the protagonist of Marina de Van’s IN MY SKIN, Novella becomes completely obsessed with the feel and taste of her own flesh — but in this case, it’s less of a liberation from mental anguish than an explosive, destructive release of that pain. A less-accomplished actor might have brought the entire concept down, but Meddock tackles the role fearlessly, and the graphic and ultra-realistic makeup effects help seal the deal.

CRYPTIC PLASM (2015)

While it’s a bit of a break from the internal turmoil that permeates the other films on this list, PLASM is nevertheless a grueling, relentless journey through a surreal apocalyptic landscape… and where it clearly lacks in budget, it compensates with a virtual tsunami of gore, slime and other viscous substances.

Set in a kind of parallel reality where paranormal conspiracies are headline news, the story follows cryptozoologist David Gates (Joe Olson) and his team as they investigate strange phenomena — beginning with the disappearance of an entire town. As Gates proceeds to the next case, it becomes apparent that some external influence has broken through from beyond, and is beginning to affect his mental and physical state. He begins to see emanations of the title substance, followed by visions that suggest he’s being torn between two realities… and when his team is called in to film a violent exorcism, all hell literally breaks loose.

Capturing the surreal, paranoid tone of creepypasta tales like “A Town Called Knowhere,” this entry from BONE SICKNESS gore auteur director Brian Paulin (who also plays one of the leads) covers much of the same ground as his previous work, but on an expanded scale. Subtlety is not this particular filmmaker’s forte, but his fans wouldn’t have it any other way — and once again, he rewards the faithful with endless geysers of gore.

FLOWERS (2015)

This is definitely a film that challenges the viewer in two distinct ways: first, it’s told in a non-linear fashion, layering obtuse flashbacks on top of a loose, surreal framework; and second, it’s unflinchingly gruesome, grimy and sticky — to such an extent you can practically smell the rotting flesh of the principal characters.

It’s not really a spoiler to state that the “flowers” of the title are six dead women, who mysteriously come to life in the film’s opening moments. Shambling silently and morosely through the filthy house in which their bodies have been stashed by the grotesque madman who killed them, they attempt to piece together the events which brought them here, even as their bodies continue to decay.

FLOWERS is the first feature from writer-director Phil Stevens, who uses every creative tool at his disposal — except dialogue, of which there is zero — to spin a pitch-black tale of doom and despair. The characters seem at first to have merged with the sickly brown shades of the dried-blood-stained house, until their slow movements pull them away from that background, their empty, dark eyes staring into the middle distance. Without human voices, the narrative is built from the elaborate, unsettling sound design — which is also one of the film’s greatest strengths.

GERMAN ANGST (2015)

You can’t call yourself a connoisseur of extreme horror without at least a passing familiarity with the works of Jörg Buttgereit — who burst onto the cinematic scene in 1987 with NEKROMANTIK, to this day one of the most shocking and controversial explorations of necrophilia ever depicted onscreen. Buttgereit is one of many transgressive horror filmmakers to emerge from Germany in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when strict censorship laws often drove those directors underground in their home country — even as their cult status ascended in the US.

Buttgereit is presented as the headliner in this three-part anthology, and his segment “Final Girl,” which depicts an abused child’s horrific revenge, shows he’s still got the ability to deliver a gut-punching message (shockingly, he hasn’t directed a full-length narrative feature since 1993’s SCHRAMM).

With that said, the film’s dramatic weight is carried more ably by up-and-coming directors Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall, who hit hard and strong with their respective chapters “Make a Wish” and “Alraune.” The former is the most brutally topical chapter (especially now), pitting a deaf couple against a violent gang of neo-Nazis, and the latter — my personal favorite by far — is a visual tour-de-force, depicting the nightmarish, hallucinatory and sexual side effects of a dangerous new drug.

 

Suggested Video by Blumhouse.com

x