Now this one, guys, this one was weird. An well researched, well written, investigation into the so-called death on film focusing primarily on the “mondo” films phenomenon of the 1970s and 80s. If you’re of a certain age, you remember these collections of deaths and other gruesome scenes, allegedly caught on film. This stuff was huge with kids in my high school who would constantly talking about the things they’d seen in “Faces of Death” the American version of the Italian Mondo films. Lots of gruesome stuff, like suicides and horrific accidents, with some corny “satanic black masses” and “cult orgies” thrown in for good measure.
It was catnip to a particular kind of adolescent mind and I have to admit, I watched my fair share.
But was this stuff real? Well, occasionally, but much of it was also staged, and Kerkes and Slater dive deep into the material to figure out what was what. They figure out the directors and producers, the sources for much of the footage, and more. Its really an impressive work of pop-scholarship on what was, a very trashy cesspit of exploitation cinema.
Also included here is a well-researched attempt to get to the bottom of the idea of the snuff film. Kerkes and Slater begin by specifically defining the term to mean a film in which an actual murder takes places and, critically, where the motive for the murder was to film it. Then they go about trying to find an actual example. They pick apart numerous legends and pranks, and find that (at least at the time of publication) there were no instances of an actual snuff film ever being made.
It’s all extremely interesting to a certain kind of reader. I read this book a long time ago, and its stuck with me. That says something for it. I’d never read something like this today. While the young me was always searching for the new and shocking, old man Sean of today stays away from this kind of stuff like the plague. But if weird film criticism (or good help you, Mondo cinema) is your thing, you’ll greatly enjoy this book.
Recommended for the enthusiast.