This might be the great grandaddy of them all when it comes to disturbing cinema. Sure, Un Chien Andalou is way older, but it's shorter, and this has a multitude of profane and revolting images and scenes in comparison. It's hard to believe it, but considering this takes place around 1945 and was filmed in 1975, more time has passed between when it was released and today than from the time it's portraying and when it was filmed. That makes me feel old. Actually, life does that just fine on its own but seeing this doesn't help.
Based on a book by de Sade and updated to show fascist Italy in place of revolutionary France, this movie is about a group of powerful politicians/libertines who kidnap 18 young men and women and retire to a country villa in order to explore the depths of their collective depravity. They have aged whores tell stories about nasty things they've seen and experienced to the group of them in order to stoke their libidos. They institute rules forbidding heterosexual coupling and any expressions of religion. And as the movie progresses and the men become more and more debased, things get way messier, more disgusting, and violent.
It's taken me a long time to watch this movie in its entirety. For one thing, this used to be scarce as hell. A video store in SF that carried it required an additional deposit in order to rent it. Copies on eBay used to sell in the triple digits. A great friend of mine saw it a couple of decades ago and if you ask him about it he'll start shouting MANGIA! MANGIA! at you. Now that I've seen it, I bet it'll make a goose walk over my stomach (so to speak) when I hear it. To say this movie is offensive or gross is to say that the Rolling Stones used to be better than they are now. Also, it's pretty long. Not like a Cremaster movie long, but almost 2 hours. No, I didn't fall asleep or anything, but considering things get sick as fuck not much over an hour into it and you start to realize they're not going to get any better before it's over, I think it's fair to say that watching this is an ordeal.
Sure, the makeup effects are somewhat janky. In lots of ways, this movie is just weird. One of the four libertines has a lazy eye and insists on having a dopey grin on his mug throughout. The endless nasty stories from the old whores, and the overly theatrical way in which they're delivered, grew tiresome. But it says a lot that this movie is almost 40 years old and easily one of the most disturbing things I've watched this Lent. It may have started out being infamous given the paucity of anything else like it in the world of cinema, but its pitch black nihilism and the strong evil vibe it gives off make it shocking even today.
Tomorrow:In a Glass Cage