"Why do we watch a car accident on the freeway, or rush to see a fire, to drink in the tempestuous loveliness of terror, or simply to catch a glimpse of our destiny?" - True Gore
"That's my primary goal. To get on people's nerves. So I always try and have something in them which I'm sure will get on somebody's nerves. And it's not a success unless people...or somebody...walks out, as far as I am concerned" - Monte Cazazza.
Opening with the credit "The Gore Brothers Present..." True Gore (1986) is the logical heir to the mondo movie, that bizarre genre that welds together the freak show, anthropological curiosity, and pure, salacious voyeurism. Directed by Matthew Causey, with Monte Cazazza credited as "creative consultant", the low-budget True Gore is reminiscent of the later, more notorious, mondo movies such as Faces Of Death (Conan Le Cilaire, 1979), and its many sequels. While these now-legendary genre films were produced for box office release most were considered too extreme, even for the sleazoid crowds inhabiting the scummy cinemas of 42nd Street and Times Square, and it was on video that they found their audience, in recognition of this True Gore, like many of the mondo movies of the late eighties, was produced directly on video(1).
Divided into four sections - The World Of The Dead, The Eroticism Of Decay, Art And Death, and The Science Of Death - True Gore feigns an attempt at structural coherence, but the optical effects created using a video synthesizer and designed to mask the identity of the film's unnamed narrator, the purposefully clichéd narration, and the occasionally misspelled subtitles belay its low budget. However, this should not be used as a reason to decry the film, so much as it should be seen as a signifier to other mondo texts, which themselves are in part characterized by their less than pristine appearance, indeed the style adds to the illicit thrills offered by the genre. Like many of the later mondo films, True Gore focuses primarily on images of injury, death and decay(2), however, in addition to those images familiar to the genre, the film also contains many segments culled from Monte Cazazza's own underground filmmaking practice(3).
The first section of the film - The World Of The Dead - consists of re-photographed images culled from medical textbooks and police training manuals, forensic pathology and medical education films, and some original footage shot in a morgue. These grisly images of damaged and rotting flesh are followed with clearly faked footage of a suicide victim laying in a blood filled bathtub, casually slashed wrist dangling over the side of the bath, blood dripping onto the linoleum floor(4). Where this section becomes most disturbing is in its usage of the aural footage of Jim Jones' last speech as 956 members of the People's Temple commit suicide slurping cyanide contaminated fruit juice. The suicide soundtrack - dubbed over photographs depicting various iconographic elements of the People's Temple, including their discipline room - was culled from Cazazza's extensive archive, and was also released as a picture disc by the World Satanic Network Service(5).
As the film's second section starts the narrator states, with a showman's faux cynicism, "in the underground of the world these films are created for the sickest minds". This is followed by a collage of shots taken from the legendary First Transmission video, produced by the Temple Of Psychic Youth(6), and depicting scenes of ritualized SM sexual experimentation. These images are familiar to anybody who witnessed Psychic TV in their pre-acid house daze. Cazazza was, of course, a regular collaborator with P. Orridge and Psychic TV. The accompanying extra-diagetic soundtrack consists of Cazazza's "Sex Is No Emergency". This segment also contains images - "from Amnesty International" the narrator states - depicting a man being suspended over an oil-drum filled with water, before being dunked and beaten. For added effect a snake is thrown over the drowning man's head. The footage is fake. The victim is Cazazza. This scenes is followed by some genuinely disturbing images of vivisection: a live pig is tied down and military scientists stand over it holding a blow-torch, which is then played slowly across the squealing animals flesh which rapidly blackens, burns, and splits open. Next a cat has its scalp pealed and a chunk of its brain removed, as the narrator observes such experiments appear as senseless exercises. These images of genuine cruelty appear all the more horrific because of their juxtaposition with the fake footage.
True Gore's third section, Art And Death, focuses once more on Cazazza's underground movies, as the narrator wryly comments, "at least it was self inflicted" the sequence is culled from Cazazza's 13 minute Super 8 collaboration with Tana Emmolo Smith, SXXX-80 (1980), a film which gleefully depicts what many would consider polymorphic sexual dysfunction as home movie, and was produced as a result of equal parts ennui and mischief on Cazazza's part. The extract presented in True Gore depicts Cazazza digging at a sore on his penis with a metal scalpel, and Smith letting a gigantic black centipede scuttle over her labia. Mimicking the fake-decorum of the death film genre, Smith's vagina and Cazazza's penis, both of which are visible in the original short film, are hidden behind tastefully positioned black squares, this is after all not a sex film(7).
The extract from SXXX-80 is followed by a sequence taken from the 40 minute video Night Of The Succubus (1981) which documents a chaotic performance between Cazazza, Survival Research Laboratories and San Francisco Industrial band Factrix. From this ostensibly performance art documentation the film returns to the theme of necrophilia and lustmord. The ensuing footage, supposedly depicting two psychotic paraphyliacs, is faked, with a female necrophile played by artist Debra Valentine, and a male murder played by Cole Palme, who, despite being in shade, should be familiar to the film's audience, having just appeared in the previous scene playing bass and singing with Factrix. The performances given by these actors are convincing primarily because the scenes were shot in one take, with the actors reading from a script, the occasional stumbled words and phrases serve to create a haunting, confessional atmosphere.
The film introduces the thematic of AIDS as the latest plague threatening to annihilate humanity. Notably, given the media treatment of the virus as "gay" and "junkie plague" at the time of True Gore's production, the film draws attention to the fact that AIDS is a disease that can attack anyone "we are all victims", drawls the narrator. Genuine autopsy footage ends the section of the film.
The Science Of Death - True Gore's final section - consists primarily of stock footage depicting the shivering survivors of the Nazi Death Camps, which is intercut with images from Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph Of The Will (19 ). This is followed by what the narrator describes as "our homage to the Scientific Age". To the Atom Smashers' song "A Is For Atom" the film juxtaposes images from Cold War propaganda films with scientific cartoons explaining radiation, and images of the burned and mutilated survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
The film closes with the narrator walking through a graveyard, and telling the audience "to live in fear of death is a waste of life". A short, sombre scene follows, depicting row-upon row of tombstones. The soundtrack consists of church bells. The camera spins through the graveyard and positions the viewer gazing out from an open grave. This cuts to the image of a laughing mechanical clown, once more suggesting the carney roots of the mondo genre, and the wound black humour of True Gore's aesthetic. End.
(1)Other direct to video mondo film's include Nick Bougas' excellent Death Scenes (1989) and Death Scenes 2 (1992), and the Brain Damage production Traces Of Death (1993).
(2)Earlier mondo movies - produced in the sixties - whilst presenting some violent images, also luxuriated in scenes of indigenous cultures (and especially those cultures for whom nudity is a norm), nudist colonies, occult ceremonies, and safari scenes, all of which have subsequently became visual staples on television. The genre's interest in sex and sexuality boomed in the early seventies, with titles such as Alex De Rezny's Sexual Encounter Group (1970), Sex And Astrology (1970), and Sexual Freedom In Denmark (1970), as well as Pat Rocco's Sex And The Single Gay (1970), but was rapidly rendered as pointless with the explosion and subsequent availability hardcore pornography in the seventies (following the massive success of Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat which - in 1972 - served to partially legitimize hardcore, and also served to show the massive market for such movies). Finally it was the continued taboos surrounding violence and death that remained, and these have subsequently become the focal point of mondo movies. This thematic eruption is also due to the increasing availability of footage depicting violence and death, due - primarily - to the popularity of video technologies which are utilized by news gathering teams, as well as the emergency services, thus guaranteeing a virtual glut of available visceral footage.
(3)Cazazza has directed, produced, and collaborated on a string of movies, including, amongst others: Revolt 2000 (1974) in which he acts like a terrorist and builds a bomb using information from Assassin magazine, the film is now lost. Diary Of A Rubber Slave (1976) subsequently stolen, Mondo Homo (1976) - another engagement with the mondo genre, filmed in secret at the notorious gay bar The Slot, the film was one of the first to depict fist fucking - subsequently stolen. Mystery Movie (co-directed with Genesis P. Orridge, 1976, whereabouts unknown). Death Wish (1977), consisting of re-photographed tv footage. Black Cat Tea (co-directed with Mary Quayzar, 1979/80), Behind The Iron Curtain (1980), SXXX-80 (co-directed with Tana Emmolo Smith, 1980), Night Of The Succubus (co-directed with Factrix, 1981), and Catsac (with Michelle Handelman, 1989) . In addition Cazazza has produced and collaborated with Handelman on Blood Sisters (1991), and collaborated with Psychic TV on the videos Terminus and Eden Three (1987).
(4)The usage of re-constructed / fake footage is one of the central aspects of the mondo genre in its latter incarnation as a grim sideshow of annihilation.: "Although many of the sequences involving killings were fabricated, the filmmakers attempted to make distinguishing fake from fact as difficult as possible" (David Kerekes and David Slater, Killing For Culture, An Illustrated History Of Death Film From Mondo To Snuff, Creation Books, 1995 (first published 1994) p.113).
(5)The World Satanic Network Service aka Vagina Dentata Organ released a string of records documenting various extreme events, including Cold Meat, which consisted of the sound of somebody breathing - and dying - whilst on an infribulator, and came as a picture disc depicting photographs of Maralyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in death.
(6)This video depicted various rituals undertaken by members of the Temple Of Psychic Youth, and was frequently screened, in both whole and part, during the early eighties. In 19 however a copy fell into the hands of a right-wing fundamentalist group, who used the tape to `prove' Satanic abuse.
(7)It is an oddity of the mondo genre that, whilst depicting death with glee, depictions of sexual organs are less common, with producers and directors frequently choosing to hide them behind visual effects, this reaches its zenith in Death Women - a Japanese film of unspecified date and direction - which depicts extreme images of female corpses - strangled, crushed, torn, ripped, savaged, and burned - yet tastefully pixellates any images of the corpses' pubic region and vaginas.