One of the very earliest developers of moving image
technology, Thomas Edison, was also one of the first “snuff” filmmakers. His
film The Execution of Czolgosz (1901)
purported to depict the actual electrocution of the assassin of US President
William McKinley. It was faked of course, but his 1903 film Electrocuting an Elephant was
distressingly real. Audiences have been both fascinated and repulsed by filmic
depictions of death ever since.
Killing for Culture was first published in 1994 as an
illustrated history of mondo documentaries, the infamous Faces of Death video nasties and films which purported to feature
actual death, such as the laughably poor exploitation film Snuff (1975), “the film that could only be made in South America…
where life is CHEAP!” In the twenty years since that first edition film and video
depictions of actual death have become far more prevalent owing to the
proliferation of digital video technology and, of course, the internet. The
authors attempt to explore why this has happened, taking in the rise of filmed
executions by terrorists and murderers who film their own horrific crimes, just
like that depicted in Henry: Portrait of
a Serial Killer (1986), a film itself inspired by real events.
Kerekes and Slater also take in a wide range of sources from
across film history in this rewritten and updated edition of Killing for Culture, much of which will
be of interest to Cinema Retro readers. They provide commentary on Italian
films such as Mondo Cane (1962), the Black Emmanuelle films from Joe D’Amato,
and other cannibal-type films, including the notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Hollywood has also skirted around the
idea of the “snuff” movie, most notably in the George C. Scott-starring Hardcore (1978) from Paul Schrader, and
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983)
imagines a secret TV station broadcasting live torture and murder to Canada
from across the American border.
Killing for Culture is a depressing yet compelling book.
Given its relentless treatise on the cruelty and brutality of man, it is not a
text you would want to read in one sitting. Packed with both colour and black
and white imagery, coupled with occasionally graphic descriptions, one might
require a strong stomach to make it to the end. It is however a fascinating,
Nietzschean experience of staring into the abyss and seeing what stares