My interest in extreme horror cinema is not exactly a secret if one reads some of the articles I have posted. While these days I don’t have the same tolerance for every sleazy thing I used to years ago, I still am a fan of the artistry and dedication that goes into producing these types of films. Because of that, I was certainly excited to find out there would be a full length documentary dedicated to this subgenre, featuring some of my favorite filmmakers and special FX wizards.
Beyond Horror: The History and Sub-Culture of Red Films is brought to us by filmmakers Markus Koch and Jesse Seitz. The duo attack this release with a tremendous knowledge of the subject matter, having been involved in some of the more infamous red films of the last few years. The documentary traces the history of these types of flicks, and is peppered with interviews from some of the more prominent figures in the subgenre. This impressive list of interviewees includes Fred Vogel (August Underground trilogy), Stephen Biro (founder of Unearthed Films and director/distributor of extreme films), and Lucifer Valentine (Vomit Gore Trilogy).
Beyond Horror does a great job going through this history of the sub-genre, providing a ton of information that was completely new to me. The documentary is broken up into different sections, each section focusing on a particular aspect of the red film culture. These sections included films like the Japanese Guinea Pig movies, the films of German director Jörg Buttgereit, and the highly controversial and absolutely insane Vomit Gore Trilogy. Other sections focus on asking the big questions like “Have we gone too far?” or “Where do we go from here?” There’s also a particularly interesting section containing a psychological analysis of extreme horror cinema.
One thing this documentary does an incredible job of doing is revealing the artistry and intentions of extreme filmmakers. My favorite example was listening to Fred Vogel, the director of the August Underground movies (and the first flicks that introduced me to this type of film). He emphatically makes the distinction that his films, brutal and unrelenting as they are, in no way glorify violence. This is a common objection from detractors, but he demolishes it with ease. To paraphrase Vogel, the violence in his films is the way it is because it is honest. There is NOTHING fun about the violence in his films, because violence is never fun. It’s his disdain of violence and its lingering effects that lead to the way he makes movies, not a love of it.
Beyond Horror goes a long way in showing that those who are involved in making this kind of art are not psychotic monsters. The extreme content in there films are intentional, not just extreme for extreme’s sake. It isn’t only about trying to outdo what has been done before (although that is sometimes a part of it). It’s about telling a story. A story that might not be pleasant, but it’s honest. It is not simply a part of the genre driven by a bloodlust or a fetish for violence. Violence is bad, and that’s why these films are made. We are not meant to be desensitized to this kind of brutality.
Not every film is for every person. Getting even more particular, not every kind of horror film is for every horror fan. Few films have been more controversial and maligned than the extreme horror film. They portray, often in explicit detail, the depravity of the world we live in. Because of this, not every one will love this documentary. That being said, I still encourage all horror fans to check this out. Thanks to Koch and Seitz, Beyond Darkness allows viewers to get to the nitty gritty of the horror genre’s most controversial films and filmmakers. It will make you uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the point. We are supposed to be uncomfortable.