Horror Movie A Day: SALO (1975) You should know there are a thousand occasions when one does not desire a woman’s anus
Published at: Nov. 28, 2008, 1:35 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
While I was breaking today’s movie, SALO OR 120 DAYS OF SODOM, out of its plastic I noticed something that made me laugh out loud. You see the cover for the Criterion disc above, right? You probably have a good idea that this isn’t a family friendly movie, right? A naked crying girl doesn’t really scream out “Hey, kids! Want to watch a movie?” At least it doesn’t to me.
On the plastic was a sticker. Usually this sticker on a Criterion release denotes the disc as a limited pressing or a director’s signature edition of the title. Here the sticker simply warned that SALO had explicit content. The sticker was positioned no more than an inch away from the tuft of pubic hair you can see on the cover. That’s a little bit of a “No Shit” moment and had me laughing.
I don’t really know what the fuck I just watched. There is no real story here, only an increasing level of depravity.
Basically you have a small group of older men and older women in some position of power during the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy. The first 20 minutes has these elegant men and women touring the country and finding dozens of young boys and girls to bring to a secluded mansion for reasons unknown.
In this mansion it is explained clearly to these teens that they will not be leaving and have no rights. A new set of rules and laws have been written by the elders and any breaking of these rules will be punishable by extreme measures. The daily scheduled is outlined in which there’s story-time in the orgy room, followed by an orgy in the orgy room, but an orgy in which no male/female sex is allowed.
In other words, there’s a lot of butt-fucking in this movie. A lot. Of butt-fucking. In this movie. A lot.
Now, there is a line this movie doesn’t cross. Everything is implication and we don’t get CALIGULA-esque porn, thank God. It doesn’t go that far.
And that’s about the movie.
Storytime is held in order to turn on the elders, so they can get their rape and fuck on and the stories always act as a precursor to what the elders are going to do. We get these ladies talking about being covered in semen as 6 year olds and discovering sex, becoming child prostitutes, which leads to regular sex.
Then we get a woman who is an expert at scat and bam… we get 30 minutes of girls and boys forced to eat shit and ass-contests. Then we get stories of torture and that takes us home, ending the movie with a series of eye-gougings, tongue removal, nipple burning and cock searing.
I suppose director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s point was to show us how desensitized we are and really try to push taboos while depicting violence as truly horrific, not something to enjoy. I can see that argument, but I tend to think that’s only a surface justification.
Listen, I love horror films. I love great gore, like most of you reading this. I remember vividly seeing the shotgun to the face head explosion in DAWN OF THE DEAD as a kid. I remember looking forward to seeing how creatively Jason would hack up another stupid counselor. Hell, I still do. I love seeing moments in films that make me go “Oh shit!,” like post-bus accident attempted resuscitation in THE ORPHANAGE.
I’m not going to apologize for enjoying onscreen violence. I recognize it’s not reality and I lead a very moral life. I’ve never hurt an animal, I’ve never cheated on a girlfriend, I’ve never beat anybody up. I’m a pretty passive person. So what if I like gore in horror movies?
So I’m not going to attack this film for the graphic, seemingly pointless, torture. I appreciate what it did, how it made me feel, but I think the whole “it’s making a comment on society” is a hollow argument to obscure that the filmmakers really just wanted to make something really fucked up, something that will genuinely disturb people.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s that exact reason I love seeing Paul Schrader’s movies. Much like Schrader’s work I feel dirty after watching SALO, but unlike Schrader’s work SALO felt like a hollow experience.
Sure, you get really awesome fucked up dialogue, like the line I picked for the subhead, spoken by one of the elders after being refused by one of the teen boys. He is offered pleasure by one of the elder ladies and his response is what I picked. I guarantee you that line has never been uttered in another movie, probably even counting porn (but I won’t cover the bet if it’s found in a porn, sorry).
There are a wide array of characters in this thing, mostly the elders… presented as creepy middle-aged men and heavily made-up ladies way beyond their prime. One of the leaders looks just like chubby Gerard Butler, so if they decide to remake this… I think they have their first actor…
Another one of the elders, the President, is played by a cross-eyed, high-pitched balding man who is very, very creepy. No doubt about it, the casting is superb and perfectly off-setting. Some of the kids are creepy, too, including the Nazi-youth like guards who are drawn into the sexcapades and horrors, as well.
And when I say kids, I’m sure everybody was of age. I have no doubt they cast as young as they could to really drive home how fucked up this all is, but this certainly isn’t child porn by any means.
I don’t know… did the whole thing disturb me? I wouldn’t say it disturbed me as much as it made me feel dirty for watching. The tortures are graphic and gory, but without any character development they just come off as exploitation. I don’t care about the people being tortured, can’t really tell many of them apart other than whether it’s one of the boys or one of the girls I’ve seen over the course of the movie. It’s rare that anybody besides the elders speak so I didn’t feel any personal involvement outside of a standard pity for any human having to undergo a rigorous torture.
People give HOSTEL a lot of shit, but like it or not in both movies Eli Roth went out of his way to develop the characters you see tortured later. You can argue how successfully he did that all you want, but the foundation is there. You can buy into it or not, but here there is no option. Shit just happens, people are fucked, tortured without any precursing development.
Final Thoughts: It’s a bit of a shock jumping from two extremely fun horror movies to one so full of depravity and void of any fun, but I don’t hate the movie. I don’t feel the desire to ever revisit it… ever… nor would I recommend it to just anybody. A small niche of genre fans can appreciate this movie even if they don’t like it. And sometimes people just want to see shit that pushes their buttons, which this movie definitely does. Not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, that’s for damn sure.