5 Movies Which Busted Open Taboo Subject Matters

By: Clare Simpson

There are certain subjects in society that are just plain taboo. They don’t make for polite dinner conversation and they are swept under the carpet in a hasty manner. Personally, I have no problem discussing each and every subject under the sun – even the ickiest – and I have from an early age sought out transgressive cinema, music, literature and art.

It has to be said that cinema has provided me with the finest and most memorable moments of transgression. The portrayal of taboo subjects or acts is fascinating in the world of film, even just to see how directors will present the issues and what thought provoking morsels we can take away with the films.

In real life there ARE necrophiliacs, coprophiliacs, people into bestiality and incest, as well as the enduring snuff movie myths. and the films that cover such subjects are not necessarily exploitative in their approach to their subject matter. Some are serious works of art. So I present to you five memorable films that have dared to delve into the world of taboo subjects. Please remain morbidly fascinated!

5. Snuff – Emanuelle in America (1977)

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Featuring the delectable ‘Black Emanuelle’ – Laura Gemser, Emanuelle in America is a sexploitation film helmed by one of the sleaziest directors in the annals of Italian exploitation cinema – Joe D’Amato. The D’Amato Emanuelle films feature sexual perversions that go far beyond anything portrayed in the ‘official’ Emmanuelle franchise.

In the film, Emanuelle gets up to all sorts of sexy hijinks in order to get the ultimate scoop for her career in journalism. She joins a modern day harem and travels to Venice to see what diplomats get up to in their parties. There are all sorts of sexual goings on. Some of it hardcore and totally outrageous (a woman fondling a horse for real) but what really stands out are the (simulated) snuff movie scenes that Emanuelle stumbles upon in her investigations. The snuff contains scenes of women having their breasts cut off, hot tar dildo assaults and women being strung up by their vaginas.

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It is extremely jarring in the film, which is 95% based on consensual somewhat pervy sex, to have these moments of grotesque snuff violence. What did D’Amato hope to achieve by juxtaposing sex with murder? He was probably exploiting fears about the existence of snuff movie rings around the world. Snuff and exploitation have a long association with each other – ranging from the death scenes in the Mondo Movie right up to Ruggero Deodato parading the actors in Cannibal Holocaust in an Italian court to prove that he hadn’t produced a snuff movie.

As an exploitation maven, I have to say that I love Emanuelle in America despite, or maybe because of, its insane sleaze factor and that includes the snuff sequences. It’s just so random, prurient and bizarre it makes a delicious heady exploitation cocktail. And for the record, the snuff scenes look like something out of Salo – they are that nasty. But Gemser’s infectious enthusiasm for all things salacious is catchy and we capitulate to the debauchery in the film – horse penises, snuff et al.

4. Coprophilia – Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

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One of cinema’s most infamous taboo breaking films, Salo tends to fiercely divide viewers – there are those who consider it a mighty piece of transgressive art and there are those who view it as a sick and pointless litany of highly depraved acts. One of those acts that features highly in the film is coprophagy – the eating of excrement.

The film is a transposition of the Marquis de Sade’s novel – The 120 Days of Sodom onto Fascist Italy in its dying days. Four very wealthy and respected libertines with filthy sexual practices set up camp in a mansion and bring with them kidnapped children, prostitutes, their daughters and all manner of sexual freaks and deviants. The general idea is to wallow in extreme sexual perversion. Of course it all ends up with the hideous sexual torturing of the children and their deaths.

What really arrests the viewer is the sheer transgressive nature of the film – best exemplified by the generous attention paid to acts of coprophilia and coprophagy. A young girl is forced to eat the Duke’s poop and then there is a lavish (!) meal where everyone tucks into a plate of good old human excrement. The film is very stark, bleak and without hope. It is difficult to watch from its beginning to its end, not so much due to all the coprophagy that goes on, but due to the pervading atmosphere of nihilism through the film.

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Poop eating becomes a metaphor for the worst excesses perpetrated by those in charge of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy – how debased society becomes under totalitarian regimes with corrupt ideals. Coprophagy was also used to make similar comments about society when it was utilised by the radical performance artists – Otto Muehl and the Vienna Aktionists. Disgusted by the Holocaust and the extent to which their native Austria had participated in the horror – the Vienna Aktionists felt that only extreme defilement of the body (via coprophiliac acts such as administering enemas) reflected the world in which they lived.

Pasolini’s film, with its acts of coprophagy, sends a powerful message of despair at the baser instincts of the human race. It is a howl of rage against the lack of tenderness and compassion in the world – .portrayed in the vilest of terms as a sucker punch to the gut of the viewer.

3. Bestiality – The Beast (1975)

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Sultan of Sleaze Walerian Borowczyk directs this unabashed portrayal of animal-human sexual relations in a film considered so over the top and controversial, it has been suppressed for many years and is only coming into availability recently.

An arranged marriage between the beautiful Lucy and Mathurin, who happens to be both deformed and retarded, is arranged at a mansion that has seen better days. When Lucy arrives at the venue with her aunt, she winds up at the stables and sees two horses copulating. Lucy is quite excited but her aunt who is chaperoning her, is disgusted.

At the mansion, a servant tells tales of the ancestors’ exploits to Lucy. In particular the tale of Romilda and her fight with a beast. Lucy sees pictures of bestiality that turn her on sexually, even though she has yet to meet Mathurin. At a meal, Lucy soon learns of Mathurin’s uncouth behaviour. She wants to leave the mansion but everyone is pissed to the gills on red wine and fall asleep.

Lucy goes to bed in her wedding dress and dreams that she is Romilda being menaced by a black hairy beast. It pursues her through the forest and she gets stuck on a tree. The beast masturbates and licks Lucy in her dream. Lucy wakes up in a sweat and unsure that she was dreaming, creeps into Mathurin’s room but he is fully dressed and asleep. Lucy goes back to bed and masturbates (as all women in Borowczyk films do).

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In a continuation of the dream, Lucy copulates with the Beast and thoroughly enjoys it. The beast masturbates all over her with copious amounts of ejaculate which Lucy rubs into her breasts and body. The beast then dies of exhaustion. Waking up, Lucy runs into Mathurin’s room and finds him dead. She raises the alarm for all the other guests by screaming loudly. It turns out that Mathurin has thick black hair all over his body and a tail. Lucy and her aunt flee in terror.

The Beast makes no bones about its subject matter and graphically portrays a taboo subject that other film directors would merely tiptoe around. A lot of the action in the film is pure silliness and very boring until we get to the beast scenes. The acting is horrid and nearly ruins the film. However, the sex scenes featuring the beast are so off the planet and surreal, they are well worth watching for addicts of Eurotrash and lovers of extreme cinematic material. I cannot think of another film that so lustfully immerses itself in the taboo subject of bestiality.

2. Incest – Close My Eyes (1991)

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Natalie and Richard are brother and sister who don’t really get to know each other until they are older as they have been brought up in different households. Richard is a highly successful town planner and Natalie smoulders resentfully as an administrative assistant in a series of low paid jobs. She does, however, land on her feet when she marries a wealthy investment banker named Sinclair. Richard meanwhile gives up his job to work as an eco-magazine journalist.

The pair have always had a lot of sexual tension between them and this explodes into a highly passionate illicit affair. Richard becomes obsessed with Natalie and even attempts suicide. He shows up at Sinclair and Natalie’s palatial home only to be whisked away by Sinclair on a boat trip where he finds out Sinclair has cottoned onto the fact that Natalie has a lover. Sinclair grills Richard but does not uncover the truth.

Sinclair and Natalie decide to go and live in the States due to the recession. They hold a farewell party which Richard attends. He gives Natalie a hard time and the pair have a scuffle in the countryside. When they come back to the big house, it is clear to Sinclair what the set up is, but in a magnanimous gesture he forgives them. And it turns out Sinclair and Natalie are not going to the USA after all.

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Close My Eyes is a very tasteful film which treats the subject of brother/sister incest in a non exploitative way. The film is helped by a very strong cast (Alan Rickman, Saskia Reeves and Clive Owen as the three leads) and a sense of purpose other than merely portraying a film about incest. Themes of early 1990s Britain peek through – namely AIDS, the Recession and ecological awareness.

It is a typical British film in many ways – tackling the type of issues so beloved by British film directors. The relationship between Richard and Natalie is conveyed through frank sexual scenes, but they are not sensationalised. The film is compelling as we follow the relationship. Saskia Reeves and Clive Owen make the film all too believable with the intensity of their acting. Deceptively looking like a mainstream film, I would have to describe Close My Eyes as an arthouse film instead. I cannot find the mainstream embracing this film. Instead, it has a niche of discerning viewers who appreciate it as a work of great merit by director Stephen Poliakoff.

1. Necrophilia – Love Me Deadly (1973)

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Lindsay Finch, a beautiful blonde haired woman who could have any (living) man she wants, has an unfortunate obsession with the dead. She dresses up in black to attend funerals and wakes, and she takes the liberty of having a good snog with the corpses when nobody is looking. A man named Fred recognises Lindsay from all the funerals she goes too and reckons they are twin necrophiliac souls.

Fred’s vein of necrophilia runs even deeper than Lindsay’s. He belongs to a Satan worshipping necro nookie cult which stages get togethers with fresh corpses in the local mortuary. As if this didn’t sound deranged enough, Fred takes the liberty of embalming anyone living that he fancies to turn them into necrophiliac sex toys! Meanwhile at the coven, Lindsay meets a man called Alex. They marry but she is unable to consummate the marriage and a sinister twist is in the offing…

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An early 70s precursor to late, more extreme films about necrophilia – namely Buio Omega, NEKRomantik and Lucker – the film is interesting as a portrait of the psychology of a necrophiliac. It is not a particularly disturbing movie despite its dark subject matter (unlike the other three films mentioned above) and it has a tendency to get bogged down with soap opera-esque melodrama. However it is highly watchable and daring in the themes it portrays – including a homosexual subplot which would have been bold for its time. Still able to fascinate a 2013 audience even though it is a 70s exploiter, I find this kind of obscure, forbidden fare much more interesting than most of the modern dreck which passes as cinema entertainment these days.