What is our obsession with looking at death? No sooner had the camera been invented than it was used to record images of the dead and dying. From Thomas Edison (who staged executions on film) to the mythos of the snuff movie to sickening murder porn uploaded onto the darknet to the obscene news footage that TV channels seem to force-feed us with practically every night, death and the movie camera have always been inextricably, repulsively and fascinatingly linked together.
Killing for Culture traces our voyeuristic fixation with death from its earliest beginnings, and it’s an exhaustive and engrossing journey that comes highly recommended but is definitely not for the squeamish. It seems like no gory stone is left unturned here, with chapters that contain everything from the lurid history of ‘mondo’ cinema, thrill kill videos and fetish zines, to necrobabes and the rise of death porn to – most disturbingly – the films we know are awfully real, including the execution videos of ISIS and the grisly mind-crippling footage loaded onto the internet by the ‘Dnipropetrovsk Maniacs’, Igor Suprunyuck and Viktor Sayenko.
Stopping off along the way are chapters analysing death in the media, censorship, and the alleged snuff films produced by the notorious Manson family, as well as a hefty slice of more legitimate cinematic offerings: Paul Schrader’s masterful Hardcore, Cronenberg’s Videodrome and even Sidney Lumet’s classic newsroom drama Network all get a scholarly and meaty dissection. With this freshly updated version of Killing for Culture, authors David Kerekes and David Slater have really done something quite extraordinary – they have taken a subject which (at least on the surface) seems too grotesque and hydra-headed to ever properly pin down and they have not only succeeded in pinning it down, they have nailed it to the examination table and split it open from groin to gullet, exposing every nasty blood clot and cancer ridden artery along the way. It’s a studious and richly illustrated volume but it’s not the pictures you have to worry about when you open up this tome – the myriad of photographs, video covers and grainy VHS stills are nothing compared to the true horrors buried inside the text.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing tacky or sensationalist about it - if anything, this is an extremely well-balanced, well-structured and elegantly written piece of research – but it’s also a dead-on freefall through the foulest parts of the human psyche and, like all great horror stories (factual or fictional) it’s a book that’s impossible to put down once you begin reading it.
KILLING FOR CULTURE FROM EDISON TO ISIS: A NEW HISTORY OF DEATH ON FILM / AUTHORS: DAVID KEREKES, DAVID SLATER / PUBLISHER: HEADPRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW