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BAN THIS SICK FILTH - A GUIDE TO GORNO

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In 2011, horror cinema finds itself in a tricky position. More accurately, it finds itself stuck between a rock and a rock hard erection loitering with intent at the edge of a girl's mouth as eels fly out of her anus and feces dribbles down her chin. How do you scare or gross out kids when anything you can find in the darkest corners of your own imagination has already been dredged up by someone else with an internet connection?

In recent times, directors have certainly had a crack at tackling the problem of a desensitised public. There's been the advent, of course, of the much discussed 'torture porn' era, a horror sub-genre that retched through Lars Von Trier's Antichrist and Steven R. Monroe's I Spit On Your Grave before reaching an ugly climax with 2009's The Human Centipede. Somehow, though, even this happy tale of shit-swallowing and having a corpse's arse for a field of vision was boring enough to prompt a clumsily-titled hardcore spin-off called The Human Sexipede.

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While that was easy enough for filth-hardened Western audiences to laugh off, Srdjan Spasojevic's charming A Serbian Film didn't exactly have people rolling in the aisles. Its portrayal of the rape of a newborn baby, a scene in which the film's star, Srdjan Todorovic, decapitates a woman and fucks her headless torso, and another where a victim has her teeth pulled out before being suffocated to death with a cock proved enough to summon the spectre of Mary Whitehouse back to the land of the living.

All the old art/trash arguments played themselves out as they have done a million times before following the detonation of such devastating cultural nukes as Elvis' swinging hips and Anna Friel kissing another lass on TV. For some reason, though – perhaps a willingness to tally A Serbian Film's gross out sensibilities with an internet-corroded (anti-)social hivemind – no one seemed to want to trace Spasojevic's rank vine back to root.

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In truth, this brand of sexual horror is nothing new, nor is it nearly as extreme as what preceded it in the 70s and 80s. If you head to your local video store and file through the stacks of well-thumbed VHSs long enough, you might just find something more repellent than A Serbian Film, but put to tape four decades ago. Forget blaxploitation, sexploitation, nunsploitation and even nazisploitation. If these filmmakers are really going to keep up with the levels of fucked up found online, they’ve got to go all the way to Gorno for inspiration. The original cross-pollination of hardcore porn and extreme violence, Gorno, like heavy metal, was unleashed at the death knell of the hippie era.

Horror and softcore had co-existed throughout the 60s, even in accepted stables like Hammer Horror, but X-rated sex and gratuitous bloodletting hadn’t really coalesced outside of the artistic avant-garde. The first instance of true Gorno was perhaps 1970’s Sex Psycho, directed by Walt Davis. Deemed unreleasable, it was shown neither on video nor in theatres. It’s easy to see why. Among its litany of misdeeds: a woman giving head to her recently deceased husband, a dude getting a meat cleaver to the head while bumming his brother and a girl biting off a dick and choking to death on it. This is all played out to an unlistenable organ score that repeats The French Connection theme and "Night on Bald Mountain" ad nauseam.

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A couple of years later, and over the ocean the eurotrash industry of the mid-70s was beginning to explode, with directors like Jess Franco, Jean Rollin and Joe D’Amato becoming the established auteurs of sinema. Franco’s Erotikill merged Hammer Horror lesbo-vampirism with psychedelia and hardcore shots, while Rollin’s Phantasmes inserted XXX clips into standard castle/count/virgin fare.

In America, the grindhouses were showing the most outré stuff from across the globe, films like Thriller: A Cruel Picture, a Swedish revenge flick that was rumoured to feature a genuine cadaver having its eye stabbed out. But the US was easily keeping up in the new world market with its own sexual horror, with predictably plotted films like Forced Entry, Sex Wish and Unwilling Lovers being especially transgressive.

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1974’s Hardgore is one of the genre’s lost classics, with its title neatly summarizing its exact nature. While Sex Psycho is unwatchable for anyone who isn’t Patrick Bateman, Hardgore is a campy fuck-fest of titanic proportions, perfect with pizza and beer. Riding on the entrails of the era’s occult and supernatural obsessions, it’s set in a Garth Marenghi-style hospital and it’s an epochal slice of demented smut. There are flying dildo rockets, a talking severed penis, a coven of Satanic doctors, electrocuted vaginas, and in-shot boom mics. Its defining scene, which succinctly makes visual the exact point between gore and porn, features a cult henchman fucking a girl from behind on a guillotine, only for the blade to come down and slice off her head upon the point of orgasm.

1976 saw the release of Through the Looking Glass, which connoisseurs still consider to be the benchmark for the genre. It’s the sort of thing that could only be conceived in the mid-70s – a psychedelic epic that etches links between the Marquis de Sade, The Story of O and Alice in Wonderland way before Alan Moore did. Its production values and artistic pretensions secured its place in screenings at the World Theater, NY, where Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat premiered. Beginning with enigmatic Scream Queen and sometime Vogue model Catherine Burgess – who Times Square historian Bill Landis called "a $1.98 Catherine Deneuve" – masturbating in front of a mirror, she’s soon being transported through a Jodorowsky-esque portal into a demonic netherworld where she explores the realms of sexuality with the ghost of her dead dad.

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As the plot thickens, we’re subjected to a POV shot of the protagonist’s father’s finger entering her vagina (essentially an inversion of that moment in Noé’s Enter The Void), a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party that disintegrates into an orgy, multiple hallucinogenic sex sequences and a Dantean vision of Hell that sees a woman bathing in urine and faeces. It’s basically Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders re-imagined by Sasha Grey; not a film that’s easy to forget.

The 80s saw sleaze-maestro Joe D’Amato complete lurid sexploitation adventures such as Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust, but, despite the appearance of non-hardcore horror films like Nekromantik and Aftermath exploring thanatophilia (ie slutting your way through the corpse demographic) to degrees of fame, well-made Gorno seems to have slowly faded from our screens with time. There have been plenty of porno horror spoofs in the last few years – from a quick Google I found Re-Penetrator, Night of the Giving Head and A Cockwork Orange. But true Gorno seems to lay dormant in a dusty crypt, while watered down imitators are hailed as the outer limits of acceptability. Fortunately, with the online world at your fingertips, it’s now easier than ever to delve headlong into this wondrous backlog of brain-frying gonzo-terror.

TOM KILLINGBECK