Not everything in life is pretty, there’s war, death, disease, and so much more. So naturally art will reflect life, it will force us to both stare at things that makes life worth living and make us look at the things we hate most about ourselves. Exploitation films are just a medium to force movie goers to look at the taboo, the unclean, the unknown and cringe in disgust.
There are plenty of exploitation films out there, some of them even gain a cult following. Such as: Night of the Living Dead, Django Unchained, Drive Angry, Death Proof, Hobo with a Shotgun, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Master of the Flying Guillotine just to name a few.
But, exploitation films is more of an umbrella term to refer to a vast array of different types of films. Some of them are a bit too graphic to discuss here. So, today we’re going to talk about one genre. That genre is, of course, Mondo films. Now to understand what this is, we need to understand what it means and where it comes from. Mondo films are Italian exploitation films that were popular in the sixties.
Mondo is the Italian word for world. A Mondo film is an exploitation pseudo-documentary film. In such films, they usually depict sensationalized topics, scenes, or situations. You know, everything that would get Karen from the PTA to scream at the top of her lungs while holding her little dog.
Most Mondo films, like most exploitation films, tend to cover more taboo subjects like death or sex. They also like to discuss foreign cultures, in a less than respectful light. Of which has caused accusations of ethnocentrism and racism by critics.
Though many say that films such as European Nights and World by Night both 1 and 2 are examples of the mondo film genre. The best example of what exactly a mondo film it would be more of Mondo Cane (A Dog's World) by Paolo Cavara, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi. A film, though from a rather niche genre saw great commercial success after its release.
It isn't uncommon to see copy cats outside of the mondo film genre going as far to put mondo in the name. Keep in mind that this didn't just happen with films purely in Italian. (Where the word would make much more sense.) But even films in English had the word mondo in the title. To name of few here's some for example: Mondo Trasho, Mondo Weirdo: A Trip to Paranoia Paradise, and Mondo Brutale.
Bear in mind that while these movies all used mondo in their titles. None of these were true mondo films. Something akin to the idea of those five-dollar Disney movie rip offs. Sure, they're animated and look a bit like it. But they're not Disney films.
It was like pre-internet click bait. The phrase Mondo promised sensationalized topics in a documentary style. But many of these films failed to deliver that true mondo style. Of course, later the naming convention fell out of favor and less films used mondo in their names.
But still, as many artists do, filmmakers wanted to have their work been seen. So what better way to have work be seen than be shocking? Not only that, but they had to be the most shocking. So it became a constant contest to see who could film the most insane things as possible.
Things such as cruelty to animals, accidents, tribal initiation rites, surgeries, and many other things that you typically don't see in a movie theater were featured in your typical mondo film. Though, thankfully, much of the action is staged. But there were some filmmakers who insisted on capturing the 'reality' of subjects. So often they filmed things really happening or used film of it.
There were some 'softer' forms of mondo films. Like mondo films that included sex (Mondo Sex), celebrities (Mondo Elvis), youth culture (Mondo teeno), and gay subculture (Mondo Rocco). These films were not meant to be high forms of 'art'. They were cheap and done dirty just like much of their subjects. The goal of the whole genre was to shock people for the sake of shocking people.
At little bit after the sixties rage with mondo, it did see a resurgence in the 1980s. These mondo films focused less on sex and more on death. On screen death that is. The Faces of Death series would be the poster child for this style of mondo movie. Much of the footage used in these types of films were fake and passed off as real. (Think paranormal activity.) But, just like before some film makers insisted on having the real stuff. So, they used scenes of autopsies, suicides, and accidents.
The very rare film of Mondo Senza Veli (World without Veils) was claimed to feature at it's end the brutal execution of a young Arab rapist by public rectal impalement. However, many believe that this was staged.
All in all, these films aren't really the type of films you really sit down and watch on the reg. But while these films are cringe worthy it doesn't make them any less important. Be it through the claimed purpose by film makers. To capture the cruel reality of life. Or the study of why they got so popular.
Personally, I equate the popularity of these films with the idea of catharsis. This is a term that means to release repressed emotions. This was a term of phrase used by Aristotle who thought that catharsis needed to happen every so often to 'cleanse' the soul. He believed that people are naturally sinful, so to see the acting out of taboo subjects allows a person to experience the action of them (catharsis by proxy) without committing the act.
So maybe there's something to that. Maybe not. Whatever the case may be, we as artists need to look back on this time and learn from the lessons presented there. While capturing the truth of things is important. It's not so important that you need to injure or harm anyone or anything in the making of it.