Mondo Movies

Ah, those two magic words! Let’s say them again…MONDO MOVIES. What do those words conjure up? Sadism? Reality? Revulsion? All of these and more? As the good Dr. Francis Gross would say, let me take you on a journey…

When we discuss mondos, we’re talking about real life, or at least an attempt to persuade us we’re watching real life. The Italian title of that old video nasty list resident ‘Cannibal’ may have been ‘Ultimo Mondo Cannibale’, but it’s really just another fictional flesh-eater. True mondo films don’t intentionalise or try to provide a plot – they serve up gleeful helpings of the real thing.

It’s easy to film reality. Before 1910, the cinema had given us ‘Workers Leaving A Factory’, ‘The Kiss of May Irvin and John C.Rice’, ‘A Fight With Sledgehammers’ and even ‘The Electrocution of an Elephant’. Horses died in ‘The Ten Commandments’, and extras in ‘My Love For Ireland’, but it was not until 1961 that those enterprising Italians came up with the ultimate pessimism of ‘Mondo Cane’ or ‘A Dog’s Life’. This time, death was central to the film – the dogs of the title were dispatched under the opening credits. That unfortunate staple of the mondo film, the turtle, comes under attack in this one too, crawling onto the beach to lay it’s eggs and then being overturned (not by the filmmakers, surely?) to bake in the sun.

‘Mondo Cane’ was, unsurprisingly, terrifically popular, and it was given an official seal of approval when it’s them song, ‘More’, won an Oscar. ‘More’ resurfaced again and again, as both the makers of ‘Mondo Cane’ and many other directors realised that death, mutilation and sadism sold by the bucketload. Most of these films followed ‘Mondo Cane’s formula of tribal rituals and slaughterhouse footage, and for twenty years there was a steady drip of (mainly Italian) mondo films, all recycling each others’ ideas and, very often, each others’ footage. The bored mondo audience shifted it’s attention toward ‘snuff’ movies and the debate about Roberta Findlay’s ‘Snuff’ in particular, and it seemed there was no place for the mondo any more.

All this changed with the release of ‘Faces of Death’ in 1978. The aforementioned Dr. Francis B. Gross wishes to exorcise his recurring dream about a funeral, so he takes us on a trip through the world’s abbatoirs, road accidents and death cults for 105 minutes (or 70 in the severely truncated UK release). American audiences lapped it up, undoubtedly due to the use of US news footage and the fact that the film returned every five minutes from Japan or the Amazon to some home-grown atrocities. ‘Faces of Death’ was so successful that two sequels and more than one unofficial semi-sequel followed. Doctor Gross returns for parts two and three (“I would like to invite you on yet another journey”) and the films get predictably duller by turns.

Mondo was back as a genre in it’s own right (although it had always been present as an inherent part of Italian cannibal films – the turtle in ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ is treated rather worse than it’s cousin in ‘Mondo Cane’), and again the rip-offs surfaced, with films such as ‘Fear’ (completely staged ‘faces of near-death’) and ‘Death Faces IV’ (‘an FOD production). Legendary sleazemonger Doris Wishman was so embarrassed by the genre that she took her name off ‘Let Me Die a Woman’, a hilariously tacky sex-change mondomentary.

‘The Killing of America’ took the mondo film to it’s obvious conclusion with it’s history of American murderers. Whilst not as out-and-out repulsive as the Italian mutilation films, this was generally more shocking, pointing out that death isn’t just a foreign movie concern, it’s something that happens on your doorstep. The film was withdrawn from release in America – obviously the great US public wanted their reality held at arm’s length. The Italians retook the mondo mantle and ‘Addio Ultimo Uomo’, the ultimate display of depravities was born. Since then, we’ve had ‘Mondo Cane 2000’ and the cycle seems to have come full-circle. The brutalities of the first ‘Mondo Cane’ pale into insignificance as every imaginable display of hideousness comes out and gets thrown at the viewer. The mondo can go no further.

(David Thomson)

[There’s the facts – next issue, there’ll be the opinions, with two writers expressing rather differing views on the subject! We’d also be interested to hear what you have to say – are mondo movies the ultimate in horror, or have they gone too far? Let us know…]


A range of things from the last few issues that need to be corrected, amended, altered, fixed, added to and apologised for. Firstly, the Sybil Danning article back in TC5 continues to rumble on. ‘Blood’ was also known as ‘Eye of the Labyrinth’, ‘Fire of Love’ as ‘Freedom For Love’, ‘Run Run Joe’ was probably called ‘Run Joe Run’ and ‘Sweet Dirty Tony’ is an alternate title for ‘The Cuba Crossing’. In addition to the guest appearance in the TV series ‘The Fall Guy’ mention in TC6, she also appeared in an episode of ‘Street Hawk’.

As expected, the Christopher Lee filmography last issue had any number of errors, omissions and alterations, mostly in his early career. There are more of these than I have room for here, but by the time you read this, an expanded and hopefully corrected list will have been compiled – this, together with updated filmographies on Linnea and Nastassja, may appear in a future TC, but is also available if you send an SAE to the editorial address.

That’s about that, except to say sorry to James Lorinz for getting his name wrong last time, and to point out that ‘Marine Boy’ used oxy-gum, rather than an oxy-gun, to enable him to breathe underwater. Thanks to Brian Bower, Julian Grainger, Paul Higson, Ray Ridley, Pete Shepherd and Phil Taylor for pointing out various faults.