In this monthly column, I’ll spotlight a horror movie from a country outside the United States that has flown under the radar. The goal is to showcase the talents of horror filmmakers around the world and make sure their voices don’t go unheard.
MOVIE: TAXIDERMIA (2009)
WATCH IF YOU LIKE: BODY HORROR, BODILY FLUIDS, NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY, MARTYRS
This month’s edition of Screams Heard Around the World travels to Hungary for a special film called Taxidermia. Since we’re celebrating body horror month, it seems only appropriate to highlight one of the most disgusting films I’ve ever seen, and I mean that with affection. The film’s cinematography makes some of the most disturbing and nauseating moments gorgeous sequences of abjection. I’ve never felt so transfixed and in awe of vomit, blood, and fluids.
Taxidermia follows three generations of men who each have an unusual obsession: sex, competitive eating, and taxidermy. These obsessions are taken to their most disturbing extremes and may have you rethinking that taxidermy mouse you saw on Etsy. While I could wax poetic about its joining of the abject with beauty, I’ve instead picked five of its most beautifully disgusting moments to entice you to this piece of Hungarian horror.
5. The Overeating and Vomiting
So vomit is a touchy subject for many people, with just a mention of the word sending some into gagging fits. But somehow this film makes vomit something I can’t stop staring at. This sequence is after a speed eating competition, with each competitor gathering around the communal puke bucket to empty their stomach of its recently-consumed contents. Each man leans against a special head support contraption made just for them to rest upon as they regurgitate their food and prepare for the next round of eating. While each man vomits, the camera pans around the tub, never cutting away and instead lingering on each sweaty face, each heave, each moment puke hits the bottom of this tub. While they throw up, the competitors talk between each vomiting spell, normalizing this act that is so repulsive and gag worthy. It may make you nauseous just to read this description, but believe me when I say that it is a phenomenal moment of camerawork.
There is also something to be said about the use of color, with seemingly bright colors dulled, as if the life has been drained out of everything. An unnatural paleness has settled on this film, and this scene reinforces that.
4. The Pop Up Book
In this sequence, our first character, who is obsessed with sex, fantasizes he is in a story book with a young child. Everything but the characters becomes two-dimensional, looking just like the paper cutouts from the books of our childhood. But this beautiful fantasy world turns nightmarish as his obsession with getting off creeps into his interaction with this little girl. I won’t go into much detail, but it involves semen transforming into a shooting star, a moment that made me loudly gasp and laugh out of sheer surprise and confusion. Again, this moment that is objectively disgusting and yet is made into something strangely beautiful, making you consider its beauty instead of outright dismissing its contents. It is a clever way to get the audience to think about abjection, bodily fluids, and what is defined as disgusting.
3. The Bathtub
The film’s first third also contains a glorious sequence about a bathtub and its various uses through its lifetime. The camera, again rotating around its subject, moves through time and space to reflect birth, death, sex, and sadness that has happened, and will happen, in this seemingly innocuous wooden tub. It is one of the film’s first moments of editing artistry and it took my breath away. Up until this point there were a lot of weird penis shots and I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. But this helped me understand that this was going to be a strange movie that was going to keep subverting expectations and making you second guess the concept of beauty in horror films.
2. The Cats and Lard
I love cats, so I couldn’t keep one of the film’s few cat scenes off this list. Don’t worry, nothing that bad happens to the cats. They’re just kept in a weird cat prison where their monstrous owner can watch them eat lard and fatten themselves up. Our competitive eater from the vomiting scene has grown old and is completely bedridden as a consequence of his nutritional habits. His son, a taxidermist, is tasked with taking care of him and his cats, who he believes will be speed eating champions. Again, this is a place awash in pallid colors, a place that once had life but it is being slowly drained of all hope. Taxidermia reeks of desperation and melancholy, with its final third being its saddest, most sympathetic story. This feline-centric scene showcases the use of practical effects to create a human that is almost a monster, blurring the lines between real and fantasy.
1. The Final Taxidermy
This is a spoiler but this wouldn’t be a proper homage to Taxidermia without including its final self-taxidermy scene where a man makes himself into a stuffed piece of art. It is a scene washed in sickly green hues, full of close-ups of cutting up meat. I know they didn’t actually film a surgery, but it sure looks like one, as he cuts out his organs one by one. The close-up sequences feel like an eternity. It is shot like a performance, with every movement of self-surgery executed with precision and purpose, keeping your eyes glued to the screen despite the shudders that wash over your body. When the camera zooms out, it reveals an intricate contraption built for this very purpose, which is never truly explained but it doesn’t have to be. This film is already so gratuitous, it only makes sense to have this machine as its piece de resistance. I won’t spoil the final striking, gory tableau, because it’s worth seeing with your own two, possibly scarred, eyes.