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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

MONDO FREUDO/ MONDO BIZARRO -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle


In 1962, exploitation filmmakers had a massive surprise hit with the shock-u-mentary MONDO CANE (Italian for "Dog's World"), a showcase for the twisted,  bizarre, and exotic things that go on in the world.  Audiences didn't know or care that the actual footage was heavily augmented with obviously staged material, and it was such a success that it even scored an Oscar for Best Song ("More").

As you might guess, this was followed by scores of imitations including 1966's MONDO BIZARRO (Severin Films). Producers Bob Cresse and Lee Frost spared every expense to put together a mixed bag of shocking sex and violence vignettes from around the world, or rather from in and around the Hollywood area with lots of stock footage of foreign countries to give things a faux international flavor.

The result is an interesting look at what audiences found shocking in 1966 and what exploitation filmmakers were allowed to get away with in terms of sex, violence, and forbidden content.

We the audience are invited to view it all as vicarious voyeurs, sometimes by means of a supposed super-powered telescopic lens (with infra-red capabilities for night shooting) that brings us up close to such forbidden nocturnal activities as a voodoo ritual in the Bahamas and half-naked lovers cavorting on a dark beach somewhere in California.

The most authentic footage is found in a sequence about spring break on the California coast, in which we see real-life mid-sixties teens blowing into town by the hundreds to engage in bacchanalian revelries.

There's also a lengthy bit which simply invites us to gaze at bikini-clad babes sunbathing on a public beach, and a profile of a man who lies on a bed of nails and pushes long needles through his cheeks (this part is disturbingly real). This is followed by a man who eats glass, although I'm betting this guy's not the real deal.

MONDO BIZARRO gets going when it starts focusing on sex, beginning with the relatively innocuous with a day in the bustling Frederick's of Hollywood mail order room (complete with models showing off their latest fashions for us) and night footage of various prostitutes, male and female, plying their wares on Hollywood Boulevard. There's also a few scenes of nude body painting, art classes with a nude model, and a beatnik photog snapping a topless dancing girl.

More endearing fakery comes with a naive guy's first visit to a massage parlor (supposedly in the Far East), which we witness through a one-way mirror. Already this technique has been used in the film's opening as supposedly unsuspecting women are filmed, again through one-way glass, stripping off in a dressing room with their eyes crudely obscured for anonymity.

The really dark side of sex comes into play with a trip to "Berlin" where leering audience members relive the glories of the Third Reich by gleefully watching a play about a Jewish girl who is kidnapped, stripped naked, and whipped as Hitler's recorded voice blares out. 

The film ends with a lengthy slave auction in which California's Bronson Canyon doubles as the Middle East and our high-tech telescopic lens captures wealthy sheiks bidding on hapless, naked slave girls who are brought out one at a time from their cages on the back of a truck (their lower regions crudely obscured to avoid obscenity charges). 

Cresse's sober voiceover observations ("To a maggot, the cadaver is infinity") add extra camp-humor icing to the cake.  While much of this sounds horrifically unsuitable for decent folk to watch (though it must've been irresistibly titillating to audiences at the time), the fact that it's all so wonderfully fake is what now gives MONDO BIZARRO its substantial entertainment value.


The second shock-doc on Severin's double-feature Blu-ray disc is the follow-up, MONDO FREUDO (also from 1966), which is more of the same but with even greater emphasis on the dark side of sex.

As with MONDO BIZARRO, the most true-to-life stuff involves real-life teenagers out for a good time.  Here, they're shown riding around up and down Hollywood Boulevard at night (for no apparent reason other than it's a fun thing to do) and hanging out in Watusi clubs.

The film then wastes little time steering us into a strip club where we get to watch a dancer named "Baby Bubbles" do her thing. While the club looks suspiciously like the same soundstage where almost every other such scene in these two "Mondo" films takes place, the dancer herself is a knockout (we'll see her again).

The same can't be said for all of the supposed prostitutes on display at other clubs (this time in both Tijuana and jolly old England, we're told), who pose as dancers while actually advertising themselves to potential clients. 

We learn that as long as they're wearing outfits that can be purchased in a store, they qualify as "models" and can therefore legally display their naughty bits for an audience. Makes sense, I guess!

More slave auctions take place, this time in Mexico, with more nudity and more of that odd film-scratching effect to obscure the more forbidden zones.  Then, a lengthy visit to a black mass ritual takes up much of the film's latter half, with a woman who appears to be "Baby Bubbles" herself writhing vigorously in black undies (once again, she's a total knockout) before helping to initiate another woman into the cult during a blood ceremony. 

My enjoyment of both documentaries was greatly increased upon second viewing thanks to the commentary tracks by Johnny Legend and Eric Caidin, whose humorous remarks on the onscreen action and first-hand stories about the times and places involved are as entertaining as the films themselves.  Also of much interest is an informative featurette, "The Cadaver Is Infinity: Bob Cresse, Lee Frost, and the Birth of American Mondo", featuring Chris Poggiali. 

Much of the lurid material in MONDO FREUDO/MONDO BIZARRO seems relatively tame these days, but it's interesting to see what was once considered so shockingly taboo to movie audiences.  (Admittedly, some of it still is, and viewer discretion is advised.)  But whether you're shocked, titillated, or simply moved to laughter, chances are you'll have a mondo good time watching.

Buy it from Severin Films

Special Features:
4K Scans From Original "Something Weird" Vault Negatives
Audio Commentary with Johnny Legend and Eric Caidin
The Cadaver Is Infinity: Bob Cresse, Lee Frost and the Birth of American Mondo – Interview With Chris Poggiali
Mondo Bizarro Trailer
Mondo Freudo Trailer
English Subtitles


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