Mondo is one of the more fascinating tangents to come out of ‘60s cinema; one part anthropological study, sixteen parts exploitation, these “documentaries” purported to shed light on unusual rituals and practices from around the globe. The big fun with all of them is discerning which ones actually offer up the taboo they claim and which ones are yanking the audiences’ chain. This brings us to Severin Films’ spanking new Blu-ray of two of these “shockers," Mondo Freudo and Mondo Bizarro (1966), both hilarious time capsules of ‘60s exploitative wool-pulling.
Mondo Freudo was released in April, with Bizarro quickly following in August; the brainchildren of filmmakers Bob Cresse (Love Camp 7) and Lee Frost (The Thing with Two Heads), the former had seen an advanced copy of Italy’s Mondo Cane (’62) and realized it was going to be a big hit. And he was right. The biggest difference between Italy’s output and Cresse’s however, was the former’s (mostly) real and truly shocking footage; Cresse and Frost instead built their controversy.
Which by today’s standards, leans much closer to adorable than outrageous; within these two films you shall witness: a visit to Frederick’s of Hollywood, a Bahamian voodoo ritual, a Satanic ceremony, a Nazi work shopping a play in Germany, a human pincushion, and many other delights.
Both films cheekily revolve around sex and titillation; many strip clubs are “visited”, many cameras are “hidden”, many “quotations” are needed to cover up their chicanery. There is nothing about either film that screams authentic; establishing shots of Japan or Nassau, Bahamas are followed by cuts to directly indoors, or in the case of Nassau, a California canyon in the evening. (On a Thursday, specifically; that’s when the practitioners meet, the voiceover tells us.) But the majority of scenarios are clotheslines to hang the copious amounts topless females, regardless of destination.
So what is the point of these here Mondos? Well, the early and earnest ones were perhaps sincerely trying to share some insight into other cultures through disturbing, heretofore unseen images. Long before the internet, you had to trust in film to showcase real brutality; this offers a certain validity depending on your willingness to accept something at face value. Easy enough to do if done well.
And then you have the work of Cresse and Frost; from the narration to the wire-hanging globe that whisks us to differing locales, nothing comes across as authentic in Freudo or Bizarro, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective or relentlessly entertaining. There is a sense that the duo greatly favors the lascivious over the anthropological, like a couple of kids who want to make National Geographic just so they can film the boob shots. As a snap shot of loosening morals in American cinema, both Freudo and Bizarro are a stone-cold gas.
Severin Films have served up the extras for your own studies, starting with 4K scans of both films from Something Weird’s 35mm vault negatives; they certainly will never look better in all their greasy low budget charm. For educational purposes, you also get:
The commentaries are a blast, as Legend and Caidin don’t take themselves or the material very seriously (how could they?), but The Cadaver Is Infinity is very informative about the filmmakers, their other works, and the birth of Olympic International, Cresse’s studio. This is essential stuff for fans of low budget filmmaking.
If you’ve always wondered about the Mondo craze but are wary of diving in, I promise you won’t see any atrocities in Freudo or Bizarro; start here where the artifice is meant to titillate, arouse, and amuse. It’s the cheeriest brand of seedy you’ll ever witness.
Movies’ Scores: 4/5, Disc Score: 4/5