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Salò: or 120 Days of Sodom

director: Pier Paolo Passolini
written by: Pier Paolo Passolini

See also, "Windows in Salò" in the Cinema drawer.


This film appears in Time Out London's list of the 100 best horror films of all time (at #77). It is an excellect list, though not as a definitive top 100, an idea which is always inherently absurd, but as a list of 100 that deserve to be considered among the greatest ever. Although, I question whether Salò is horror. Most definitions of horror involve fear of the unknown. Once the threat is known, it is no longer horror but merely fear. And the threat in Salò, the thing to be feared, is not at all hidden. Unless, perhaps, the viewer is blind to it.

It is an amazingly film on its own, that successfully brings what is an intentionally recursive and hyper-clinical book into a two-hour film. Where the society of liberatines in the book self-destructs within its own self-establishment, the society in the film knows its destined end through the approaching allied forces. And while the sex, degredation, and power games of the movie are quite tame (and limited) in comparison to the book (though, successfully manipulated to work within the short frame of a film), the movie does not lose any of the book's critique of establishment power structures.

If you have the Criterion, the full package of madditional material is a potent supplement to the film, helping contemporary viewers get back to the time of its making, and opening the film to many of its subtleties. The supplementals are as highly recommended as the film.

But is it horror?