14 January 2016

Killing for Culture:
From Edison to ISIS —
A New History of Death on Film

Killing For Culture

Killing for Culture, by David Kerekes and David Slater, was first published in 1994, and a second edition appeared the following year. The book “explores images of death and violence, specifically moving images, and the human obsession with looking (and not looking) at them”, and after twenty years it has been updated in a third edition (now subtitled From Edison to ISIS — A New History of Death on Film).

The book discusses the use of snuff films as a plot device in horror films, including Peeping Tom, Slaughter (retitled Snuff), and—in the new edition—August Underground’s Mordum. It also examines the history of mondo documentaries (from Mondo Cane to Executions) and the representation of real death in the media.

Previous editions were about the myth of snuff, though today snuff films arguably do exist. The new edition covers terrorist propaganda videos (hostages beheaded by Al Quaeda and ISIS) and Luka Magnotta’s murder video One Lunatic, One Ice Pick. (Fox News posted an ISIS video showing the execution of Muadh al-Kasasbeh on its website in 2015, the only mainstream news outlet to publish ISIS footage uncensored.)

There are other works dealing with similar topics, such as Sweet and Savage and the Channel 4 documentary Does Snuff Exist? from 2006 (directed by Evy Barry), though Killing for Culture remains a definitive examination of the most extreme films ever made. Its new edition is over 600 pages long, more than twice the length of the second edition.