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August Underground’s Mordum (Unearthed Films) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • August Underground’s Mordum (Unearthed Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Unearthed Films
    Released on: October 10th, 2023.
    Director: Fred Vogel
    Cast: Fred Vogel, Christie Whiles, Michael Todd Schneider, Jerami Cruise, Killjoy
    Year: 2003
    Purchase From Amazon

    August Underground’s Mordum – Movie Review:

    With the notoriety and success of 2001’s August Underground, it only made sense that the people over at ToeTag Pictures would follow it up with a sequel – and that’s exactly what happened in 2003 with the second film in the series, August Underground’s Mordum.

    The premise is pretty basic - three young serial killers videotape their exploits. The footage captures their descent into total depravity and along the way we witness what they’re up to. Towards the end of movie, a fourth character is introduced (played by Killjoy of Necrophagia) and it all goes downhill from there. Men and women are raped, killed, tortured, degraded and even puked on – all in graphic, unflinching detail.

    Why it exists in the first place is an interesting subject of debate. Is it simply an effects demo for Toe Tag Pictures? If that’s the case, why intentionally degrade the footage? That would seem rather counterproductive in that light. It’s certainly not here to tell much of a story and it’s hard to really call the picture entertaining. It’s far too horrifying to be entertainment, at least in the conventional sense, to anyone but the sickest of the sick – what we have here comes very close of pornography. Is it some sort of nihilistic act of self-expression? If it is, does that make it art? If it is art, in what context is there merit of any kind in this kind of work?

    These were the questions going through my overactive brain while taking all of this in. Mordum is less a film to be watched than it is a film to be experienced. And the experience that it is, is anything but enjoyable. It’s an ugly, hateful, spiteful piece of work that rubs your nose in it all, making you question just why exactly you’re bothering to watch it in the first place. Whereas films like Eric Stanze’s grueling Scrapbook or Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave at least attempt to redeem their exploitative elements through some semblance of a story and giving their villains what they deserve at the end, Mordum does nothing of the sort.

    Mordum was shot on digital video in Pittsburgh, PA and then digitally altered to look like a beat up VHS tape, or, as it’s been put, ‘found footage.’ It’s safe to say that the filmmakers stretched what budget they had quite a ways, as there are some truly disgusting visuals here that truly surpass anything coming out of the mainstream.

    The effects are gratuitous and, through some clever camerawork, exceptionally realistic looking. There are a few spots where you can tell what’s being faked (the genital severing scene is the one that springs to mind) but for the most part, Vogel and company have done an admirable job brining the grue to you. Considering he’s a Savini protégé, it shouldn’t be too surprising but what sticks in your mind isn’t the realism so much as the ferocity. The death and torture in this piece isn’t glossed over of glamorized, it’s portrayed as ugly and vile. It’s hard to look at and unpleasant to watch, and when you think about it, isn’t that how it should be?

    The sexual nature of the carnage is what brings this effort to an entirely different level than its Japanese faux-snuff counterpart, Guinea Pig – Flowers Of Flesh And Blood. Both films are structured like a bad porno film – the extremely loose narrative exists simply to tie in one depraved set piece to the next, and those set pieces serve as money shots to a certain degree. But where Flowers Of Flesh And Blood never quite crosses the line into hardcore territory, August Underground’s Mordum isn’t afraid to fill your eyes with a constant barrage of sexual depravity. While you can’t necessarily make a case to prove that that’s a good thing, it does take the film up to the next level of shock value and it outdoes pretty much anything you’ll be able to think of.

    August Underground’s Mordum – Blu-ray Review:

    Unearthed Films brings August Underground’s Mordum to region free Blu-ray on a 50GB framed at 1.33.1 and offered up in AVC encoded 1080i high definition. The transfer is very much true to source, looking like the ratty, beat up, old VHS tape that it’s meant to look like. The compression is improved over previous DVD editions so that makes it look a bit more authentic but this isn’t the type of movie that should or really even could be cleaned up really at all. So yeah, you shouldn’t be going into this one expecting pristine, high definition quality, as what you get isn’t that – but it is very much a proper presentation of this movie should look like.

    August Underground’s Mordum gets an English language 16-bit LPCM 2.0 mix. Quality here is on par with the video in that it comes across like the audio from an old VHS tape, so it doesn’t sound especially good on a technical level but it does sound ‘right’ for the movie in question. There are no subtitles provided.

    Extras on the Blu-ray disc start off with a new commentary for EFX artist Jerami Cruise and Ultra-Violent Magazine's Art Ettinger. They cover the super abrupt opening scene, who plays who in the movie, how Cruise came to be involved with the movie in the first place, how the project started as a Necrophagia music video, thoughts on the original August Underground movie, how he connected with the ToeTag crew, how at times Cruise would guide the camera to ensure that he wasn't seen on camera doing effects work out of frame, why some of the scenes go on as long as they do without cuts, thoughts on the characters in the movie, how the August Underground movies have been talked about in film school, the stigma that surrounds the movies, the over the top performances in the movie, working with Killjoy on the movie, some of the locations used for the movie and how Ettinger was brought on for legal advice at one point!

    The disc also has a commentary by the ToeTag team Cristie Whiles, Jerami Cruise, Shelby and Fred Vogel that is a fairly scene specific walk through the movie with Vogel having more to say than the others for the most part. They cover who did what behind the camera and in front of the camera, casting the movie, the level of violence on display in the movie, locations used for the shoot, why certain camera angles were chosen, where some of the props used in the movie came from, what it was like set and how Vogel and Shelby got married after making the movie, how hard it was to shoot certain scenes, which scenes really stand out and why, how they came to work with Killjoy after he heard about it from Rue Morgue magazine, what it was like having to film some of the more intense scenes in the movie from a performer's perspective, the different characters in the movie, how intense it was filming the bathroom scene in the finale and plenty more.

    Mordum Lives is a quick five minute piece where Vogel talks about his feelings regarding the movie getting a proper Blu-ray release, how it started as a music video project for Necrophagia, how the movie was really the birth of ToeTag and how it lead to the release of Penance and the rise of ToeTag's notoriety.

    The Most Disturbing Scene is spends five minutes with Vogel exploring the film's absolutely insane finale, how one actress had a drug fit while filming it, why they had to film it more than once, how the setup for the scene was done and trying to make it as filthy and disgusting as possible.

    Remembering Killjoy spends six minutes eulogizing the late singer of Necrophagia and actor from Mordum with Vogel talking about the importance of his bringing Mordum into existence. He also talks about the friendship that formed with him, what he was like to collaborate with and more.

    A Family Affair Of Love And Hate: An Interview With Maggot is a thirty-four minute piece with Michael Todd Schneider that sees him talk about the movie's twentieth anniversary, how the concept of the movie came to be, the buzz that came out after the first August Underground, the Killjoy connection, how he came to be in the movie in the first place, his film class experiences, how he prepared for his main role and got into character, some of the work he did before Mordum, what it was like playing such an extreme character and shooting some genuinely insane sequences, how solid the ToeTag team was to work with and how making the movie was, in some ways, exorcising demons for him.

    Stephan Biro Interviews Jerami Cruise runs twelve minutes and lets Cruise talk about his background in art and his education, how he got into special effects work in the first place, his involvement in the first movie, what he was responsible for on set and the challenges in doing his job while staying out of frame, what he learned from working on the movie, Killjoy's involvement, how some of the effects work was done and what goes into fooling people into thinking that they're watching something real.

    The Art Ettinger And Allana Sleeth Interview sees the two members of the Ultra-Violent magazine talk for eleven minutes about how they came to appear in Mordum, what it was like being on set for some of the movie, their thoughts on seeing the original movie, the Pittsburgh horror scene at the time, what it was like being around the performers when they were in character during their scene, how odd it was having a scene for this movie shot in their own apartment and how they feel about the movie looking back on it twenty years later.

    Zoe Rose Smith Interviews Fred Vogel is a forty-three minute piece that covers how the sequel came to be through the Killjoy connection, how ToeTag Pictures came to be born during the making of the movie, how the actors channeled rage and emotions while working on the movie, the portrayal of violence and gender roles in the movie, the structure of the movie, Cruise's effects work, how much trust was needed between cast members for certain scenes, his thoughts on the most disturbing parts of the movie, how he feels about those who think the makers of the movie are horrible people compared to the reality, not wanting to be 'stuck as the fucking snuff guy' and how his feelings about the movie have changed over the years.

    Dave Parker Interviews Fred Vogel is a forty-three minute interview that, by this point, covers quite a bit of the same ground as the other interviews and commentary tracks (though it does feature some fun cats playing in the background) but still manages to cover some new ground. It covers the genesis of the film, the notoriety of the picture, how ToeTag was evolving during this period and how there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen during its creation, if he would do anything different if he were to do it all over again, how getting out and meeting the fans made such a difference on his outlook, which props have been held onto, what was involved in dressing the sets, having the making of the movie documented and how he probably would have been arrested for making this movie if it were a different time and a different place.

    Snuff Purgatory: Severed Cinema Interviews Fred Vogel runs fifty-four minutes and covers some of the challenges that occurred during the making of the movie, how having everyone on board help ToeTag grow, how difficult it was to make the movie in a lot of ways, the mixed feelings he had about the movie, making up the title 'Mordum,' how the performers put their own stamp on the movie, if drugs were involved in the shoot at all, his thoughts on other extreme horror movies and how his name has made some 'lists' since the movies came out, the hits he took when the movie became as infamous as it did, advertising and promoting the movie, how he's moved on from a spat he had with Maggot after the movie was released and lots more.

    Finishing up the extras on this disc are a video for Necrophagia's track Rue Morgue Disciple, a behind the scenes still gallery, seven deleted scenes (Big Buy Intro, Poop Shoot, Mustard Money Shot, Snow Piss, Bathroom Slaughter, Yank His Fuckin' Tooth Out and Lick My Pubes!), three extended scenes (Gut Fucking, Hang Out and Home Invasion), some footage from the 2003 premiere, a photo gallery, a selection of original animation, a short called Sickess, a trailer for Sickcess, some clips from the 2004 Flashback Weekend horror convention (Mordum Screening, Slit Throat Demo and Zombie Demo) and trailers for August Underground, August Underground's Mordum and Penance.

    As to what is on the second disc, a DVD, it’s the main extras from the first disc it’s worth pointing out here that the version of the movie included is the original DVD transfer, not a downscaled version of the new transfer included on the Blu-ray disc.

    August Underground’s Mordum – The Final Word:

    August Underground’s Mordum really does test the limits of the viewers endurance, wallowing in filth for almost every second of its running time. It isn’t a good time at the movies at all, but it is a pretty fascinating experiment in a lot of ways, and a movie that those who appreciate extreme horror ought to see at least once. The Blu-ray release from Unearthed Films presents the movie looking and sounding as good as it should and with a load of interesting extras that do a really solid job of documenting the movie’s history and providing some context, making for an impressive package overall.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized August Underground’s Mordum Blu-ray screen caps!

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