Since the 1950s Americans have looked to Europe for their transgressive cinema thrills -- whether art film, porn epic, or gorefest -- and Europe has always been happy to oblige. It's perhaps a cultural high-water mark (or low, depending on your viewpoint) that movies once consigned to the gutter of the 42nd Street grindhouse can now be shown respectably at places like Center for the Arts. On July 10, the center begins a series devoted to such decorative, over-the-top trash as Jess Franco's Succubus (1967), Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell (1980), and Umberto Lenzi's notorious, allegedly-banned-in-31-countries Cannibal Ferox (1981). Fans of gore and grue who've been through the Herschel Gordon Lewis catalog will find much to love in Gates of Hell -- from a too-convincing electric drill through a guy's head to a woman whose bloody innards pour out of her mouth and an alarmingly realistic maggot rainstorm. Cannibal Ferox's close-up scenes of animals killing each other are too reminiscent of PBS nature shows to be entirely horrifying, but director Lenzi makes up for it with creative use of the meat hook, genitals as hors d'oeuvres, and a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Cult fave Dario Argento weighs in with Inferno (1980), a sequel to his treasured Suspiria; viewers flummoxed by the incomprehensible plot will at least be distracted by startling scenes of rats consuming a hapless butcher or a dreamy underwater sequence rumored to have been directed by master pictorialist Mario Bava. Not all the films here are aimed at the teen-age gorehound. Bava's own Danger: Diabolik (1968), budgeted at $3 million but finished for a mere $400,000, is the director's vision of a coolly beautiful mod-pop universe based on a period comic strip (think Modesty Blaise or Barbarella). Like its companion in this series, Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), the director transcends an inane sword-and-sandal fantasy narrative with the ingenious use of color filters, forced perspectives, stately tracking shots, and other techniques normally seen only in the highest tiers of the culturally approved art film.
"Mondo Sadismo!" runs Fridays in July at the screening room of Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), in Yerba Buena Gardens. Tickets are $7; call 978-2700. For a complete schedule, see the Center for the Arts entry in Reps Etc., Page 79.