95 out of 100
Few movies outside of Eraserhead can be considered cult classics purely for being so outrageous that they need to be seen to be believed. A Clockwork Orange fits that bill, and so does Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom, a movie that is so graphically powerful that some people believe that Italian director, Pier Paolo Pasolini was actually murdered because of its release, though, the case has since been re-opened for his 1975 murder.
Set in 1944 during the final days of Mussolini, the story is centered around four powerful men who take male and female teenagers into captivity as sex slaves for their pleasure and experimentation, submitting them to horrible sexual treatment and even a whole feast of devouring feces. If you thought that whole shit eating scene at the end of Pink Flamingos was bad, your stomach won’t be able to handle this.
But amidst the controversy of seeing young people in such depraved situations, this is not torture porn in the vein of Saw or Hostel, which both derive their giddy thrills out of seeing other people in pain; schadenfreude at its extreme. Instead, this is a deep, introspective film about consumerism, fascism, and a metaphor for a totalitarian government taken at face value. In every way, it’s a masterpiece that outlives its horrific past and shines even more resplendently on this 2-disc special edition, Criterion release, where it has been re-mastered and decked out with discussions on the creation of the film.
Granted, on first viewing, some of the story-telling segments where old prostitutes tell stories to arouse the gentlemen into debauchery may seem a bit repetitive at first. But on multiple viewings, the film begins to unravel itself into a state where it’s not even shocking anymore, but rather, mesmerizing.
Few movies outside of the great ones can do that, and even after 33 years since its initial release, Salo still does.