Known for his recent, boundary-pushing entries in the extreme cinema genre, Jonathan Doe is a writer/director/producer most notable for his Erotic Grotesque Nonsense series of films, including Barf Bunny (2021), The Degenerates (2021), and Defilement of a Porcelain Doll (2022), which explore a whole host of different paraphilia in a bold and unflinching manner. Jonathan is also the founder of the production company Putrid Productions, an archival outfit that later grew into a distribution studio with the creation of Vile Video Productions, a sub-label focused on film creation and distribution. Additionally, Jonathan is also the host of the Youtube channel Cinema’s Underbelly, a review-based show where he has the chance to discuss his favourite films in the genre as well as his vast collection of rare films and props.
We were lucky enough to get the chance to chat with Jonathan and discuss his creative process for his filmmaking, as well as his love of the niche genre.
What was your first experience with extreme cinema?
My first experience with extreme cinema was when I was around 12 or 13 years old. My aunt took me to see House of 1000 Corpses and I absolutely loved it. On the drive back she was telling me about how aspects of the film reminded her of Jeffrey Dahmer. I had no idea who that was, and she went into depth about his crimes and his acts of cannibalism and necrophilia. Fascinated, I went home and began googling Dahmer, which sent me down a rabbit hole. I Google-image-searched the word “cannibal”, and one of the images that popped up was a poster for Cannibal Holocaust, with its tagline “Banned in 50 Countries!”. I was already a huge horror fan at that point, so the idea that there was a movie out there that had such a infamous reputation immediately drew me in. This was before Grindhouse Releasing came out with their 25th anniversary DVD or before the film was easily obtainable on torrent sites, and being a young kid without a credit card, I wasn’t able to buy a copy off eBay or anything like that. So naively I thought I might be able to find a copy at the mall or the local mom and pop shop. So any chance I got I would scour the DVD section of these businesses hoping I would find a copy. Between my DVD hunting and my internet research, I learned about this entire world of underground cinema hidden away from the mainstream. I never got my hands on Cannibal Holocaust during my brick and mortar scavenging, but I did manage to score copies of I Spit on Your Grave, Jungle Holocaust, Last House on the Left, Pieces, and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. This was the start of my collecting of cinema of this type. When I was 14 I managed to convince my dad to buy me a copy of Cannibal Holocaust off eBay, and by that point I knew my fascination with this kind of cinema was going to be lifelong.
In your personal opinion, what is the allure of extreme cinema as a genre?
I think it is relative from person to person. Some people are looking to push their own boundaries. Others are using it as a party dare, to get reactions out of their friends. Some simply find it entertaining. Others use it as a safe and cathartic way to explore the darker elements of the human experience. I tend to fall into the first and last categories. I am a person who has experienced various traumas in my life, and I think it is therapeutic to have a creative outlet to express and explore these experiences. I don’t see it any different than why any other genre of film exists. The roller coaster of emotions associated with our interpersonal relationships is another aspect of the human experience, and that is why genres like drama and romance exist. Anyone who has had their heart broken can relate to a love story. Similarly, human beings are capable of doing horrific things, and so likewise many of us can relate to stories of horror. I think art should exist that allows us to explore these and any other facets of being alive.
When did you decide you wanted to create your own films? Who were your inspirations in this early period?
I have wanted to be a filmmaker ever since I can remember. I had a father who worked in media and we always had blank VHS tapes laying around. I used to sneak these tapes into my room and wrap them in paper and make fake covers for fictional movies I would make up. When I was around 7 or 8 I saw the first Tremors film and absolutely fell in love with it, and I think that is when I first realized I had a passion for horror films. My parents would take me to our local video rental store and I would always gravitate toward the horror section and would look at the covers fantasizing about what these films were behind the covers. After high school, I went into film school and made a handful of short films. The experience was fun, but I did not like the limitations that school set on the kind of films that I could make, and I ultimately dropped out. I started Putrid Productions in 2018, and things just kind of launched off from there.
You have an extensive collection of screen props and memorabilia from the genre, what would you say is your favourite piece in your collection?
That is hard to say. I have a lot of items that have sentimental value to me, as well as others that have value based on their rarity. I am a big collector of original theatrical posters. I have an original Japanese Cannibal Holocaust poster signed by Ruggero Deodato and Carl Yorke. I also have an original poster of Fulci’s Zombie, signed by Ian McCulloch. Those are some of my favorites in regards to posters. As for screen used props, I have one of the severed legs from American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore, that was personally given to me by Stephen Biro after I went to his home to interview him for a project. I also have a screen used knife from August Underground’s Mordum that I bought from Jerami Cruise. Those are pretty special. As for holy grails, I have a Blood Feast poster signed by Herschell Gordon Lewis when I met him in person before he passed away. Extreme cinema wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him pioneering the way for us, so that is definitely something I cherish. I have a super rare cannibal film bootleg pack I bought when I was traveling in Uganda, which is extremely special to me. Probably the most bizarre item I own comes from the film Mutilation Theater, which is an extreme performance art project by the group “White Gardenia”. In it, members engage in different aspects of real self-harm. Infamously in Mutilation Theater, Daniel Valient of White Gardenia hacks his finger off with a hatchet; like for real. It is considered by many to be one of the most brutal scenes in extreme cinema history. Well long story short, Daniel sold me the hatchet he used to cut his finger off with, as well as the finger itself. I have it in my freezer right now. I plan on getting it preserved in formalin and turned into a wet specimen. So that is honestly probably the holy grail in my collection.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
It is hard to pick a favorite, each project has come with its own unique experiences. I think fondly over shooting Barf Bunny because that was the first time I got to shoot with Felicia Fisher, Marcus Koch, and Jessie Seitz, and we all have become such great friends from that production. The Degenerates I also worked with them, but it was so much more comfortable because we all knew each other at that point, and that is also where I did my big true crime road trip with Felicia. That was so much fun. Defilement of a Porcelain Doll was my biggest production yet, so I felt a lot of pressure as the director to make sure everything was running smoothly and to keep spirits high, but the film turned out so great that all that stress really felt worth it. It also was great to work with Little Puck and Felicia, and we all had such a good dynamic working together. So, it’s kind of impossible to pick one.
What sort of process do you follow from concept to completion?
I think for a lot of people the typical process is writing a story, then seeking funding, and then finally scouting for talent and finding a shooting location. I do this process in reverse. I look at the resources I already have available to me and build a story out of that. I look at the talent who I know, I consider the things they specialize in or are willing to do, I look at the locations near them or near me where we can shoot, I consider what I can afford out of my own pocket, and with that I begin to build a narrative. The Degenerates is a perfect example of this. We were already shooting Barf Bunny in a hotel room, and we had to turn that room into disarray to create the set for that film. I looked at the colorful set of Barf Bunny and the disarrayed room lying behind the camera, and thought “This in itself could be the setting for another film”. I then started to brainstorm. I already have Felicia acting in Barf Bunny, and Marcus and Jessie as my FX team. What kind of story can I come up with using them and this hotel room setting? I remembered I had a full corpse prop I had made for me by James Bell years ago that I had never used. It was then I remembered the murder of Robert Beckowitz and came up with the idea for The Degenerates. We literally shot that film the day after we finished filming Barf Bunny in the exact same hotel room. As for shooting, I like to film chronologically, which is kind of essential with the kind of films that I am making. And for post-production, I tend to give myself somewhat of a break between finishing production and starting the editing process. I like to come back to the footage with kind of a clear head and see the footage with fresh eyes if you know what I mean.
Your film series Erotic Grotesque Nonsense explores a lot of different fetishes. In your opinion, what is fetishism’s place in extreme cinema?
Well, the term extreme cinema is very broad, and I think it is kind of subjective on what people consider are appropriate films to fit under the “extreme cinema” umbrella. For some, things like extreme pornography and real gore films should not be lumped into the same category as narrative films. Which I don’t dismiss that there can be an argument made for that. However, I personally take the term “extreme cinema” quite literally, and do include extreme pornography and real gore films to be a part of this category; and what I attempt to do with my films is incorporate some of these pornographic elements into my extreme horror narratives. Making it almost undeniable that these elements have a place together under the same umbrella.
What has been the biggest obstacle for you to overcome whilst making a film? Have you experienced any major problems with censorship?
Well, I release all of my films independently, so I do not have to deal with censorship too much. It does limit where my films can be shown however. I have tried to do the festival circuit with my Erotic Grotesque Nonsense films and they were turned down by every film festival except for one, which was a small event in Chicago called “Hardcore Horror Fest” back in 2021, where we won best special FX and most fucked up film of the festival for The Degenerates. So that was pretty cool. But I will say that the nature of the films probably limits them from getting a wider ability to be marketed and so they will never get the same level of attention as more conventional horror films will. I was once contacted by a well-respected adult magazine company who wanted to do an article on the relationship between sex and horror. I was interviewed for the article and they asked me to send them cover art and screenshots to be featured in the publication. So, everything seemed good to go. However, after taking a look at the photos, they told me that their legal team said no imagery of vomiting or necrophilia was allowed in the magazine, and I was cut from the article. Which was surprising to me because the magazine was known for showing imagery of hardcore sex in their publications. So, I am kind of in this limbo, where I am too pornographic for the extreme horror crowd, and too extreme for the pornographic crowd.
What have you been watching as of late? What other filmmakers have you excited right now?
I have been really impressed with the work of Jack Mulvanerty, with his films Doll Fluids, Split, and Scarlett Piss Princess. I also like what my buddy Stephen Grischuck is doing with his label Box Creep Films. Go support Jessie Seitz’s upcoming documentary Monster Girls. Shout out to White Gardenia. Outside of horror, my buddy Taylor James is doing killer stuff in the true crime scene, so go subscribe to his channel. Also, my buddy Andrew Dodge has a killer podcast called Unforbidden Truth where he interviews serial killers. There is just so much to say honestly. Keep your ear to the ground, because so many great things are coming out of the underground right now.
What is the best way for people to keep up to date with what you are working on? Are there any upcoming projects you would like to shout out?
I have lots of things in the works right now. I just finished shooting in Arkansas and Tennessee for a documentary on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of Stevie Branch, one of three eight-year-old boys who was murdered in the 1993 Robin Hood Hills murders. Best known now as the “West Memphis Three” case. The case has yet to be solved, with many speculating that Mr. Hobbs had something to do with the murders. Mr. Hobbs gave me and Andrew Dodge, of the Unforbidden Truth podcast, exclusive access into his home to ask him about the murders and his involvement in the case. It is called If Tree Could Talk: A Conversation with Terry Hobbs, and will be coming out around the end of the year.
I am also working on a documentary called Going Beyond the Disturbing Movie Iceberg. We have all seen the countless videos of YouTubers reacting and talking about the iceberg, but most of these videos that went viral were from people who know nothing about extreme cinema and have not seen even half the films on the iceberg list. So, with this documentary I go into the history of the iceberg, who made it, how it blew up, and then have the filmmakers who made the films on this list talk about their films. I am also going to address the rumors of legality when it comes to the films listed on the bottom tiers as well. So, it is going to be definitive analysis on the topic, correcting a lot of the wrongs the YouTube community spread with their trend.
The last thing I am able to announce is that I am working on an extreme anthology called Symphony of Suffering, which will include shorts from myself, Jack Mulvanerty of Scarlett Piss Princess, Daniel Valient of Mutilation Theater, as well as a few others. It is going to be a fetish-gore showcase, and is going to be pretty hardcore and boundary pushing. So that is also something to look forward too.
I am hoping to get all three of these features released before the end of the year.
Follow my socials here:
Cinemas Underbelly: https://www.youtube.com/c/cinemasunderbelly
Murderabilia Show & Tell: https://www.youtube.com/c/MurderabiliaShowTell
Grimoire of Horror would like to thank Jonathan Doe for taking the time to answer our questions!
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Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Managing Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A lifelong love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels, and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.