In the past, I’ve liked to form top 10 lists around a philosophical theme or school of thought, as you might have seen from my lists on existential films, metaphysical films, and Marxist films (just to name a few). However, I also like to highlight the best of indie cinema, the horror genre, lesser-known films, and even underrated B-movies. For this reason, I have devised a list of the 10 best Severin Films for philosophy students.
What Are Severin Films?
If you’re unfamiliar with Severin Films, you can check out their website right here. Founded by David Gregory in 2006, Severin Films is based out of Los Angeles, California, and specializes in the restoration and distribution of cult films on DVD and Blu-Ray. Thus, Severin Films are not actually movies produced by one company or one production team. Instead, they are simply a collection of films that have been restored and made available in modern formats. In essence, it’s like the Criterion Collection, but for films about lesbian vampires and renegade 80s cops.
So, why would philosophy students be interested in watching selections from the Severin Films library? Moreover, what could they possibly learn from a bunch of low-budget cult movies? This is where I would like to depart from more pretentious film scholars and philosophy enthusiasts to make a point about the unfair distinction between “high” and “low” art.
While the distinction exists for a reason, I think that audiences can glean a lot of value from both high and low art, particularly in the realm of cinema. It is often said that filmmakers have to be more creative when they have fewer resources, and I have often found that to be true. So, while many Severin films were produced on shoe-string budgets, they make up for it with unique visual styles, sensationalized plots, and — perhaps most importantly — overlooked and underrepresented ideas.
Criteria For Choosing From the Severin Films Library
As always, I like to be transparent about my selection methods and criteria for picking different films. When it comes to a subject as broad as “philosophy,” it’s difficult to narrow down just a few elements that constitute a philosophical film. In my opinion, just about every film in existence stimulates thought and philosophical quandaries to varying degrees. In any case, when looking through options in the Severin Films library, I tried to select films that met all or most of the following criteria:
- The plot focuses on questions related to spirituality, existence, or the human experience.
- One or more characters find themselves faced with significant moral dilemmas.
- Visual or narrative themes related to surrealism, nihilism, rationalism, existentialism, hedonism, environmentalism, Marxism, or similar schools of thought are present.
- The film leaves room for viewer interpretation, particularly regarding ambiguous answers to relevant philosophical questions.
- Filmmakers address concepts or subject matters considered too unpopular or taboo for mainstream audiences.
10 Best Severin Films for Philosophy Students
This list of Severin Films unfolds in chronological order. The respective number of each film does not represent the quality or the degree to which the film meets the criteria above. With this list, I hope to provide viewers with the best Severin Films from a wide range of countries, directors, and eras. Additionally, all of these films address philosophical ideas and concepts, whether directly or indirectly. So, let’s take a look at the 10 best Severin Films for philosophy students:
10. Dogora (Ishirō Honda, 1964)
In the fashion of Godzilla and other Japanese giant monster movies, Dogora tells the story of a huge tentacled monster that eats up carbon. Like most films of the genre, the monster can be read as a reflection or product of human greed, particularly from an environmental standpoint. In the film, the human characters clash over their desire to acquire diamonds and other valuable resources, while the monster above attempts to take everything for itself. When read as an environmentalist film, Dogora appears staunchly anti-Capitalist and anti-consumerism.
9. Mondo Balordo (Al Viola and Roberto Bianchi Montero, 1964)
The Mondo subgenre is made up of exploitative documentaries and pseudo-documentaries on strange and sensational topics. However, Mondo Balordo (A Fool’s World) is one of the most bizarre of them all. Narrated by Boris Karloff, the film looks at various customs, both real and imagined, from around the world. Viewers witness orgies and spiritual awakenings, while the filmmakers exploit a unique cast of characters, including transvestites, exorcists, and bondage models. (digital formats available to rent or purchase via Amazon)
8. What? (Roman Polanski, 1972)
What? is one of Polanski’s least-talked about works, though it deserves much more attention for its satirical views on class, the bourgeoisie, and sex. The film follows a naive American woman traveling through Italy. When she finds herself at a villa surrounded by confusing sexual tricks and mind games, she starts to question everyone’s intentions. Though comedic in nature, Polanski infuses enough satire to make this an interesting take on the role of sexual desire in the human psyche. (digital formats available to rent or purchase in some locations via Amazon).
7. The Baby (Ted Post, 1973)
On the surface, The Baby is a relatively straightforward horror film that focuses on the psychological trauma of a young man known only as “Baby.” Kept in a state of perpetual infancy by his family, Baby’s only hope of a normal life lies in the hands of a concerned social worker. Despite the film’s B-horror plot progression, it manages to address some intriguing themes concerning psychology and the value placed on human dignity. (Digital formats available to stream via Amazon)
6. The Killing of America (Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader, 1982)
Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader’s The Killing of America is a Japanese-American documentary about the societal decline of the United States. The filmmakers focus on the rise of shootings, including increasingly violent crimes, throughout the 1960s and 70s. Needless to say, the film presents ideas that have only become more prevalent with time. Not only does the film take a rather cynical view of a failed society, but it also addresses themes of innate human violence and our ability, as a species, to exacerbate our own worst traits. (Digital formats are available to rent or purchase via Amazon)
5. Threads (Mick Jackson, 1984)
Infamous as one of the most effective critiques of nuclear technology, Threads offers a fictionalized account of Britain after a devastating nuclear war. The film is unique insofar as it looks at varied effects of nuclear fallout, from the economic implications to the impact on public health and safety. In any case, Threads pulls no punches in its political take on the horrors humanity inflicts on itself. (Digital formats available to rent or purchase via Amazon)
4. Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
Hailed as one of the masters of avant-garde and surrealist cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky combines images of violence, sex, religion, and blasphemy in Santa Sangre. The story follows a former circus performer who has lost his mind after witnessing (and carrying out) acts of violence, particularly against women. The film is difficult to decipher definitively, but much like Jodorowsky’s other films, it relies heavily on religious symbolism and cerebral, often disturbing imagery. (Digital formats are available to rent or purchase via Amazon)
3. Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990)
In keeping with Severin Films’ affinity for horror and science fiction, Hardware tells the story of a couple in a post-apocalyptic world who inadvertently bring a dangerous android to “life.” Like many films that deal with androids and robots, themes of identity, consciousness, and the existence of “self” are pervasive throughout. Hardware also addresses issues like the morality of procreation and the government’s role in managing the population. (Digital formats are available to rent or purchase in certain locations via Amazon)
2. The Burning Moon (Olaf Ittenbach, 1992)
Many critics and cult film fans regard The Burning Moon as one of the most graphic shot-on-video movies ever made. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, which is part of what makes the film so fascinating. The filmmakers work to push the boundaries of what can (or should) be shown in a film, while also telling stories about the extremities of human violence and depravity. (Digital formats are available to rent or purchase via Amazon)
1. All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, 2002)
Sometimes, the best way to address the most pressing philosophical questions is to examine everyday, ordinary events. All or Nothing takes this approach, with a story about three working-class families in London. Unlike many other Severin Films, All or Nothing does not try to sensationalize itself with torrid sex or excessive gore. Instead, it simply shows life unfold as it usually does, without all the frills of Hollywood narratives. As an added bonus, we get to hear the musings of a philosophical taxi driver played by Timothy Spall. (Digital formats are available to rent or purchase via Amazon)
All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972)
The Devil’s Rain (Robert Fuest, 1975)
Nightmares (John Lamond, 1980)
Combat Shock (Buddy Giovinazzo, 1986)
When the Wind Blows (Jimmy T. Murakami, 1986)
Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America (Douglas Buck, 2003)
Baskin (Can Evrenol, 2015)
So there you have it! These are the 10 best Severin Films for philosophy students. Naturally, this is not a comprehensive list (especially since the Severin Films library is always growing). So, if you think that there are other films that should be included, feel free to leave a comment!
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