Man Bites Dog (1992)

(C'est Arrive Pres De Chez Vous)

Directed by Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel & Benoit Poelvoorde

Produced by Remy Belvaux

Starring Benoit Poelvoorde, Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, Jacqueline Poelvoorde-Pappaert, Nelly Pappaert, Hector Pappaert, Jenny Drye, Malou Madou, Willy Vandenbroek, Rachel Derman

Man Bites Dog

For those of you as unimpressed by the "phenomenon" of Reality TV as I am (admittedly, there is very little on the idiot box that does entertain me), then this precursor to the whole sordid mess (and distant relation to Ruggero Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust") should prove just the antidote. Hewn from the same era as a number of controversial features, inclusive of the now legendary "Silence Of The Lambs", "Man Bites Dog" takes the public fascination with serial killers and steers it off into its most logical extreme. Aided by a blackly comic tone that really pushes the envelope of dark humour, its execution is so off-kilter as to almost make its viewing a surrealistic experience. Trust the Belgians to make murder such a riotously entertaining subject matter for cinematic dissection. Mind you, trust the Americans to take the "murder as entertainment" premise one step further, with the recent distant cousin of this film, Daniel Minahan's "Series 7: The Contenders" (imagine "Survivor" with guns). But I digress…as usual.

Benoit is a stylish, eloquent, and erudite young Belgian. His knowledge of architecture, art, literature, music, and the "finer things" is unsurpassed, and hugely comical in his attention to detail. For the passing SGM enthusiast, he is also one of the region's most prolific serial killers, and the subject of a student film by three budding documentarians. Scenes of Benoit (Poelvoorde) rapturously sharing his exquisite cultural side are punctuated by scenes of him indulging his murderous alter ego. He shares jokes and cultural witticisms with the filmmakers on one hand, then snuffs out the elderly, children, and his pet passion, postmen on the other. All in deliriously grotesque fashion, I may add. He imparts to his audience the intricacies of ballasting a body, as well as handy tips as to what to look for in a prospective victim (ie: a healthy bank balance). The effect is surreal in its execution, yet utterly engaging and, more often than not, absurdly comic in a manner even the legendary Pythons would not contemplate.

It is only once the film crew joins their subject in his sociopathic on-screen pursuits that the viewer begins to become uncomfortable with the depths of black comedy that this film descends to. A grotesque rape and mutilation of a young married couple becomes the catalyst for the eventual undoing of all involved. Not without its merits, "Man Bites Dog" is a blacker than black comedy that will undoubtedly offend (and has offended) certain sectors of the community. Poelvoorde is incredibly charming and affable as the serial killer Benoit, with able-bodied support from Belvaux and Bonzel as the skidrow film students. The running gag relating to the murder of each successive soundman is almost worthy of "Spinal Tap's" drummer joke. The crew's satire of media, and morbid "fan worship" of serial killers, is about as brutal as they come. As a word of warning though, although fervently comic in tone, there are passages that will draw strong protests of poor taste from some viewers. You have been warned.

Tartan's disc is an unfussy affair, hampered slightly by the lack of anamorphic enhancement, and the option of removable subtitles (those that are present are of the burned-in variety per the theatrical presentation). The transfer does manage to do justice to the source materials though, as "Man Bites Dog" was shot on a relative shoestring and (for those who weren't already aware) in black and white. It is the nature of the original source that hinders the subtitles, sometimes losing them against white backgrounds. Although the packaging lists a screen ratio of European standard 1.66, the framing is actually a lot closer to 1.77 (which is pretty close to the 1.78 ratio of most widescreen televisions, and fast becoming the ratio de rigeur for seemingly everything of late). EC's original "Eaten Alive!" and Redemption's "Witchfinder General" and "Stagefright" were 1.66; this presentation clearly is not. Not a bad thing in my books, as it gives a slightly more "cinematic" effect to the overall presentation of the feature.

Extras consist of the filmmakers first short film "Pas de C4 Pour Daniel Daniel" (presented in 2.35 CinemaScope [actually 16mm anamorphic] & stereo sound), a stills gallery, and Tartan's obligatory animated review text piece. Unfortunately, the cinema trailer (a rapidly edited combination of most of the graphic highlights & the Pythonesque black humour) is sorely missed by its absence. But hey, the feature's uncut! Its US release wasn't so lucky, and nor was its Region 4 cousin (Australian censors weren't really impressed by this film). If you're up for a subtitled feature, and prepared to leave your bad taste barometer at the door, then "Man Bites Dog" is the film for you. I still find it a savagely witty satire; nearly a decade has done little to diminish its effect, nor quell its black tone. Now, let's all recite together…"Pigeon…"

*Censorship note: The US version of the film has had a couple of moments (most notably the killing of a child and the notorious rape scene) truncated, though still sports the misnomer that is an "unrated" version. The Australian R4 disc (released by Siren Visual Entertainment) has had one single 96-second edit forced upon it (the rape scene) by the Commonwealth censor. The UK R2 disc, however, is completely uncut and retains this stronger (and potentially offensive to some) footage. One up for good Old Blighty, methinks!

Review by M.C.Thomason

Released by Tartan DVD
Classified 18 (uncut) - Region 0
Running time - 95m
Ratio - Widescreen 1.77
Audio - French Dolby 2.0
Extras :
Short film "Pas de C4 Pour Daniel Daniel"; Filmographies; Stills Gallery; Film review