Every fall I write for the official Midnight Madness and Vanguard program blogs of the Toronto International Film Festival. And I usually try to find a guest writer to cover me here at the Gutter, write a piece ahead of time or even, sometimes, just totally wander out of my assigned comics domain to write about the movies I’ve seen and what I think about them. This year, I was lucky enough to get to stay here in my domain, continue my little sorta series on comics and film and, most of all, lucky enough to interview Dave McKean. Continue reading…
Posted September 21, 2006
Over the decades, rumours about the existence of snuff movies has run rampant despite the fact that no evidence exists to support these dark claims. After a large amount of my own research into the topic, I’ve come up with nothing but a lot of dead ends and goofy urban legends… with one exception.
In August, 1989, Columbia Pictures unleashed on America the one and only true snuff movie ever released, a children’s movie called The Adventures of Milo and Otis, which was a revamped version of a popular Japanese film Koneko Monogatari: The Adventures of Chatran.
Debuting in Japan three years earlier, Koneko Monogatari (A Kitten’s Story) was an arty film not geared towards children at all, but adults, and as early as October 1986, mere months after Chatran debuted in Japan, reports about the animal cruelty on display surfaced not only in Japan, but elsewhere.
“Chatran’s life is full of trials and tribulations,” the UK’s Economist pointed out. “Many of them to do with being soaked to the skin, like falling over a waterfall in a wooden box or plummeting from a cliff into the sea. It is hard to see how he survived. Indeed, according to Japan’s biggest animal-rights group, he did not. Or, to be accurate, a third of the 30 Chatrans used did not.”
Columbia Pictures ignored the reports of abuse and kitty and puppy killing by the Japanese production unhindered by animal rights laws, and noted instead that the film was making huge profits in Japan. Money talks, and executives at Columbia picked it up with a mind to overhaul and Americanise the feature — as is common for most foreign films being marketed in the USA. “It needed to be tailored to American kids who watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ” said Brandt Reiter, an account executive at Fujisankei, the Japanese owners of the film.
Fuji supplied Columbia with almost 70 hours of extra footage from which to make their own edit of the movie. The succession of abuses would now be labelled as Milo and Otis’s “adventures”, and designed to baby-sit American kids.
“Some might say we vulgarised it,” said Jim Clark (the man in charge of overhauling the movie), “but we felt it was on the arty side.”
Jim quickened the pace, added a long, exhausting sequence where the dog and cat adopt a new-born chick, brought in nutty British star Dudley Moore to narrate and do stupid animal voices, and finally removed many graphic scenes of animals fighting and other atrocities.
Astonishingly though, much of the violence and obviously snuffy footage is still clearly visible despite the fact that Columbia supposedly recut the movie for a grade school audience. The cat, renamed Milo, still takes a long plunge off a cliff into the ocean into rough ocean surf (harrowing scenes of him trying in vain to climb back up were cut), is attacked viciously by angry birds, encounters a pissed off snake, is bitten on the nose and lip by a crab, is sent white water rafting down a river in a flimsy little box, and all while Dudley Moore baby talks stupid shit like “Oh dear me! Oh my! Goodness!”
Despite its happy-go-lucky kids movie marketing, the actual content of Milo and Otis is a deeply troubling film that shows animals in obvious pain and distress, and (in some cases) the midst of horrific death. According to the American Human Society, it is rumoured that as many as 27 cats were killed in the production of the picture.
There are other animal movies from the era, such as Homeward Bound with predatory animals and river scenes, but I’ve seen both movies and compared them. From every artistic standpoint, Homeward Bound is a far inferior film, but it’s obvious (or at least it should be) when something is edited in a kids movie in a way that you know that the animals are safe. But here we see Milo floating quickly downstream in the rapids, the box ALMOST tipping over constantly, and the poor cat looking scared outta his fucking mind. There are no cuts or closeups, indicative of a faked scene.
Despite Columbia’s obvious position that there was no basis to these allegations of abuse, rumours did swirl but were seemingly quelled immediately after reviews by the Toronto Star and a New Jersey newspaper that noted:
“All [the scenes in which Milo and Otis appear to be in danger] may be momentarily unsettling for young viewers, but it’s comforting to see in the closing credits that ‘the animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost care for their safety and well-being’.”
But what these reviewers fail to notice is that despite this flowery language, Columbia took great pains not to say “no animals were harmed,” which has been boilerplate language on movie animal disclaimers for as long as anyone can remember. Oddly, the American Human Society has done its bit to keep Columbia’s dirty little secret by suspiciously not including The Adventures of Milo and Otis in its “Current index of film ratings index”. Do I smell a cover-up?
Milo isn’t the only character who is fucked with, although he does bear the brunt. Otis, the dog, is sent naked-pawed through drifts of deep snow, forced to swim to the point where the dog is obviously drowning, and in one memorable scene, is pitted against a very angry bear.
Most of the people commenting on the movie’s listing on the internet movie database are blissfully unaware of the behind the scenes story on the film they’re reviewing, calling it “wholesome” and “perfect for the whole family”, to the point where one horrified mother’s take on the film sticks out like a sore thumb:
“I’m so upset. I purchased this movie for my son for Valentines Day. I read the back of the movie before purchase, Rated G, cute little story, made by Columbia Pictures, endorsed by The Washington Post, purchased at Walmart for $5 bucks. How can this be wrong? WRONG is when my little son came running “They’re torturing the animals! I could not believe my eyes! Kittens screeching for their lives, animals yelping through out, a dog getting whacked by a bear with a sudden cut away as if the dog was killed. Animals don’t jump off 100 foot cliffs on their own. Don’t show this movie to any child!”
Another reviewer clues in as well later on down the list of comments:
“Chatran has the only merit to show how far you can go to earn a fistful of miserable bucks. Sacrificing a dozen cats who never asked for anything does not represent my conception of bringing fantasy and entertainment to an audience. There’s a difference between a horse with a broken leg and five cats thrown from a cliff until one survives and the sequence is wrapped up. Watching Chatran is like witnessing scientific experiments on animals, except here, the only goal is to make money.”
But not everyone shared this point of view. One reviewer on amazon.com pointed out that “Animals Were Created For Our Enjoyment: Biblically Speaking” and that “mental torture is not possible on the animals performing in this great kids film”. He finishes his argument by chiding those who disagree with his stance; “The late Dudley Moore would never have lent his narrative voice to a movie he didn’t believe in and you should be ashamed of yourselves for thinking you’re above this highly entertaining, and animal-friendly film.”
Ashamed? Yeah, there is some shame to be handed out in this situation, but it shouldn’t be directed at the audience. The people responsible for the making and distribution of Milo And Otis know who they are. I hope they made enough money off it to help them sleep at night, because I don’t think my conscience would allow me any rest if I were them.