This Is The Most Disturbing Documentary Ever Made

Froilan Orozco

Around 2021, a Redditor dropped a list titled The Disturbing Movie Iceberg. In the attached image, it depicts an iceberg split into eight layers. The top layer has a list of horror films spanning between Friday the 13th, The Ring, Scream, and more. But as you dive deeper into this list, the films quickly enter into disturbing and uncomfortable watches. The third layer contains infamous films such as A Serbian Film and Saló or the 120 Days.

As you can imagine, the fourth layer and beyond contains subject matter that is tough to stomach. As curiosity got the best of me I started to read the list. The sixth layer came to my surprise as there were two titles I had previously seen. The first is the American Mondo film Faces of Death, a film I sought out during my youth. The second title was a more recent watch: the Colombian documentary Orozco The Embalmer

Both of these fall under the subgenre of Mondo films, a specific type of exploitation films or documentaries. In order to categorize a Mondo film, there are a few factors that must be present. First, they must be in a documentary format, whether faux or real. They must also take place in a foreign country and cover taboo subject matter. A synonymous name you’ll find tied with Mondo films are shockumentaries. The intent of this genre is simple: to portray the dark side of humanity. It displays death and violence in full graphic display and doesn’t stray away from the gruesome details. This is exactly what Kiyotaka Tsurisaki’s documentary Orozco The Embalmer does. 

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Orozco The Embalmer follows an embalmer named Froilan Orozco in “one of the most dangerous cities inside one of the most dangerous countries in the world”; El Cartucho, Colombia. El Cartucho is the nickname given to a street in the capital Bogotá. It has been rapidly decaying and forgotten since the 1940s after El Bogotazo, a bloody and violent ten-hour riot after the assassination of a liberal leader. Many of the inhabitants in the area left and El Cartucho quickly became a place for those displaced primarily by drug trafficking violence.

Colombia was also dealing with major turmoils outside of the city. The 1990s transformed Colombia, with the latter half being when the documentary was filmed. During this era, there was a continued armed conflict between the government and guerilla factions such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The beginning of the 1990s also marks the death of Pablo Escobar. Drugs, violence, and death were running rampant in Colombia with poor areas such as El Cartucho taking a massive hit.

In between all of this, Tsurisaki captures the “abnormal daily life” of Orozco. But before introducing him, the documentary shows one of the most common things you could find lying around in El Cartucho: a dead body. We see how the population of this area is unfazed when a new corpse arrives on the streets. The first people we see on screen are a mother and her young daughter. As they walk down the street, they acknowledge the body and continue on. Their reaction isn’t unique as plenty of people react the same, including Orozco. 

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Upon meeting Orozco he begins his embalming process while talking to the cameraman. As he takes out the organs of the body he names each one. Next, he rids the body of blood and shoves the organs back in. Orozco does this process without worry or concern. Tsurisaki does make it a point to showcase Orozco’s empathy. We see this with the second body, an infant, who comes across his table to prepare. When examining the baby Orozco explains he can’t slice him open like other customers because it’s such a shame. He completes his job and does so without saying a word. This is a solitary experience in the film. For the remainder of the runtime, Orozco explains his process with each adult corpse that comes his way.

One thing’s for certain and that is that Orzoco has much respect for his job. By the end of the documentary, he explains how he worked as an investigator through La Violencia, another extremely violent time in Colombia when the country was in a civil war. Death has always been a part of Orozco’s life. This could be why he chose a job where he could give dignity to the dead. He cleans them up and prepares each corpse for the casket allowing the family to view them one last time. During the embalming scenes, he’s rough with the corpses when cutting them up and sewing them back together. But behind every movement, you can see his attention to detail to ensure the body is properly preserved. This is done even when Orozco receives multiple mangled bodies on a daily basis.

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While the majority of the film takes place inside the funeral home, Tsurisaki also shows the living conditions of the residents in La Cartucho. More importantly, he shows how everyone within the area has become desensitized when a new corpse appears. On numerous occasions, the whole street would gather around to look at the next victim of violence. Children gather around in circles and attempt to get a better view with binoculars. Men and women stand alongside each other as the cops investigate the body. What these moments depict is how normalized extreme and graphic violence is in La Cartucho.

Tsurisaki has been photographing the dead, through films and photos, for decades. While I’ve only seen a handful of these photos, there’s an occasional similarity with that of Orozco The Embalmer. In a couple of the photos, people surround a corpse. It’s a similar image to the residents of La Cartucho. His photos are another depiction, outside of Colombia, of how graphic violence is normal. The biggest takeaway I got after rewatching this film and viewing his photos is that we shouldn’t ever get to a place where violence such as this becomes a part of someone’s everyday life. Graphic violence shouldn’t have to be normalized. 



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