The least one can say is that watching A Certain Sacrifice in its entirety requires “a certain sacrifice” from the viewer. Although the movie’s duration is under an hour, watching this thing is a painful and dizzying ordeal that seems to last an eternity. Shot on Super 8, the movie’s camerawork is often shaky and out of focus while the sound is just terrible. In short, it is a typical example of guerilla filmmaking from the 1980s.
Despite being an all-around bad movie, A Certain Sacrifice has one thing going for it: It features an actress who would become, only a few years later, one of the biggest stars on the planet: Madonna. For this reason (and this reason alone), A Certain Sacrifice sold a good number of copies when it was released in 1985. Since then, it developed a cult status among Madonna fans and became a highly collectible item (it can be watched on YouTube).
The cover above says “the film she tried to ban”. That’s because Madonna tried to prevent the movie from being distributed by offering $5000 to buy its rights. That did not work.
According to some biographies, Madonna absolutely hated the movie and the way it turned out. But there are other reasons that might explain her not wanting the world to see it: It is a rather raw reflection of the bizarre and twisted mindset of the “art world” and the entertainment industry she would later fully embrace. Furthermore, some even speculate that A Certain Sacrifice is actually a snuff film that contains an actual sacrifice.
One thing is for sure, this movie is the perfect “initiation” to the artist who would become, some years later, the Grand Priestess of the Music Industry. Here’s a look at this thing.
Madonna’s character is named Bruna and is described as a “very bad girl”. The male protagonist (played by Jeremy Pattnosh, a co-writer of the movie) is from the suburbs and is said to not be “suited for his original environment, his Christian faith”.
He is known on the streets as Dashiell – a name that might be inspired by Dashiell Hammett, an author who was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953 for his Marxist views. This link is reinforced by the fact that the main “bad guys” of the movie are business-minded conservative men who are portrayed as racist and corrupt.
So Dashiell leaves the suburb and goes to New York City where he meets Bruna in the weirdest way possible.
As she’s dancing, Dashiell shows up and points a gun at her. Then he aggressively slams her onto the ground and kisses her. As we’ll soon see, Bruna has some clear Beta Sex Kitten tendencies as she constantly seems “in heat” while also constantly getting abused.
This new power couple faces a major problem: Bruna has to announce to her “family of lovers” that she’s breaking up with them.
Clearly, Bruna is not in a typical relationship. She describes it as them being “slaves to each other”.
When Bruna tells the family to stop being jealous, the three grab her and throw her on the ground. The scene that ensues can only be described as a “choreographed rape”.
It appears that a great portion of the movie is dedicated to subjecting Bruna (and Madonna) to a series of scary or downright trauma-inducing situations.
Things will soon get even worse for Bruna.
Raymond Hall is from upstate New York and he tells Dashiell that he’s appalled by the crime in the city. Other than ranting about black people, Hall says that he’s the owner of a hardware store and that he fought in Korea and Vietnam. Then he asks Dashiell where he could get laid. Dashiell’s answer: “Get lost”.
But Raymond Hall did not “get lost”. In a later scene, he’s sitting at the same diner as Dashiell and Bruna. Then things get ugly.
Yes, it’s the third time that Bruna has been abused in this short movie. Strange fact: Director Stephen Lewicki took the actor who played Hall aside and instructed him to rip Madonna’s blouse off during the scene. Madonna was unaware of this fact and, in the scene, she seems genuinely shocked. After that scene, Bruna cries and agonizes in the diner as a breast sticks out of her ripped shirt. Knowing what happened previously, that scene becomes even more upsetting.
After this awfulness, Dashiell exacts revenge on Hall: He kidnaps him and takes him to a theatre where he’ll be the “star” of a satanic ritual sacrifice.
This is where things get very bizarre: There are rumors of this scene being an actual sacrifice. According to this Reddit thread, Satanic Ritual abuse survivor Fiona Barnett, claimed that A Certain Sacrifice is actually a snuff film. Some internet sleuths even looked up the actor playing Hall (his real name is Charles Kurtz) and could not find any information about him, leading them to believe that he might have actually died in the making of this movie.
While those rumors are difficult to prove (especially due to the poor video quality), there is definitely some dark energy emanating from this scene.
Then, as Bruna lies in bed, Dashiell shows up with his cup of blood.
At the end of the movie, the narrator says that Bruna and Dashiell live happily ever after. He also adds:
“It’s all mixed up. Bad is good, black is white, love is hate”.
He’s got that right.
While A Certain Sacrifice is an objectively awful movie, it is quite interesting from a “historical” perspective. In less than an hour, the movie manages to put on screen several obsessions of modern pop culture such as satanic rituals, blood sacrifices, sexual slavery, and very bad music. In other words, it is a rather accurate reflection of the mindset of the entertainment world – a system in which Madonna became an important figure. Indeed, after the filming of this movie, Madonna would be known for combining shocking sexuality (for the time) and pseudo-satanic imagery – all of which were depicted in A Certain Sacrifice.
But there was clearly something about that movie that Madonna did not want people to see. Throughout the film, Madonna’s character is basically a Sex Kitten slave who is assaulted and humiliated on several occasions. One might say that it was purposely written to have Maddonna live out these things. Then, the movie ends with a satanic “blessing”, using the blood of a ritual sacrifice.
In a way, Madonna was the actual “sacrifice” of the movie (she was dressed in red on a few occasions). Furthermore, A Certain Sacrifice can even be seen as her “initiation” into the entertainment world and its twisted ways.
Today, Madonna is the Grand Priestess of the music industry. And this level of prestige certainly requires … a certain sacrifice.
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