Horror fans familiar with the notorious Guinea Pig film series will most likely remember them as “those fucked up faux snuff bootleg tapes” that circulated through underground horror communities in the ’80s and ’90s, much like the Faces of Death films. Even now, the original series is very hard to come by and fans of underground horror will need to be prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on the out-of-print box set, if they can find it at all. But find them I did, because no list of the most extreme horror films could possibly be complete without them. I also wanted to see how these films held up in the age of modern Torture Porn and if there was a greater value to them beyond the shock factor.
The first film in the series, Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment has a “plot” that can be easily summarized as “three men torture a woman for forty-three minutes.” However, it would be a mistake to simply write this film off as a misogynistic torture fantasy because there is a lot more to unpack about it than initially meets the eye.
First of all, this is an experimental film and should be viewed as such. The plot itself is not as much of a relevant factor in this case, since the experience is more about the provocative imagery and a visual representation of raw human cruelty and suffering. What’s more relevant is whether or not the film holds the viewer’s attention. In this case, despite the absence of a conventional plot and defined characters, it manages to keep you engrossed and curious to see what comes next as the violence increases in intensity.
A good storyline is an essential component to making a quality film so without that, a movie can’t achieve true greatness, no matter how interesting the visuals are. However, there is certainly something to be said for a film that strips away all pretense of story and presents the raw horror of brutality that is the primary draw for the fans to begin with.
Also, within those visuals, there are a lot of interesting and innovative techniques that are applied. For instance, the use of sound as a torture device, as they strap headphones on her and subject her to 20 hours of blaring noise, enough to drive any normal person absolutely insane. It’s an interesting idea and one that hasn’t been utilized very often since, despite the plethora of creative torture that’s been featured in countless films since. The hot oil scalding and hand crushing are also worth noting but the real standout is the needle through the eye, a ghastly and brilliantly executed effect that still holds up decades later.
All this aside though, what really makes Devil’s Experiment significant is how pioneering it was and it’s substantial contributions to the genre as a whole. A primary example of this is how the film is bookended with text telling the viewer that this is a “private video” the unknown writer of the narration obtained and that the info about the people involved is “missing”. Certainly not the first example of a “found footage” film but definitely a very early and influential example that would help pave the way for an entire subgenre some years later.
It’s also interesting to note that the tactic actually worked a little too well and producer Hideshi Hino had to prove to authorities that no one was actually hurt during the making of the film, just as Ruggero Deodato had to do with Cannibal Holocaust a few years earlier.
Another significant contribution is that this film was one the earliest, if not the earliest, examples of a Torture Porn film, despite the fact that the actual term wouldn’t be officially coined for another twenty-one years. So, regardless of how well the film overall holds up, there is no denying its important influence on not one but two subgenres of horror.
Despite it’s historical significance, I do have to concede that the overall watchability of the film isn’t terribly high and many of the less remarkable scenes do drag on a bit with little to hold your interest. Not to say there isn’t enough there overall to keep you watching, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be checking your watch during some scenes, especially towards the beginning. Regardless, this is undoubtedly a film worth tracking down, not just for the couple of scenes of effective gore but also to witness a piece of underground horror history for yourself.
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