Raw (2017)

RawSometimes the trailer for a film is so compelling and intriguing that you instantly know it’s a film you absolutely must see. For me, Raw was such a film and the dark, unusual, and clearly well-shot movie that was promised was one that I couldn’t wait to watch. Of course, a great trailer followed by months of waiting can certainly raise expectations for the film itself so the question is, did Raw live up to the hype and deliver on the high promise of the exquisitely made trailer? Well, lets discuss.

The story follows Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman from a strict vegetarian family, who is going off to the veterinary school that her rebellious sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf ) already attends. After being forced into eating meat in an initiation ritual, Justine soon begins to have an insatiable craving for flesh that she struggles to control. That’s about all I want to reveal about the story because, truly one of the best things about it, is the shocking twists and unpredictable plot.

What’s instantly apparent when watching this film is just how incredibly well made it is. The cast, primarily consisting of young adult actors, is absolutely flawless and their strong, realistic performances are a huge part of what makes it successful. The lion’s share of the credit, however, belongs to writer/director Julia Ducournau, who’s brilliant script and assured direction, are responsible for creating a film that is visually stunning and thoroughly compelling.

It’s utterly amazing that this is Ducournau’s debut feature because, the way she skillfully balances the elements of a coming-of-age drama that’s infused with horror, is nothing short of masterful. The story is not only very different from what I assumed it would be going in, but also remained unpredictable throughout and was certainly a far cry from what Hollywood would have done with the material. The twists in the story make for some surprisingly shocking moments and the subtext about discovering one’s sexuality (and the horrors that go with it) is expertly infused into the story.

The fact that Ducournau relied on real animals and practical effects over CGI adds to the overall realism and, while this is not an extremely bloody film overall, the gore effects that are present are pulled off perfectly. All in all, this is a film that actually does live up to the promise of it’s trailer and, although it’s not exactly a horror film, it’s a horrific and beautiful journey that is very much worth taking.


Guinea Pig 6: Mermaid in a Manhole (1988)

GP6With this review I wrap up the original Guinea Pig series with the final (produced) entry, Mermaid in a Manhole. With the notable exception of the “comedic” outlier, Devil Doctor Woman, the series so far has ranged from solid to very good and set a high standard for Extreme Cinema that is rarely equaled to this day. So, does the final film live up to the expectations set by it’s predecessors or does the series fall flat at the finish line? Well, let’s discuss.

Unlike many of the entries, this film has a very clear narrative structure and is actually the only one in the series to not use any kind of framing device for the main story. The story itself centers around an artist (Shigeru Saiki) who copes with the grief of his wife leaving him by going into the sewer and painting the filthy and decrepit things he sees. On one such trip he discovers a mermaid (Mari Somei) who has become trapped down there and brings her home to try and heal the festering sores on her stomach. Her condition rapidly grows worse however and as she becomes more and more disfigured by her ailment she begs the artist to paint her before she dies.

This film marks the return of Flower of Flesh and Blood director, Hideshi Hino, and it’s no coincidence that these two entries are not only the most brutal of the series, but also generally the most well regarded among fans. As good as FoFaB was though, it is refreshing to see Hino take a very different approach with this one rather than rehashing the same premise. Mermaid not only presents a very creative concept but also features surprisingly well developed characters and a genuinely tragic story, complete with an ambiguous twist ending that will make you question everything you saw leading up to it. Since the film is based upon a Manga that Hino himself created, it’s no surprise that the story is well fleshed out and uncompromising.

This film also takes a very interesting and unusual approach to body horror because rather than showing a man torturing a woman, it shows him spending most of the time trying to help her, but with no less grotesque results. In fact, I think a strong case could be made for this being the most gruesome, disturbing and difficult to watch of the entire series. There’s something about seeing someone writhe in agony as grotesque tumors riddle their body that is so much more disturbing than seeing them being tortured by a person. Of course, that’s just where the film starts and before long the artist is painting with her multi-colored pus, pulling live worms from her tumors and cleaning up piles of them from her bloody puke. It’s okay, you can go throw up, I’ll wait.

All these scenes are pulled off with the well-crafted, gruesome practical effects we’ve come to expect from the series, complete with copious amounts of actual, slimy, wriggling worms and bugs. As far as I’m concerned extreme films like this function as a kind of litmus test for those who claim to be fans of movies that are meant to horrify. In a world filled with art that is compromised and censored in the interest of “morality” and mass appeal, it’s always great to see the vision of an artist who doesn’t give the slightest fuck about how the audience will react to their work. Plus, it’s by far the most fucked up movie involving a mermaid that has ever been, or will be, created.


Guinea Pig 5: Android of Notre Dame (1988)

GP5After achieving new heights of gloriously sadistic violence with the second installment, Flower of Flesh and Blood, the Guinea Pig series took a hard turn into comedy territory in the third (and especially) fourth entries, much to the detriment of the franchise. However, the fifth entry, Android of Notre Dame, drastically shifts the tone once again back to somber and serious. While this is certainly a welcome realignment of the series, the important question of how well the film itself works is still the primary factor. Now, a quick aside, I am, of course, aware that the fourth entry, Devil Doctor Woman was actually released after the other five but, since this is a retroactive review of the series, I am doing the films in the order they were produced rather than released.

Counter to early entries that were very light on actual plot, this installment represents the first time in the series that an attempt is made to incorporate a storyline that’s really grounded in a dramatic, character-driven plot. Said plot centers around Dr. Karazawa, a diminutive scientist who performs highly unethical human experiments in his basement lab, desperately trying to find a cure for his dying sister. Seemingly out a nowhere, a mysterious man named Kato, who knows all the details of the doctor’s experiments, calls him up and offers a business deal to help with the research. Karazawa begrudgingly accepts but it isn’t long before Kato shows up in person and reveals his true motivation for contacting the doctor.

Overall, the story works quite well and provides seriously portrayed characters with complex motivations that aren’t simply playing for gross-out laughs as in the previous two films. Still, viewers expecting the faux-snuff experience of the first two entries that gets right to the point with the brutality may be dissapointed with the occasional slow pace of this film.

This is a story worth sticking with though, because it’s not long before the plot veers into the kind of glorious insanity that makes extreme Japanese cinema so much fun in the first place. By incorporating sci-fi elements like a living severed head, robotic arms, and corpse resurrection, Android takes the series in a wonderfully weird direction. My only real complaint here is the wraparound plot with Karazawa as an old man that doesn’t tie very well to the actual story and could have simply been cut without being missed.

Since this is a Guinea Pig film, fans come in expecting a certain level of graphic violence and on that, Android delivers quite nicely. That being said, there are times when the illusion is betrayed by some inexplicably cheap looking effects, but there are enough well-executed, extremely gruesome shots to make up for it. Eyeballs are pulled out with the optic nerve still attached, ribs are broken off one by one, and organs graphically ripped out just to name a few.

Overall this film has some imperfections but in the end, gets the series back on track by delivering the dark tone and obscenely graphic violence that we expect from a proper Guinea Pig film.