American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock (2015)

AGP2 V2After successfully capturing the gruesome and dangerous feel of the original series with the first American Guinea Pig film, Bouquet of Guts and Gore, the primary challenge for the sequel becomes figuring out how to follow it up without being repetitive. It’s not surprising then, that Bloodshock would take the franchise in a pretty different direction from the first as it focuses on a male protagonist and is primarily shot in black and white. This is certainly a gamble, so the real question becomes, “does it pay off?” Well, let’s discuss.

The film stars Dan Ellis as a man being held in a small white room in an unknown location, who is occasionally brought out only to be tortured by a psychotic doctor (Andy Winton) and his orderlies. His miserable routine of boredom and agony is suddenly broken up by the notes that start being slipped to him through the walls from a woman in the next room (Lillian McKinny) who appears to be doomed to the same fate.

This time around, Stephen Biro stays on as writer, but taps Marcus Koch to direct. Koch, for his part, does an amazing job creating an atmosphere of bleak despair and utilizes the black and white style to create very well-crafted shots of the gruesome torture on display. Speaking of torture, the special effects in this film are also incredibly realistic, detailed and gruesome as one would expect in any good Guinea Pig film.

As far as acting goes, both Ellis and McKinny bring it, delivering performances that are vulnerable, sincere, and compelling. Winton also makes for an imposing figure with his commanding stage presence that conveys a genuine sense of malevolence. Now, I hate to call one person out, but in an overall great cast, the one part that wasn’t selling it for me was the head orderly, whose performance was just a bit too unnatural and made him stick out as an actor surrounded by characters.

Even more than the black and white style or the male protagonist, what really sets this apart from other Guinea Pig films is actually the runtime. At 98 minutes, it’s the only one of either series (so far) to actually be of a standard feature length. This is notable because it is also where the film runs into it’s biggest issues. It’s not hard to maintain an audience’s interest in the virtually plot-less torture of the original Japanese films for their 45 or so minute runtimes, but when a film of this type is stretched to an hour and a half, that starts to become problematic.

That’s not to say, of course, that this film is plot-less, it does have a definite story that picks up speed and pays off towards the end, but it is also not a film with the kind of dramatic arc that is typically found within a feature. I’m all for breaking the conventions of cinema, but you have to replace them with something that works just as well and, in this case, it unfortunately amounts to large stretches in the middle that feel repetitive and dare I say, boring. Now, I’m not saying the overall film is boring, simply that it would have been a much stronger, tighter picture if 15-20 minutes had been cut from the middle.

As Bloodshock ramps up towards the climax, it does reinvigorate itself and delivers the defining scene of the film that makes the journey really pay off. I won’t spoil it with specifics, but I will say that it utilizes the concept of a transition from black and white to color better than I have ever seen previously in film. Some minor continuity issues aside, this is an amazing and visceral scene that must be seen to be believed.

Some key backstory about the characters is actually revealed during the credits which does place the events of the film in an interesting light and adds a new dimension to the film itself. Despite this, it still falls just short of really tying the story into a cohesive package, something that a brief scene bridging the gap from the backstory to the main story would have neatly solved, especially concerning the involvement of the doctor.

All in all, an extremely bleak and interesting anti-Hollywood journey that is worth strapping yourself in for, even if the trip sometimes feels a bit too long.

3-stars-red

American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014)

AGP 1The Guinea Pig film series is celebrated by fans of Extreme Cinema for it’s uncompromising gore and sadistic violence that reaches levels so rarely able to be seen in film. Even though these films remain near and dear to the black hearts of us gore hounds, the fact is, that it’s been decades since the last film was released and at this point, the out-of-print DVDs are hard to even find. Although prior to the limited DVD release in 2002 by German company Devil Pictures, North American fans of the series only knew the films as grainy bootlegs from multi-generation VHS tapes.

Despite the 2002 release, though, the series still seemed destined to eventually be forgotten, but in 2005 Stephen Biro rescued it from obscurity by giving it a proper North American DVD release through his company Unearthed Films. However, not content with simply preserving the original series, Biro also took it upon himself to resurrect the concept for contemporary audiences and, in 2014, kicked off his American Guinea Pig film series with the first entry Bouquet of Guts and Gore. Does this update properly capture the look and feel of the original Japanese films and set itself as a worthy standard bearer for the series in the new millennium? Well, let’s discuss.

Like much of the original series, this film is light on what most would deem a “conventional” plot and can essentially be summarized as “three men capture a pair of women and torture them to death to make a snuff film.” Of course, as fans of the original series know, the real appeal of a Guinea Pig film isn’t its storyline.

Content wise, this film is most similar to the second Guinea Pig entry, Flower of Flesh and Blood, as it also features the graphic disassembling of a female victim (or rather victims in this case) who remains unnervingly unresponsive due to the drugs she is given. Naturally, if you are going to brand yourself a Guinea Pig film you need to be able to showcase brutal and grotesque gore effects that are realistic enough to convince Charlie Sheen it’s a genuine snuff film. On that most important front, AGP: BoGaG delivers, with stunning practical effects that show every graphic detail of what it looks like to take apart a human body. From limbs being laboriously sawed through, to eyeballs being slit, jaws hacked off and guts pulled out, every aspect is presented in incredibly detailed realism that is essential to any true Guinea Pig film.

Biro also makes the interesting stylistic choice to show the characters themselves filming the events, which adds to the found footage/snuff film feel he is going for. The footage is also shot mostly handheld from different types of cameras and it is made clear that they are recording on both VHS and film. This makes for a sometimes jarring change in image quality from one shot to the next, although, this appears to be Biro’s way of paying homage to the grainy, bootleg style of the originals, while also ensuring that audiences are able to view the brutal effects in all their gruesome glory.

Now, I like the idea that the characters are creating this snuff film (that also serves as a Satanic sacrifice) at the behest of unseen clients, but this does make the movie a bit problematic from a story perspective. Are we to assume that what we are watching is the final edited product that will be sent to the clients? This makes the scene with the snuff film editor feel a bit out of place, as it would be the only part of this movie that takes place in the “real world” of the film and not within the snuff film itself. This would also be true for the end scene, although it is not entirely clear whether that is meant to be the opening footage for the next project they are making. No spoilers here, but I actually found that to be the most disturbing part of this entire movie, simply for what is implied.

This also brings up the questions “why would the clients want the movie to be made on multiple formats that ultimately result in inconsistent footage quality?” And “is this film meant to take place before the invention of digital cameras?” Now, while I’m on the subject, I do feel I have to mention that the only other area where I saw some room for improvement, was in the performance of the director character (Scott Gabbey) who struck me as a bit stilted. There is not a lot of dialogue in this film and, since he is responsible for much of it, a more naturalistic delivery of his lines would have improved the audiences immersion in the film.

To be clear, these are ultimately minor, quibbling points that don’t detract much from the overall experience of the film, but as a reviewer, it is my duty to address any parts of the film that aren’t hitting it at 100%. Rest assured, this is very much a worthy continuation of the Guinea Pig legacy. Unlike most American takes on foreign films, this one is very successful at capturing the authentic tone and feeling of the originals, which is a rare feat indeed. It is also able to create the same kind of extremely dark, gritty, and dangerous feeling of the original series and may actually surpass it in the level of extreme violence on display. This is absolutely the way a Guinea Pig film should be made, but also stands on it’s own as an all too rare example of truly uncompromising, uncensored filmmaking. Take note horror fans, this is what genuine Extreme Cinema looks like. It is also definitely one of the most violent, disturbing American film ever made, and that in and of itself, is a tremendous fucking achievement.

4-stars-red

The Hitcher (1986) vs The Hitcher (2007)

The HitcherHorror movies are a great way to explore the feelings of anxiety and fear that are inescapable by-products of living in the insane fucking reality we all inhabit. Sometimes the fear represented is an intangible part of our subconscious and other times it is based upon violent and terrifying experiences from the real world. In the case of The Hitcher films, the fear is based upon the anxiety derived from bringing a total stranger into your car, or getting into theirs. In reality, numerous people on both sides of this interaction have met with deadly ends, so the effectiveness of these films is reliant in large part on how authentically they can represent that legitimate danger. A lot has changed in the twenty-one years between these movies but some dangers never lose their relevance, regardless of how many technical advances we make.

The original follows Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is driving through the American southwest to deliver a car to a client in California. When he sees a man (John Ryder, played by the exquisitely creepy Rutger Hauer) broken down in the rain, he is kind enough to offer him a ride, but almost instantly regrets his decision when it becomes clear that Ryder is a murderous psychopath. After literally kicking Ryder out of the car, Jim soon finds himself embroiled in a fight for survival with the crazed man on the sparely populated desert highway.

The remake features the same basic conceit, with the primary difference being that college-age couple, Jim and Grace (Zachary Knighton and Sophia Bush), are instead driving through New Mexico on their way to spring break in California. Their relationship also effectively functions as a replacement for Jim’s (sort of) love interest from the first film, Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

The first question when comparing an original to the remake is, naturally, “how well does the original itself work as a film?” In this case, the concept it’s working with is unusual and interesting, as well as being grounded in a legitimate real world fear. The acting is overall very solid and Hauer really shines in this chilling portrayal of a subtly crazed sociopath. The film also does a good job of holding the audiences attention with a series of plot points that keep the tension up. So, overall a solid film, but in this case, it was also one that left significant room for improvement in certain areas.

The primary one would have to be the fact that many of the major plot points rely on very coincidental events that are taken for granted and never really explained, especially towards the end. In addition, the movie is grounded in a reality-based world, yet Ryder seems to possess near supernatural ability when it comes to always being exactly where he needs to be or, say, shooting down a helicopter with a hand gun from a moving car (!). Some minor spoilers going forward here, but I also have to say that the movie goes to great lengths to tease a larger connection and sense of purpose between the characters but ultimately fails to pay it off in a satisfying way.

The quality of the film is also chipped away by a series of unanswered questions that pile up throughout. How exactly did that finger get in his fries and why didn’t he tell the cops about it? If Jim’s the one that called the police from the diner why would they immediately assume he’s the killer? If you’re on the run and ditch a stolen cop car, wouldn’t the first thing the police do be to check the nearby motels? And so on and so forth.

Now, even though I do my best to watch movies with an open mind, I think I can speak for most horror fans when I say I have a bit of inherent bias when watching a remake, that it will simply be a lazily written cash-grab that pales in comparison to the original. Indeed, when the remake started with an attractive young couple that looked straight out of central casting, road-tripping their way to spring break while the shittiest possible song played in the background, I thought I had this film’s number. But as soon as that unpleasantness was over, the remake began to do what remakes so rarely do and present a more compelling, realistic version of the original story that actually polished up the mistakes. While it’s certainly true that over-explaining is a sign of poor filmmaking, the remake actually strikes the right balance by going into more detail with scenes that needed it and incorporating more realistic and logical solutions to various problems the characters face. I also like that the characters initially make the sensible choice to not pick him up but through a series of reasonable events end up in a situation where it actually makes sense to offer him a ride.

I also want to be clear that the original is sorely lacking in blood and, overall, fits much more comfortably in the thriller category rather than horror. The remake rectifies that issue and also adopts a tone that pushes it away from the action-thriller feeling of the original firmly into the category of horror-thriller. This is especially true of a key scene towards the end that was begging for gore in the original which the remake fully delivered on.

In a way, I feel like it was a missed opportunity to not have C. Thomas Howell take up the role of Ryder in the remake.  It would have set the film up as more of a sequel with very dark implications and we could all just pretend that the straight-to-video The Hitcher 2 never existed.  However, Sean Bean is just so fucking good in the role that I couldn’t possibly advocate for it going to anyone else. In fact, as good as Hauer was, I feel that Bean was able to really convey a clearer sense of motivation and understanding of the character that greatly benefited the overall product.

Ultimately, this is what a remake should be, a film that stays true to the concept of the original while polishing up the rougher edges. It’s also a good reminder that you can’t really judge a film until you see it and preconceived notions are often wrong.

Winner The Hitcher 2007

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.

4-5-stars-red

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.

4-stars-red

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.

3-5-stars-red

Kudzu Zombies (2017)

KudzuNo matter the size of your film’s budget there are always challenges to face. Big studio pictures have nearly unlimited resources but the filmmakers must contend with meddling producers dumbing down their vision until it’s palatable to a wide enough audience. Conversely, indie filmmakers have the freedom to explore innovative ideas regardless of their marketability but face the challenge of attaining the resources to properly execute their vision. Despite this disparity, both indie and Hollywood films are fighting for the exact same prize, the limited time and attention of a finite number of viewers.

Considering the fact that there is no shortage of entertainment to spend our free time indulging in, why would anyone choose to watch films with inexperienced actors and homemade special effects over slick, high budget entertainment? Well, the reason you chose to overlook the rougher, DIY aspects of indie films is because they are the ones that push the creative boundaries and try daring new things that the high-budget films don’t have the balls to attempt. However, when an indie film simply tries to replicate the same generic experience of a Hollywood film, but with a fraction of the budget, you are left with a product that is truly the worst of both worlds. So, is Kudzu Zombie up to the immense challenge of not only overcoming its very modest budget but also being an innovative entry in Horror’s most over-saturated sub-genre? Well, let’s discuss.

The film tells the story of Lonnie (Timothy Haug) a crop duster who tries out an experimental new chemical at the behest of a pair of corporate scientists and, since this is a zombie film, you all know exactly how well that works out. Once the outbreak is in full swing most of the action takes place at the town’s music festival as Lonnie, his friends and the remaining uninfected must battle the hordes of the undead. There isn’t really much more to the plot than that, and that in and of itself is Kudzu’s biggest failing.

Now, let me be perfectly clear about this, if you are going to attempt to tread down one of the genre’s most well-worn paths, you absolutely must bring a serious amount of innovation to the table. Unfortunately, this film seems content with rehashing the same basic “group survival” plot we’ve seen countless times before and doesn’t even attempt to break new ground. It pays lip service to the invasive plant species the film is named after, but instead of using it as a launching point for a creative and original storyline, it is simply an arbitrary catalyst that results in a very by-the-numbers outbreak.

Okay, so even if a zombie film isn’t willing to go to far outside of the box, it should at least deliver solid, well defined characters and brutal, realistic gore. At this the film also fails, as it portrays generic, one-dimensional characters with melodramatic, cliched subplots that will only succeed in making you hate them more. There is quite a bit of blood but not much in the way of gory practical effects and the ones that are attempted stand out as fake and poorly executed. There is, however, a whole lot of bargain-basement CGI used for everything from the blood splatter, to the explosions to the cartoonish looking fire, which all seem designed to ensure there isn’t even the faintest suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience.

To be fair, in this mess of CGI blood splatter and poorly conceived characters, there are some moments that the filmmakers do pull off effectively. The part where the fire-breathing sideshow performer uses his talents as a weapon against the zombies is well conceived. Similarly, the plane propellers chopping zombies and the RPG being fired into the town are heavily reliant on CGI but still pretty cool to watch.

Ultimately, this is a failed effort, but not because the filmmakers lacked the resources to make a zombie outbreak film, it fails because every instinct the they had was wrong. They didn’t innovate when they should, used CGI when they shouldn’t, and insisted on bad jokes and melodrama in place of realistic character development. Discerning horror fans would be far better served spending an hour and a half re-watching zombie films that actually do innovate the concept of an undead outbreak like Wyrmwood or 28 Days Later than spending their precious free time on a story that’s been done to death.

1-star-red

Guinea Pig 4: Devil Doctor Woman (1986)

Guinea Pig 4While Guinea Pig 3 tested the waters by branching out in a more comedic direction, the 4th installment, Devil Doctor Woman, jumps in with both feet, taking the series from horror to full-blown slapstick comedy. It still manages to be violent and disturbing but the tone is the absolute polar opposite of the first two, so different in fact that it is baffling that it could even be considered part of the same series. So, does this even more extreme tonal shake-up still manage to deliver the kind of satisfyingly gruesome experience we’ve come to know and love from these films? Well, let’s discuss.

The film is essentially just a series of bizarre sketch comedy shorts that center around the unlicensed transvestite “doctor” known as the Devil Doctor Woman. There isn’t an overarching plot to speak of, just a series of nine disconnected segments with the only commonality being the presence of the Doctor or her alter ego, the Cleaning Lady. The segments themselves typically involve the Doctor introducing patients who are suffering from outlandish afflictions and attempting to cure them in weird, violent ways.

It isn’t really worth delving into the writing as nothing about this film is taken seriously and every segment is merely created for the purpose of eliciting gross-out laughs. Although, I’m not sure who’s laughing, because each of the witless segments provides little more than gags about body functions that feel like they were written by demented twelve-year-olds. Now, I’m all for fucked up comedy, but I do have the crazy requirement that it actually be funny and not just incredibly irritating.

One of the main things that made the previous Guinea Pig entries work so well, was the highly detailed, shockingly realistic violence. In this case though, the only thing shocking is how cheap and poorly crafted the special effects look. Heads explode on obvious mannequins, bad make-up reveals bald caps and the less said about the cheap Halloween prop with the floppy rubber spikes the better.

All that being said, though, there were some, but not many, positive aspects of this film. For instance, the segment involving the “Tasting Party of Human Flesh” was a brief highlight that made the film feel at least somewhat connected to previous entries. The idea of a posh gathering where people sample grotesque dishes like Cancerous Liver Curry and Severed Vagina in Blood Sauce at least show a level of gruesome creativity, despite the fact that the props still look like they were bought at a discount costume shop. There also is potential to the concepts in many of the segments, but poor execution and the baffling reliance on the over the top “comedy” completely sabotage them.

Overall, a poorly conceived concept and a baffling direction to take the film series in. The first three entries are well worth watching but new fans of the series would be better off skipping this one entirely. Just like the fourth season of Arrested Development this entry adds nothing of real value and only taints the memory of the three fantastic installments that came before it.

1-star-red

Guinea Pig 3: He Never Dies (1986)

GP3 He Never DiesFor its third entry, the Guinea Pig series goes in a very different direction with He Never Dies. Instead of the somber, grueling brutality of the first two, this film adopts a lighter, comedic tone. In fact, rather than classifying this entry as true horror, it would be more accurate to describe this installment as a black comedy, albeit an exceptionally violent one. So, does this incredibly risky stylistic shake-up actually work in a series known for realistic Snuff impersonation? Well, let’s discuss.

In addition to the change in tone, this is also the first entry to really use a conventional plot structure with clearly defined character motivation and a traditional story arc. At the center of that story is Hideshi (Masahiro Satô), a depressed office drone who just can’t catch a break. When he decides he’s finally had enough and cuts his wrist, he makes the shocking discovery that not only can he no longer feel pain…..he can’t die at all. Although initially distraught, he soon comes to the realization that he can use his new found powers to terrorize a coworker he’s jealous of. I know, hilarious, right?

So, while that may not sound at all like something that even resembles comedy, the story itself is portrayed with a goofy, over-the-top and undeniably comedic tone. Because this is such a jarring change from the previous films, it is best not to try and draw comparisons between them and simply view this as a stand-alone entry. Regardless, even at forty minutes, it still manages to feel long at times and you may spend the first quarter of it asking yourself “How the fuck is this a Guinea Pig film!?” Patient viewers will be rewarded though, because once it starts gaining momentum, it unleashes the well-crafted, gruesome effects the series is famous for.

Initially, I myself was very skeptical of the idea of a comedic entry in the Guinea Pig series, but since the first two films have such scant plotting and no overarching story to connect them, simply showing women getting tortured over and over again in the sequels would create stale, diminishing returns. In this case, things weren’t just changed, they were flipped 180 degrees. Rather than a somber, anti-plot structure showing violence inflicted upon women, it gives the viewer a comedic, classically structured film where a man inflicts violence upon himself.

So, while it may not deliver the traditional Guinea Pig experience, this is a bizarre piece of hyper-violent absurdist comedy that is surprisingly enjoyable and well worth the very minimal time investment.

3-stars-red

Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985)

GP2 Flower of Flesh and BloodThe Devil’s Experiment may have kicked off the Guinea Pig series but the second installment, Flower of Flesh and Blood, is where it really starts to come into it’s own, providing a far more gruesome and brutal entry. It also gained significant notoriety in the states back in 1991 when Charlie Sheen (yes the Charlie Sheen) saw it, was convinced it was a real snuff film and reported it to the FBI. As laughable as this may seem, it’s not completely without merit, as the lack of story and hyper-detailed gore was specifically crafted to give the viewer the impression they are witnessing a real crime. Additionally, the film does start with text stating that the movie was actually a recreation of a genuine snuff film that writer/director Hideshi Hino had received from a crazed fan of his Manga work.

This story became the stuff of urban legend for years and Hino did become the subject of a police investigation because of his work. But despite what some persistent rumors claim, he never actually had to appear in court because of it and revealed years later in a Vice interview that the part about receiving an actual snuff film was a complete fabrication. So, notoriety aside, how does Flower of Flesh and Blood actually hold up as a film? Well, let’s discuss.

Much like Devil’s Experiment, this entry is also light on plot but does actually have a clear narrative structure. It starts with an unidentified woman being chloroformed and kidnapped as she walks alone at night, later waking up tied to a table in a windowless room where torture implements lie about. Her white-faced, Samurai helmet-wearing assailant quickly gives her a mysterious drug that will “turn her pain into ecstasy” before graphically disassembling her body with his crude torture implements. I won’t reveal too many details about what plot there is but suffice to say it does come to a thematically satisfying conclusion that also leaves the door open for a continuation of the twisted story.

The entire film may only be forty-two minutes but packed within that is more gore than you’ll see in many feature-length horror movies. It also achieves a level of graphic brutality that goes far beyond what most other films have the balls to portray and even thirty-two years later, the special effects still look amazingly real. This is largely due to the fact that Hino goes into great detail to show how slow and laborious the process of taking apart a body actually is. This is a level of detail that is often skimmed over in films but as anyone who’s broken down a chicken before knows, it takes a significant amount of effort to cut through bones and joints.

There are also numerous aspects beyond just the gore itself that make this film a very disturbing experience. For one, seeing a person who’s awake but not crying out in pain while someone mutilates their body is actually more disturbing in a way and is incredibly unsettling and surreal. There is also the scene where the white-faced Samurai shows off his “collection” of maggot-infested body parts while an eerie voice recites a poem about Hell in the background. It’s a simple and strange effect that works incredibly well to enhance the disturbing, surreal experience of the film.

The disc from Unearthed Films also includes a making-of featurette which is very interesting to watch after the film. Not only does it show the level of detail that went into crafting the amazing effects but also has outtakes showing the cast and crew joking around and bursting into laughter in-between takes. That itself is perhaps the most surreal part of the entire experience. All in all, a classic piece of horror cinema that’s worthy of it’s cult status and belongs in the collection of any serious gore hound.

4-stars-red