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

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

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

Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment (1985)

GP1 Devil's ExperimentHorror 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.

3-stars-red

Mexico Barbaro (2014)

mexico-barbaroAnthology films can be a great way to showcase the talents of under-represented filmmakers and provide an avenue for short films to actually be commercially distributed. Typically, they will feature a common theme or wraparound story and in this case, Mexico Barbaro uses Mexican folklore as a unifying factor for the segments. As with any anthology some entries will outshine others, but what’s most important is the overall quality of the collection itself.

There are a total of eight entries, half incorporating supernatural elements into the stories and half focusing on themes of real-world horror. The first segment, Tzompantli, is an example of the latter and tells the story of a journalist who takes a dangerous meeting with a member of the Narcos to get information about the disappearance of a group of youths. This entry has particular real-world resonance as 43 Mexican college students did in fact go missing the same year this film was released. As far as the entry itself, it is not only well done and effectively bloody, but also draws interesting parallels between modern day cartel activity and ancient Aztec sacrifices. My chief complaint would actually be that it ends too abruptly and feels more like the beginning of a feature-length film than a stand-alone short.

On the supernatural side, the segment Jaral de Berrios delivers the most effective paranormal chills with a story of two old west bandits who hide out in a cursed building. This is the one entry that is most likely to instill you with a genuine sense of fear and is helped tremendously by excellent sound design and some very creepy atmosphere. Drain, on the other hand, does provide a decent amount of dread but falls a little short on delivering legitimate fear with it’s story about a teenage girl who’s blackmailed by a demon into doing an unsavory task.

Dolls was the only segment I felt an actual sense of disappointment with. It lacked creativity and originality compared with the other entries and brought up weird questions in the process. For instance, “Why cook a severed arm with a rubber doll? Are you eating the doll too? What the fuck is happening here!?” That being said, the fact that the filmmakers incorporated an incredibly creepy real-world location from Mexico, Island of the Dolls, for the short was very cool to see. On the flip side, the segment That Precious Thing delivers a very well-structured story about a teenage girl who goes to a cabin in the woods with her boyfriend to lose her virginity. It also incorporates some great 80’s style goo effects with some surprisingly dark subject matter.

What’s not surprising was the fact that the stand-out entry was from none other than Lex Ortega, who would unleash his gloriously brutal feature-length debut Atroz the following year. His segment about a little girl who’s scared of a local homeless man titled What’s Important is Inside is not only brilliantly conceived but also definitively plunges the entire collection deep into Extreme Cinema territory. But in addition to brutal gore effects and a storyline that couldn’t possibly be more disturbing, the segment also features some excellent social commentary, the real-world implications of which are far more horrifying than the short itself.

As far interesting concepts go, the segment Seven Times Seven delivers in a big way with it’s story about a man who goes to extreme supernatural lengths to seek his revenge. A truly fascinating entry with a well-crafted story that works perfectly as a stand-alone short. The final segment, Day of the Dead, may not be heavy on subtext but nonetheless closes out the film with a pitch-perfect blood-bath that is immensely cathartic and satisfying.

Despite the fact that Mexico Barbaro delivers a well-crafted anthology that utilizes many different styles of horror, it has been frequently maligned by many viewers and maintains a pretty mediocre overall rating online. I could spend time speculating on theories of inherent cultural bias and the impatience that Western audiences have for subtitles but I think there is a more fundamental reason for the lack of enthusiasm. This is, at times, an incredibly disturbing film and far more extreme than what you generally find browsing through Netflix. This can be a problem for casual genre fans that are unable to handle it when horror movies are truly horrifying. But if you have the cajones, do yourself a favor and strap the fuck in for this twisted pleasure from south of the border.

3-5-stars-red

Atroz (2015)

atrozAtroz, the Spanish word for atrocious and certainly an indication to the viewer that this experience is going to be anything but lighthearted. True to its title, the debut feature from Mexican director Lex Ortega is a harrowing journey indeed. Its style channels August Underground and its violent depravity reaches Human Centipede 2 levels of intensity. Much like A Serbian Film though, this movie plays out as more of a gruesome drama than a horror film but is so horrifying that it more comfortably fits into the Horror category than anywhere else. So, clearly its qualifications as an extreme film are indisputable but still, the most important question remains: “is it any good?”

After two men are arrested at the scene of a car accident that claims the life of a pedestrian, the police find a video camera in the car that contains a horrific video of them torturing a transgender prostitute to death. The film then alternates between the brutal interrogation of the primary suspect Goyo (Lex Ortega) and the graphic crimes on tapes that the police find during the investigation.

What instantly stands out about this film, aside from the extremely disturbing content, is the acting. The amount of commitment and realism that the actors bring to this project would be impressive for any film but the fact that this was a micro-budget production made for the $7,000 that Ortega and the producers crowd-funded really takes it to the next level. Even down to the smallest part, the actors really deliver in this film but Ortega himself truly stands out with his portrayal of the hulking, depraved monster that is Goyo.

Another key part of this film is the gore effects, which are very well done, especially considering the budget. Now, any would-be filmmaker can put gore into a movie but what makes the film so effectively disturbing is the fact that Ortega knows how to work within the limitations of his budget. Instead of attempting to create elaborate scenes and special effects that become laughable when done on the cheap, he wisely sticks to gritty, realistic violence and very upsetting concepts. Graphic genital mutilation, rape, incest, shit eating, bloodplay and various kinds of torture are all presented in unflinching detail.

While I enjoy seeing so much horrific imagery in a film, in this case it does work to its detriment a bit as well. Since the film is a little light on narrative, the extended scenes of violence do have a bit of a numbing effect without a more substantial storyline to support them. Still, the aforementioned acting quality and gore effects do a lot to elevate the overall film beyond the status of a run-of-the-mill Torture Porn making this a relatively minor issue.

A larger issue is the fact that the film falls into the standard found footage trap where characters are recording even at times where it makes no sense to do so. It is logical to think that the killers would be recording their crimes for their own sick pleasure. However, the fact that some of the transitional scenes, as well as large parts of what occurred in Goyo’s old home movie, were recorded is a bit of a stretch. I can certainly understand why Ortega included them as they were essential to the story itself but a bit more justification, like the camera already being on for a different reason, would have helped rationalize the fact that they were being recorded in the first place.

Truly, the only time Ortega completely breaks with the reality he’s created is during a playback of one of the tapes that suddenly cuts to an interior shot of the person’s ass who is being raped with the barbwire dildo (that’s right, you heard me). Certainly a cool effect but doesn’t make sense within the found footage context.

Minor structural criticism aside, this is an incredible film. Not only does it go to levels of darkness rarely achieved in cinema but it also provides powerful social commentary. The film opens with a statistic that 98% of 27,500 murders in Mexico are unsolved which sheds a light on the reality of the real world conditions the filmmakers must contend with. In the behind-the-scenes featurette producer Abigail Bonilla talks about the climate of fear and hopelessness felt by so many residents of Mexico City and how the film represents the violence and horror they see all around them. To properly understand and appreciate this film it is necessary to remove yourself from the initial gut reactions to the horrific images and realize that this is an artistic expression of the rage and fear that so many people feel from living in a dangerous environment. The movie also accurately reflects the fact that monstrous humans aren’t created in a vacuum but in most cases are the result of abuse and a lack of understanding.

A must-see for fans of extreme cinema and those looking for a film that delivers a legitimately hardcore horror experience. Atroz claims to be the most graphic and goriest film ever made in Mexico and ya know what, I would absolutely believe it. But let’s hope that it doesn’t stop there and perhaps this will encourage other daring filmmakers to push the boundaries and create art that resonates on such an intense, visceral level.

4-stars-red