Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs posterOne of the defining films of the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs, is a brutal endurance test that is not even remotely concerned with appealing to mass audiences or casual horror fans. Inspired in part by American Torture Porn films of the time like Hostel and Saw, writer/director Pascal Laugier has also credited the severe depression he was experiencing at the time he wrote this for its incredibly dark and nihilistic tone. While the raw, visceral depictions of suffering on display mean that Martyrs easily earns its Extreme Cinema stripes, the more important question is, of course, how well it actually works as a film.

The movie opens with a young girl, Lucie, who is bloodied and clearly abused, escaping from a building in an industrial area and running screaming down the street. She is subsequently rescued and raised in an orphanage but the bulk of the film takes place fifteen years later. Now, adult Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) aided by her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) is hell-bent on seeking revenge on those who abused her and believes she has finally found the culprits.

Since one of the best parts of this film is how unconventional and unpredictable the plot is I am going to give an official **Spoiler Warning** here for the remainder of the review. This is definitely a film that is best watched with fresh eyes and if you haven’t taken the time to watch it in the nine years since it’s release you should absolutely stop what you are doing and immediately experience it. As far as Extreme Cinema goes, this one is essential viewing.

Many films depict violence, but what sets Martyrs apart from most is how effectively it depicts suffering. Lucie herself is besieged by a demonic woman, a literal embodiment of her emotional anguish who repeatedly attacks her in viscous, horrifying ways. martyrs2Although represented as a separate entity, the film does eventually make it clear that she is a manifestation of Lucie’s internal pain and Lucie’s desire to be rid of her is the central driving force for her to murder those responsible for her abuse.

Another example of exquisitely represented suffering, comes in the form of the severely abused woman that Anna finds in the secret facility under the house. Seeing Anna trying to help someone whose life has been reduced to a state of severe and prolonged agony is perhaps the most upsetting part of this extremely disturbing film. Even though many films feature kills that are graphic and gory, the fact that Laugier dwells on the aftermath of extended suffering (both physical and emotional) makes the scenes in this film far more effectively disturbing.

It should also be noted that, in and of itself, graphic, brutal violence in a film is not necessarily something that is disturbing to see. When it’s done cheaply and poorly it ends up creating the opposite effect and comes across as laughable and silly. For violent scenes to deliver the proper impact on the viewer they have to be well done and the expert craftsmanship of this film is exactly why it ranks up there with disturbing masterpieces like A Serbian Film and Salo. This is due in large part to the incredible cast, every one of which down to the most minor parts delivers absolutely flawless performances. Laugier clearly understood that, regardless of how talented your leads are, amateur acting from ancillary characters can completely shatter the illusion of reality that has been so painstakingly crafted.

Another major reason that the violent scenes are so effectively disturbing is because Laugier wisely relies on expertly made practical effects rather than CGI. The result is a film that was not only shocking when it was made but still holds up perfectly nearly a decade later, and will for years to come. martyrs 1This is all within the structure of a brilliantly crafted script, which boldly bucks the conventions of a standard narrative, to keep you on your toes as the unpredictable plot develops. It even goes as far as (remember, spoiler alert) shifting protagonists halfway through, a risky move that completely pays off. The script also features one of the best sucker-punches in cinema history when the normal, affluent family is brutally gunned down by Lucie, seemingly out of nowhere. This is an outstanding example of a filmmaker carefully establishing a sense of safety and normalcy for the viewer, only to shatter it in the most jarring way.

As well written as this film is though, there is a glaring issue with the script that absolutely should have been resolved prior to shooting. After Anna meets Lucie at the house where she has just murdered an entire family that she believes was responsible for her torture, the two women don’t leave. I understand how from a plot perspective it was important that they remain in the house, but I fucking wish Laugier had devised a solid, logical reason for them to stay. It just stands to reason that anyone committing a quadruple homicide would try to get the fuck out of Dodge as quickly as possible and not, ya know, hang out, make phone calls…..take naps. It’s a baffling oversight in an otherwise incredible screenplay and really the only significant flaw with the whole production.

martyrs3There is just so much to unpack here, especially when it comes to the secret society; their quest for transcendent knowledge through extreme suffering, the casual way they inflict violence like it’s a routine job, and of course the brilliant end when the matriarch is so rattled by knowledge of what is actually awaiting us in death, that she takes her own life. Suffice to say, this film is a unique, complex and exquisitely crafted piece of highly disturbing art that ranks among the most brilliant horror films ever created.

4-5-stars-red

Inside (2007)

InsideThe New French Extremity movement created some incredible and daring films in the early 2000s, one of the most notable being Inside. This film along with Irreversible, Martyrs, Frontier(s) and many others defined the film movement that would give us some of the most extreme, taboo shattering films ever made. Much like The Human Centipede, Inside is a film in which the very concept is enough to make most people’s skin crawl. That alone makes it a must see for Extreme Cinema fans but the most important question is still “is there substance beneath the surface”?

The film starts with pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) getting into a horrific car accident that takes her husband’s life, and things only get worse for her from there. Four months later, the night before she is to be induced, a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) comes to her house with a single-minded purpose……to cut Sarah open and steal her baby.

The two keys things that all of the notable films of the New French Extremity have in common is that they feature gruesome brutality and are very well made. That’s an important distinction to make because if they were a collection of poorly-acted films with laughable special effects then they wouldn’t have been noteworthy in the first place. The fact that these films are so well executed, not only makes them far more enjoyable, but also makes the extreme violence something that is genuinely disturbing rather than laughable.

Inside definitely holds up on that front, with gorgeous shots, brilliant lighting design, and realistic, visceral gore. All of the actors involved do a great job, but Paradis and Dalle are exceptional and both deliver harrowing performances that take the film to the next level. I also enjoyed the simple yet innovative concept that manages to keep the tension high even with a small cast and one central location. It all culminates in an ending that is an absolutely perfect way to cap off this film.

Now, this film does have a great, tightly paced script that is very well written overall. However, there were still a few illogical moments that should have been tightened up before shooting. For instance, it seems very unlikely that a cop would bring a random perp he arrested with him into a house, where a potentially dangerous suspect was lurking, and give him a gun. This doesn’t make any sense, considering the fact that he could have easily just left him in the car. But it makes even less sense to tell the victim to wait alone in her bedroom while he turns the power back on, instead of just bringing her the fuck out of the house! In both cases these are oversights that could have been easily remedied with some logical justification that could have still achieved the same end result.

Regardless, the couple of minor script issues can be forgiven in an overall incredible film, and the fact that the film is so good in general, is actually what makes them stand out. If you are a fan of extreme cinema and you somehow haven’t seen this film yet, drop what you’re doing and fucking see it because this is daring, uncompromising cinema that must be seen to be believed.

4-stars-red

Ichi the Killer (2001)

IchiBased upon the Manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is one of controversial director Takashi Miike’s most well known (and most gruesome) works. Often found on lists of the most disturbing films of all time this is certainly not one for casual moviegoers who require a calm, numbing escape from reality. The numerous scenes of rape, graphic torture, and blood-spraying violence is sure to scare off all but the most hardened fans of Extreme Cinema. As always, the most important question becomes “is there more to this film than it’s graphic content or is it little more than a two hour exercise in shock value?” Well, let’s discuss.

When the head of the Anjo crime family goes missing it’s up to the ultra-sadistic chief enforcer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) to get to the bottom of what happened. As Kakihara begins his brutal investigation, he soon discovers that a mysterious man named Ichi (Nao Ohmori) may be the key to uncovering the fate of the boss. As the bodies begin to pile up, he also realizes that Ichi may also be the only one sadistic enough to prove a worthy challenger.

That’s the plot in very broad strokes but there is a lot more going on here. The storylines of Jijii (Shin’ya Tsukamoto), the head of a body disposal crew, Kaneko (Hiroyuki Tanaka) the disgraced policeman turned Yakuza gunman, and Karen (Paulyn Sun), the boss’ bilingual prostitute girlfriend, all factor heavily into the complex, interwoven story.

At the heart of any film, what really matters is how engaging the story that is being told is and how well it can sustain the viewers interest throughout the runtime. This is where Ichi the Killer really shines because, underneath the gruesome blood and violence, is an incredibly well-structured story that will hold your attention through fascinating and unpredictable twists and turns. As the story goes on, more and more details are revealed, as Miike masterfully unveils the backstory and character motivations in a natural and deliberate manner.

Even after you’ve unraveled the whole story the film remains highly rewatchable and I actually enjoyed it more upon the second viewing. This is in large part due to the highly skilled acting on display across the board, as well as the fascinating characters themselves. It’s always refreshing to see a film where there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” but rather a host of complex characters with a variety of motivations. Kakihara for one, is without a doubt one of the best and most realistic portrayals of a true sociopath that I have ever seen, a dead-eyed, asexual psycho who only enjoys pain and sees no value in human life. However, Ichi himself is the most interesting and unusual character, a craven, whimpering, coward in a superhero costume who unleashes reactionary bursts of ultraviolence when upset.

Since this is an Extreme Cinema film, the gore is naturally an important factor. In this regard the film delivers in many scenes where throats are slashed, limbs hacked off, and of course the infamous suspension hooks/boiling oil scene. These scenes are mostly well executed and feature cringe-inducing brutality, but there were a couple points where the effects missed the mark. The most glaring example of this was when a character is literally split in half and Miike opted to go for cartoony looking CGI, rather than a more realistic practical effect that would have created a far better illusion.

Ultimately, this is a very exciting, interesting film that will be highly enjoyable for those who enjoy challenging cinema and have had enough of Hollywood’s safe, bland, escapism bullshit. It’s also an excellent introduction to one of cinema’s great auteurs, Takashi Miike, whose work is fascinating, unpredictable and completely fucking uncompromising.

4-5-stars-red

Visitor Q (2001)

Visitor QIs it possible to have a film that features incest, necrophilia, rape and a whole lotta violence and still have it infused with genuinely heartfelt sentiment? If you’re maverick director Takashi Miike, the answer is abso-fucking-lutely! Just like other Extreme Cinema films like A Serbian Film or Irreversible, Visitor Q is not actually a horror movie but is an incredibly horrifying drama that goes way beyond the boundaries of most horror films in terms of content. So, how does all this shock value content actually marry with a sentimental core? Well, let’s discuss.

I do want to mention before I start, that while I’m not including spoilers, I do talk about quite a few plot points, so if you want to go in completely fresh, you’ll want to track down a copy and watch it first.

The story centers around the Yamazaki family who, it’s safe to say, has a couple of issues to work out. Patriarch Kiyoshi (Ken’ichi Endô) is obsessed with trying to create a documentary special for TV that takes an unflinching look at what’s really going on with Japanese teens today, especially in regards to bullying. His son Takuya (Jun Mutô) is the victim of severe bullying and takes his rage out on his mother Keiko (Shungiku Uchida) who in turn prostitutes herself to afford the heroin she needs to cope with the abuse. Kiyoshi’s teenage daughter Miki (Reiko Matsuo aka “Fujiko”) is a runaway turned to prostitution whom Kiyoshi interviews for his documentary in the opening scene of the film. After minimal convincing, Kiyoshi is soon fucking his own daughter, and that’s where this film starts. In the midst of all this extreme dysfunction, a mysterious man known only as The Visitor (Kazushi Watanabe) inserts himself into the family’s lives (after brutally attacking Kiyoshi with a rock several times) and begins to subtly influence them in surprising ways to achieve his goal.

What’s clear from the start, is that Miike set out to utterly shatter as many taboos as possible, which he does in a variety of bizarre, grotesque and extremely shocking ways. What’s perhaps most shocking to some, however, (although not surprising to fans of Miike’s work) is how well he is able to incorporate these extreme elements into a nuanced story about a disintegrating family unit. Rather than being gratuitous, the shocking scenes are an integral part of the story and work perfectly within the heightened reality of the world Miike has created.

Despite the fact that this film features a scene where a female character literally coats a room in a seemingly endless supply of her own breast milk, the part that struck me as most bizarre when I first saw it years ago, was the fact that people’s genitals are usually blurred out. Of course this has to do with Japan’s incomprehensible anti-obscenity law that allows graphic necrophilia, incest, and unsimulated oral sex, but draws the line at showing a flaccid penis. Being that Miike is known for pushing artistic boundaries and advocating for free speech, the extreme content in this film was no doubt a commentary on the ridiculous and arbitrary nature of censorship in Japan.

Overall, this is an incredibly interesting, engaging film with an unpredictable storyline that must be seen to be believed. For fans of Extreme Cinema this is an absolute must watch, especially if you enjoyed Miike’s more well-known films like Audition and Ichi the Killer. So gather your dysfunctional family around the TV and enjoy the most unique depiction of family dynamics you are ever going to see.

4-5-stars-red

Frontier(S) (2007)

FrontiersThe New French Extremity is the term used to describe a particular subset of films within the Extreme Cinema category, that were made by French directors around the start of the new millennium. Artforum critic James Quandt coined the phrase but, just as with the invention of David Edelstein’s term, Torture Porn, it was used in the pejorative sense. Regardless, both terms have been subsequently embraced by fans of boundary-pushing cinema, and it wasn’t long before the labels were worn like a badge of honor. Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) is one of the most recognizable films of the French Extremity movement and certainly earns its stripes with graphic, visceral violence. But that aside, the real question becomes “how does it actually hold up as a film?” Well, let’s discuss.

The main story is set against the backdrop of a controversial election in France where rioting has broken out after right-wing extremist politicians have seized power. Alex (Aurélien Wiik) and his gang of young thugs need to get out of the city with their bag of ill-gotten money as soon as possible, so they divide into two groups to meet in an inn outside of town. Unfortunately for them, this particular inn is run by a sadistic family of neo-Nazis that is determined to make their lives a living hell.

It makes sense that films, especially horror, typically build in intensity as they move towards the climax but one of the most notable aspects of Frontier(s) is how it takes that concept to the extreme. While many horror films will start with a horrific scene establishing the tone you can expect throughout the movie, this does not and for a significant amount of viewing time it plays out as more of a crime thriller without any horror elements.

But rest assured, the horror does come, and by the time we reach the climax, we’ve been treated to numerous scenes of gruesome violence that (in true French Extremity fashion) lead to characters being literally blood-soaked . Ultimately, this approach serves the film well as viewers unfamiliar with what they are getting into will no doubt be taken by surprise and it makes the violence that does happen, all the more shocking. It also serves the narrative well to have the film become more visceral and gruesome as the situation worsens for the characters.

The film itself exists in a world of slightly heightened reality and, at times, the characters (particularly the villains) come off as just short of cartoonish. Regardless, the acting is actually very well done and Karina Testa especially shines as Yasmine, the sole female member of the gang. In this role she is exceptionally effective at physically conveying the mental toll that an ordeal like this would take on a person.

Social commentary plays a big part in the story and Gens has revealed in interviews that the 2002 French presidential election, which had an extreme right party in the second round, was a direct inspiration for this film. Certainly the subtext can be read as a manifestation of the fear and anxiety caused by the thought of right-wing extremists in control of the country, but the execution of the concept manages to be both superfluous and slightly heavy-handed. Even though the idea feels incredibly prescient to those of us in the US right now, it still neglects to really get at the meat of the issue or bring something new to the conversation.

In the end, Frontier(s) succeeds in being a fun, bloody, survival horror film that draws more than a little inspiration from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With a runtime of nearly two hours it does take some time to get where you’re going but is worth the trip when you arrive.

3-5-stars-red

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