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

964 Pinocchio (1991)

964-pinocchioWatch out, people, there’s a lobotomized sex-cyborg on the loose! Yes, the insane premise of 964 Pinocchio (a.k.a Screams of Blasphemy) does certainly hold a lot of potential for a Tetsuo-style journey into another gloriously bizarre living nightmare. But the real question becomes “can it actually deliver on the same level as that mind-fuck masterpiece?” Well, let’s discuss.

Obviously, when a cyborg sex-slave that suffered a memory-wiping lobotomy (otherwise known as a Pinocchio) isn’t able to perform to the client’s satisfaction it runs the risk of incurring their wrath. Such is the fate of #964, (Haji Suzuki) a Pinocchio who is tossed out onto the street by a female client when he fails to maintain an erection during a threesome. However, it’s not long before he is taken under the wing of a homeless amnesiac named Himiko (Onn-chan) after literally falling into her lap. When 964’s owner/pimp learns he is missing he quickly sends his men looking for him, terrified that his underground cyborg sex ring will be discovered. Can 964 regain his memory and uncover the real truth about who (or what) he really is before he is found?

While this all may sound delightfully nuts, my chief complaint about 964 Pinocchio would actually have to be that it’s not weird enough. In fact the first thirty minutes play out a bit more like an offbeat love story than a Japanese splatter film. To be fair, after that the film does take a sharp descent into creative madness with bizarre imagery that ranges from the stomach-churning to the sublimely bizarre, all of which really has to be seen to be believed.

Even so, the strange and interesting scenes the film creates are frequently undermined by slow pacing and repetition causing them to become more of a source of fatigue than fascination. This is a shame because the final third incorporates much more of the fast-paced, gleeful insanity that was in short supply in the previous sections. While it does build to a satisfyingly deranged climax, there is still an overwhelming feeling of “too little too late”. Even at ninety-seven minutes it feels long and would have been more successful as a tightly-paced short rather than a feature.

Ultimately, this film tried to have it both ways, attempting to provide an experience that was both a Splatter Cinema mind-trip and a character-driven story. It would have been better to commit fully to one direction or the other because the unexplained random madness occurs too frequently for a drama and too infrequently for a wild ride in the vein of Tetsuo. Certainly an interesting (and Alternative-as-fuck) film and one that should be seen by anyone interested in Japan’s most bizarre cinematic experiences. However, if you are expecting a trip on the level of the aforementioned metal-morphing classic, or even the more recent examples of unbridled insanity like Helldriver and Tokyo Gore Police, this is sure to come up wanting.

3-stars-red

 

Helldriver (2010)

helldriverHelldriver is less a “movie”, more an unbridled ride through the cinematic insanity that is Japanese Splatter Cinema. Much like Tokyo Gore Police, this is another film that you are going to need to strap the fuck in for because this visual roller coaster is an example of unhinged, creative brutality at it’s finest.

The plot is as crazy as the visuals but I’ll do my best to distill it. When a freak meteor falls from the sky it releases a mysterious black ash that turns millions of Japanese residents into zombies. Now it is up to badass zombie slayer Kika (Yumiko Hara) to save Japan from the epidemic by going after the zombie queen herself….her mother Rikka (Japanese Splatter legend Eihi Shiina)

So, there it is in very broad strokes but that doesn’t even begin to describe the utter madness of this film. Right from the opening scene that sees a physics-defying truck spinning through the air like a toy and Kika pole-dancing on a zombie’s elongated neck (that’s right, you heard me) it is clear this is a film that is not taking itself too seriously. But that’s okay in this case and this kind of glorious madness is exactly what we’ve come to expect (and crave) from the Japanese Splatter subgenre.

The film is clearly on a mission to start out crazy and just get crazier…..and mission fucking accomplished! Zombie babies are swung on umbilical cords like weapons, severed heads fly through the air to devour people, a working car is made entirely out of severed body parts and much, much more! It all culminates in a battle in space so insane that it practically defies description.

The film is also violent, really, really violent. Torture, cannibalism and endless geysers of blood all play out onscreen in incredibly graphic detail despite the film’s shockingly low budget. Naturally, many of the effects have the sort of low budget aesthetic you’d expect in Japanese Splatter but the sheer creativity on display here more that makes up for it and just add to the campy fun.

And campy fun is really the key here because that is certainly the intention of director/co-writer Yoshihiro Nishimura. There is definitely a very different tone here than the grim torture-porn films like Grotesque and despite all the bloodshed, it never loses it’s sense of careless fun amid the carnage. For some, it would be easy to dismiss such a film as meaningless visual stimulation but the fact is that it knows exactly what it wants to be sticks with it a hundred percent. The characters are actually very well defined and solid and even with a two hour running time the film never feels drawn out or boring.

So if you think you can handle taking a trip through a world of gruesome, next-level insanity then grab a few beers and hitch a ride with Helldriver, you won’t be sorry you did!

4-stars-red

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

cannibal-holocaustTruly, no discussion of the most notorious, disturbing films of all time could possibly be complete without the inclusion of Cannibal Holocaust. Even thirty-six years later, the film remains banned in a number of countries and was so controversial upon it’s initial release that director Ruggero Deodato was arrested shortly after the 1980 premier in Milan. However, the charges were eventually dropped once he was able to prove that this was not an actual snuff film and all the actors involved were in fact still alive. So, does the film that many have dubbed the most controversial of the 20th Century live up to it’s reputation and still manage to be shocking decades later? Well, let’s discuss.

In addition to being notorious for it’s graphic content, Cannibal Holocaust is also credited as being an early pioneer in utilizing the “found footage” technique that has become such a prevalent part of modern horror, which is itself a very worthy contribution to the genre as a whole. The story centers around anthropology professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) who goes deep into the Amazonian jungle in search of a missing documentary crew that was making a film about mysterious cannibal tribes in the rain forest. But instead of the documentarians, he is only able to recover their footage which he brings back to an American TV station that wants to broadcast it. Monroe however has serious reservations once he discovers the truth about what is actually contained on those reels.

As the other reviews on this site will indicate, I am certainly no stranger to disturbing cinema and in fact have made it my mission to track down and review all of the most twisted, fucked up films ever made. I couldn’t possibly be a more ardent defender of free speech and have thoroughly praised controversial movies like A Serbian Film, The Human Centipede and others for their bold, inflammatory filmmaking. However, there is a very important difference between Cannibal Holocaust and most other controversial films which is also at the center of the ongoing controversy surrounding it…the real, unsimulated killing of animals on film.

Now, one thing I do want to clarify is that this film was made in 1980 and in the decades preceding that the practice of really killing animals onscreen was surprisingly commonplace and did not carry with it the incredible stigma that it does today. Even mainstream movies like Thunderball, Patton, Apocalypse Now, Cool Hand Luke and many others featured scenes of animals actually killed onscreen in service of the storyline. Despite this, the abundance of animal deaths, as well as the incredibly graphic ways that they are killed, make Cannibal Holocaust stand out as exceptionally brutal and cruel. So much so that years later Deodato himself even expressed regret for his actions.

More than anything else I have reviewed, this film really provides an opportunity to discuss the question “Is there a such a thing as going too far when creating art?” For me, the answer really comes down to one simple word…..consent. Consent is everything when deciding what can and cannot be shown. Consent is the difference between sex and rape and the difference between a boxing match and an assault.

I am a very firm believer in the idea that anything people want to express in art can and must be allowed to be expressed but with the important stipulation that if it is violent or sexual, it occurs between consenting adults. If all parties do not (or cannot) consent to what is happening, than what is happening is not okay. This is why filming actual instances of rape, murder, child sexual abuse and animal cruelty is rightfully illegal but fictional depictions are not only acceptable but an important part of coping with the real life horrors we face in the world every day.

People often cite A Serbian Film as the most disturbing film of all time primarily because of the depictions of children being sexually abused. While this idea is in fact disturbing, as it was intended to be, it is also still simply an idea, a fictional depiction. This also goes for other disturbing imagery such as the graphic rape scene in I Spit on Your Grave or the violence depicted in pretty much every horror movie ever made. As horror fans, we enjoy the depictions of violence because we are able to know in the backs of our minds that what we are seeing is simply an illusion and no real harm is being done. On the other hand, anyone who revels in the genuine suffering of others has truly lost their humanity.

Featuring actual cruelty also undercuts any kind of statement you are trying to make with the art itself. The underlying messages of the cruelty of a “civilized society” that feels entitled to abuse indigenous people and nature itself in this film is completely deflated by the fact that the film itself is responsible for such abuse. Beyond this, I also find real violence to be a cheap tactic to illicit a visceral response. Any asshole can shock you by killing an animal and filming it but when a film is able to horrify you to your core simply by creating a realistic illusion that is something to be admired.

To be fair though, there is a lot more in this film beyond the few scenes of animal cruelty and I wanted to see how effective it was as a whole. The special edition DVD actually offers a version where the animal deaths are removed so to compare it I watched both that and the uncut version. Without those scenes the film is still incredibly disturbing and more than most people could handle. Aside from numerous scenes of graphic rape there is also a lot of brutal carnage. The infamous scene of the impaled woman is a gorgeously realized effect as is the scene of the man’s cock being viciously cut off.

Despite my feelings for the unsimulated violence in this film, I do not advocate for it’s censorship and (like the apologetic warning before the film) view this as an historical document depicting a bygone era that hopefully won’t be repeated. This is the only time I would actually recommend watching a cut version of a film but if you do, you will see a movie that is surprisingly well acted, holds your interest and features a great film score. However, you are also sure to notice some shoddy ADR work, weak character development and a plot that is noticeably thin when not propped up with the shock-value of real death. Ultimately, without the use of the cheap shock effect of animal cruelty, the film would never have earned the level of controversy it did or it’s notorious place in film history. On the other hand, it would have still been a disturbing piece of art who’s message wouldn’t have been drowned out by it’s own hypocrisy.

2-5-stars-red