Short Film Review: Lion (2017) Duration 11 min 49 sec

LionWhen working within the medium of short film it’s essential to communicate a lot of information in a small amount of time. Making the audience feel for the characters and telling a worthwhile story from beginning to end in just a few minutes is a very challenging task but Davide Melini’s Lion does all that and more within its concise runtime. Located entirely within the confines of an isolated family home somewhere in the snowy wilderness, Lion tells the story of an abused little boy who wishes his favorite animal could come and protect him from his own family.

Lion has a very professional feel to it, especially for a short, and has the rare distinction of actually using CGI properly. Not only is the CGI that is on display of excellent quality, but Melini also shows great restraint with a less-is-more approach that makes the scenes that contain it incredibly effective. The film is well edited, delightfully bloody, and centers around the very real and very horrible problem of violence against children. I do think that the character of the father could have been dialed back just a little to be even more effective but that’s a small note within this nearly perfect film that is well deserving of the numerous accolades it has already received.

4-5-stars-red

Short Film Review: Not in My Mouth (2018) Duration: 4 min 54 sec

poison 5 jpgWhen you have a total runtime of under five minutes you have to pack a lot of content in to create a memorable experience. Fortunately Not in My Mouth does just that and is able to do a lot with it’s micro story in just a few short minutes. Set against a delightfully discordant and aggressive score by White Gardenia and Geimhreadh, the film is directed by (and stars) Poison Rouge, director of the newest American Guinea Pig film, Sacrifice.

It’s hard to talk much about the short plot without giving it all away but let’s just say it involves a bath, some torture, and even packs in a nice reveal at the end. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself and see it you should because NiMM is brutal, sexy, and just a great way to spend a few minutes. The gore is well done and the reverse shots from inside the mouth of the torture victim are especially innovative and fun. Really delivers everything you could want in a what’s essentially a music video and a bloody good one at that.

4-stars-red

Short Film Review: I Baked Him a Cake (2016) Duration: 5 min

I Baked Him a Cake - Official PosterCreating a short film that tells an interesting and compelling story within the span of minutes can be challenging. Shorter films don’t have to hold the audiences attention for as long but also have less time to develop the plot. In the case of I Baked Him a Cake, the running time of only five minutes requires that a lot of story is packed into a very short amount of time, so let’s see if director Vanessa lonta Wright is up for the challenge.

The first thing that I noticed with this film is that it’s very professionally shot and the opening scene sets the tone with some great high-contrast shots and excellent sound design. It also helps that the first shots are very engaging and leave you eager to see how it will play out. Of course, bad acting can instantly derail even the most interesting stories, especially when only two actors are involved. Luckily, in this case, both actresses do an excellent job with their respective roles and imbue the scenes with the realism, tension and underlying menace that is needed.

Everything here is competently done, so my only real complaint is that I feel like the film shies away from gore in some key places. Aside from the blood-soaked bathroom, we don’t really see any, and rather than having the opening scene represented with shadows, it would have been more effective to show a nice, graphic practical effect. I also felt that the ending was a bit abrupt and would have benefited from having a gruesome reveal to close it out instead. Obviously, these were stylistic choices made by the director, but unless there is a strong reason not to, it’s always best for horror films to really lean into the gore and violence, and it looks like this production had the means to do so.

It also could be that the film is deliberately open-ended in order to expand the story more with a future work. I’m hoping that the latter is the case, as there are a lot of questions about motivation and what happens next that would be very interesting to explore.

Thematically, the film brings up some interesting ideas such as how much influence a caretaker has over a child who must look to them to provide a sense of normality, even in a very abnormal situation. In the end, this is a short but sweet film that packs a surprising amount of emotion into its tiny runtime and actually made me feel for the character of the daughter quite a lot, which is not an easy feat to pull off in something that’s the length of two movie trailers. It also made me want to see more about what’s going on in these characters’ lives and look forward to hopefully seeing what Wright can do with a feature some day.

3-stars-red

Short Film Review: Coming Home (2017) Duration: 15 min 57 sec

ComingHomePosterWhite _July2017Even though it’s a tremendous amount of work creating a short film, it is undoubtedly a far more achievable task then attempting a feature, and a great way for indie filmmakers to hone their craft as they try to break into the business. Still, it comes with a unique set of challenges and being able to tell an interesting, concise, story in a very limited amount of time, is the most important (and difficult) of all. Given that most shorts are made independently, with very limited resources, there’s bound to be some rougher edges, but discerning audiences are willing to overlook such things as long as there is a compelling story at the core. So, does Coming Home have what it takes to be an indie short that’s worth your time? Well, lets discuss.

The story centers around a goth teen serial killer who goes by Craw (Nicholas Trivisonno) and a man named Richard (D. Duckie Rodriguez) who is trying to track him down with the help of his wife and son. The film also makes a point of explicitly letting you know that it takes place in 2003, which is curious since the date has no relevance to the plot and the entire story takes place within the same year. However, the conclusion is very open-ended and it’s possible that the date would be a factor in a sequel or if the short is adapted into a feature. I’m hoping that’s the case and the date wasn’t just put in to justify the tepid jokes about computers being “magic boxes that everyone will have someday” even though by 2003 they were already ubiquitous.

For a short film to work, it must get right into the action and immediately pull you in. Fortunately, Coming Home does just that and, right from the cold-open, sets up a world that you want to see more of. Director Shiva Rodriguez is able to strike just the right balance by naturally revealing the information you need without resorting to clunky exposition to move the story along. She is also able to imbue the story with enough mystery and intrigue to make the viewer want to watch until the very end to see how it will all play out.

Trivisonno gives a very solid performance as the emotionally damaged Craw, but a few of the other actors fall a bit short of being able to portray their characters with enough emotional resonance for the audience to properly suspend disbelief. Now, it was clearly a stylistic choice to have the first murder occur in the background out of focus, but it undercuts the power and emotional weight of the act if we don’t properly see it. If there is going to be violence in a film, it’s always better to show rather than imply unless there is a good reason to hold it back, such as keeping the identity of the killer secret, etc.

As I mentioned before, the conclusion of this film leaves the story open-ended but rather than feeling unfinished, it simply makes me want to see it continue. I don’t know if Rodriguez has plans to adapt this into something longer, or continue the story with another short, but I very much hope she does. At sixteen minutes, we’ve only scratched the surface of this world and the twisted characters in it, and when the credits rolled, all I could think was “I want to see what happens next”.

3-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