Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ginî piggu - Akuma no jikken (1985)

... aka: ギニーピッグ 悪魔の実験
... aka: Guinea Pig 1
... aka: Guinea Pig: Ginî piggu - Akuma no jikken
... aka: Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment
... aka: Unabridged Agony

Directed by:
Satoru Ogura

"Several years ago, I obtained a private video under the title GUINEA PIG. Its commentary said that 'This is a report of an experiment on the breaking point of bearable pain and the corrosion of people's senses...' but it was, in fact, an exhibition of devilish cruelty as three perpetrators severely abused a woman. Note: "Guinea Pig" is defined as an experimental material."

And so begins one of the most notorious tapes of the VHS era. Presented as a home movie depicting an actual torture-murder presumably given to the "director" by an anonymous source, this is actually a pioneering title in the disreputable faux snuff genre. These types of films would become much more prominent around fifteen years later when the found footage style, which enabled "filmmakers" to ply on the blood and gore without having to pay much attention to things like continuity, photography, lighting, editing and script, exploded in popularity. Though a few directors have managed to come through with an effective film of this stripe, this style has also become the go-to for countless untalented hacks.

If we want to go even further back, there are several earlier examples of faux snuff. Snuff (1975), for instance, pretended a poorly-executed and thoroughly unconvincing gore scene tacked onto the very end of an otherwise unrelated movie was the real deal and even used that claim in its publicity. And then there was Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which is partially shot from the camera POV of a group of documentarians as they kill animals and people, before inadvertently filming their own deaths. However, what separates this one from those earlier efforts is that the entire film is presumably told from the killer's camera POV, which is what later junk like the Eccentric Psycho Cinema, August Underground and Amateur Porn Star Killer series' copied.

The first visual we get is an unclear, distant shot of what appears to be a bag hanging from a tree. As the camera closes in, we realize it's a net, and then we realize there's a motionless woman inside. We then cut to some kind of large, mostly-empty country house, which is pretty much some kind of black void where nothing can really be seen outside of the actors and a few props. A woman is tied to a chair as her trio of abductors get to work torturing her in a series of vignettes, which are each given on-screen titles.

The first section is “Hit,” where the girl is slapped in the face a hundred times (we know this because there's a little countdown clock that occasionally appears!), starting with a bare hand, then a hand dipped in salt, then a wet hand, then a rubber gloved hand and finally a bag of coins. As that's going on, one of the guys stands in the background casually sipping a can of soda while the slapper whines, "Gee, my hand hurts." Next up is "Kick," where the girl (now blindfolded and with her hands tied behind her back) is pushed down, kicked repeated and kneed in the stomach while being berated ("Ho!" "Idiot!") by the men.

"Claw" features flesh-twisting torture with pliers. The girl is then force fed a bottle of liquor, spun around in an office chair over 200 times and then pukes in "Unconscious." "A Sound" has a set of headphones tied to her head and then really loud and annoying static sounds pumped through for 20 hours of screaming, drooling fun. "Skin" features a fingernail ripped off with pliers. "Burn" has 150 degree oil drizzled on her arm, followed by having a bunch of maggots spooned all over her fresh wounds and face ("Worm"). "Guts" has her tied down to a bed as the guys pelt her with animal innards, followed by having her hand sliced open and then smashed with a hammer. Things wrap up with "Needle," where a long needle is pushed into her temple and out through her eyeball.

I don't typically enjoy plot-free gore-porn flicks that exist solely to showcase make-up fx and drawn-out torture scenes, and this is no exception to the rule. Personally, I just find these things mostly boring and pointless. And I'm certainly not someone who minds films with extreme content or graphic violence. I've given positive reviews to everything from Angst to Cannibal Holocaust to Men Behind the Sun to Nekromantic, just to name a few. However, there just needs to be more to the film than just splatter and torture to really push it over the top. Some point or craftsmanship or artistry or creativity should be present, and, of course, it's paramount that these things feel realistic. Even if a film is simply torture for torture's sake, or gore for gore's sake, if it manages to disturb, it at least does its job. This one kind of falls short of that goal.

Any attempts at pulling off a realistic fake snuff vibe are ruined thanks to poor acting (the girl often just seems mildly uncomfortable at the various tortures she's forced to endure) and the not-very-well-thought-out camerawork (including too many different angles and even POV shots from the victim's perspective!). Being one of the very first attempts at this kind of film, I suppose it's understandable they wouldn't quite have the format down to an art just yet, but they still could have done a better job here.

The grainy, lo-fi shots of the girl hanging from the tree do have a kind of haunting quality to them, though I kept thinking how these could have been utilized better if more restraint had been applied; perhaps using a distant shot only at the very beginning to engage our imaginations and then a similar shot at the very end, at which point we can more than fill in the blanks ourselves. This image is very reminiscent of the famous "suitcase" finale of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but Henry pulls if off far more effectively.

Though I didn't gain much from watching this, I am going to cut it some slack in my grading department for a couple of reasons. The first is its obvious influence on the found footage and faux snuff genres and the second is for a couple of convincing make-up effects, most especially that eyeball bit. However, though this was the first, the second entry in the series (Guinea Pig: Flowers or Flesh and Blood) easily eclipsed it in the infamy department and was far more popular and notorious on the underground video trading circuit of the 80s and 90s. The only official release this was given for many years was a Japanese VHS release by Orange Video House / Sai Enterprise in 1985. It wouldn't be until 2002 that it was given a legitimate U.S. DVD release courtesy of Unearthed Films.

Speaking of Unearthed Films, a man named Steve who claims to run the company was kind enough to stop by IMDb back in 2002 to shed some light on the real target audience for the film. I'll let him have the final word: "I've seen it all and the films that have stuck in my head over the years was definitely the Guinea Pig films. Why because it doesn't try to hide the reason why we watch horror movies in the 1st place. This review is for the Devils Experiment. I find it devoid of story which is fine by me. Why do I watch horror films? So I can see blood and gore and the torture of people. The Devils Experiment not only delivers but that's all it is. Pure unadulterated violence. Yeah I like a story but sometimes I just want the gore and the Devils Experiment delivers ten fold. Why do people bash it. Cause they like a story, so that the torture and death of a person can be hidden behind a story. It make em feel better about themselves."

Friday, July 30, 2021

Roots Search: Shokushin buttai X (1986)

... aka: ルーツ・サーチ 食心物体X
... aka: Alien, el dibujo animado (Alien, the Cartoon)
... aka: Criatura del espacio (Space Creature)
... aka: Roots Search
... aka: Roots Search: Heart-Eating Object X
... aka: Roots Search: X, the Throbbing Thing

Directed by:
Hisashi Sugai

At the Tolmeckius ESP Research Center (it's a space station), scientist / commander Marcus and his two man crew - blondie Scott and bulky Norman - are experimenting on a fourth crew member; a powerful, huge-eyed psychic named Moira, who's having a recurring bad dream that may not just be a nightmare but instead a premonition of things to come. A large "warpship" called Green Planet, which is forbidden in the sector the scientists are currently traveling in, shows up on their radar. Attempts at communication don't work so they take another smaller ship to the spacecraft, board it and discover a few horrifying things. The corridors are spattered in blood and most of the former crew have been reduced to skeletons. There is, however, one unconscious survivor; second officer Buzz, whom they promptly take aboard their ship. Further exploration of the Green Planet uncovers something else: An alien being that appears to be dead. Not to take an unnecessary chances, Commander Marcus immediately orders it to be shot into space.

Soon after, Marcus is visited by a mind-reading, shape-shifting, vagina-fang-mouthed supernatural being that announces it's going to kill him. It then reveals that it knows a dark secret from his past (he betrayed / framer a former project director, which led him to suicide) and next thing Marcus knows he's being impaled to the ceiling by a large shard of metal. Moira and Scott find the mutilated body but when Buzz awakens, they assure him everything is A-OK. Unfortunately it's not for Norman, who's attacked next. He remembers back to a time when he and a soldier buddy were fighting some giant tentacles monsters called "mordi" and he failed to save his friend's life. Norman ends up with smoke rolling out of his mouth and eye sockets but somehow manages to survive, while the alien promises "I will kill you inside of two hours!"

Scott, who's pissed that Moira is clearly finding herself attracted to Buzz and not him, wanders off and has an encounter with a naked former lover who slit her wrists in the bathtub after he called things off with her. Meanwhile, Norman's old army buddy shows up to lead him to his doom inside an airlock, which makes his body explode. The alien takes multiple other forms, like a pink tentacled monster, a giant brain and some spider-looking thing, calls itself a "messenger from God" and claims it's there to destroy humanity for indulging in malice, greed, lust, evil and other sinful behavior. However, since it's also a master at manipulation, it may very well be lying, something the ambiguous non-ending kind of fails to clear up.

So, about that ending (psst, you may want to skip this paragraph for spoiler purposes)... After the ship explodes, our heroes (who first have a hilarious pink-tinged romantic fantasy frolicking around naked in a field while a fetus floats through space) end up (I think?) on the insides of the creature. It's filled with pulsating organs, veiny webs, tunnels and long-dead corpses, with a color palette that looks hand selected by your average 7-year-old girl. Moira thinks they may actually be in either heaven or hell, and they possibly are, or whatever an afterlife equivalent of either may actually be. This is all left entirely up in the air. However, this entire last scene is a pretty blatant rip-off of the finale of Fulci's The Beyond of all things! In that, a couple spend the film fighting zombies and end up blinded and in hell for their troubles. Here, a couple spend the film fighting an alien, one is blinded and they end up in a hell-like place for their troubles.

This was one of many 80s ALIEN-inspired OVA (original video animation i.e. anime made specifically for the home video market) and it's one of the most hated titles amongst anime fans that I've come across. Viewers criticize the derivative / unoriginal story line, the cheap animation, the pacing, the bland characters and many other subpar aspects of the film. Though I agree with them to an extent, this is still fairly entertaining and has a few interesting ideas.

In addition to multiple VHS and VCD releases in Asia, there were English-subtitled VHS releases from Columbia Video and U. S. Manga Corps Video, as well as an English-subtitled laserdisc release from Image Entertainment in 1993. Spanish-language versions were also released under several different titles.

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