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."

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