Ginger Nuts of Horror
Come on in, the water's claustrophobic...
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007)
Dir. Gregory M Wilson, USA, 91 mins
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we wrap up 'classics month' here at the column with a look at an infamous movie from across the pond. In October we've been to Serbia, Spain and China so it's nice to come back to a film without subtitles this week, at least. But there's not much else nice here – because it's time to look at The Girl Next Door. Taking its source material from Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, with the inspiration for that being the infamous case of Gertrude Baniszewski's terrible abuse and murder of Sylvia Likens in 1995. If you want a more honest-to-life look at the case, you might be better to turn to An American Crime – if you want to get right to the heart of the horrors, then this is likely the version for you.
So, we begin with a flash-forward to a Wall Street banker by the name of Davey, who after a dramatic opening begins to reminisce on his younger days and in particular his infatuation with Meg, the girl who moves in next door (makes sense, right?). What starts out with the flavour of a touching coming of age story takes a sour turn, however, as the influence of Meg's guardian, Aunt Ruth, begins to grow. If there's a single thing that elevates this movie, it's Blanche Baker's role as pretty much the sole adult in the lives of the children of the neighbourhood. In the beginning she's free in giving out the beer and cigarettes to all the youngsters, but her attitudes towards men, women and sexual relationships are warped to say the least. And Meg is soon enough a victim of her ire, resulting in a couple of beatings and unpleasant scenes.
But there's far worse to come, of course, as Ruth continues to employ her poisonous influence and gain the support of the young boys on the block. When Meg reports the beatings to a local police officer, who is dubious of her report, Ruth drags her to the basement and ties her up. It's in this cramped, dingy space that she spends the rest of the movie, and from there we are effectively treated to the classic torture porn scenario. Meg is abused physically, mentally and sexually, much of it by the kids on the street while Ruth calmly watches on with a cigarette. In fact, she leads the most brutal of the treatment herself. The youngsters in the movie display a very variable level of acting skill, and it's not always entirely clear why they go along with so much of what is done to Meg. It's only Davey who offers any resistance, and it's his attempts to free Meg that lead to the conclusion of this one.
By the time I came to the end of the movie, I couldn't help but think that it falls short on both fronts it angles at. The acting is a bit too weak for a serious drama – with the exception of the excellent Blanche Baker – and there's also a bit too much cut out or glazed over to be as seriously shocking as some of the movies we've watched previously here. The finale is obviously designed to stir emotions, but comes off heavy-handed in comparison to – to name but one – Megan is Missing. It's all a little awkward, a little clumsy, perhaps mixing its influences and not quite defining its aims throughout. The best and most impactful moments come from the cruelty of the regular human being, but perhaps there aren't enough of those to really keep you going.
RATING: 5/10. Having seen this on so many 'most shocking movies' lists, and also being a fan of Ketchum's work, I suppose I was ultimately expecting a bit more from this one. The true story that this follows is absolutely harrowing, and although there are places where this is horrible to watch, the overall effect is just a bit underwhelming. It feels as though the director has perhaps shied away where they might have gone all the way to truly produce the effect, and the constant attempts for emotional impact never really play out. So it's a distinctly average 5/10 for The Girl Next Door.
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FILM REVIEWS
Come on in, the water's rotten...
Dir. Nacho Cerda, Spain, 31 minutes
Welcome back to Film Gutter everyone, and for our 'classics month' review this week I truly suggest you don your goggles and pop a peg on your nose, because this week the water pure and simple has a dead body floating in it. Yep, a rotting, stinking corpse. But why should that stop us going for a swim eh? It's time for us to finally brave one of the most notorious short films of all time, a regular feature on many people's 'most disturbing movies of all time' list. Let's get stuck into Aftermath.
Only the second piece of work from the director, Aftermath soon earned itself a reputation as a shocking piece by covering the taboo of necrophilia. The opening shot is certainly an attention grabber – a dog that looks rather like it has been run over, and has its organs pretty well splashed all over the place.
The rest of the action is set within a basement morgue, where we see a little of the everyday running of the place – a male body being delivered by an orderly, before being autopsied. This initial scene of the body being taken apart is presented absolutely unflinchingly. The visuals leave little to the imagination, but one thing that is effective in the first half of the movie – and even more so in the second – is the use of sound. The music in the film is used very sparingly, so what we mostly have is a funereal silence (not a word of dialogue spoken by any of the characters) punctuated by the crunching of bone, the squelching removal of organs and the insidious sound of saws and knives cutting through flesh. It's undoubtedly cleverly done, and is one of the things that makes the whole experience so unsettling.
Ah, but I haven't mentioned the second half yet, have I? The initial autopsy is carried out by two doctors, but when one of them leaves our dark-eyed protagonist is left alone in the morgue. And he doesn't need much of an invitation to find himself a female corpse, lock the door on himself and carry out an absolutely horrible to watch act of necrophilia. First up he takes a knife to the cadaver, stabbing it multiple times before removing much of the skin from the torso.
The very final scene I'm pretty reticent to even go into, but I'm sure it won't take an awful lot of imagination to guess what follows by way of a 'climax'. The use of sound is again horribly illustrative, and there's also a great deal in the performance of our depraved lead that adds to the unease that Aftermath creates. The grunts, groans and loud exhalations tell a story of unnatural excitement and arousal that no amount of dialogue could ever have replaced. It's a rare instance where a character doesn't have a single line in a piece, but in those cases where I have seen it the character in question is usually absolutely psychopathic and deplorable (see Human Centipede II and upcoming review on Headless).
With all the above said, there is distinctly a kind of artistry at work behind this one. Shots are generally very well presented and the sound engineering is impeccable, used for maximum impact and horrendously effective. The music – when it is there – is also very aptly chosen. So as a piece of shock cinema, it work on pretty much every level. An enjoyable experience? Not so much...
RATING: 9/10. This one is genuinely difficult to watch and practically no fun at all at any point. So surely that makes it pretty much the ideal Film Gutter movie? Short, simple, well put together and one that I was damnedly glad to get to the end of. The only reason this one doesn't score maximum points if that there's really no plot, just an awful vignette it'll take a while to bleach from your mind. So, for that reason, it's 9/10 from me.
Come on in, the water's experimental...
MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988)
T.F. Mous, Hong Kong/China, length varies depending on cut
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we're continuing classics month with another one of those extreme movies that has come up many times in the comments and messages about the series we're embarked upon. We've spent a fair amount of time in Japan already as part of proceedings here at Film Gutter, but today's we're headed to near neighbours China for the story of one of the most shocking real-life incidents of the Second World War. This is the retold tale of Unit 731 – this is Men Behind the Sun. Another movie to be highly criticised for its violence and exploitative content, MBTS has suffered at the hands of censors in Australia and Japan and also been criticised for animal cruelty and the use of real autopsy footage.
Come on in, the water's putrid...
A Serbian Film (2010)
Dir. Srdjan Spasojevic, Serbia, 103 mins
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where we're just entering one of our favourite months of the year and starting the build up towards Hallowe'en (don't try and say you haven't noticed all the costumes in the shops), so we thought we'd do something a bit special here at Film Gutter. Over the last ten months we've covered some fantastic disturbing cinema here, but what we haven't done yet is touched upon some of the genuine classics of the genre, the most renowned extreme horror films out there. And, to be fair, you guys have been asking me to look at some of these films for a while, so here goes. Throughout October we'll be covering five of the biggest hits of extreme horror cinema, starting with this week's noxious morsel, A Serbian Film.
The start of October marks ten months of Film Gutter – I know, it's gone by in a flash – and in that time we've reviewed some phenomenally disturbing movies, interviewed some incredible figures from the field and even as of this week been quoted in the promo for Phil Stevens' brilliant Flowers. It's been a hell of a journey, and what was only ever meant to be a hobby has grown into something more – something that has come to really mean something to me, as well as being a hugely enjoyable part of my week!
It's also grown hugely in terms of readership and profile, and for that I can only say a massive thank you to you guys – for checking out all the reviews and interviews, for sharing and liking and spreading the love on social media, and for all the positive comments that keep me smiling so much.
So, as of this week we've taken the decision to launch on Patreon so that we can offer you more of the twisted film goodness that you've been enjoying so far! We'll of course continue doing what we're doing, but if you guys out there are willing to contribute a little something each month we can do so much more.
If you've not heard of it, Patreon is a website where you can 'pledge' to creators, becoming a patron and supporting their endeavours each month. If you're willing and able to pitch in a dollar a month, or even more, you can not only help yourself to an exclusive Film Gutter e-book – Deleted Scenes – but also help Film Gutter grow to have more reviews, more interviews, a Youtube channel and maybe even Film Gutter books in due course. The more pledges, the more that we can offer to you guys!
So if you want to offer your support, not only will we appreciate it immensely but it'll have a whole host of rewards and extra benefits with that distinctive Film Gutter flavour. So check it out at https://www.patreon.com/user?u=455803&ty=h&u=455803 and become a part of the Film Gutter family...
Come on in, the water's delicious...
VASE DE NOCES (AKA WEDDING TROUGH) (1974)
Thierry Zeno, Belgium, 80 minutes
So, admittedly, this particular movie is pretty obscure and can be pretty hard to find. But in the light of the 'Piggate' scandal that has taken social media (if not the news) by storm I simply couldn't resist finding myself a copy and reviewing this at an incredibly apt moment. Vase De Noces is an experimental horror-comedy from Belgium that tells the tale of a love that dare not speak its name – that between man and pig. It informal third title is 'The Pig Fucking Movie', so there's no messing around here. It also has a reputation as one of the most notorious movies of all time, and is still banned in Australia more than 40 years after its release. So it's time to go the whole hog and get into our review (that's the only pig-based pun, I promise).
Come on in, the water's cruel...
Guinea Pig 6: Mermaid in a Manhole
Dir. Hideshi Hino, Japan, 1988
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where the whistle is about to go for the closing of the pool. Yes, we've been treading water for a long time in some of Japan's most controversial movies, and the lifeguards are about to pull us out of the water. The end of the Guinea Pig series is now in sight and very suitably this one is taking us beneath the veneer of modern life and all the way down to the sewers. Say hello to the Mermaid in a Manhole, what has become known as the final in the series (see my review of Devil Woman Doctor for a fuller summary of the numbering issues...)
Well, the close of the series is pretty much a return to what made the series popular in the first place – plenty of shock and gore, and also a definite return to the serious tone of the opening two Guinea Pigs. The story (yes, it has one of those too!) follows an artist as he goes trawling through the sewers, for reasons never really entirely clear. But it is in this dismal environment where he makes an incredible discovery – a mermaid, sat out of the water and looking distinctly unwell. So our lead takes it upon himself to rescue this mythical creature, thinking that she will be better off sat in his bathtub than in the foul environs she inhabits. The wisdom of this is debatable, but there it is.
Now, if you can forgive the few leaps in logic there, that leaves us an artist obsessed with his new subject, whom he paints and paints and paints as her condition continues to worsen. As time goes by, her skin begins to blister into painful sores, which in turn become infected and infested with foul worms. The strange relationship between the two sees him become ever more obsessive, even beginning to use the emissions from her pustules to colour his depictions of her. All the while she begs for mercy, but he refuses to listen to her. It's this head-to-head relationship that makes it most like the fifth entry in the series, Android of Notre Dame.
Admittedly, the plot is fairly thin, but it's a good deal more interesting than many of the previous pieces. In fact, this simple plot could have delivered rather more, given a greater will to produce something mainstream and artistic. But this is Guinea Pig, of course, and we're here for something very uncomfortable and uneasy to watch. The disease that takes the mermaid is shown in absolutely intimate detail, which did rather cause me to squirm in my seat. If you don't like worms, do not press play. Consider yourself warned.
I don't want to give away the ending, because it's actually really pretty interesting and clever, which is another departure from the remainder of the series. The performances here are pretty solid, and I'd argue the case this is the best of the non-comedic entries in the series. It's the best thought-through, and while the pus and blood is overdone it does actually fit into the plot. Something would be lost without it, undoubtedly. The only thing that is really a let down is some terrible acting beyond the two main protagonists – the performances from the artist's neighbours are simply terrible.
The Guinea Pig series drew to a halt with this one – another movie, Lucky Sky Diamond, is sometimes attributed to the series but erroneously so. The Slaughter Special that came afterwards does not feature any new material, being rather a 'best of' – or perhaps 'worst of' is a better term for it? So with this movie ended something of an era, although thankfully Japanese cinema would continue and still to this day serves up some of the most fabulous extreme horror out there.
RATING: 7.5/10. There's plenty to like about the final entry in the Guinea Pig series, with an interesting central idea, a relationship between them that carries much of the story and a fine finale that surpasses anything else in the series. With all that said, the pace is admittedly a little slow at times and some of the supporting acting is painful to watch. With all that said, it's a good closing effort to a series that would go down in extreme horror folklore for a very respectable 7.5/10.
FILM GUTTER: THE HEART AND SOUL OF EXTREME HORROR FILM REVIEWS
Dir. Matthew A. Brown, 95 mins, USA
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we'll be delving into some pretty chilly waters. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, and rarely has it been served much colder than right here. Julia is a film I had heard of from the horror festival circuit, and a number of friends had described this one to me as a rape revenge movie with a twist. It's occurred to me a few times since that perhaps in an ideal world that wouldn't really be a recognised subgenre, but that's another debate entirely. As it goes, Julia is very much a worthwhile entry into that disturbing cannon of cinema and an interesting noir thriller in its own right.
Come on in, the water's cruel...
Guinea Pig 5: Android of Notre Dame
Dir. Kazuhito Kuramoto, Japan, 1989, 51 minutes
It's Thursday, so it must be that time of the week again... yes, get the goggles on and put a peg on your nose, because it's time to dive headlong into the cesspool that is Film Gutter. Brace yourself for a nauseating paddle as we come to the penultimate movie of one of cinema's most infamous franchises. You want to talk about 'torture porn'? Well, long before Hostel or Saw popularised the term Japan was offering some absolute doozies that fit the name perfectly, with Guinea Pig chief among them. And out latest instalment is Android of Notre Dame.
Note – answers on a postcard if you can tell me why this is called Android of Notre Dame. The title seems spectacularly random to me, because what we effectively have here is a sort of Frankenstein story, with a scientist (who happens to be a little person) attempting to bring his beloved sister back from the dead. We see some flashbacks of her illness and her slow decline, but most of the movie is spent in the subterranean laboratory of our lead as he seeks to bring life to deceased body parts. He seems relatively noble at the very start of the story, even if he is completely unfazed by dismemberment and dissection. It's all in a good cause, right? Well, sort of...
But as he works in his lab one day, he receives a phone call from another scientist who is trying to explore some of the same ground and has (somehow) found out about our lead character's work. And it's when this fellow scientist comes to visit that things really begin to go south, and the true nature of our 'hero' is revealed...
Plot-wise I don't want to say too much more, because this one is actually kind of interesting and begins another shift in the tone of these movies. While The Devil's Experiment and Flower of Flesh and Blood were both absolute smorgasbords of gore, with practically no meaning attached, and Shudder! He Never Dies and Devil Woman Doctor angle for surreal, over the top, often black comedy, this and the final flick in the series – Mermaid in a Manhole – actually have a kind of heart to them. They both have a storyline – admittedly not complicated ones, but there is something to get your teeth into. They both have a heart, and both centre on close relationships between men and women. So these two are movies you can actually relate to in some way, and probably come closer to the definition of 'film' as we know it.
So, where does Android of Notre Dame fit into the pantheon? It has some funny moments, it has some pretty sad moments (although as is all too often the case the performances from those involved prevent it really plucking the heartstrings as it might) and it has some pretty damn dark moments too. It also has an interesting conclusion that distinctly got me thinking, which is more than I can say for any of the first four. It's definitely the most satisfying yet in terms of a journey, and the one that has kept me rooted to my seat the most. So Android for me has to rate pretty highly among the sickening sextet.
RATING: 7.5/10. A third new direction for the Guinea Pigs, and personally one that I was happy to see. The gore and shock – of which there is of course plenty – doesn't jar quite as much as it has in some other entries, although it can get fairly overblown. But it's a movie that at least has some kind of heart. The acting is often over the top, but if you've come this far into this series you'll be ready to accept that as par for the course. There certainly were never going to be any Oscars dished out here. But it's likeable enough in its own right – a bit barking mad, somewhat touching and rather soaked in bodily fluids. It's not an A+, but it has to score a bit for effort, so overall it's a perfectly passable 7.5/10 from me.
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Come on in, the water's cruel...
Guinea Pig 4: Devil Woman Doctor
Dir. Hajime Tabe, Japan, 1986
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where we seem to be swimming in an infinity pool of insanity first served up to us throughout the mid-80s. Yes, we're paddling still further into the madness that is the Guinea Pig series. Virtually a piece of extreme horror folklore, these movies were notoriously hard to get hold of throughout a whole decade and even to this day are not the easiest to stumble upon. The best bet if you're reading these reviews and thinking – yeah, I've got to get me some of that – would be to visit the good folks at Unearthed Films at http://www.unearthedfilms.com/