Ginger Nuts of Horror
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/
Come on in, the water's cruel...
Guinea Pig 3: Shudder! The Man Who Doesn't Die
Dir. Masayaku Kusumi, Japan, 1986
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where every week we are getting further away from the safe island of mainstream cinema and deeper and deeper into murky and dangerous waters. And today we're reaching halfway in our review series looking at the Guinea Pig series, and a moment where there's a definite shift in tone for the movies. Whereas both The Devil's Experiment and Flower of Flesh and Blood busied themselves with presenting terrible violence and torture in an unremitting way, with Shudder! The Man Who Doesn't Die we are served up a distinctly different dish. It's the first to offer any kind of humour, and it's a kind of humour that strangely comes off.
Come on in, the water's bloody...
Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood
Dir. Satoru Ogura, Japan, 1985
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where today we continue our dive back in time to the mid-80s, a time when the slasher and the video nasty were truly blooming and starting to show their dark beauty. And the Japanese wave of extreme cinema at this time was led by the notorious Guinea Pig series, taking in six parts over four years. We've already taken a visit to the 'laboratory' for The Devil's Experiment, so now it's time for a stroll in the garden to see what the Flower of Flesh and Blood has to offer. As an interesting piece of urban folklore about this movie: Charlie Sheen was apparently given a copy of this movie in 1991 and when he watched it he immediately called the FBI, believing the depictions of torture and violence to be real. The filmmakers were investigated by US and Japanese officials and had to give a demonstration of the special effects used in the film before the investigation was dropped.
Oh to live in such simple pre-CGI times eh?