Monday, July 27, 2015

American Guinea Pig

If you've been a long-time reader of this blog, you know what Guinea Pig means; you know the power of that particular brand. Made in Japan, the original Guinea Pig movies were the pinnacle of gore for a blood-hungry Asian market that had always placed a high premium on explicit violence. Released on video in Japan, the Guinea Pig VHSs were big sellers, and even became somewhat notorious when some otaku, charged with a bunch of murders, was found to have copies of Guinea Pig in his movie collection.

The first Guinea Pig movie, FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, was the goriest and most one-dimensional of the series. A samurai warrior, played by infamous and brilliant manga artist Hideshi Hino, spends his evening hacking a bound girl to pieces with his sword. That pretty much sums it up: nothing else happens. The movie is a single-minded spectacle of violence and dismemberment that, by design, dares you to stare at the screen until the blood runs dry. It was followed by another single-minded movie, DEVIL'S EXPERIMENT, in which a woman is beaten until dead, and we get a counter on the screen marking the number of blows she has received.

I was living in Australia when a legitimate German box set of the series (8 DVD's) was released. The set included FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, DEVIL'S EXPERIMENT, HE NEVER DIES, DEVIL WOMAN DOCTOR, MERMAID IN A MANHOLE (the only attempt to tell a more layered story), ANDROID OF NOTRE DAME, THE MAKING OF GUINEA PIG, and MAKING OF DEVIL WOMAN DOCTOR. On top of these 8 disks, you also got a Guinea Pig T-shirt, which I still own, and a pretty poster. At that time, the German set was the only legit way to see the movies.

In America, the series was a bootleg success, and copies were traded like gold nuggets between collectors and gore hounds who hadn't seen anything quite like it before. The first film in the series gained some notoriety when Charlie Sheen got a copy from Film Threat's Chris Gore and mistook the thing for a legitimate snuff movie. He contacted the FBI about it and scared up some controversy. After the making-of surfaced, however, Sheen looked like a right Mr. Stupid, but the film's infamy remained intact.

Eventually, the Guinea Pig flicks were released in the US by Stephen Biro's Unearthed Films, and finally they were accessible to moms and dads everywhere. The disks sold well, and it became clear to Unearthed that there was a market for Guinea Pig's brand of horror Stateside.

Mr. Biro, no stranger to controversy or gore, maintained his passion for the Pig over the years, and recently exercised his rights to the "franchise" by creating his own version of Guinea Pig, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE.

The film appears at a surreal moment in human history. When the Guinea Pig films were first released in Japan––on VHS, of course––there was no internet, so there truly was nothing else like them, they were the pinnacle. They remained the pinnacle, in fact, until competing Japanese companies turned out their own realistic "gore" films such as TUMBLING DOLL OF FLESH aka PSYCHO-THE SNUFF REELS aka NIKU DARUMA, and their ilk (see immediately below).

Now, in 2015, we find ourselves in a troubling era where the goriest, most aesthetically powerful examples of "gore" are suddenly real, and they're being made by the filmmaking divisions (I'm not kidding) of terror outfits like ISIS, Boko Haram, FARC, Al-Queda, and Mexican drug cartels. ISIS, in particular, has adapted an approach to their death videos that is both surreal and shocking. No longer content to put out grainy, shaky, amateurish records of their atrocities, they're now creating Hollywood-style videos of real mass murder that feature crane shots, state-of-the-art editing, musical scores, and credits(!) Their videos have become a form of recruiting propaganda, I imagine, with their slick, glorified images of beheadings, electrocutions, throat slitting, and drownings. The impact is confusing and disturbing because the content is, unfortunately, real, yet the aesthetic of these videos is that of slick fantasy.

So, in an era where with a click of a mouse you can be taken to websites dedicated to videos of real murder, real suffering, real rape, and really horrible human cruelty, where does AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE sit?

Having just watched the movie, I can assure you that it doesn't sit in any quaint place beside its realistic "competition", although it's still comforting to know it's imagined and not actual.  Like its contemporaries such as the AUGUST UNDERGROUND films, the American Guinea Pig is very much part of horror's anti-aesthetic brigade. These films eschew story, technical polish, and a dazzling audio mix, and opt to present their horrors in the raw. Biro's movie replicates, to some extent, the tenor of the original Pig films from Japan, but synthesizes elements from NIKU DARUMA, Nacho Cerda's AFTERMATH, and Roger Watkins' LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET.

The most noticeable influence here stylistically (if you want to call it that) is Watkins' film––the killers are masked, the viscera is plentiful, and the mood is pure nihilism; but Cerda's AFTERMATH is also a major influence both visually and aurally. PIG's soundscape has many echoes of AFTERMATH's brilliant sound design, and utilizes non-traditional sounds to great effect. The killers, led by Scott Gabbey (publisher of Ultra Violent magazine), do have dialog, but their dialog is recorded low (or not so well, perhaps), and the soundscape dominates proceedings. So, thankfully, we're spared the mostly puerile, aggressive exchanges between the brutalizers.

The film/movie is shot on both Super-8 and video. Both formats are intercut, and their differences in texture add to the overall result. I watched the film on a 55" plasma, and regretted not watching it on a smaller tube screen as the larger size screen tends to water the image down. Still, the presentation format suits the subject matter, but I'd recommend screening the film on a smaller TV. Of course, it would be closer to ideal on VHS.

The storyline is simple: Two women, a mother and daughter, are kidnapped off the street by a masked man. They wake up in a warehouse, and are quickly subjected to around sixty minutes of detailed torture and gross dismemberment until they both perish. Like the first two Guinea Pig films from Japan, the "entertainment" value of these anti-aesthetic works can't be quantified as you would quantify the "entertainment" values of, say, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or IN A GLASS CAGE, which are examples of extreme films that are still aesthetically rich.

To some extent, films like Guinea Pig are modern endurance tests, "gore" equivalents of porn endurance tests such as Sperrgebiet's scat epics, the filmic outrages of Otto Muehl, or the avantgaarde porngraphy of the German porn raconteur Simon Thaur; they compel you to keep looking as they promise to elevate the horror to a level not experienced before (hopefully). Despite the amount of gore that has flowed under the bridge in the 30+ years since the original Guinea Pig's release, Stephen Biro's AMERICAN GUINEA PIG still manages to achieve a fresh level of grue via the impressive make-up work of Marcus Koch. On a very small budget, Koch delivers torrents of slushy body parts and gore under the scrutiny of harsh lighting, and is ably supported by the restless, voyeuristic lensing of James Van Bebber on camera; Van Bebber, in an interview on the DVD, admits that even he was shaken somewhat by the accelerating obscenity Biro kept bringing to the torture table.

For me, the film reaches its nadir in a ten minute sequence near the end where dialog is eliminated, and Biro allows grotesque imagery and sound to carry us into the heart of its Tampa darkness (the was was shot in Tampa, Florida). Think of the sequence in AFTERMATH where the mortician fondles the corpse and then opens it up, then take several leaps further, and you'll have a pretty good idea of where this film goes.  While AFTERMATH was a beautiful film with a rigid, finely tuned aesthetic, this is not a beautiful film by any means: it wallows in darkness, in brutality, in a pornographic style of dismemberment that would have pleased Jeffrey Dahmer. Personally, I could have done without most of the dialog exchanges between the killers because the vocal performances aren't really strong enough to equal the power of the violence. Still, for a dedicated niche in the world market, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE steps up to the plate and hits a home run for a certain sub-niche of horror.


  1. I had that German GP boxset with the poster and shirt (devil pictures wasn't it?), ended up selling it on ebay (I sold it here in Australia, don't suppose you bought it on ebay about 10 years ago?), but I kind of regret selling it. Also, remember the Japan shock releases from Holland? They were my first exposure to GP.

    The Hino ones, Mermaid and Flowers, are the only two I ever gave a shit about. Mermaid in particular is something pretty unique and special. So is Cerda's Aftermath. Fuck that's a powerful work of art.

    As for extreme gore in 2015, there's an important and interesting conversation that needs to be had about it. I've been meaning to get into it on my own blog for a while now, but for now your post gives me a good excuse to spew out some thoughts:

    I used to be a hardcore gorehound, but my tastes for it have changed a bit in recent years. The proliferation of real internet snuff (ISIS etc) that you touch on here is one thing. But there's something else that bothers me: the tidy commodification, massa acceptance and mass consumption of extreme violence today. In the '70s and '80s when I was first getting into it, there was something genuinely counter-cultural about the gorier end of the horror spectrum. The gory excesses of filmmakers like Lewis, Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Fulci, D'Amato, Deodato, Gordon, Buttgereit etc felt genuinely dangerous. These men felt like firebrands, and watching their films felt like sticking a finger up at society and saying "fuck you". It was something frowned upon, something to be enjoyed on the fringes of polite society.

    That's all changed. The Walking Dead is as gory as it gets, and yet it's one of THE HIGHEST rating mainstream shows on TV. Children play extremely realistic, ultra-violent games (endlessly spewing out of a corporate games industry worth billions), with bored, jaded nonchalance. Gore is no longer counter-cultural in any way. Like everything that is remotely bankable in this world, it's been neatly packaged by the corporations and sold as mindless, mass entertainment. The danger is gone. The "fuck you" has gone. Thoughts of dull-eyed jocks soaking this stuff up in between ad-breaks is a real buzz-kill.

    Don't get me wrong, I still LOVE the red stuff, and the nastier the better. But I can ONLY get excited by it these days when it is in the service of a movie and story that I find compelling and artistically interesting. I'm just not interested in gore for gore's sake any more.

  2. Aylmer, I'm pretty much with you. I am reviewing here the film for what it is, but it's not the type of thing I seek out.

    I've never been too interested in gore for gore's sake, and my favorite movies of all time all have interesting ideas and elements that have zero to do with their explicit nature.

    For me, story and characters are everything.