Sometimes it is the chase that makes the whole thing worth it. All that time you spend planning and waiting for the right moment to attack, lurking in the shadows, watching your target, predicting when it is going to move in just the right way so you can pounce and sink your teeth into its neck and bring it down to be consumed.
This is how I feel about certain films/series that I have been biding my time with, especially those hard to find bits and pieces of hell that could only be found underground because of their extreme subject matter. Exploitation films, especially those from overseas, are the holy grail of this type of search. Those sick, twisted treats that get your blood pumping and your stomach churning and make you question your sanity for even watching them. My stalking in the long-grass has ended with one series that I have been trailing blood on a very, very long time. Tired and weary, I have finally netted the Guinea Pig Series. A series of Japanese films that have achieved legendary notoriety — that may or may not be deserved — are finally available from Unearthed Films in a glorious box set. No longer do you have to order boots and bad VHS copies of these films from the Internet and mail order mags; here they are in pure digital clarity for the good of mankind.
The Guinea Pig Series is a nasty collection of gore films that range from pure shock cinema to eloquent storytelling, but make no mistake about it: These films are for the true extreme connoisseur, someone whose blood is steeped in the bowels of rich and thick disgust-o-cinema. There are no bars to keep you outside of the animal pens, there are no punches pulled, there is no turning back. Once you have started down this most darkened of paths, there is no turning back. You may be able to turn off the DVD player, but chances are by the time you have been thusly offended, you have witnessed something that will burn its way into your eternal nightmares forever. These films are NOT for the casual viewer and should not be showcased to the unwarned. They are extreme. People will have varying degrees of reaction to them, as has been the case with the sordid history of the films. Guinea Pig films are synonymous with trouble. From the highly touted Charlie Sheen debacle to the branding of two of the films as snuff, the history of the films is just as entertaining as the films themselves can be . . . to the right audience.
There are six films included in the box set. Alongside these is a hearty helping of extras including trailers, in-depth histories of the films, and a sigh of relief inducing “making of” segment for those in the audience with a conscience. Here is how the fun (?) breaks down:
Disc 1: Devil’s Experiment — A group of young men capture and torture a young woman to death. Only available for years in shitty copies from unreliable sources, Devil’s Experiment is finally cleaned up and presented with deep, full colors. There is no story to play out here; this is a simple 45-minute torture video. There is no reason for the actions. Even though the scroll at the beginning tries to imply a scientific interest of sorts, the footage is simple a series of demeaning and painful excursions into inhumanity. The cast is uncredited, ever furthering the stigma behind the film. This is base entertainment for only the MOST jaded exploitation afficiandados. Caution must be taken with who sees this, as it is truly one of the most disgusting things you will ever see and is easily a cause for the ignorant to incite alarm
The second feature on the disc is the odd Android of Notre Dame. This is a weird, eerie little story about a midget doctor who is trying to save his dying sister in some very unconventional ways. A bit of Frankenstein is thrown into the stew as the story unfolds and the doctor gets increasingly more desperate to save his dying sibling. The film is uneven, both the effects and the story, and never really congeals into a form that makes much of an impression. Also, pairing this with the explosive Devil’s Experiment is a bit of a letdown — kind of like watching an Uwe Boll film after a Tarantino flick.
Disc 2: The beautiful, compelling, and utterly devastating Mermaid in a Manhole. This film proves that a movie’s beauty can really be in its guts. A lonely man finds what appears to be a mermaid lying in a drainage ditch underground. He picks her up and tries to take care of her in his bathtub in his home. This proves to be futile as the mermaid begins to rot and decay while still alive. The poor man does all he can to try to save her, but when she tells him to use her pus to paint pictures with, we know this babe has salvation nowhere on her mind.
This film is one of the great unmentionables in the world. As it is replete with gore and disturbing imagery along with the brand of Guinea Pig, it will never grow out into the pubic and be appreciated for the heart-aching journey that it is. The effects in this film are superb, and the acting is dead on. The story carries its weight well and delivers a visual kick in the gut each time it is viewed. By this point it is evident that the people involved with this series of films were out to say something, and with Mermaid they achieved a success that is astounding given the company of movies it is in.
Alongside Mermaid is the comedic He Never Dies. It’s about some schmuck whose life is just crap. He has nothing to live for so decides to take control of the one thing he can and kill himself. Well, the joke is on him — and the audience. He tries to kill himself and fails. So he tries again and fails again, not due to lack of effort, but some weird quirk and ultimate cosmic joke that deems this man immortal despite the inflicted wound. The movie takes this simple premise and runs off with it. Darkly funny in the most extreme sense, it leans toward moments of slapstick brilliance in a Monty Python-esque way. This is the stuff your mother told you not to laugh at, and now, well . . . the people involved with the film are asking you to do so. It is a fun time, and the gore is very generously applied. A few of the tricks are easily spotted, but they do not detract from the fun that is a man, a knife, and a lot of free time.
Disc 2 is rounded out with a photo gallery, trailers, and a section that details the history of the film series. This latter addition to the disc is the real gold mine for horror history enthusiasts: a very well documented timeline of the Guinea Pig films’ inspiration, evolution, and style. The shift from serious snuff recreation to comedy to drama is well documented, as well as the “Charlie Sheen Incident,” a lovely story that I decline to relive here. It is much better explained on the disc and is a great example of how this whole Guinea Pig stigma ever came about — and how it got blown WAY out of proportion.
Disc 3: Here we have the granddaddy nasty, mucho de puke-o, gore fest with a sadistic twist: Flower of Flesh and Blood. WARNING LEVEL 5+: This is the one, folks. The sickest thing you can see legally. I mean it; anything beyond this would be pure snuff. Again, as with Devil’s Experiment, there is no story except for what the scroll at the beginning gives us. Instead, the film focuses on the graphic dismemberment and death of a young woman. However, unlike Devil’s Experiment, there is no weird sexual humiliation or degradation with this. It is just balls to the wall GORE. This is the film that has caused the most problems for those who were unlucky enough to happen upon it. It has a rich history of being mistaken for the real deal. Make no mistake; this film does a very good job of resembling a snuff film. The moments of unrealism are eclipsed by images where the viewer sits with shuddered breath, watching, unable to look away and unbelieving of what they are seeing: a marvelous technical achievement of the most disturbing specie.
To help those who were just scarred for life with the events in Flower breathe a sigh of relief, the disc is a double feature with a “making of” featurette. This is a bare bones look at some behind the scenes footage of the series. Devil’s Experiment, Flower, He Never Dies, and Mermaid are all examined. Part of me swears this was placed on here just so Unearthed could point to the making of feature and say, “See?” if the accusations ever flew around again. The disc is rounded out with the original manga that the movie was based on, interviews with the director, and again the history of Guinea Pig, which gets another plug from me at this point. The colorful background of this series makes its enjoyment all the more extreme. This as easily my favorite disc of the set.
Disc 4: Devil Doctor Woman — Also known as Guinea Pig 4, this short seems to illustrate the end of the franchise’s ingenuity and creativity. A series of inane effect sequences all set up around a woman (and oh boy, do I use that term loosely!) who claims to be a doctor of unethical means. But what we get is a bunch of bad sequences with actors that seem to be about to give up the joke every other second. The effects are shoddy, and the whole thing really has no point. Parts are funny but not on the scale of He Never Dies. As a finale to the set, it seems a bit of a letdown.
Again we have a double feature, this time with Guinea Pig’s Greatest Cuts, a montage of the goriest effects from the series. It’s fun at first, but repeated exposure to the most startling effects begins to jade the viewer and the nitpicking begins to creep in. One begins to notice the lack of this layer of fat, then the excessive bone crunching, and ultimately the stories begin to lose their shock. The disc is packed with the same types of extras as the others, even a making of featurette; but at this point, with all the viewer has been through, the whole thing seems a bit overblown.
These are important films. These are horror/exploitation creations that have earned respect from a large portion of the horror community. They have achieved an immortality that few films will ever come close to scratching the surface of. Despite uneven styles and a decline in quality/creativity over the years, the series receives enough energy from its first few entries that it refuses to die. Two faux snuff films, a gore-comedy, and a twisted tale of sadness comprise a face of unflinching resolve. They set out to disturb you, unsettle you, and they make no compromises in doing so. This is Guinea Pig‘s most dangerous feat: It offers no apologies.
Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.
Guinea Pig Series (1985-1990)
Directors include Hajime Tabe, Hideshi Hino
Actors include Masami Hisamoto, Nezumi Imamura, Kirara Yugao, Shigeru Saiki, Mari Somei
Making of Guinea Pig
Making of Devil Doctor Woman
Akai Hana Manga
Essay on the History of the Films
Original Video Release Artwork
4 out of 5