There are some movies out there where the stories and legends surrounding them are more intriguing than the contents of the movies themselves. Maybe it’s the film historian side of me coming out, but I love seeking out those movies. It’s kind of like a quest to discover a piece of cinematic history. The movie itself doesn’t matter as much as the fact that once I’ve seen it, I’ll be able to say, “yeah, I’ve seen that.” As a fan of both horror and Japanese movies, the Guinea Pig series is one that I’ve always wanted to watch. It has reached a cult status in the splatter genre, and a legendary status in my mind.
The Guinea Pig movies are a series of seven Japanese gore movies released in the mid-to-late 1980s. They are notorious for their extreme gore, but in addition to that, they are infamous for their connection to multiple controversies in the eighties and nineties. The movies have been blamed for the actions of a real life serial killer and have been investigated for being actual snuff films. One of the more famous stories involves the second entry in the series, Flower of Flesh and Blood. The story goes that actor Charlie Sheen saw it and reported it to the FBI thinking it showed a woman actually being murdered. The filmmakers had to prove that no one was actually killed in either of the first two Guinea Pig movies, much like the makers of Cannibal Holocaust had to prove their innocence years earlier. With a history like that, I think it’s pretty easy to see why I’ve wanted to watch these movies. If nothing else I just wanted to see what all the controversy was about.
Does it sound like I’m building this up a little too much? Was I setting myself up for disappointment (and you as well since you’re reading this review)? Maybe so, but I’ve now seen the first movie in the Guinea Pig series, and I have to say… yeah, it was a little underwhelming.
The first movie in the series is Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment. It was released in 1985 in an era where VHS was king and the “video nasty” was changing the way people watched movies at home in certain parts of the world. While Devil’s Experiment technically doesn’t fall into the category of a video nasty, it certainly seems to have made an attempt to push against the boundaries of good taste and how violence is depicted on video. It is about a woman who is kidnapped and tortured by a group of men in increasingly nasty ways. The movie is divided into a number of chapters where each segment is centered on a different torture technique or device.
To call Devil’s Experiment a proper movie seems like a bit of a stretch. There’s no story, plot or characters to speak of. What I’ve already written is all there is to it. A woman is tortured. That’s it. She has no real lines and we know nothing about her other than she was apparently caught in a net in the woods and then taken to a room by some guys. She’s unusually quiet in many of the torture scenes, letting out more whimpers than screams, so there’s no way to learn anything about her. She’s basically a prop. We learn even less about the torturers. They’re typically wearing dark glasses and their faces are rarely in the shot anyway.
All this anonymity gives the movie more of a snuff film feel. In most movies the audience is (hopefully) engaged because they are interested in what happens to the characters. They should care about what happens to them. Of course, not all movies do this well, but Devil’s Experiment doesn’t even make an attempt. The way it’s made makes the sole purpose of watching the movie about watching torture. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily have anything against gore or torture in movies, but I like to feel that there’s at least a reason for it. Does it further the plot or a storyline? There’s none of that here. Other than my reasons described in the first couple of paragraphs of this review, there’s no good reason to watch Devil’s Experiment unless you like watching people get hurt.
Some people might want to watch this is for the special effects though. They might want to find out how good they must be if they convinced people that someone was being murdered. Well, though they might have seemed pretty convincing on a low quality VHS in 1985, I don’t think many horror fans would be fooled today. They’re done well, but certain things give away the tricks pretty easily. Sometimes the cuts from shot to shot are a giveaway. Sometimes you can see one of the guys slapping his hand rather than the woman. Sometimes it’s apparent that it’s the sound effects that are really convincing us that something bad is happening.
Also, the methods of torture themselves aren’t as extreme as I expected. As I stated, the Guinea Pig movies are known for their gore, but there’s very little of it in Devil’s Experiment. The tortures range from pretty painful (like slaps and kicks) to extremely painful (like hot oil and various metal implements), but there’s relatively little blood. There are also some torture methods seem kind of silly or just mildly annoying, like pouring maggots on the woman’s mostly unconscious body or spinning her in a swivel chair until she throws up. I will say though, the last scene did make me cringe a bit. All I’ll say is that it reminded me of a certain scene involving a broken door in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (Zombi 2).
In a way, making it all the way through Devil’s Experiment was kind of a torture itself. If that was the point, if the filmmakers stripped away all story and character and left us with nothing but pain in order to try and put the viewer in a similar state of mind as the woman being tortured, then I’d say good job. But I think that’s probably giving them too much credit. I think this was simply made to cater to a very specific audience who wanted to see violence for the sake of violence. So, that being said, I can’t say I really enjoyed it. I’m not sorry I watched it though. At least I can now say I saw it.
4 – Pretty Bad
Is one scene of cringe-inducing torture worth sitting through the whole movie? Even at a running time of under 45 minutes, I’d have to say no. I think I can only recommend Devil’s Experiment to the most hardcore fans of torture (even though it’s not terribly extreme), or those who are extremely interested in watching what is, in my eyes, undeniably a piece of notable horror movie history. Everyone else should probably pass on this one.
There’s a lot more gore in this than Devil’s Experiment, so if that’s your thing, I do recommend watching this. It’s about a group of documentary filmmakers who take a trip to the Amazon where they plan to interact with a cannibal tribe. They don’t return, but their footage does.
A word of warning though, depending on the cut you watch, there is the possibility of watching some very graphic real life animal cruelty which is not something I recommend you do. There are versions of this out there that give you the choice of cuts to watch.
Watch the Cannibal Holocaust trailer.
(Warning: Even the trailer has some violent images and brief nudity.)
English Title: Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment
Japanese Title: ギニーピッグ 悪魔の実験
Japanese Title (romaji): Giniipiggu: Akuma no Jikken
Director: Satoru Ogura
Run Time: 43 minutes
Availability: Available on DVD
(There are various region 1 releases of this with subtitles. You can generally find them on Amazon, but you might want to search Ebay for a better deal if can get lucky. It can get kind of expensive. The version I have is a double feature that also has the 5th movie in the series, Android of Notre Dame. There’s also a box set with all of the Guinea Pig movies.)
Watch the trailer
(Don’t watch the trailer unless you want some of the effects spoiled.)