Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review: American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore
Written, directed and edited by Stephen Biro
Unearthed Films
73 minutes, 2014 / 2015

If you are looking for a complex and deep storyline about searching one’s soul and the meaning of life, well, you’ve come to the wrong place. The premise is that two women are kidnapped, given a nerve inhibitor drug so that they can’t move, a shit load of LSD, and then are systematically tortured and eviscerated until dead. Except for a brief prologue and coda, all the action takes place in one room, and filmed mostly in real time and chronological order. Yep, what is promised and that is what is delivered.

The Director, Second Unit, The Actor, the first Victim
The cruelty is perpetrated by a bunch of guys: The Director (Scott Gabby) on 8mm camera, another camera person with a VHS camcorder (David Hood), a Second Unit on 8mm (Rogan Russell Marshall), and the bulky guy with the “Hard Times” tattoo on his pecs, credited as The Actor (Eight the Chosen One) who does all the dirty work. All the men wear masks, as the Director tells the Actor what to do (“Always start on the left, never on the right!” he commands repeatedly). We see the action through the lens of those cameras. This is supposed to be the 1980s, and that’s why the old equipment.
This is certainly a minimalist film just as the premise is a single note struck over and over again. That’s not to say it’s redundant, but it is pretty straightforward, making it less of a distraction from the hacking and sawing and poking and pulling. There is a kind of Zen to it all, I suppose. Look, I’m going to admit that I like a good story with my gore, even with something like A Serbian Film (2010) or Collar (2014), but the core of the matter is the look of the gore¸ which I will get to shortly.

First of all, the actresses who play the victims (Caitlyn Dailey and Ashley Lynn Caputo) are in films after that, so it’s a story of a snuff film, not an actual one. I say that specifically because of two reasons. First, it’s all “found footage” of a sort, as the film is shot by the actors in the story. There is the occasional break while the 8mm stock is replaced, and then it goes on. Second, I have to commend the SFX people, Oddtopsy, because the body parts look real, with the right flexibility and tone. I watched the whole bit-by-bit vivisecting things without turning away…okay that’s a lie. I did turn my head with the eyeball stuff, one of my admitted Achilles heels with this kind of thing.

Of course, the questions that arises through this is the why they are doing this. It’s obvious the VHS guy is being blackmailed (“Remember, we have your kids, so don’t fuck it up!”) into it about a third through, which further, again, the reason for the extremity of the torture. Early on, the Director mentions that the women were specifically chosen for their “role,” and I wondered if that could be a further clue to the reason for the actions. It feels like this is just the first of a series, but according the one of the commentary tracks, it is not. I was hoping it was so perhaps we’d learn piece by piece (pun intended), sort of like the conspiracy arc of Lost or The X-Files, more of the background story over time.

For me, the major problem is not that this is a gorefest, and superbly done at that. Okay, it’s partly that it is two women who are tortured, not a male, but that’s not the biggest issue I had though it made me uncomfortable, nor that the characters live way past the level of what a human body can actually endure. It is as follows (this is my issue which is mine, too; aheeeem): When you just have splatter that is one tone and consistent, without a context for the action, it gets kind of, well, mind-numbing. I’m not saying this is a boring film, I’m saying it becomes a little bit tedious. Chop, saw, poke. Saw, saw, poke, chop. Chop, chop, poke, saw, chop. Spam eggs sausage and spam (oh, what a giveaway; sorry…).   

I do understand that this is part of a homage to the Japanese underground Guinea Pig series that had bootleg tapes passed around, and was infamous for its unprecedented levels of unrelenting violence and graphic sadism, especially the second of the series, Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1985); there is an indirect mention in this film when the Director comments, “Let’s bleed this flower out.” It makes sense, too, as Unearthed Films also released all seven of the Guinea Pig films in a deluxe DVD box set. It’s also probably part of the reason the film is set in that decade.

The Actor
This DVD is also loaded with extras. To start, there is the trailer, which I have not included below due to its extremity (the one I've linked was supplied by MVD and stars Eight the Chosen One, and can lead you to the actual trailer, which as the words "Series 2" in the title). The next one I watched was the 40 minute single-camera interview with two cast member who are also aficionados in their own right: Pete Townsend look-alike Jim Van Bebber (The Editor), who is the director of films including Dead Beat at Dawn (1988) and The Manson Family (2003), and Scott Gabbey (The Director), who is also president of Ultra Violent Magazine, as well as an actor. While a bit long, it is chocked full of interesting stories and back-stage anecdotes, so it mostly kept my interest. The only thing I found annoying, and I may get picked on for this, is the constant calling of the two actresses as “the girls.” None of the rest of the cast and crew is called “the boys,” but the N-word does make its presence.
An almost 5-minute music video of “Chambers of Perdation” (appropriately meaning "Chambers where there are attacks") by the band Perdition Temple (for those that don’t know, “Perdition” is the time spent in hell). The song is classic death metal with the chucka-chucka guitar sound and the solos, and the growling, distorted voice where you can’t make out a single word (captions, please!). It is interspersed with graphic clips from the film, so don’t look for it on VH1, but perhaps in a future Metal Retardation release from director Bill Zebub?

I was looking forward to seeing the 21-1/2 minute “Preproduction Video,” to see some of the behind the scenes work, and wasn’t disappointed. We see the face masks being made, Gabbey rehearsing his lines, and the full body casts. They don’t show how they do the internal body gore, I’m sorry to say, but still very enlightening.

The first commentary I watched was of director Steve Biro and fellow director / actor / director of photography of this film, Jim Van Bebber, who contributed to the interview segment above. Van Bebber tends to commandeer the conversation, often loudly interrupting Biro to the point of annoyance, but there is also a fuck of a lot of information that I didn’t get from the film that I learned from this commentary, including some religious significance, and the relationship of the two women. It is also the closest that it comes to explaining motive (just the fact that the two women were named after Biro’s ex-wives says a bit).

The final commentary is Biro again, but this time with main person who did the SFX for the film, Marcus Koch (pronounced “cook”). I always start at the end of the extras and work my way through to the one I’m looking forward to the most. However, though there is some info, this commentary was particularly a letdown as there was hardly any talk about the effects, and a lot of it was repetitious from the other extras. At the end, Biro mentions that Koch will direct the next American Guinea Pig, which should be interesting as he knows what he is capable of doing, SFX-wise. Brio also disses commentaries, saying how only the fanatical watch them. Yes, but it is precisely those enthusiasts who are the fans of this kind of extreme fare.

Between the film and its two commentaries, I essentially sat through the film three times, not counting the clips included in the likes of the music video. What is the end result? Yes, this is an extremely brutal film for both the characters, and the audience. But it is bound to reach the audience who it is directed at, which is the point, so in that way, it is very successful. It has an interesting look via the mix of 8mm, 16mm, and VHS, and if you can keep your eyes on the screen, it will keep your attention, in the same way a magic trick is performed. I guarantee there will be moments of “How the fuck did they do that?!?!?!” To me, that screams achievement.

I’m also curious to see how they top this one.



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