Guinea PigJapanese
Guinea Pig 1: The Devil's Experiment
Medium: film
Year: 1985
Director: Satoru Ogura
Keywords: horror
Series: Guinea Pig >>
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 43 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 18 April 2011
It's the first in the Guinea Pig series, which are internationally infamous for being sick torture films. They became notorious in Japan for a different reason, thanks to their prominence in the video collection of Japanese serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki and the (apparently incorrect) belief that he re-enacted scenes from them.
They're short. The first two are also pretending to be snuff films, shot by the torturers.
Personally I thought this first one was the sickest thing I'd ever seen, but it's not particularly gory. If you're a gore-hound, you might be disappointed. There's only seven minutes left by the time they get out sharp things like scalpels and skewers, although the things they do with them will make it abundantly clear that we are indeed at the end of the film. Admittedly it's also possible to do unwatchably gross things with a pair of pliers, but quite a few of these tortures are meant to be disturbing rather than sickening. "Noise" and "bugs" don't involve any physical injury at all, with the latter arguably providing a natural medical service that under different circumstances could save someone's life. Similarly the "unconsciousness" one is slightly surreal, although I now suspect that a certain scene in Red Room might have been a Guinea Pig homage to it.
The tortures all have names, by the way. A kanji will flash up as an intertitle, which the English subtitles will approximately translate as "needle", "guts", "skin" or whatever. This will often trip you up, since your imagination will be trying to guess what this might mean and then what actually happens might be completely different.
What's special about this first Guinea Pig, though, is the fact that it's not even trying to have redeeming features. Red Room had a story, characters and deeply twisted psychology. I loved it. Guinea Pig, on the other hand, has none of all that. It's just 43 minutes of torture. The victim never speaks. Her assailants occasionally laugh or say things like "my hand hurts", but that's it. You can't pretend that it's a real movie, or that there's any justification for watching it except to expose yourself to the purest kind of horror. However it does have an absolute clarity in what it's doing, courtesy of the introductory text and then its bookending commentary at the end. This is appears on-screen at the start:
'Several years ago, I obtained a private video under the title Guinea Pig. Its commentary said "This is a report of an experiment in the breaking point of bearable pain and the corrosion of people's senses", but it was, in fact, an exhibition of devilish cruelty as three perpetrators severely abused a woman. Note: "Guinea Pig" is defined as any experimental material.'
This is entirely accurate. It also gives us clear parameters as to what's happening and demonstrates that the film isn't just gratuitous gore, since there's relatively little of that and not always even any physical injury.
It's worth noting though that in its ultra low-budget way, it's a well-made production. There are some excellent special effects, especially the infamous eyeball scene. The handheld shakycam style is effective too. The only scene which doesn't work is the kicking, since it's surprisingly difficult to pretend to kick someone without actually kicking them and this wasn't after all a real snuff film.
What would you think of Guinea Pig? Answer: nothing, because you're not going to watch it. This is a film I'd recommend to no one. If there's even the slightest chance of you being dissuaded from watching it, Guinea Pig is not for you. However if you do eventually subject yourself to this extreme of Japanese depravity, you might have either of these reactions: (a) ban this film now, or (b) what's all the fuss about? It would be easy not to care. The victim never speaks and isn't a particularly good actress, although that soon doesn't matter. There's not even the thinnest attempt at characterisation. The gore is minimal, although when it does appear it's screamingly horrific. However we shouldn't forget that human beings have really done things like this to each other, e.g. the Nazi concentration camp experiments, and this film could do some seriously bad things to you if your brain doesn't simply shut down in self-defence.
There's a reason why this series keeps appearing in lists of the most vile films of all time. If in even the slightest, most tissue-thin doubt, avoid.