I can’t decide if I was in no position or the perfect position to experience American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore the first time I saw it. Let me explain.
The setting was Days of the Dead: Atlanta. I was drunk to say the least. That evening, I procured six edibles. Yes, that kind of edibles. Three pot brownies and three pot caramels. My intent was to space them out and eat them over the course of the weekend. I ate one immediately, then proceeded to continue drinking. About 15 minutes before the screening, I decided to eat another as I found a seat. As I sat down, I noticed a popular independent horror director sitting in front of me and handed him the other half of my brownie. I’m not naming names. I don’t wanna get anyone in trouble. We’ll just say that his name rhymes with Madam Ballrant. Anyway, I reached into my pocket to get another, and all I felt was empty wrappers. It was then that the realization set in. Throughout the course of a couple of hours of not paying attention and the drunken horror con social butterflying that my position as the horror scribe of Atlanta affords me, I had eaten all of them. Jason Hoover later referred to it as “hero dosing.” In other words, I was about to be FUCKED UP.
As the movie began to run and it all kicked in at once, the thought “I really hope this is a long flick, ‘cause I’m not gonna be able to stand up for a while” crossed my mind. Then, as I saw two women being abducted, I found myself incapable of doing anything but staring, slack jawed, at the screen. For the next seventy-something minutes, I couldn’t look away. I don’t think I even blinked. It was like some Cenobite in the employ of Unearthed Films had affixed hooked chains to my eyelids, Clockwork Orange style, and was refusing to allow me even a momentary respite from the most intense gore I had ever seen being mainlined into my brain.
I am happy to report that after a second viewing in a less drunk and far less stoned mindset, the movie retains its power.
For those unfamiliar with the Guinea Pig films, it was a series of seven (well, six and a “worst of”) Japanese ultra-gore films produced in the 80’s. They became infamous after being found in a serial killer’s collection. The apocryphal story of Charlie Sheen seeing Flower of Flesh and Blood (the second in the series and BOG&G’s spiritual father) and reporting to the FBI that he’d just seen a real snuff film is one of extreme cinema’s most beloved tales. Now Stephen Biro, owner of Unearthed Films and the American distributor of the Guinea Pig flicks, has undertaken the creation of another cycle, this one made in the good ol’ US of A.
Simply put, this is probably the most effective gore flick ever released. What Marcus Koch has achieved here is a legitimate game changer. This is a bold statement considering all of the flicks I’ve seen, but I have never seen gore effects this good before. The way the skin moves when it’s cut. The way the instruments catch on the bones. The meticulous cross sections of severed limb stumps. This is truly the masterwork of a man at the top of his game. This is Marcus’ Day of the Dead, if you know what I mean.
One complaint that you’re likely to hear about this film is that it has no story. Well, yes and no. There is no story in a traditional sense. It’s the same as Flower of Flesh and blood in that the mutilation is the sum of the experience. There is a higher concept and some intriguing symbolism (I’m still not sure what to make of some of it) if you’re inclined to look deep between the lines for it, but it’s definitely not out in the open. The film is primarily concerned with being a real time chronicle of two women being dissected. That’s it. It’s an exercise in grueling atmosphere and visuals. It’s an endurance test. Speaking of which, people will say it moves slowly. Those people missed the damn point. There’s something either deliciously transgressive or sadistically nerve-wracking (depending on your perspective) about watching the clothes being slowly cut off of the ladies for a few minutes before the blood starts to flow. It’s torturous foreplay. It’s those agonizing minutes after being sent to your room but before a parent arrives for that whoopin’. It’s those terrifying three seconds between stubbing your toe and the pain impulse reaching your brain. The fact that it lingers on every minute detail forces you to feel rather than watch.
An aspect of filmmaking that is often unjustly overlooked is sound design. To be honest, there’s not a hell of a lot of indie flicks whose sound you can say much nice about. The sound design in this one, however, is superb. As good as both the gore itself and the grim ambiance are, those aspects on their own wouldn’t shine nearly as much had the audio been entrusted to lesser hands. Jimmy Screamerclaus takes an already potent brew and sends it over the top.
Caution: The next paragraph contains a slight spoiler.
One particular aspect of the film’s setup struck me as an absolute stroke of perverse genius. Before their ordeal, the women are shot up with a nerve agent and given several drops from a medicine dropper. When it is revealed that these drops were LSD, you immediately knew where the psychonauts in the crowd were by either a gasp or an “OH HELL NO!” In addition to just being a unique and sick little addition to the proceedings, the real genius of that bit of business is that it adds a whole new level of identification for anyone in the audience who has done acid. The camera may, literally and figuratively, be making the viewer share the gaze of the killers, but anyone who has ever dosed can’t help but imagine what it would be like to be tripping on the table. You become trapped in the headspace of the victims, and it’s a truly harrowing idea.