I knew going into my study of horror cinema for this month that some of the films chosen would take me into some dark and less than appealing areas of horror genre films, particularly that of gore cinema. While I only bought a copy of The Devil's Experiment with the express intention of reselling it, however, since it was in my possession I decided to make it a selection for this month of films. Also known as Guinea Pig 1, The Devil's Experiment exists as part of a larger series of gore films created in Japan during the mid 80's to the early 90's up until a pre-Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen discovered a copy of one of the films and made it a crusade of his to find the creators and arrest them for what he believed to be real footage. To describe The Devil's Experiment as grotesquely unwatchable is to undermine the extremely clear lack of reality that extends through the forty minute film. At no point did I pick up a moment where I felt something was actually occurring, more so no snuff film, not that I have seen one, has that nice of cinematography. The Devil's Experiment is a film of artistic expression, all be it, one very dark, twisted and disturbed vision. Given its unavailability for quite some time, the film now exists more as a legend that is to be discovered hiding away on the back shelf of a movie or rental store, one that in my opinion is certifiably underwhelming. Sure the film is a bit sickening and damn near unwatchable, but it has not managed to keep the factor of the sheer grotesque as a film like Cannibal Holocaust has, nor does it have the implicit and keen political commentary of Pasolini's disturbing, yet magnificent work Salo. In essence, The Devil's Experiment exists for a certain kind of film viewer, one who wants their palette saturated with confrontational, grating images of gore and could care very little for plot or social approval, yet one might be able to glean some sort of social criticism out of this gore classic.
The Devil's Experiment is one of the rare films whose narrative truly extends beyond the filmic narrative, which is good because there is not really a plot and at only forty minutes it makes describing it in a paragraph a bit difficult. Suffice to say the film, like many a found footage works, suggests that the material was mailed to an unwilling recipient who watched the work only to immediately call the police in total shock and disgust. The film provides no names, dates or production info suggesting it to be some sort of home video filled with sadomasochistic acts. These acts include everything from striking a young woman with hands and legs to the boiling of hot oil on her skin. The acts do not always include torture of the physical or external sense as some scenes involve spinning the woman around and pouring whiskey down her throat until she is sick, or playing screeching noises in her ears until her sanity breaks. Between scenes the woman is shown dangling from a net, suggesting a nearly inhuman quality about her, helping, but not justifying, to explain the men's ability to degrader her. The film closes with a gruesome needle through the eye moment, reminiscent, but not nearly as cinematic as the infamous scene from Un Chien Andalou. The aftermath of this film was intense, while it was allegedly a "found footage" piece the filmmaker and actors were forced onto a tribunal in which they were to prove that each scene was indeed created with cinematic illusion and that nobody was harmed. Furthermore, the Guinea Pig series received its ultimate condemnation in Japan when it was discovered that a prolific serial killer kept the movies in a personal collection, even going so far as to display one of the series in front of the rest of his disturbing collection. Again, The Devil's Experiment exits more as a myth to be seen, as opposed to a classic to be enjoyed.
What then can be said about something like The Devil's Experiment. In my opinion when one approaches a film of such a graphic nature and of political problematics, it is necessary to ask a simple question: Does this film do anything to help advance or rethink cinema? I am hesitant to say yes, but upon reflection I think an argument could certainly be made in its favor. I think The Devil's Experiment to at least a minimal degree asks its viewers to consider their role in film viewing and to what degree violence should be condoned. In the guise of scientific experimentation one can distance themselves from the acts performed and make an argument that it is purely a psychological reflection. This is not true, because it is indeed the destruction of a human body, which is never acceptable, even in the name of science. If this were indeed occurring to an individual we as a society would be up in arms and demanding the death penalty to all those involved. If it is a reflection on psychology it is clearly on human's desire to see the taboo and grotesque, which can be tied to the death drive and some other Freudian rhetoric in which I am not well versed. Of course the film too plays with notions of the gaze in cinema, something I am realizing is quite prominent in the horror genre, particularly since the film closes with the gouging of an eye, suggesting that the viewer should be threatened by a loss of vision and whatever form of unconscious pleasure they may have derived from the film. Of course as a feminist I can only condemn this film because it is under no means acceptable on any level.
Key Scene: Ummm....the end I guess if I absolutely had to pick a part, although if it is based solely on most disturbing scene I would say the Worm sequence.
So buying this film is not necessary, however, should you see a super cheap copy somewhere like I did, I would suggest purchasing it because it is worth a bit as it is and will likely only increase in price as the years pass, because from what I understand this film is doomed to never be released on any format again.