Guinea Pig: Devils Experiment/Android of Notre Dame (1985/1988)
By: Mr Intolerance on August 7, 2009  | 
DVD
Unearthed Films (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 100 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: N/A; Kazuhito Kuramoto
Starring: N/A; Shigeru Saiki, Go Rijyu, Masami Hisamoto, Mari Somei; Masahiro Sato, Keisuke Araki, Eve
Country: Japan
External Links
Purchase
This infamous series of films has probably garnered a greater level of notoriety among extreme horror fans than any other, despite the fact that when considered as a whole, it suffers dreadfully from the law of diminishing returns. Why is this? Because in 1991, a certain Hollywood actor (let's see if you can work it out: Ch*rlie Sh**n) and a friend saw another instalment in the series (Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood), believed it to be a genuine snuff movie, and reported it post haste to the FBI. I know that sounds ludicrous (especially if you've seen the film), but some folks take these things a little more seriously than others – people like otaku paedophile Tsutomu Miyazaki, who mutilated and killed four young girls, one apparently in the fashion of Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (a film he had in his 6000+ collection of violent films and hentai), which frankly is a chilling thought.

What those two instances of the real world interacting with the world of the Guinea Pig films did was to give them an extraordinary amount of free publicity, and make the films more well-known/notorious to those who move in circles outside that of the gorehound. In the second instance, that's a real tragedy for the families of those little girls. Stepping around that profoundly large moral issue of "then why watch the fucking things", it's a fact that the voyeuristic nature of the film watcher will eventually, in the horror genre, mean that these films will be sought after, to see how extreme they are and to see how realistic they are. That's really a grim summation of the human psyche, when you come to think of it – the cinematic equivalent of slowing your car down when you drive past an automobile accident to see the possibility of carnage.

The Guinea Pig series began with the ultraviolent one-two punch of Devils Experiment (aka Unabridged Agony) and the aforementioned Flower of Flesh and Blood. These two films, initially released on Midnight 25 Video, essentially set out to recreate the general public's idea of what a snuff movie might look like (although Flower's approach to the subject matter is a little more campy and absurdly flamboyant than its predecessor). The series undertook a massive volta face before the next few films were released on Japan Home Video – the change in distributor mirrors a change in tone and a change in mission. The high level of gore is still there, but often used in a comedic way (as in the slap-stick/splat-schtick farce He Never Dies), or just with an almost absurdist tone (Android of Notre Dame, Devil Woman Doctor). Only Mermaid in a Manhole (directed by Flower's Hideshi Hino, writer of such grotesque manga weirdness as Panorama of Hell and Hell Baby) hints at what came before, although in terms of trying to present a coherent, serious story with a bleak, nihilistic tone it was definitely a case of too little, too late. The series had degenerated in terms of quality, and fizzled out. It's really up for grabs as to why the makers of the series did this – in releasing what effectively were very bloody fantasy stories (as opposed to the harsh realism of the first film and the stark brutality of the second), or indeed why they released Making of Guinea Pig, but common consensus would indicate a wish to distance themselves from the controversy of the first two films, and in the case of the "documentary", to prove that the films were not snuff, and indeed that the actors were still alive. Having said that, I've never read or heard anything to indicate that that's the actual story – rumour mill only, I'm afraid.

Devils Experiment - I can't think of a film that would more closely adhere to the common conception of what a snuff film might look like. According to the excellent Creation Cinema book Eros in Hell by Jack Hunter (highly recommended for fans of Japanese cinema, especially that of the more extreme kind), this was what appeared on the cover of the original release: "a semi-documentary film about a human lab-rat...a super-real raw movie...3 men torture a woman – is this an experiment?...violence – screaming – intolerance – cruelty – horror...abuse, one hundred slaps, kicking, facial disfigurement, bleeding from the mouth, horrible pain...boiling oil poured onto arms, limbs mutilated, maggots in blisters, guts, insane screams, fingernails ripped off, eyeballs pierced with a pin". There were no credits of any kind, adding to the snuff verisimilitude. Oh, and the list of atrocities above is about as good a synopsis of the unfolding action of the film as any I could possibly come up with. Matter of fact, it saves me from having to go through what would become a rapidly dulling list of, "and then they do this to her" - which is what would happen, given the film scores pretty close to a big fat zero on the plot-o-meter. But looking at it in terms of atmosphere and its effect on the audience, that is a different story, and that's what makes this film tick.

We're welcomed, if that's the right word, to the film with this text statement from the anonymous director (?) (some think it might be Hideshi Hino, but there's nothing to back that supposition up): "Several years ago, I obtained a private video under the title Guinea Pig. Its commentary said "This is a video of an experiment on the breaking point of physical pain and the psychological corrosion of people's senses." But it was, in fact, an exhibition of devilish cruelty as 3 perpetrators severely abused and killed a young woman. Note: "Guinea Pig" is defined as any experimental material. This kind of reinforces that idea of snuff verite I was mentioning before – an anonymous tape sent to an equally anonymous figure with no credits of any kind attached to it. It creates a sinister sense of unease, added to by the unrelentingly downbeat and minimalist electronic score that crops up from time to time during the film's 43 minute duration.

The opening shot is of a camera being switched on and a road rushing by (taken from some unusual angles), intercut with a young woman in a white dress suspended inside a net, in a forest. The net revolves in slow circles, languidly, and emphasises the incongruity of the scene, adding to the viewer's sense of trepidation. The words "Guinea Pig" appear on the screen, and a partial date for when the "experiment" took place, "Summer, 198X".

What happens next sets up the structure for the remainder of the film. The screen goes black and a Japanese kanji character appears in the bottom right hand corner, telling us what we are about to see happen to the unfortunate young woman, in the first instance: "Hit". The woman has been tied to a chair in a darkened room, the chair itself placed on a dropsheet. Three young men in black stand around her and with no explanation start hitting her, in turns, first with their hands, and then with a small sack full of coins. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen is a counter which tells us how many times she's been hit or kicked, how hot the oil she eventually gets seared with is, how many hours she is forced to endure deafening white noise (which reminded me of the last Merzbow gig I went to) – you get the picture.

There is no dialogue to speak of in this film, and the only speech we hear is when the men abuse her while taking turns in kicking her ("bitch", "fuck-head" and "cunt" would appear to be the insults of choice), or minor asides muttered between each other. There is little or no gloating (although the men do giggle at the woman's reactions while pelting her with offal), no demands for her to do anything except stand up – so that they can beat her back to the ground again – remain conscious, and open her mouth so as to have a full bottle of bourbon poured down it, after having been spun around in a circle 200 times on an office swivel chair, disorientated and ill, in order to make her vomit. No reasons are ever given for their actions – this kind of makes the tone even grimmer. Think about films where the heroine tries to reason with the nut-case killer; it's an effort to humanise themselves, and the killer's response at least gives some sense of a reason, however lunatic it might be. There's none of that here. The tone is one that objectifies the victim – she exists only as long as the men have a use for her, to see her in pain. Even when the woman is unconscious she retains no human dignity by being left alone – she's strung up in the net like a trapped animal in the forest, left to the mercy of the elements.

At the film's end, after the woman has endured true horrors, we're left with this closing statement in order to keep the snuff-reality thing going: "The details of this experiment were missing when I received this video. The name, age and other information on the woman and the three men are still under investigation." End, no credits.

What this film succeeds in doing through image and tone is what All Night Long 2: Atrocity, and All Night Long 3: Final Atrocity did through dialogue: it shows us the complete denial of the value of human life, the pointlessness of human existence and reduces the human being to less than an animal, a thing worthy only of disgust, battered, broken and lacking any form of dignity. Think about the most notorious line from Final Atrocity: "Man is born an incomplete dead body, and it takes a lifetime to become fully dead. Humans are living garbage." This film sums up that value system entirely – it actually put me in mind of some of the more long-winded diatribes of the Marquis de Sade's "heroes" (Dolmance from Philosophy in the Boudoir and the Duc de Blangis in The 120 Days of Sodom, particularly). The notion that humans have no connection between each other and therefore, if you are in a position of power over another human, you can do whatever you like to them because they have no intrinsic worth as a person. They're just "material" - think of that line from Men Behind the Sun when Sargeant Kawazaki is training the Youth Corps to see the Chinese as "Maruta" rather than as humans: "It's a log for the fire."

Is there any way that this could ever be misconstrued as a real snuff film? Probably, if the person viewing it was easily distracted by colours and shapes, and found it difficult to breathe unassisted. Yes, it is brutal, yes it is repellent, and for its time, the visual effects aren't bad, considering the miniscule budget this must have had – but watching this on a pristine DVD as opposed to that fifth generation unsubtitled VHS dub in the 80s it's pretty obvious that this is bleak, grimy fiction. Other reasons? Even looking past some of the constraints of the production's budget and the "acting" (the actress playing the woman is terrible and unconvincing), think about these points: if the perpetrators were actually planning on marketing a film, even to a niche audience of ultra-rich perverts with a death-fetish (as movies like 8mm would have us believe snuff's audience consists of) – why would they show their faces on screen? Surely that might hasten your arrest, if the film ever came to light (and by the way – not even one single frame of snuff footage has ever been found by any law enforcement agency in the world – does it even exist? Who knows?). Further, the almost artistic nature of some of the shots – the angles, the use of slow motion, camera movement, composition of shot – and the POV shots from the woman's perspective make a mockery of the idea that this could possibly be real.

I'll admit that parts of this film do look a little on the fake side (the hitting scene in particular), and that the reactions the woman gives to her tortures are often well out of step with reality (personally, I'd be screaming down the house, in her position, at all points of the film), verging on the truly mystifying (being pelted with offal is, I'm assuming, demeaning and possibly painful, but much much worse physical torment had gone before to less response – and why does she seem so acquiescent to her tormentors?), and that really on face value what we're watching is a 43 minute special effects reel with no real story – who is the woman? Why her? Who are the men? Why is this happening? But then again, the arbitrary nature of the horrors being committed adds to the terror the film is attempting to invoke. However, that all being said, the ideas that power this deceptively simple film are deeply worrying serious moral issues about the human condition.

Android of Notre Dame: I'm not going to waste a great deal of either your time or mine talking about this film, because frankly, it's awful. If you were trying to work out a winner for worst entry in the Guinea Pig series, you'd be getting down to a three way tussle between Devil Woman Doctor, He Never Dies and this complete turkey. Personally, I think that match would be a draw. All three movies stink, and each of them relies on over-the-top comical absurdity or weird-for-weirdness' sake imagery to get a reaction from their audience. As a result, they should all be hurled into the nearest bin, and to screen any of them for another person should be an arrestable offence. The charge? Hate-crime. You'd have to really despise someone to show them this film – and have a wide streak of masochism to endure it again yourself.

Confusingly also known as Guinea Pig 2 (that gong actually belongs to Flower of Flesh and Blood), nothing about Android of Notre Dame works in any way, shape or form. Karazawa, our dwarven mad scientist figure, has a sister with a congenital heart disease. Naturally, he wants to save her, but those pesky experiments just aren't working out. A mysterious stranger calling himself Kato calls him with an offer to help out with this...at a price. $21 million dollars is more money than I'd ever see in a large number of lifetimes, but that's what the stranger is asking for his help. And the nature of this help? The body of a young woman delivered to Karazawa to experiment on. The stranger's as good as his word, and the body arrives in Karazawa's laboratory...delivered in a cardboard box. You'd think the delievery service might have wondered about the smell of a five day old corpse coming from one of their packages.

Karazawa's experiment would therefore appear to be about re-animating the dead – however, his sister is still alive; does anyone else see the problem here? It would appear that our polka-dotted bow-tie wearing friend has never heard of the concept of preventative medicine. I also fail to see how poking a corpse's boobies repeatedly is doing anyone any good – except maybe Karazawa... And then as for the experiment itself, well that was rather confusing, because that seemed to consist of putting a helmet on the corpse, and removing eyes and ears and hooking them up to a machine. That Karazawa, he so crazy!

He's no Frankenstein, and there's no, "Yoiks, doctor, the creature walks tonight!" moment. Instead, he has to drink a nice big hot steaming mug of "You're a dismal failure and you're sister's likely to die!" before he mutilates the corpse, particularly around the boobies, with some wildly inappropriate "boinging" sound effects. We're then privy to Karazawa's illuminating claim that the Hunchback of Notre Dame was actually an android (obviously there were a lot of them floating about in 18th century Paris) – a claim he backs up with no evidence whatsoever. I'm assuming that this is meant to make the title that little bit more relevant, but by this stage I had to a large extent tuned out. I've owned this disc for 4 or 5 years, this is the second time I've watched this feature, and it's hurting every fibre of my being.

Kato turns up at Karazawa's with a proposition for him, spelt b-l-a-c-k-m-a-i-l, but Karazawa handles himself with aplomb, and then one shockingly bad and completely out-of-the-blue special effect later, the relevance of the whole "android" part of the title becomes clear. The only reason I'm not spoiling it for you now is that some of you completists out there might want to get the whole set of Guinea Pig films, and while this film defines the phrase "slim pickings" I feel like I gotta leave some surprises for you to "enjoy". Believe me, if you haven't seen this film, you need any and every opportunity you can get to try to maintain interest. This just gets sillier and more nonsensical as it goes along, resulting in what could most aptly be called a complete mess.

So there's some vengeance from a couple of angles, possibly the least amount of gore in the entire series (there's some, but it never reaches the excesses of the better films), amateur hour direction, even worse acting – the fella who plays Kato is truly appalling – and a lack of entertainment for all, basically, crammed into a plot that makes little sense or indeed makes even the vaguest grasp at coherence.

I must make mention of two books (both from the Creation Cinema range of titles) that were invaluable to me in the writing of this review (and alerting me to the existence of these films in the first place): the aforementioned Eros in Hell by Jack Hunter, and the truly outstanding Killing For Culture by David Kerekes and David Slater, the definitive guide to death films. Both texts are highly recommended reading.
Video
Devils Experiment doesn't look the best, but given the age and nature of the source material, about as good as you're gonna get. I have no problem with DTV films (I certainly own enough of them), but the digital revolution has certainly highlighted their flaws in terms of picture quality. Occasionally Devils Experiment is noticeably washed out, and the image softens at times as well. It's adequate, however, and given the fact that this is meant to be a clandestine affair, the slightly degraded image works in its favour. Still packs more of a wallop on an old VHS, nevertheless.

Android of Notre Dame is quite sharp, although I don't think it works in this movie's favour, as it merely highlights the flaws of the source material and the production itself. And you can tell it's a V-movie, too.
Audio
Devils Experiment is serviceable for what it is meant to be. The sombre, unsettling score could possibly have been made more use of, and the sound effects are sometimes too dominant in the mix, but Unearthed have presented this in as good a form as could be. It'd be stupid to re-master something like Devils Experiment with 6.1 DTS – it wouldn't be doing the film any favours at all.

Android of Notre Dameis also serviceable, but hardly astounding. Terrible sound effects (removing a bone from someone's chest cavity should never sound like an embarrassingly loud and sloppily wet fart) and an annoying score ain't helping anyone.
Extra Features
'Fraid not. This was kind of surprising to me, because Unearthed normally whack a few on their discs at least, even if they're just trailers for other titles in their catalogue. Disppointing, especially seeing as both films are quite brief in duration, thankfully (albeit for different reasons...).
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Releasing these two films in the one package was mystifying to me. Besides the brand name, they bear no similarities with each other in terms of either tone, story or look. It'd be like releasing a double feature of Inside and Junior just because they both revolve around pregnancy. I'm assuming that Unearthed took this approach instead of releasing Devils Experiment with its natural partner from the series, Flower of Flesh and Blood, because nobody in their right mind would want a double feature of Android of Notre Dame and Devil Woman Doctor, for example – does anyone else smell a money hungry company? Let's release inferior quality product so we can drill the chumps for cash! That being said, if extreme film is your cup of tea, this is worth buying solely for Devils Experiment, an unremittingly bleak slab of sadistic faux-snuff evil, and the spiritual fore-runner for the August Underground films, if that helps recommend it to you. The only thing Android of Notre Dame is likely to come before is brain cancer.

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