Guinea Pig: Mermaid in a Manhole/He Never Dies (1988/1986)
By: Mr Intolerance on August 7, 2009  | 
DVD
Unearthed Films (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 103 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Hideshi Hino; Masayuki Kuzumi
Starring: Shigeru Saiki, Go Rijyu, Masami Hisamoto, Mari Somei; Masahiro Sato, Keisuke Araki, Eve
Country: Japan
External Links
Purchase
The second DVD release of the notorious Guinea Pig films put out by Unearthed Films, and again, it's an odd pairing – Hideshi Hino's bleak existential (and gooey) nightmare Mermaid in a Manhole, coupled with the slapstick splatter-farce He Never Dies. When I buy two-fers or box sets, I like them to maintain a certain kind of atmosphere at least amongst all of the films included, and while Mermaid quickly established itself as one of my favourite films from the series, He Never Dies quickly announced itself to be an inane waste of time.

Don't go into either of these films expecting the truly grim faux-snuff horrors that launched the Guinea Pig series, Devils Experiment and Flower of Flesh and Blood; these two films here are more in the style of a kind of dark and bloody nightmare fantasy.

Mermaid in a Manhole: Our main character Hayashi is an artist whose wife has left him a month prior to the story beginning (thank you nosy buck-toothed neighbour for the expository dialogue). He's getting his inspiration for his artwork from a less than usual place – the sewers, where he finds (no, not C.H.U.D.s) a mermaid. A rather sick mermaid with some kind of degenerative disease, who he has been obsessed with since childhood. She ain't no Darryl Hannah in Splash, either, let me tell you, although she certainly looks quite cute to begin with.

People can find beauty in strange places, and that's what happens with our protagonist – the drain he's in used to be a river he played near as a child, and so the genii loci of the place remains the same for him, even if the surroundings are now physically and visually different. All of the beautiful things he's lost are down here, he tells us, and when he finds them, he paints them (pay attention to what's down there – I will say no more). Kind of sad to think that he can only paint things that have been lost or discarded (his dead cat Chibi being one of them – being a pet lover is all well and good, but I would draw the line at picking up a dead cat that's been marinading in a sewer and is covered with worms and rubbing it all over my face) and end up in a sewer, and that real beauty only exists in his memory. I did, while watching this film, start drawing comparisons thematically between it and other J-horror films, specifically to do with how Japanese film represents the concept of loneliness as being a truly frightening thing (think Kairo, Audition and even less explicitly in films such as Ringu, if you doubt me) that wears down the soul, and eventually the mind. Modern life in J-horror regardless of the film always comes off as drab, pedestrian and bland.

Now I know as well as the next fella that beauty is ephemeral, but this disease of the mermaid's makes a mockery of such a statement – she's developing a range of pustulent sores around her middle, where the woman bit meets the fish bit, which are truly grotesque. The painter takes her back to his place, attempting to aid her and paint her at the same time. Now, one of the aims of any artistic endeavour is to preserve a moment, here, to capture and record beauty so that it will never die. Unfortunately, our painter seems to have missed class the day that lesson was taught, and as the mermaid rots, he touches up the picture accordingly – he's not recording beauty, he's recording the putrescence of that beauty, the loss of it that each day brings.

In tremendous physical pain, the mermaid has to take the indignity of her boils bursting and thence wallowing in the bath-tub the painter's just had installed for her in her own blood, pus and the worms that... well, you just wait and see.

The nosy neighbour and her callow husband Hiroshi are quickly established as the comedy relief, but it's out of place, and the performances, especially the wife, who needs a muzzle to stop her devouring large chunks of scenery whole. There's a sombre, almost elegaic tone to this film amidst all the goop and the very deliberate gross-out moments, and the comedy ruins that tone, largely because it's irritating, intrusive and quite simply not funny.

Things take a turn for the truly horrid when the mermaid asks the painter to lance her boils with a straight-razor, releasing all of the pus, so that he can finish the painting of her using the pus as paint. "You will paint me with the pus of seven colours." Well, there's a sentence I'd never heard before... What I found particularly effective in what the director was trying to achieve here with a marked lack of subtlety, was that not only was art incapable of transmitting beauty through form, but now also through medium – let's face facts, folks, no-one's painting something beautiful with pus – the best you could hope for would be the representation of decay. And stinky decay, at that. True beauty, he seems to be saying, must decay and die in order to really be beautiful at all. You can't have one without the other.

Sad and poetic while also being visceral and grimy at the same time, Mermaid in a Manhole is the last good film that the Guinea Pig series presented us (and the only other good one besides the first two), and probably the only one with a plot and a coherent (if quite bent) narrative. At the same time, it's a film that had a fella I know bolt out of a mate's house and throw up in the garden for being so gross towards the end. That said, there's plenty going on here to keep you interested – much is being said here about a range of issues: love, art, beauty, personal relationships and the inability to form them, obsession, all served up with lashings of very gooey nastiness. It loses its way towards the very end, mainly due to the performance (or should that be "mugging") of the male lead, but otherwise comes to you highly recommended.

He Never Dies: Like Android of Notre Dame and Devil Woman Doctor, here's one of the retarded children of the Guinea Pig family, the kind you'd keep hidden away when the relatives come to visit. This film is grating to the point of being like salt in an open wound. Matter of fact, if you've got a moment, I'd sooner paper cut my entire body and have a bath in vinegar and kerosene than endure this crud again.

The film begins with an introduction telling us that what we are about to watch is based on fact. The script appears to have been written by a twelve year old it's so incompetent, however, so any sense of reality has already gone flying out the window. Once the film gets going, that's even more apparent. This is the frist of the Guinea Pig films to be made after Devils Experiment and Flower of Flesh and Blood, and bears no resemblance to them in tone or story, so why it's still going under that particular monicker is a mystery for the ages. It's also the first of the movies in this series to suck like a two dollar hooker.

Hideshi, an incompetent young salary-man in Tokyo with a crappy life decides to end it all with a Stanley knife to the wrists, after having previously flirted with self-mutilation, but finding it all a bit too much. Unfortunately, it doesn't take, and he rapidly works out that he can endure all kinds of bloody, self-inflicted mayhem (apparently this is one of the many powers you can develop through listening to amateurish punk rock with annoyingly shrill vocals). This certainly showcases the FX work of Nobuaki Koga, but certainly isn't advancing the plot terribly much. And its played with all the subtlety and skill of a Troma production. I think it was meant to be funny, but only missed the mark by the lengths of a couple of hundred football fields.

Hideshi becomes rapidly annoyed by the fact that he can't dispatch himself, and then, having gone understandably loopy in the process, decides to use his newfound ability to his advantage by scaring his friends. He gives his work-pal Nakamura a call and wants him to come over to basically frighten the shit out of him by inflicting grievous bodily harm on himself – he's asked his mate bring over some gardening shears and a hatchet, and you just know things are going to get messy.

Nakamura turns up alright, for some reason better left unknown to the audience wearing an Elvis mask, to find Hideshi with a set square buried in his head. Understandably, he freaks out.Cue: more fake blood, special effects and crap jokes. "I have to disembowel myself for you!"

Kyoko, Nakamura's girlfriend has been waiting in the car for a while, and I think we can all see what's coming next, as Hideshi has developed a taste for hurling his entrails at people while impaling himself with household objects – it's not quite that, but it registers at least the same levels of poor taste and silliness on the Waters-o-meter. Some plans, however, can backfire...

I don't mind black humour (matter of fact, I like it a lot), and there are some attempts at social commentary on aspects of life in contemporary Japan (family, corporate life, relationships, goals and aspirations), but the whole thing is far too obvious and falls flatter than a skydiver without a parachute. A very crudely made film indeed, and one that needed something else to lift its viewers out of the slough of despond after watching it, like a competent script, better actors and a different director.
Video
Mermaid in a Manhole ia adequate for the purpose, but again, you're all-too-aware of it being a V-movie. Part of that might be down to the direction and photography, which are a bit variable. As for He Never Dies, do you really care? Oh well, fine enough for a V-movie.
Audio
Mermaid in a Manhole is functional, if a little hollow at times. As with some of the other Guinea Pig films, the sound effects for the gooey bits are way too loud in the mix and end up just being irritating, not to mention puerile. Same deal with He Never Dies - anything gooey sounds like someone's mic'ed up a bucket of porridge being stirred with a stick. Aside from that, the occasionally hollow sound on some lines of dialogue I noticed on Mermaid in a Manhole. Otherwise, I guess it's okay.
Extra Features
There's a reasonably complete and quite interesting text history of the Guinea Pig series (17 pages worth), and then trailers for Devils Experiment, Android of Notre Dame, Mermaid in a Manhole, Flower of Flesh and Blood, and Making of Guinea Pig. You also get still galleries for each film. And that's it, y'all, which is a pretty disappointingly small package of Extras, for my money.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Definitely one of the lesser entries in the Guinea Pig DVD collection, although I think that if you're a fan, you really should check out Mermaid in a Manhole, as it's pretty unique, and one of the more interesting pieces of indie J-horror of the late 80s. I can guarantee that you haven't seen anything like it. He Never Dies, on the other hand, is an abject failure I wouldn't show to my worst enemy – if Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi were morons (and thankfully, they're not), they'd probably have made something this bad at the start of their careers; Lloyd Kaufmann would probably find it funny, and that's the kiss of death for any film as far as I'm concerned. Buy this disc cheaply, if you feel that you absolutely need to own it.

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