Shocking Movies: Part 1

Our most extreme horrors.
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Shocking Movies: Part 1 - Our most extreme horrors.

When asked to make a list of the most extreme movies, and after days of debate, we came to the conclusion we couldn't. What is extreme to one person may have no effect on the next and, based on some of the search terms that bring people to this site, what repulses someone can give someone else their kicks (we can see what you are searching the web for you know, you deviants). The animal cruelty in Cannibal Holocaust, the poop buffet in Salo, scissor caesareans in Inside, Lucifer Valentine's puke obsession or even just the malice in Stoic; all of these will affect people in different ways depending on how nature and nurture have shaped their lives.

With that in mind we decided to say a little something about the movies that have affected us the most throughout our careers as horror enthusiasts. There is always a movie that comes along and raises the bar, it is the most extreme thing we have seen until the next film comes along to up the ante, robbing the previous experience of some of its extremity. All horror fans have to start somewhere and most people reading this will have a few movies in mind that had a dramatic influence on creating the desensitised people they are now. Here are ours...

Men Behind the Sun (Hei tai yang 731) (1988)

Shocking Movies: Men Behind the Sun (Hei tai yang 731) (1988)

Keri says: Men Behind The Sun is certainly one of the most disturbing pieces of film I've ever seen - as well as one of the most compelling, a film which doesn't simply layer gore on gore for shock effect, but actually tells a powerful story based completely on real life events. As such, the gore it shows has a real resonance - many of these torments were proven to have really happened to people during the Japanese expansion into the rest of Asia during WWII, which makes what we see in the film far more unsettling than it could ever have been without this context. The Japanese, as they occupied parts of China, set up a prison camp-come-research facility in Manchuria. This became known to most as Camp 731; within its walls, the local population (and other prisoners of war) were used as lab rats whilst the Japanese tried to figure out expedient ways of winning the war. Lest we forget, the Japanese taught their allies the Nazis a great deal about these types of experiments.

Men Behind The Sun focuses in on a young group of Japanese recruits to the camp, showing how they were gradually taught to see the Chinese as "marut", guinea pigs, utterly dehumanised - having their own humanity stripped in the process. At the same time, the prolific Lt. Shiro Ishii commands his men to conduct grotesque medical experiments on their subjects. These are incredibly brutal. One which will forever stick in my mind is the scene involving a young Chinese mother (whose inconvenient baby is smothered in the snow outside). She is shackled outdoors, with her arms protruding through a hole in a wall so that she incurs severe frostbite. When the Japanese bring her back inside, they thaw her arms in warm water - and then flay the skin off them, right down to the skeleton. It's a horrific scene, albeit done very well, considering the film was made all the way back in 1988.

To add to all of this, rumours of real-life autopsy footage and animal cruelty in the film can be added to the bill. In fact, between these rumours and the film's historical basis, you never quite feel that what you're looking at is fiction. A well-written, well-made film, still seething with Chinese anger at their treatment by the Japanese, Men Behind The Sun is a history lesson I've never been able to forget.

Audition (Ôdishon) (1999)

Shocking Movies: Audition (Ôdishon) (1999)

Steve says: My experience of Asian horror went from Ringu to Dark Water to Audition. There is quite a leap from the ghost stories portrayed in typical J-Horror to the barbarity that the demented mind of Takashi Miike can bring to the screen. Audition masterfully lulls the unsuspecting viewer into a false sense of security, subtly hinting that something is amiss but this doesn't prepare them for the sheer tortuous nature of how it all ends.

Aoyama needs a woman in his life and, rather than harassing girls on social media until they submit, he sets up an audition for leading lady in a project that he knows he will probably never get the financing for. This way he can choose the right companion and easily eliminate any teenage boys pretending to be girls or middle aged men pretending to be teenage boys. He chooses Asami, who he thinks is the right girl but it turns out she is the wrong girl.... a very wrong girl. Asami turns out to be obsessive, possessive and totally deranged and when something seemingly insignificant pushes her over the edge she subjects Aoyama to a punishment that far outweighs the crime.

The horror for me was a combination of the time of viewing, that with which my expectations were comparing it with and the skills of Takashi Miike to create a comfortable place before destroying that comfortable place with the subtlety of a donkey punch from Optimus Prime. Asami's crime was coldy calculated and executed with delight upon Aoyama who, apart from his slightly sexist method of dating, seemed like a nice guy. At the time it was a shocker although that seems like a long time ago now.

Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment (1985)

Shocking Movies: Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment (1985)

Keri says: There are two Guinea Pig films in our shocking movies list; this suggests that, when it comes to impact, the filmmaking team were definitely doing something right. Compared to the films which follow, Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment is by far the most pared-down of the series. Whilst Guinea Pig 2 has one character with a script (of sorts), the first film's villains don't fully appear on-screen at any time: instead, we see only their victim, another nameless young woman, who here is being systematically tortured for the perverse amusement of her captors. The results are, of course, being filmed. Short on-screen captions inform the viewers of which type of experiment is to follow, such as "Hit": the tortures are various, from physical violence to psychological (the girl is, in one sequence, forced to listen to white noise until she becomes hysterical). The end sequence - just before the girl is killed as disposed of, as we know from the rubbish bags in the earliest scenes - still retains its power to shock, despite clearly being a prosthetic. Assaults on the eye have a particular resonance; seeing an eyeball being punctured through with a needle, well, that's gotta hurt.

I first encountered Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment on VHS, where it had come from a copy of a copy via a film dealer I found in a horror magazine at the time. The picture quality was of course poor - but all in all, this intensified the effect of the film, as it all looked a great deal more believable (and unsettling) without high definition! The series of films has long had to battle against allegations that they had made real snuff films (they hadn't) although to be fair, they were clearly trying to make their earliest work look like snuff, and Guinea Pig: Devil's Experiment fits this bill very well - with no storyline or vindication for the girl, only a protracted sequence of torments. It made a big impact on me at fifteen, and I still say it's one of the most vicious 80s films out there, far more disturbing than a lot of the movies which got swept onto the UK Video Nasties list in the same decade.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Shocking Movies: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Steve says: Cannibal Holocaust, in its uncut form, was one of the few movies on the Video Nasty list that deserved to be on the Video Nasty list. It is a horrible experience for a number of reasons. There are the shock elements which involve some rather barbaric gore, sexual violence and unnecessary cruelty to both humans and animals but I think the biggest issue with this film is that it's so bleak and the nastiness is so sadistically pointless.

The film is a very early example of the found footage genre before the method was standardised and popularised by The Blair Witch Project and then abused by the industry. It follows a missing documentary crew that went to the Amazon to get footage of cannibalistic behaviour within the tribes. Their recordings are found and eventually reveal that the actions of the now missing film crew are more evil than any of the actions considered to be the atrocities they were wanting to document.

There is a confusing moral message within the film questioning who the real savages are. The "civilised" Western filmmakers who think they can exploit the tribespeople for entertainment or the tribespeople going about their day to day cannibalistic rituals? The actions of the reporters seem all the more harsh as they should know better. The freedoms they have discovered, their false sense of superiority and their contempt for anything living in the jungle leads to an escalating showcase of depravity. This film made me feel dirty and left me with an emptiness inside.

Aftermath (1994)

Shocking Movies: Aftermath (1994)

Keri says: Aftermath is not a feature-length movie; it's actually around the thirty-minute mark, and it lacks anything approaching a narrative or conventional structure. It has no dialogue, even, unless you count a few savage grunts towards the film's close. Instead, it's a short excursion into the deviant mind of a pathologist - one of those professionals with what one would assume is a difficult, unpleasant role. You'd hope, though, that people in this job would act respectfully towards the dead flesh they handle. As much as people repeat the mantra "I don't care what happens to me after I die", they usually have some opinions - and even if they genuinely don't, well, an encounter with Aftermath might make them reconsider that view.

What the film manages to do incredibly well is to invert audience expectations. The nameless, noiseless pathologist is less a man and more a monster; you'd suppose he would be the film's only character, but it isn't the case, and he just acts like a beast, cutting, stabbing and raping the body before him. Conversely, the dead girl on his slab somehow seems vulnerable, despite the fact that she has no idea of what is happening to her. You feel nauseated when the pathologist begins to violate her flesh for his own amusement, and the end sequences are particularly horrific - more so when, at the end of it all, we get a subtle reminder that this was a person with a family and friends.

All shot in a limited number of takes, with a cold, blue light permeating the film throughout, Aftermath is a truly sickening piece of cinema, a fundamentally chilling experience.

Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (Chiniku no hana) (1985)

Shocking Movies: Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (Chiniku no hana) (1985)

Steve says: The second Guinea Pig movie on the list is unsurprisingly Flower of Flesh and Blood. This film shocked me for reasons that the previously mentioned movies on this list did. This combined the concepts then amplified them. After Audition and a number of stereotypical J-Horror movies, my next formative experience of Asian horror was this. Once again, this nasty little work of art is quite a leap in levels of sadism, even from the medical manipulations of Asami.

The film is short and the story is simple. A woman is abducted by a psycho who wants to dismember and disembowel her in his dungeon while wearing lipstick and a Samurai helmet. And that's what he does in a display of sadistic, slowly crafted beautiful gore. He is making the unfortunate victim his "flower of flesh and blood".

One again, it is the pointlessness of the tragedy unfolding on screen that blurs the line between horror entertainment and perverse thrill-porn. The movie is made to look like a genuine snuff film and achieves this through the low quality recording and some surprisingly authentic looking special effects. The victim is drugged so her reactions are quite placid for the abuse she is taking. This results in a more disturbing experience compared to if this was 45 minutes of her screaming and crying. The Samurai pervert is obviously getting kicks from his actions as he narrates the process to the camera and his cigarette smoking after the event implies that this was something sexual. It's very graphic, very cruel and is still the epitome of what is often referred to as torture porn. This is another experience that left me feeling unclean and ashamed for enduring it all.
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