Review: Grotesque グロテスク(2009) – When Horror Fans Hate Themselves

Please note that in this instance, when I say “When Horror Fans Hate Themselves”, I mean “This movie made me hate myself.”

Wow, Netflix sure has some nasty, nasty movies for rental. I’ve never checked to see if they carry porn (probably because no-one in our household watches porn, no-one that I know about, anyway), but if it’s twisted, Asian, and makes you feel vaguely ashamed of yourself, they probably have it. I see they have a few of the Guinea Pig movies, so there you go. They used to have Guts of a Virgin,(or was it Entrails of a Virgin, maybe Guts of An Angel? not much difference) which I tolerated –barely– almost to the half-hour mark before I snapped, thought no amount of Asian gore is worth this horrible misogynistic bullshit, and kicked it out. I’d like to add that I was pissed off at Netflix’s ‘rating system’ because if I gave Grotesque (グロテスク) one out of five stars, it would probably recommend less Asian horror, and if I gave it three out of five stars I’d sprain something in my own internal taste preferences, so I didn’t get the satisfaction of giving it the one-star rating it barely deserved (goddamnit).

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Have you ever sat through a certain movie—usually when you’ve seen but ignored multiple, urgent red flags —and been almost as infuriated at yourself as you were by whoever was responsible for the movie?  I’m pretty sure most people reading this—along with those who watch many more movies than the average person—have finished viewing a movie (say, for example… oh screw it, I’ll  just jump on the ‘Uwe Boll should not be allowed to make money from his movies’  bandwagon*, not that I wasn’t already on board), and wanted to kick whoever ruined the movie and just wasted their valuable time down a flight of stairs.  I certainly didn’t want to throw myself down a flight of stairs, or even one stair, after I sat through Grotesque, but I did feel that I had been asking for the tooth-grinding headache it gave me.

Notice I corrected their shitty spelling. That’s APPETIZER, you lazy, too-cheap-to-hire-a-proofer hacks…

I rented this due to a combination of morbid curiosity (more on that later) and because I’m strongly anti-censorship and saw it was banned in Britain due to extreme gore. I also saw American poster art proclaiming  Saw and Hostel Were Just Appetizers, which gave me only a short pause before I willfully ignored it (my first in a series of stupid decisions involving this movie).

Of course, in general, when I see comments/user reviews about a controversial movie saying this like, ‘Whoever made this DISGUSTING so-called MOVIE should be THROWN IN JAIL!!!’, and ‘OFFENSIVE, DO NOT RENT this GARBAGE  if you have ANY DECENCY!’ I instantly make a mental note of the movie title. Note to self: remember to look into that movie that offended everyone. The clincher is often outraged comments from church groups and/or, right-wing conservative media, usually with some name that is a variation of “Families For Kids”. Chances are the name of the group contains one or more of the words America, parents, families, safe, Christian, values, and/or decency*, (and there’s no animal violence) I rent it and watch it if for no other reason to piss off people who don’t think the public should be allowed to decide on their own whether this FICTIONAL movie is suitable to watch or not.  If I hear good buzz on the movie’s entertainment value, overall quality, plus confirmation that yeah, it’s shocking, I’ll really step up my game to find it and see it ASAP.

The closest I can get to relaying the entire first act that the nameless torturer/doctor  (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) for at least ten minutes while (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) in close-ups that don’t leave much to your imagination until (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) then does the a variation of the same to (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) and with both there’s a (DEFINITELY TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) involved.

Now, I’m not above admitting that my motivations to watch a movie containing something I feel like I’m not supposed to are only partially due to personal politics. If I hear something like “most disturbing horror movie ever made,” I hastily go out of my way to locate it, probably because I grew up in the 80s and wasn’t allowed to see movies like Alien, Friday the 13th, Full Metal Jacket, or The Omen even though my mother and sister discussed the shocks in the movie less than a yard away.

OK, I  can write a more well-thought-out piece on why I’m still consistently drawn to controversial, fucked-up horror along with regular horror, or one on the topic  Why People See Horrifying Movies  another time. Back to this gawd-awful waste of horror fan’s time.

Now THERE’S a shot you never see in a torture-porn horror movie…

I saw the cover art, connected it with a bunch of disgusted pro-censorship groups condemning society for releasing movies like this, did some fact-checking to make sure the warnings about violent, disturbing content were based in truth and that the BANNED! and UNCUT VERSION! featured in PR for the movie was backed up by fact. Under “Trivia” for Grotesque on the IMDB, it stated:

Distributors of this movie had hoped to be given an 18 certificate for the film, which involves torture such as amputation and eye-gouging. But the British Board of Film Classification said the film featured sexual sadism for its own sake. [Documentation also stated that ] giving the film a rating would involve a “risk of harm” to those viewing it. Therefore no classification was given and selling or supplying the film would now be illegal.

Unfortunately, and again stupidly, my brain glossed over the  ‘sexual sadism for its own sake’ phrase, and jumped on to amputation and eye-gouging and no classification was given and selling or supplying the film would now be illegal. No-one was going to tell ME what I couldn’t watch, by God! Also, if it were THAT torture-porn-y, I would have already heard something and made a mental note to think twice before watching it, right?  So let’s DO this!

Surprise surprise, this didn’t go so fucking well. I hated myself after watc—wait, closer to about 15 minutes in (when I first felt like taking a shower). I didn’t feel sick because it was gory, but because the gore had been deliberately blended with really, really icky sexual content that would be a bad idea for all parties involved for me to describe …or feel anywhere approaching comfortable describing in the first place without a strong drink in me (and a strong drink in whoever I was describing it to). It’s past the point of even me being able to say, “don’t look at me, I’m just documenting this.” The female lead is known for her work in Japanese VOD porn, yet I still feel embarrassed for her. The closest I can get to relaying the entire first act that the nameless torturer/doctor rapes (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) for at least ten minutes while (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) in close-ups that don’t leave much to your imagination until (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) then does the a variation of the same to (TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) and with both there’s a (DEFINITELY TOO VILE FOR PUBLICATION) involved. I had to fast-forward through the last half of it, I rented this to see gore, not get the icky, creepy feeling that whoever wrote and shot these scenes got off on it.

Guys, that cheap CGI blood isn’t fooling anyone…

That nauseous feeling got a significant boost via the added exceptionally crisp, overdone, and sorry, just plain disgusting (soon I’m going to have to grab my thesaurus, as I’m running low on adjectives to express how foul Grotesque gets ) accompanying sound effects. Just as stomach-turning is the leering shooting style where you get the impression that every attempt was made to film it in what they thought was an erotic way, as if it were an episode of Red Shoe Diaries (the most fucked-up episode in the show’s history), or… just… GAH.***   If anyone watching the above did NOT immediately feel like they wouldn’t be able to even want to have sex again until they’d erased those scenes from their mind, I don’t ever want to meet them, or even know about them.
When it comes to the gore/torture, I have to admit Grotesque is pretty unflinching, and at least they use mostly practical effects (though as a seasoned splatter movie-watcher, I’ve seen worse). The gore didn’t make it difficult to watch (though at least one instance of bad CGI blood was insultingly unconvincing , as I said, it was the vile undertone of sexualizing torture that was hard to stomach. There’s a torture-porn movie titled Scar (2007) that I haven’t seen, but know of via this awesome Movie Censorship website,  (the always-ballsy Angelina Bettis is in it-there’s a 3D and a 2D comparison on the site). I read about the sick concept, where the killer’s MO is  that two friends or a couple are strapped to tables, and one is tortured/mangled to see how far they will go to keep their friend alive. In other words, see who can hold out the longest before breaking and asking them to hurt/kill their loved one located a few feet away instead. Make that a married couple, add sexual abuse and ratchet up the gore through the roof, and there’s your basic ‘plot concept’ to Grotesque. …and that’s about as creative as this movie gets. At one point a cha… oh fuck it. I’ve spent more time typing this plot description than it deserves.

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I use the term plot description very loosely. This is only a rung above the Guinea Pig movies because it has a very vague suggestion of a storyline that could possibly resemble something of a plot (and dialogue, though it is minimal with a very low grade of talent).   There is a microscopic bit of suspense involved in the last act, and some characters said/did things I didn’t think were going to happen. I had zero expectations left by that point, though, so the bar was set pretty low.

Speaking of disturbing,  I am sorry to report that I just double-checked some facts before publishing this piece, and cannot wrap my brain around the fact that Grotesque was directed by Shiraishi Koji. This man directed, among other above-average J-horror, the excellent critical and popular success (especially among Asian Horror enthusiasists, and even just plain horror enthusiasts) 2005’s Norio: The Curse  (hard to obtain, but well worth it). He also directed Carved: The Slit-Mouth Woman. Now Carved (you may recall this piece I wrote about it) is not the best or most frightening J-Horror ever made, or in the top ten, but I usually recommend it to friends as worthy of a watch/rental, and has a few decent scares. Both of those two —Norio in particular—have little blood and gore, and rely instead on atmosphere and that general J-horror creepiness for suspense and terror. The discovery that he directed Grotesque is so wildly incongruous that I’m going to need to look into it ASAP to try to find out what could have gone horribly wrong. Did he lose his damned mind, or what? Hope to find out.

You don’t want to know.

So take it from me—you don’t want to see this. It’s not shocking, just disgusting. It’s not scary, just depressing. There’s no resolution, no character development, no hint of a back story. It doesn’t really end, it just stops. With only three characters, one setting, and next-to-no dialogue, that’s no easy task, even if they were making an effort at any of the above (they’re not). I’d go so far to say it gives J-Horror a bad name. It has better production values than, say, Red Room, and while I don’t recommend Red Room either, at least that torture-porn movie manages to build suspense (the plot’s better, too). Grotesque is less misogynistic than Red Room or the aforementioned Entrails of a Virgin or Guts of an Angel, but only because the man and the woman being tortured get equal amounts of sexual assault and bloody cruelty dealt out to them. OK, clearly I’ve run out of positive things to say about the movie, and I was already flailing around blindly to find any in the first place. Oh!  I know: it is only seventy-three minutes long (but that’s still over 63 minutes too many).

NO no no.

You can easily find another movie that shocking and gruesome that won’t make you want to dive in the shower and scrub every part of your body with detergent. I’d be more than happy to name a few; off the top of my head, try Hong Kong’s 1988 absolutely brutal war atrocity drama Man Behind the Sun (even more nihilistic, but has much more going for it), a really sick Thai horror/thriller flick called 13: Game of Death  AKA 13 Beloved (yup, Netflix has it, but I highly recommend you do not eat while watching past the opening credits-consider your gag reflex officially warned), Jack Ketchum’s Offspring, or if you want something lighter and less emotion-heavy, there’s always the R-rated but absolutely, outrageously gore-soaked Piranha 3D (2010). I’d have a much harder time recommending banned movies that were more disgusting and pointless than Grotesque (oh, I could do it, I’d just have to sit down and apply myself awhile) than I would recommending movies that have been banned at one time or another and are worth sitting through. I love to give  personal recommendations, just aaaaaask away!

Yep, Mrs. Horror Boom… that’s me!

Have a fun, lazy August weekend. I’ll be posting something soon to give you chills to beat the heat —promise! Meanwhile, I cannot recommend the aforementioned  http://www.film-censorship.com (AKA Movie Censorship) enough. Seen an R-Rated movie and wondering how much more gore there is in the Unrated or NC-17 version? They have a huge, multi-national database, so there’s a pretty good chance you can find out there. Furthermore, they don’t just have horror movies on the site, comparisons of Unrated and R-Rated releases of comedies like Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and the American Pie franchise. They also document their info-packed reports with comparison photos between the two versions – the attention to detail is exceptional. Hours and hours of entertainment —this can be one addictive site!

You REALLY don't want to know.

You REALLY don’t want to know.

*I almost wrote that he shouldn’t be allowed to make movies, but my personal belief is that everyone should be able to make a movie if they want to (as long as no animals are hurt or killed just to make the movie, and that everyone else involved is a consenting adult) but on their own time and money–you know, like a lot of broke independent film-makers with a vision who work their ass off to do because they’re passionate, dedicated, and driven. I also am of the opinion that everyone should be allowed to release their movies, too. However, film-makers like oh, Tom Six–and why not use Uwë Boll again– should own the print but have to raise any sort of distribution funds from scratch, and if they want others to see it, they should be solely responsible for convincing an audience it’s worth sitting through, or for getting funding to release it themselves. There, that’s my manifesto on that subject. I’m not trying to self-righteously preach or convert anyone, just stating my opinion for the record.
**I’m concerned that at some point down the road I’m going to see a group named “Patriotic American Families and Parents Crusading for Censorship: Safe Christian Values and Decency in Media”  with Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh as the spokesperson, and then my head will just spontaneously fucking explode.

***Should your morbid curiosity get the better of you (happens to the best of us), and you REALLY want more detail, look at the plot keywords page for Grotesque on the IMDB.If it convinces you not to sit through this movie, than hey, you’ve done yourself a favor. Now that I think of it, I’m also a little concerned about whoever lavished such attention to detail on the Plot Keywords page. Bleckkh.

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