Come on in, the water's claustrophobic...
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007)
Dir. Gregory M Wilson, USA, 91 mins
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we wrap up 'classics month' here at the column with a look at an infamous movie from across the pond. In October we've been to Serbia, Spain and China so it's nice to come back to a film without subtitles this week, at least. But there's not much else nice here – because it's time to look at The Girl Next Door. Taking its source material from Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, with the inspiration for that being the infamous case of Gertrude Baniszewski's terrible abuse and murder of Sylvia Likens in 1995. If you want a more honest-to-life look at the case, you might be better to turn to An American Crime – if you want to get right to the heart of the horrors, then this is likely the version for you.
So, we begin with a flash-forward to a Wall Street banker by the name of Davey, who after a dramatic opening begins to reminisce on his younger days and in particular his infatuation with Meg, the girl who moves in next door (makes sense, right?). What starts out with the flavour of a touching coming of age story takes a sour turn, however, as the influence of Meg's guardian, Aunt Ruth, begins to grow. If there's a single thing that elevates this movie, it's Blanche Baker's role as pretty much the sole adult in the lives of the children of the neighbourhood. In the beginning she's free in giving out the beer and cigarettes to all the youngsters, but her attitudes towards men, women and sexual relationships are warped to say the least. And Meg is soon enough a victim of her ire, resulting in a couple of beatings and unpleasant scenes.
But there's far worse to come, of course, as Ruth continues to employ her poisonous influence and gain the support of the young boys on the block. When Meg reports the beatings to a local police officer, who is dubious of her report, Ruth drags her to the basement and ties her up. It's in this cramped, dingy space that she spends the rest of the movie, and from there we are effectively treated to the classic torture porn scenario. Meg is abused physically, mentally and sexually, much of it by the kids on the street while Ruth calmly watches on with a cigarette. In fact, she leads the most brutal of the treatment herself. The youngsters in the movie display a very variable level of acting skill, and it's not always entirely clear why they go along with so much of what is done to Meg. It's only Davey who offers any resistance, and it's his attempts to free Meg that lead to the conclusion of this one.
By the time I came to the end of the movie, I couldn't help but think that it falls short on both fronts it angles at. The acting is a bit too weak for a serious drama – with the exception of the excellent Blanche Baker – and there's also a bit too much cut out or glazed over to be as seriously shocking as some of the movies we've watched previously here. The finale is obviously designed to stir emotions, but comes off heavy-handed in comparison to – to name but one – Megan is Missing. It's all a little awkward, a little clumsy, perhaps mixing its influences and not quite defining its aims throughout. The best and most impactful moments come from the cruelty of the regular human being, but perhaps there aren't enough of those to really keep you going.
RATING: 5/10. Having seen this on so many 'most shocking movies' lists, and also being a fan of Ketchum's work, I suppose I was ultimately expecting a bit more from this one. The true story that this follows is absolutely harrowing, and although there are places where this is horrible to watch, the overall effect is just a bit underwhelming. It feels as though the director has perhaps shied away where they might have gone all the way to truly produce the effect, and the constant attempts for emotional impact never really play out. So it's a distinctly average 5/10 for The Girl Next Door.
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FILM REVIEWS
Come on in, the water's rotten...
Dir. Nacho Cerda, Spain, 31 minutes
Welcome back to Film Gutter everyone, and for our 'classics month' review this week I truly suggest you don your goggles and pop a peg on your nose, because this week the water pure and simple has a dead body floating in it. Yep, a rotting, stinking corpse. But why should that stop us going for a swim eh? It's time for us to finally brave one of the most notorious short films of all time, a regular feature on many people's 'most disturbing movies of all time' list. Let's get stuck into Aftermath.
Only the second piece of work from the director, Aftermath soon earned itself a reputation as a shocking piece by covering the taboo of necrophilia. The opening shot is certainly an attention grabber – a dog that looks rather like it has been run over, and has its organs pretty well splashed all over the place.
The rest of the action is set within a basement morgue, where we see a little of the everyday running of the place – a male body being delivered by an orderly, before being autopsied. This initial scene of the body being taken apart is presented absolutely unflinchingly. The visuals leave little to the imagination, but one thing that is effective in the first half of the movie – and even more so in the second – is the use of sound. The music in the film is used very sparingly, so what we mostly have is a funereal silence (not a word of dialogue spoken by any of the characters) punctuated by the crunching of bone, the squelching removal of organs and the insidious sound of saws and knives cutting through flesh. It's undoubtedly cleverly done, and is one of the things that makes the whole experience so unsettling.
Ah, but I haven't mentioned the second half yet, have I? The initial autopsy is carried out by two doctors, but when one of them leaves our dark-eyed protagonist is left alone in the morgue. And he doesn't need much of an invitation to find himself a female corpse, lock the door on himself and carry out an absolutely horrible to watch act of necrophilia. First up he takes a knife to the cadaver, stabbing it multiple times before removing much of the skin from the torso.
The very final scene I'm pretty reticent to even go into, but I'm sure it won't take an awful lot of imagination to guess what follows by way of a 'climax'. The use of sound is again horribly illustrative, and there's also a great deal in the performance of our depraved lead that adds to the unease that Aftermath creates. The grunts, groans and loud exhalations tell a story of unnatural excitement and arousal that no amount of dialogue could ever have replaced. It's a rare instance where a character doesn't have a single line in a piece, but in those cases where I have seen it the character in question is usually absolutely psychopathic and deplorable (see Human Centipede II and upcoming review on Headless).
With all the above said, there is distinctly a kind of artistry at work behind this one. Shots are generally very well presented and the sound engineering is impeccable, used for maximum impact and horrendously effective. The music – when it is there – is also very aptly chosen. So as a piece of shock cinema, it work on pretty much every level. An enjoyable experience? Not so much...
RATING: 9/10. This one is genuinely difficult to watch and practically no fun at all at any point. So surely that makes it pretty much the ideal Film Gutter movie? Short, simple, well put together and one that I was damnedly glad to get to the end of. The only reason this one doesn't score maximum points if that there's really no plot, just an awful vignette it'll take a while to bleach from your mind. So, for that reason, it's 9/10 from me.
Come on in, the water's experimental...
MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988)
T.F. Mous, Hong Kong/China, length varies depending on cut
Welcome back to Film Gutter, and today we're continuing classics month with another one of those extreme movies that has come up many times in the comments and messages about the series we're embarked upon. We've spent a fair amount of time in Japan already as part of proceedings here at Film Gutter, but today's we're headed to near neighbours China for the story of one of the most shocking real-life incidents of the Second World War. This is the retold tale of Unit 731 – this is Men Behind the Sun. Another movie to be highly criticised for its violence and exploitative content, MBTS has suffered at the hands of censors in Australia and Japan and also been criticised for animal cruelty and the use of real autopsy footage.
Come on in, the water's putrid...
A Serbian Film (2010)
Dir. Srdjan Spasojevic, Serbia, 103 mins
Welcome back to Film Gutter, where we're just entering one of our favourite months of the year and starting the build up towards Hallowe'en (don't try and say you haven't noticed all the costumes in the shops), so we thought we'd do something a bit special here at Film Gutter. Over the last ten months we've covered some fantastic disturbing cinema here, but what we haven't done yet is touched upon some of the genuine classics of the genre, the most renowned extreme horror films out there. And, to be fair, you guys have been asking me to look at some of these films for a while, so here goes. Throughout October we'll be covering five of the biggest hits of extreme horror cinema, starting with this week's noxious morsel, A Serbian Film.