by Dr. Brand
American Guinea Pig – Bloodshock was screened as part of the Fantastiq weekend, which was itself part of the 2016 Derby Film Festival. The film’s so nasty that the screening wasn’t open to the public. And given that the film will likely be denied a certificate, this UK premiere might double as its final UK screening. Naturally, we wanted to cover this screening. But we really didn’t want to have to watch the film. So we sent Dr. Brand. He’s a psychologist and a scholar, so he knows what he’s doing.
As a pseudo-remake of a film from the highly controversial Japanese horror series Guinea Pig (one of which was famously mistaken for a genuine snuff film by actor Charlie Sheen), it came as no surprise that American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock was grotesque. What genuinely shocked me about Bloodshock, however, was that it was also a strangely intimate love story.
“Intimacy” was one of the key feelings that Bloodshock felt like it was trying to evoke, which was further enhanced by seeing it in the Box at Derby Quad during its Fantastiq weekend. Roughly a dozen of us filtered into the small and – yes – intimate theatre for the late night showing. A short introduction by Alex Davis which served more as a public health warning than anything else set a suitably macabre mood for the showing, and with that, the dark tale began.
The opening scene of Bloodshock begins (brutally) with the protagonist’s tongue being cut off. It’s a potentially curious decision from the script, as it robs the main character of something normally vital to film – speech.
When we’re eventually introduced to the film’s deuteragonist, they, too, are unable to speak. In fact, the only words we hear throughout the course of the film are uttered by the villains of the piece; the overall consequence of this was that we viewers quickly learned to associate speech with evil. It’s a subversion of all of our expectations for something as basic as the spoken word to be a thing of horror, and Bloodshock is nothing if not subversive.
But who is this poor soul who begins the film in the process of being tortured? He’s never given a name; he’s not just had his voice taken from him, but his very identity. He’s only ever referred to as the Male Patient. The film’s villains are similarly mysterious, with the orchestrator being referred to as the Good Doctor and his henchmen labelled as the Orderlies.
When the Male Patient is placed in his padded cell – where he spends his time when not being experimented on in the Good Doctor’s chair – he begins to receive scrawled messages pushed through the walls. The initial assumption is that these are mocking notes from his captors; one of the first that he receives reads “Cat got your tongue?”
Eventually, however, it transpires that this is someone who’s on his side, someone in the same predicament as he is. When this second prisoner is revealed on camera, their appearance is a grim portent of the Male Patient’s future. The extent of their wounds is severe enough that it’s difficult to even determine their gender, but eventually it becomes apparent that the androgynous deuteragonist is indeed a Female Patient.
The relationship between the Male and Female Patient is the only potential source of hope or happiness in the entire film, and they quickly seize on it. Since both of them are without voice, the brief notes that they share are their only means of communication, and as the film progresses they become increasingly desperate. “I want to die”, the Male Patient writes; “Please don’t leave me” comes the Female’s pleading reply.
It’s astoundingly easy to empathize with the Male Patient in this exchange, as we see a list of horrors inflicted upon them both: A series of increasingly large Wartenberg wheels reside at the least painful end of the spectrum; tooth extraction and knee shattering take up the mid point; and at the extreme end we get to witness truly disgusting sights such as the Male Patient’s scalp being rolled back before his exposed skull is licked by the Good Doctor, the nerves in the Female Patient’s wrist being used to treat her hand like a marionette, and (most disturbingly) the Female Patient being vivisected before the Good Doctor licks her still-beating heart and lungs. Quite why the Good Doctor has such a predilection for licking internal body parts is never explained.
In fact, very little of Bloodshock is ever explained, and it would be generous to call the plot flimsy. But that said, two possible explanations for the Patients’ desperate situations are teased at. The first involves the curious detail that the Patients’ blood is drawn during each of the torture scenes, and at one point we see the Good Doctor injecting himself with one of the vials; he shudders in ecstasy, before proclaiming that They will give him a promotion. Who They are, unsurprisingly, goes unexplained, but this brief segment suggests that someone is keen to get a hold of blood which has been produced in times of great stress.
The second explanation is, to my mind, the more intriguing of the two (although considerably shakier). During the credits, we see two flashback scenes – one where the Male Patient kills his wife and daughter, and one in which the Female Patient kills her sleeping mother. Combined with an earlier message between the Patients which read “Welcome to Hell”, we’re left with the tantalising possibility that Bloodshock is a Jacob’s Ladder-esque look at the afterlife.
Or maybe it’s just a metaphor. The overwhelming impression I had was that this was not the film to watch if you were overly concerned by such trivialities as plot or story or in-depth characterization. If you’re here, you’re here for the gore.
The gore was greatly enhanced, however, by the sound and visual design of Bloodshock. The vast majority of the film was shot in relatively low-resolution black and white, which lent the movie an air of something that you might accidentally stumble across on the dark web. The soundtrack was a chaotic din, interlaced with a steady metronome.
In his introduction to the film, Alex Davis noted that the metronome almost acts as a form of Chinese water torture for the viewer, and he wasn’t wrong; that steady beat led to a constant sense of dread and discomfort. That feeling deepened when the steady beat became rapid for the aforementioned scene in which the Female Patient has her chest cavity opened up with a rib spreader.
The most jarring transition was in the final scenes of the film, in which the Female Patient stabs one of the Orderlies and the Good Doctor before breaking into the Male Patient’s padded room, where they consummate their relationship in a particularly bloody fashion. When they meet face-to-face, the maddening soundtrack turns into what would, in another film, be a pleasant and stirring melody.
As they literally fuck each other to death, the grainy black and white eventually gives way to a bloody red-soaked scene. This is Bloodshock’s version of a happy ending; two mutilated prisoners fisting each other’s gaping wounds while they bleed out, with no hope of escape. The Good Doctor gets his own happy ending, too, as the final scene before the credits shows him (now with a snazzy eye-patch from the wound the Female Patient inflicted on him) cutting the tongue off his Next Patient.
Bloodshock was a film that I found surprisingly intriguing. I have a difficult time recommending it, particularly to anyone with an even slightly sensitive disposition, but it was technically very well made and was probably one of the most provocative horror films that I’ve ever watched. It’s an intimate case study in slow-burning fear and terror, and a genuinely good depiction of the experience of two prisoners in such a bizarre and senselessly cruel environment.
There’s very little else to the film, however, and some of the horror seemed diluted by the final revelation that our two Patients had done awful things to earn their punishment. As I walked away from the showing, I wondered if this was Bloodshock’s crowning achievement; that it had tapped directly into the part of my brain which could witness such obscene and graphic torture and even fleetingly consider that the recipients deserved it.