REVIEW: American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon
– By James Pemberton
The second in an evening of extreme horror cinema at Starburst Media City Festival and the one that seems more inclined to be focused on a more traditional albeit very gory narrative driven slice of genre cinema. The American Guinea Pig series is one I have yet to encounter though it’s telling to see someone taking the concept of the original Japanese Guinea Pig series and transferring it to an American market. If you’re not familiar with the Guinea Pig films then, well, here’s a quick film history lesson, kids! The Guinea Pig films where a series of direct to video features, short in length, made in Japan around the mid to late 80’s. The first two being considerably grizzly in their reputation and gaining the afforded notoriety this has afforded it. Especially part one which is essentially the ultimate torture porn film. A 45 minute series of torture sequences carried out on some women made to look like a snuff film found by accident. It is also a film made years before SAW and HOSTEL could even lay claim to being torture porn. And the second part earned its controversy points when actor Charlie Sheen saw a copy of it and thought he had acquired a real snuff film, to the extent he alerted the FBI who then investigated the film-makers, who had to present behind the scenes footage to escape any doubt they had chopped up a real woman for a film. Then the series went into a sort of narrative format with odd, darkly comic stories that took a significant turn away from torture yet kept much of the gore. The latest in the American Guinea Pig series seems to have followed the same progression with a straight up possession film. However that doesn’t stop it from going all out on the grue and gore department.
The story focuses on Mary (Cameron) who is possessed by a powerful demonic force, and in this situation the church, often represented by a mysterious figure, meets and brings in a series of priests to try and exorcise her. However the priests have their faith and their sanity tested as each one slowly but surely faces up to the realisation that this demon has a strong and potent will over them and can bend them to its own evil intentions. Whilst they try and fail to rid the demon from Mary, it’s down to one final priest who has an apocalyptic showdown with the unholy force. Though with Mary seemingly more powerful and violent then ever is it too late for her soul to be saved? And all the while not realising that the church have their own dubious intentions behind her possession.
That is pretty much the plot of SONG OF SOLOMON and whilst it’s nothing majorly original it is entertaining enough to keep the most ardent gore fan occupied and sprints along at a neat and efficient 85 minutes. The film eschews the usual style of possession film in showing the build up to the exorcism and the background to Mary’s character and instead jumps straight into the final battle, though in this case it’s a long final battle between good and evil. This is essentially a neat premise as it concentrates our attention to what is essentially the deciding moment in any exorcism film. If anything the film signposts its intentions from the start with a fantastically over the top death scene of a man slitting his own throat, then sticking his fingers into the wound to pull his own tongue through it. It’s nasty but at the same time outrageously over the top in its execution that sets out what we are going to enjoy/endure for the remaining running time. The effects work is superbly handled and pretty much a great example of practical make up and blood effects, and there’s plenty of blood in this…plenty. Credit should be given to Jerami Cruise and Marcs Koch for creating the SFX as it’s certainly one of the stars of the show. Whilst some of the script and performances are slightly wooden, we aren’t really in this film for the acting, we’re here to be shocked and entertained. Yet there is a great central performance from Cameron who spends much of the film caked in demonic make up and makes a wonderful demonically possessed anti hero in the character of Mary, even adding a strange, sinister and psychological edge to her making us wonder if the character really wants to be saved or is more happy in giving up her soul to the demon. And I even enjoyed Gene Palubicki, member of the metal band Angelcorpse and also executive producer of the film, as a jaded cynical priest brought in to help with saving Mary. Underground genre fans will also notice Jim Van Bebber making an appearance as one of God’s warriors.
Much has been made that this is the more narratively straightforward and, to use somewhat of term, mainstream of the American Guinea Pig films, with the other 3 in the series (BOUQUET OF BLOOD, BODYSHOCK and SACRIFICE) leaning towards the underground in their purpose. However whilst narratively it’s cohesive and has the purpose of a demonic possession/exorcism film there is still a decidedly subversive bent to the proceedings. With a focus on blood and gore this will keep horror fans happy and at the same time director Stephen Biro has shown a clever approach in adapting to a simple yet effective narrative that still retains an attachment to the underground roots, all the while delivering a highly entertaining genre flick.