Grotesque (2009) Movie Review

In these post-’”Hostel” days, with the so called torture porn genre having largely taken over the horror field, viewers have consistently been let down by cheap rip-offs and anaemic pretenders which fail to deliver the gore goods. As such, it is no small relief to report that “Grotesque” not only lives up to its title, but also to its billing as ‘the cruellest Japanese splatter movie ever’ – a bold claim indeed, considering that the country was churning out the likes of “Guinea Pig”, “Red Room” and others long before Eli Roth’s “American Pie” gone bad style antics ever painted screens red. The film was directed by Shiraishi Koji, somewhat of a veteran in Japanese horror, having previously been responsible for the likes of “Carved”, “Norio: The Curse” and “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny”, and is being released on region 2 DVD by 4Digital Asia.

Needless to say, in the finest tradition of Japanese gore cinema, the plot is minimal, with a young couple played by AV actress Nagasawa Tsugumi and Kawatsure Hiroaki (recently in “OneChanbara”) being snatched off the street, only to wake up shackled in a grimy basement. Without even having the decency to explain why, a particularly sadistic madman (Osako Shigeo) proceeds to degrade, torture and mutilate them.

Probably the only thing that this review really needs to confirm is that “Grotesque” certainly is a nasty piece of work. Although Japan has produced a good many cruel and sadistic films, it does indeed stand proudly somewhere near the head of the queue, getting off to a gruesome start, and never really letting up, being unrelentingly brutal throughout. The gore is strong stuff, with graphic dismemberment, chainsaws, eye gouging, genital mutilation and more, obviously marking the film as only being for those with the hardiest of stomachs and an appetite for this kind of thing. Also included are some pretty sick scenes of sexual abuse, and the film is a perverse affair, with bodily fluids other than blood flying around and with much of the torture being inflicted on the victims while they are nude.

Still, the film is nihilistic rather than misogynistic, as the maniac is as equal opportunities type guy, dividing his attention fairly between his male and female captive. It certainly does make for hard going at times, with the gore being all the more effective for Koji’s harsh and unremittingly dark approach, offering not even a glimmer of hope, and playing unpleasantly with the viewer by way of a nasty twist halfway through. The film is tense, not so much due to the viewer actually caring about the characters, but as a result of waiting to see what the psycho will do next, or just how far Koji is willing to push things. Clocking in at just 73 minutes, the film is the very epitome of a short, sharp shock, and builds to a bizarre, though highly entertaining and satisfying climax.

All extreme nastiness aside, what really helps to lift the film from the Japanese gore ghetto is the fact that although the budget was obviously low, Koji is a highly talented director who makes good use of his limited resources. Indeed, as a three player piece, with really only one location, most of the money has quite clearly gone on the special effects, which are impressive and convincing. The film rarely flinches away, with most of the violence being onscreen and brought to life through some excellent makeup and prosthetics rather than the kind of weak CGI-blood which has sadly become prevalent in the genre.

This gives “Grotesque” a winningly old-school feel that does indeed hark back to the good old “Guinea Pig” days, with which the film has arguably more in common rather than the likes of “Saw” or “Hostel”. This is undoubtedly a good thing, as it gives viewers a chance to see how the torture porn genre really should be done, freed from the needless niceties of plot and good taste, and simply piling on the gruesome outrages. Shiraishi Koji is easily one of the most interesting directors working in Japanese horror today, and the film confirms that he is equally at home with scares and over the top gore, being one of the few willing to break away from the usual long haired ghost shenanigans in search of ways to genuinely make people squirm.

Kôji Shiraishi (director) / Kôji Shiraishi (screenplay)
CAST: Hiroaki Kawatsure … Kazuo
Tsugumi Nagasawa … Aki
Shigeo Ôsako

Buy Grosteque on DVD