“American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock” Is Shocking in the Most Unexpected of Ways
Showing up for the midnight screening of American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock at Texas Frightmare Weekend, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Before the start of the film, Writer/Producer Stephen Biro — founder of Unearthed Films — teased the audience, practically daring us to make it through the end of the film (hinting that some of us wouldn’t). “Yes,” I thought, “This is going to be good.”
What I wasn’t expecting was just how beautiful, haunting, and affecting the movie would be. This wasn’t a movie that was good by gore hound standards. It was just plain GOOD by any standards… great even.
I’ll preface this review by saying I’m a fan of the original Japanese Guinea Pig series, as well as Biro’s bloody rebirth of the series for American audiences. Bouquet of Guts and Gore (the first installment in the American Guinea Pig series), Biro’s directorial debut, was an exercise in extreme cinema… an all-out visceral assault filled featuring some of the most graphic and disturbing depictions of human mutilation ever filmed. With no real plot to speak of and zero character development, what mattered was the disturbingly realistic display of human carnage — made possible by Oddtopsy FX and the brilliant gore guru Marcus Koch.
Marcus is one of the most sought after FX talents in the industry, having worked on more than 60 movies, including 100 Tears, Sweatshop, and We Are Still Here. Bouquet was easily Koch’s most ambitious undertaking and a veritable master class in just what can be accomplished through expert practical effects. For Bloodshock, Koch once again lent his considerable FX talents, while also taking over reigns as director (working from a script by Biro).
As I mentioned, I’m a fan of American Guinea Pig, but it’s certainly geared towards a niche audience of hardcore gore enthusiasts. After the extreme, envelope-pushing brutality of Bouquet, I assumed Biro and Koch would try to raise the stakes with Bloodshock. I knew it would be shocking, and it definitely was — just not in the way I was expecting.
With gore master Koch at the helm, it would be natural to expect another blood-soaked splatter fest with Bloodshock. But what we get is a surprisingly artistic and moving film that leaves an indelible impression. To be sure, it’s intense, difficult to watch, and totally unrelenting. Unlike Bouquet, however, there’s a significant emotional element that makes this film at once infinitely more brutal and yet unexpectedly beautiful.
Let’s start with a plot synopsis. As always, there may be minor spoilers ahead. A man finds himself trapped and used for medical experiments in an abandoned mental facility. He’s locked away in a padded cell — only to be brought out when a doctor and his orderly wish to conduct acts of cruel and sadistic torture on him. The purpose is to harvest his blood, while serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins are pumping through the man’s system. Each time he is brought out, the levels of torture are increased to maximize the content in the blood that’s drawn.
This is a film that contains plenty of hard-to-watch physical torture scenes. However, that’s not where the real impact comes from. Instead, the focus is more on the sense of isolation our characters feel — the emotional suffering and feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.
There’s virtually no dialogue in the film. In fact, the beginning scene has us witnessing the man getting his tongue cut out so he can’t speak. But, even without words, there is a powerful level of emotional and psychological pain being conveyed that far supersedes even the obvious physical pain the man (and later a woman) are subjected to.
The success of the film is driven in very large part by the exceptional performance of Dan Ellis. He plays the tortured prisoner in the film, a man we know absolutely nothing about throughout the film (including how he got to this place, who he is, or where he comes from). Yet, through Ellis’ silent but emotionally gripping performance, we care for him and suffer right along with him. Lillian McKinney also delivers a heartbreaking and emotionally powerful performance as the mysterious woman we meet later in the film.
Bloodshock is a complete assault on the senses. Shot almost entirely in stark black and white, with almost all scenes taking place in either a padded cell or a sterile operating room, Koch brilliantly creates a palpable sense of fear and isolation.
What’s most impressive is the way he’s able to create a fully immersive experience for the viewers — through visual repetition, surreal-like imagery and intense sound design. Watching Bloodshock feels very much like being put through a psychological experiment, significantly heightening the empathy we feel for our main characters.
Aside from the stellar performances from Dan and Lillian, the other standout is the affecting score from Kristian Day. In fact, sound itself becomes a major character in the film. The score consists of high pitched and off-putting sounds, warped noises, and a rhythmic metronome. It’s intense and utterly consuming — crawling under your skin and getting in your head.
It’s the kind of sound that creates a very real and visceral reaction, significantly elevating the amount of dread and unease one feels while watching the events unfold. Koch and Biro explain it as biometric sound, designed to mimic the feelings associated with heroine withdrawal and PTSD. It’s difficult to explain and impossible to forget.
Without giving too much away, it’s important to note that Bloodshock has one of the most shocking, impactful, and unforgettable endings ever filmed. It’s beautiful and spellbinding, and it succeeds in helping the movie transcend beyond its focus on pain and loss to something much more meaningful and complex.
During the audience Q & A after the film, Marcus and Stephen explained that they wanted to go in a completely different direction with Bloodshock. The goal was to keep the series fresh and keep viewers on their toes. While Bouquet reveled in its torture porn status, Bloodshock masterfully elevates itself above its violence and gore to become a real work of art. It’s one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I’ve ever had… and, yet, I can’t praise this film enough.
The talented team of Stephen Biro and Marcus Koch definitely succeeded in making a film that deserves to be hailed as an extreme horror classic. It’s not an easy watch, but the payoff is extraordinary. Remarkably well-written, Bloodshock boasts phenomenal acting and outstanding direction, along with Koch’s trademark effects wizardry and near flawless visual and sound design.