Lured by the smell of easy money, beautiful, exotic dancers agree to spend the weekend at the remote mountain getaway of a wealthy voyeur. Once there, the girls are drugged, tied up and slowly tortured to death with everything from a blowtorch to an electric drill by a killer who uses their bodies as a canvas for his sadistic, twisted art.
Since the label of “torture porn” started getting slapped on to horror movies along with its accompanying negative connotations, I have argued that those critics are wrong. I have rejected the notion that movies like Wolf Creek, or Hostel, or even The Devil’s Rejects, are nothing but plotless, devoid-of-story collections of violent images for the sake of being violent. To diminish films in this way is not only disrespectful to those people who worked tirelessly on the films, but also a very closed minded way of looking at things. Even the Guinea Pig films, movies that are so brutally nasty that some have been mistaken for snuff, have merits, maybe not to mainstream, theater-going audiences, but to us, the horror fans. I strongly believe that every horror film, no matter how nasty, how gory, how tasteless it might come across, underneath all the blood and gore and sex, still has a story to tell.
Experiment in Torture did its best to try and prove me wrong.
Sean MacArthur’s 2007 film is a perfect example of a movie whose title so perfectly fits the story and images that follow it on screen. The only problem is, the ones being tortured are the audience. If you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll know that I do my best to find nuggets of goodness in any low-budget, independent movie. I do appreciate the plight of the struggling director, and how difficult it is to make a perfect movie with untrained actors, second-hand equipment, limited effects, and even more limited budgets. So I’ll say this at the start – if Sean MacArthur directs another horror movie in the future, I will happily watch it with an open mind. But I can’t give too much in the way of positive remarks to his first full-length film.
With an uncomfortably shaky camera (no, this is not a found footage film), our movie starts in a strip club (duh). A customer invites three girls out for coffee, and two of them say yes. Not surprisingly, the dude who invited them out turns out to be a shady creep, and now those girls won’t be doing much more dancing. But one does get in a good attack, splashing acid on one of the attackers. Where that bottle of acid came from, who knows?
The general idea of the movie is that a director asks six girls from the strip club to drive out to a house where they will do some filming for what they have been told will be a fetish video. In exchange, each of the girls will be paid $5,000. However, as everyone but the six girls can guess, there is no movie being filmed, and they are walking right into a trap. We get an MTV Spring Break looking montage of the girls partying once they reach the house (a house that they fall in love with, even though they have to share rooms and the actual layout seems cramped and average at best). And then comes the shenanigans.
The girls, along with Darrius (Brendan Connor), the guy who is in charge of taking care of the girls while they’re there, have a bunch of drinks and end up playing truth or dare, which leads to a three person game of hide and seek. Another girl is so drunk she sits on the toilet, talks to her vagina, and then falls and breaks her leg, her bone piercing the skin. Two of the girls are treated to a toxic itch powder on their blankets, leading to their skin bubbling and falling apart in a second-rate Cabin Fever-style effect. Another girl pukes up blood, then some dude in a mask cuts her arm and puts maggots in the wound. This is all happening in a very disjointed kind of way, to the point where we start losing track of who’s who and who’s where. In the meantime, other incidental characters we saw back at the strip club are also making their way to the house for various reasons. There’s a twist, then another one, and pretty soon we reach the end, still not sure who has survived, or who the new people are, or why the mystery girl is rocking in a chair in what we assume is a mental hospital.
This is a really tough movie to get through. Not because it’s gross, or horrifying, but because it doesn’t go anywhere. The gore is okay, decent at parts, no so great at others. There are various tortures thrown in here and there, but really for no reason. According to the official synopsis, the killer is mutilating the girls as a form of “sadistic, twisted art,” but that point doesn’t seem to be very important in the movie itself. Not one of the characters is given any kind of substance to make us care about them, the suspense is virtually nonexistent because we don’t know who the tertiary characters are, and the random tortures seem just that – random.
If the killer isn’t developed, and the victims aren’t developed, we could still have a fun movie (look at so many of the 1980’s slasher films for good examples of making it work). But Experiment in Torture still lacks that “something extra” that might push it into the realm of bad-but-enjoyable horror movies. Darrius speaks for us, as he’s using a blowtorch on a girl who we’re led to believe we’re supposed to remember, but can’t quite place, when he screams repeatedly, “Do you think I enjoy this?” No. No, we don’t.