Back in the ‘80’s when I was a college student, I once did a report on the changing morals of society and its effect on television and film entertainment under the guidelines set by the MPAA. What was shockingly “XXX Adult-Only” in the ‘60’s had become blasé by the late 70’s, and was on its way to simply being “soft porn” by the dawn of cable TV. Bondage and whipping was still taboo, but even that was beginning to slip as evidenced by The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak which drew heavily on BDSM imagery to depict the Amazon underground lair. My hypothesis back then was that there would be a convergence of pornography and mainstream entertainment by the year 2020. Here it is 2013 with top hit shows like “The Sopranos”, “Spartacus”, and “Game of Thrones” proving that my forecast was not too far off. |
If only I'd had the foresight to buy Apple stock back then.
One example of this merging of pornography and mainstream entertainment by a low-budget studio is Mood Pictures’ FEAR, a horror film set in the vein of such films as SAW and Hostel. But where those two films feared to tread lest they get smacked on the ass by the MPAA, FEAR boldly goes.
A group of seven women and a man wake up in a small, windowless room lit by a single lamp mounted in the wall. In the room is a toilet, but no sink and no bedding. They've all been drugged, and as they recover, they realize that one of the girls is naked. The women quickly turn to the guy, expecting him to readily surrender his shirt to her. Instead, he takes advantage of the situation. After all, he’s a red-blooded virile male. She’s naked and wants his shirt. What is she willing to do for it?
Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.
I mean, what a jerk, right?
So after the other girls call him names, an agreement is reached. One of the other girls will kiss him if he gives up his shirt. He agrees and the act is done. I have to give him props though. Even if he didn't get sex out of it, at least he got to kiss one of the hottest girls of the group, so it wasn't a total loss.
Fans of Mood Pictures/ElitePain productions will recognize some of the actors in the film. There’s Tara Breek (the petite soft-spoken lady from Wheel of Pain 1 who seems really quiet and gentle), Wendy Getten and Gigi Weiss (the first and last “students” from The Milgram Experiment who have changed their hair colors to ones that complement their natural skin tones better), and Mandy Tortega (who played the executioner in The Milgram Experiment – see my review at http://ralphus.net/reviews/other/milgram.htm). The reason I point this out is because the eight people in the room are a mix of professional actors and bondage models. In other words, Mood has decided to go mainstream (or close to it) by focusing on a plot rather than just tying a girl up and whipping her. Oh, there’s whipping, of course, but now it’s used to support the plot of the film, rather than the plot simply being an excuse for a whipping. In that respect, Mood Pictures has shown some ambition with this film, and they've done a good job of it.
An electronically-distorted voice comes over the intercom, telling the captives that they are to select two people. One will be set free and the other will be used to show the others the price of freedom. Each day, the captives are to select one person to be set free. That person will suffer horribly. The last person in the room will be killed quickly and painlessly, but will undergo the psychological torture of seeing the others go first. For this round, two sets of handcuffs and two cloth sacks will be left outside the door in the airlock. There will also be two bottles of water and some food. Once the group has selected the first two victims, they are to handcuff their selections, put the bag over their heads, and leave them in the airlock. They have two minutes to make a decision.
The group looks at each other. Who is to go? Who is to be sacrificed? Who will live and who will die? What will happen to the others as they are left behind in the room, seeing their numbers dwindle?
Interesting questions. What would you do?
A good film grabs the viewers, throws them into the situation, and pulls them along emotionally. FEAR does this well. You're drawn towards a few of the characters right off, notably Plaid Shirt Girl (Zoe Zimmerman), who becomes the group’s first leader, Soft Voice (Breek), Fairy (Getten), and the Jerk Guy (Danny Trukow). Will Jerk Guy be sent out? Certainly the girls would like to see him punished, or perhaps even die, but could they live with that decision?
Jerk Guy decides he ain't going, and ain't nobody in that room gonna force him.
Naked Girl (Mandy Tortega) volunteers to go.
That leaves one more volunteer needed, and time is winding down.
Soft Voice says she'll go.
The single lamp changes colors and there’s a dull thump as the electric lock on the door is released. Plaid Shirt Girl goes into the airlock and retrieves the handcuffs, sacks, and water. The two volunteers are cuffed and blinded and guided back out into the airlock, where they are left to their fate. Plaid Shirt Girl goes back into the room and closes the door. The light changes again and the locks engage, sealing the captives in the room. The group looks at each other, wondering if they've made the right decision, and worrying about what will happen to the two prisoners and themselves.
What is the price of freedom? We're about to find out.
The scene opens with Soft Voice stripped naked in a dark room, her ankles locked to the floor and her arms tugged and spread high overhead, leaving her open and exposed to whatever is about to happen to her. A beam of light shines on her face as a spotlight shines down on her nude body from above. She’s trembling with fear. Naked Girl, still wearing Jerk Guy’s shirt, gives her a hug and begs her not to hate her for what she’s about to do. It’s a tender moment just before things get very, very rough.
I'm not going to go into details because there’s really no way to describe the brutality of the scene. First she’s subjected to a single-tailed whip to her back and ass, and that’s followed by a water-soaked cane. The emotional and psychological shock is just stunning. To see such a gentle and soft-spoken woman subjected to the punishment she’s forced to endure overwhelms the senses. Horror fans will cringe. Bondage fans will cringe. As I watched the scene, I kept thinking, “Oh my God… Oh my God… How much more can she take?” If it’s possible to create a genre called “horror-bondage”, then this scene will serve as the standard by which all other films that follow will be measured.
And this is just the beginning.
Soft Voice is returned to the room, wrapped in a blanket, naked, feverish, and in shock. The others take one look at her body and shudder with fear, worried that the same fate awaits them. Soft Voice explains that she and Naked Girl had to choose colored balls in a blind test, one to be whipped and one to do the whipping. Naked Girl did the whipping. Because Soft Voice endured the whipping, she will be allowed to go free when her strength has returned. Furthermore, she can take one person with her, who will not be whipped. It isn't long before a captive, Blondie (Alexandra Stock), tries to befriend her and begs to be released. When the others find out, they vote for Blondie to be the next sacrifice. Sure enough, when the lamp changes colors and the voice tells them to select the next victim. Blondie is handcuffed, bagged, and forced fearfully into the airlock.
When the next scene opens, Blondie is on her back, naked, her ankles and wrists chained to a bar above her. Her legs are spread wide to expose her sex. There is a whoosh and the sound of leather striking skin as a whip creases the back of her thighs. She screams.
The scene goes on for quite a while, as Blondie is forced to endure the unimaginable horror. There have been women whipped on film before, by Mood Pictures and others, but not like this. Not with this lighting and the mood of the film. Everything combines to make this scene that much more intense. If its shock value you want, this scene delivers.
Back at the room, Soft Voice has made a decision. She will take Jerk Guy with her, not as a favor to him, but because his existence annoys the hell out of the rest of the girls. If the captives are to suffer, then they should be supportive of each other and Jerk Guy disrupts that support. So, she will try to ease their misery the only way she can, by removing the thorn in everyone’s collective paw.
When the lamp changes colors, her time has come and Jerk Guy leaves with her.
Then things start happening quickly.
Now the remaining girls have a serious introspective. Each of them knows that her opportunity to live decreases with each departure. Each must find the bravery to endure the pain she knows will come, or else die in that room as the last captive.
One by one, each of the prisoners are cuffed, blinded, and tortured for their freedom. And we get to see it all. We even get to see Blondie thrown out of a car along a deserted path. She gets up and stumbles off into the darkness like a wounded animal; beaten, broken, but alive.
As a horror film, FEAR strikes all the right chords. It’s dark. It’s atmospheric. There’s the evil element threatening the innocent victims. And there’s a level of suspense as we watch each victim suffer one by one, wondering what will happen next. That suspense reaches its peak as the last two victims must decide who will live, and who will die. Life will be painful and require much suffering, but death will be swift and certain. So… which would you choose? That is the question the last two captives must answer for themselves and for each other.
I won't give away the ending because that would spoil the film, but I will say that I did not see it coming. In a post-9/11 world, we've learned not to trust authority and to rely more on our own instincts when it comes to our self-preservation. This film plays on that sense of individualism – that we control our own destiny if we're willing to suffer for it. Life is a struggle and this film crystallizes that struggle into eight people in a small room with one way out if they want to live. Philosophically, this film works because we don't expect any cavalry to be coming to the rescue at any moment, which is good because there isn't any. We, as a viewer in that room with the captives, are on our own.
So is FEAR the best horror film ever made? Well, it’s not John Carpenter’s The Thing, and it’s not The Shining or Alien or Nightmare on Elm Street or Psycho or The Birds or Jaws or even Forbidden Planet, but it is definitely a strong film and it certainly proves that small studios known for pornography have the potential to produce very good low-budget mainstream horror films if they put their mind to it. You won't scream with fright, but you will be shocked at what you see. Unlike other horror films that rely on fake blood and camera tricks, there’s nothing fake about the horror these women endure. What you see is extremely real. If that doesn't horrify you, nothing will.
There are, of course, little things that I would've done differently. For example, the bondage position that Fairy is tied in is not very flattering for her body. She looks better standing with her hands up, and her bondage scene would have been hotter if she'd been tied and whipped in the same manner as Soft Voice. Secondly, a bit more explanation about motive would've been nice. Even thrill killers have some contemplative dissertations beforehand. I'm sure Leopold and Loeb had some deep philosophical discussions over a pitcher of beer before killing Bobby Franks in 1924.
This isn't the first time a bondage studio has wrapped their product around a horror theme. House of Milan had horror themes in several of their videos, like The Curse of Merlin’s Castle. But back then, the acting was pathetic. The actors were simply there because they would do bondage. The plot was simply there to string the bondage scenes together. Put that together and a 90’s video is born. But FEAR is different. Here, the acting is much better and more professional, and the lighting and camerawork are on par with “real” films. In the old days, bondage studios cranked out films like a bread factory bakes loaves, but with this one, Mood Pictures took their time and did it right.
When Mood Pictures set about casting their actors for this, they knew exactly which bondage models to choose. Four of my favorites are here, freshened with new hair-styles, clean make-up, and conservative wardrobe, and given the task of actually having to act. Breek, Getten, Weiss, and Tortega do a good job, and if you didn't recognize them from earlier Mood Pictures films, you'd have a hard time picking them out from the “real” actors (or rather, the actors too chicken-shit to do nudity and push themselves physically). I truly believe Mood Pictures has turned a corner with this film, and in the dark shadows of the lonely forest road they're traveling on a dark and stormy night, there’s a sign post that reads “Bondage Horror Indie Film Award Dead Ahead”.