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Saturday, October 17, 2009

THE BUTCHER -- DVD review by porfle

While watching the 2008 Korean gorefest THE BUTCHER (perhaps "enduring" would be a better word) it kept occuring to me that to enjoy or even tolerate the existence of this film may be a symptom of mental illness. In fact, I'm a little worried about myself just for being able to sit through it.

The goal of director Kim Jin-Won is to approximate as closely as possible the making, and viewing, of an actual snuff film. All of the action, which takes place mostly in an abandoned slaughterhouse, is seen BLAIR WITCH-style through various video cameras that are either wielded by the three homicidal maniacs or mounted on headgear worn by their hapless victims. Most of it is from the POV of Jae hyun, who has been captured along with his wife, Jung yeon, giving us endless panning-around shots of the ceiling, his feet, his wife, etc., as he awaits their fate.

When the first two victims are dragged away to their doom, we watch the hallway for several minutes as we hear them being dispatched with a chainsaw. Then a nondescript middle-aged man who refers to himself as "The Director" and his deranged toady Bong-sik return covered in blood and sit around discussing the artistic merits and marketability of the movie they're making. Eventually Jae hyun and Jung yeon are beaten with hammers and then moved into the killing room for one of the most unbearably horrifying and sadistic sequences imaginable.

As an exercise in cinema verite', THE BUTCHER is crude but effective--we feel as though we're really going through this ordeal along with Jae hyun. Several shots play for minutes at a time as though they're actually happening, the result of what must have been much pre-planning and rehearsal. "The Director" and Bong-sik don't overplay their roles and are convincing, obviously improvising much of their profanity-packed dialogue, and the victims are equally well-portrayed. The main concession to slasher-flick tradition, a hulking brute wearing a pig's head mask and slinging a chainsaw, is a frightening presence.

With its realistic, non-cinematic look and no-holds-barred indulgence in utter depravity, this is torture porn in its purest form. Victims are beaten and raped, fingers are sawed off, entrails are strewn, and, in surely the most sickening shot of the whole movie, a screaming woman's eyeball is gouged out in blood-drenched closeup. All the while, the soundtrack assails the viewer with deafening shrieks and pitiful pleas for mercy along with the roar of the chainsaw.

The DVD from Palisades Tartan Asian Extreme is in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 and a Korean soundtrack with English subtitles. Bonus features include an alternate ending, behind the scenes photos, storyboards, and a trailer.

Does this film succeed in its goal to shock and horrify on a level rarely achieved? Definitely. On the whole, however, THE BUTCHER is without a doubt one of the most unremittingly rancid things I've ever experienced. I can't imagine being entertained by it. Those desperately seeking nothing more than gobs of graphic gore for its own sake may be susceptible to its charms--others beware. James Whale this ain't.

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