Have you ever tried to imagine the experience of being kidnapped and brutally tortured at the hands of maniacs that derive pleasure from such barbarity? You may have tried to, but it’s nearly impossible to really fathom the sheer trauma that your mind, body and soul would go through and how that would affect your behaviour in such a situation. South Korean extreme horror film The Butcher takes a heavy influence from films classified as CAT III in Hong Kong and pushes the boundaries in order to give the audience a viewing experience that will really put the extremity of torture into perspective.
Four strangers wake up alongside one another to see they are bound, gagged, beaten and fitted with head cameras. It doesn’t take long for them to realise that they’ve been chosen by the producers of a snuff film for the starring roles… Jae Hyun is quickly given the leading role in the film, alongside his wife Juny Yeon, which seems to come as a high point of entertainment for the producer. Like most snuff films, depravity ensues and the couple along with the two other strangers are put through a gruesome version of Hell.
The found footage style of The Butcher is the only way to really give the sincerity of a snuff film; although we live in a day and age where technology has advanced and snuff films could be shot using high quality cameras, that’s not at all how we ever picture a snuff film to look. With the grainy vision, the audience can bask in how raw the footage feels, which ultimately makes the film look more realistic and makes it harder to watch without flinching and feeling dirty. What director Kim Jon-Won did so cleverly with this film is to lead with a POV camera view from our protagonists head camera. By forcing the audience to watch the snuff film through the eyes of the victim makes it all the more horrific because we start to understand that experience of ultimate terror. Watching through this angle comes with its difficulties – often the scenes are out of focus or erratic, however if you’re appreciative of the found footage technicality then you’ll acknowledge why this way of filming works for reproducing the authenticity of snuff footage. One downside is that the entire film isn’t shown through the POV, and often the directors of the movie spin the camera and therefore we see through their eyes instead of the victim’s. Even though some might say it’s a positive to see both aspects, and ensures we see a little more of the bloodied victim, it does take away from feeling like you are going through the experience yourself.
We are shown three makers of the snuff movie; the main producer/director Mr. Kim, the assistant Bong-Sik and the one that does the butchering, who is never named but wears the pig mask and therefore is most likely the Butcher himself. Together, these three men carry out the gory violence that makes this film so disturbing. Much of the violence happens off-screen and is implied, which for an extreme film seems strange as most ensure every little piece of nastiness is witness, but for The Butcher this turns out to be more effective. Two of the victims are butchered alive entirely off-screen but what the audience do go through is the deafening noises that they make whilst going through that ordeal. By not seeing what’s happening to their bodies, the audience are forced to use their imagination to conjure up every orifice violated and every limb discarded with sharp tools. This approach to the violence in this extreme film overwhelms the audience with an even more permeable reality, one where the victims have to wait and see what will happen to them. Once we do start to see on-screen violence, it feels worse than similar films, yet the amount we actually witness is quite tame in comparison. But why does it feel so brutal? The room that Piggy carries out his fetishes is a shock on the system; there is blood and visceral splattered from floor to ceiling, and plastic wrap covering every inch of the room. Even though the filmmakers do physically torture our POV protagonist using a chainsaw and anal rape, they psychologically torture him more than anything which proves to be even more demeaning and harrowing on the viewer. These scenes might not be as gory as other films, but chisel slowly and dramatically into your mind.
Even though not from Hong Kong, there is a heavy influence from CAT III films on this modern adaptation of the rating system that has now grown into a sub-genre of the cinema industry. The Butcher hasn’t gained much attention since it’s release and is often overshadowed by other found footage extreme horror movies that show the violence directly to the viewer, but it’s the perfect example of how to disgust and shock the audience without needing to rely heavily on special affects and expensive props. Just because a film is classified as disturbing doesn’t mean that it has to be because of the amount of limbs that are hacksawed off within fifteen minutes… When watching the recent Guinea Pig adaptation from Unearthed Film’s Stephen Biro, American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore, there seems to be some aspects that may have been taken from this underground movie. The way the directors and producers of the movie give directions to the man in the pig mask is almost identical to how the makers of the film in AGP give direction to their man in a goat mask. If you’re reading this then I already know you’re a fan of fucked-up films therefore I would urge you to watch both to note the parts that play out very closely to one another.
The Butcher might not be as gory or show as many dissected cadavers as most other extreme films, but it’s raw, real and fucking horrifying. Nothing will rip your skin and bury itself in your flesh quite like the horrified squeals of both the victims and the pig man.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5