Often I have found myself telling my students, co-workers, interns, and assorted horror movie fans that before diving head first into any media that has been described as “depraved” or “disturbing,” it is important to remember one thing: once you watch something, you can never un-watch it. It will stick with you forever like an unpleasant break-up or a bad tattoo. I give this warning with Mermaid in a Manhole.
Sure, the abhorrent and stomach-churning description I give here may make it sound tantalizing to some; the fact that it's considered controversial and often labeled as one of the most “extreme” films ever made may rev up that same inner feeling that makes you read banned books, or listen to the music that your parents told you not to. But just remember before you sit down with a bowl of popcorn to view Mermaid in a Manhole: the stuff you are about to watch will still be in your psyche next week, no matter how silly the presentation. Oh yeah, and you won’t want to be eating anything while watching this one. As a matter of fact, you can probably just plan on not eating for the next day or two.
Mermaid is part of the notorious Guinea Pig series from Japan, which consists of seven Japanese ultra-gore flicks released in the 1980s and '90s. Many of the films are “stand-alones” possessing few, if any, linking qualities except for the fact that they are all contain intense gore. The series has been the subject of press notoriety multiple times; the most notable bad/good press occurred when a viewer (actor Charlie Sheen, according to The San Francisco Examiner) watched one of the films and became determined that in fact it was not fake, but a real snuff film. The FBI began an investigation, and the Guinea Pig filmmakers were supposedly forced by the authorities to reveal all the gory tricks they used to create the disturbing realism (not unlike the rumored charges against Cannibal Holocaust). The series gained notoriety once more when Mermaid in a Manhole was found in the vast DVD collection of a Japanese serial killer. Plus, these films have been endlessly banned, forbidden, and chastised in dozens of countries... and possibly a few neighboring planets.
In this “forbidden” film, a young boy sees a mermaid in a beautiful river and draws her picture. As a grownup, he returns to the location to find a fetid sewer where the river once flowed, and trapped in the sewer is the mermaid from his youth. He takes her home and places her in his bathtub, but quickly realizes she has advanced, oozing skin infections from living in the sewer. The man decides to paint her picture again as she dies.
So if all the rumors and “extreme” descriptors didn’t clue you in, Mermaid in a Manhole gets pretty nasty. Though the film seems to have a strangely glossy message about saving the environment and preserving beauty, the agenda is repugnantly clear. This film is meant to disgust you with every drop of oozing Rainbow Brite-colored pus and fluid. By the way, the mermaid leaks in seven different colors (according to a extremely meticulous online fan blog). But yet, somewhere in the bubbling bodily goo, this is a good movie; very compelling, well shot, and, in a exceedingly peculiar and disgusting manner, it’s really quite poetic.
For decades, the Guinea Pig films were not just hard to find in the US, but scarce worldwide. After copious amounts of controversy and banning, the films became a hot commodity on the bootleg circuit, leading to many poor quality 10th-generation VHS dubs floating about. Luckily, Unearthed Films released a nice box set stateside in the 2000s, but this too was in limited supply, meaning that the DVDs are steadily increasing in value.
Watch this one with an empty stomach and an open mind.