DVD: Graphic Sexual Horror (2009)

January 21, 2011 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / G

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Film: Very Good / DVD Transfer: Excellent/ DVD Extras: Very Good

Label: Synapse Films / Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: August 31, 2010

Genre: Documentary / Sex

Synopsis: Documentary on the notorious bondage & S&M website Insex, and its meteoric popularity and sudden closure in 2005.

Special Features: 4 Deleted Scenes: 62’s First Insex Shoot (2:02) + Molly’s Torture Foot Fantasy (3:31) + The Original Slam (:27) + The Original Ending (1:59) / More from the Models: Lorelei – First Shoot (:55) + The Diner (:27) + The Insex Community (1:20) + The Insex Members and Live Feeds (:34), Princess Donna – On PD (:40) + Being Tough (:54), Barb’s Model Montage (5:50) / Interview with co-director Barbara Bell addressing key questions she faced at festival screenings (8:31) / Theatrical Trailer / Insert Card designed by Rick Trembles

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Review:

“[He’s] the Michelangelo of bondage and torture” — Barry Goldman, Insex model agent

“[PD} has an aura about him that just kind of makes you take a step back and go ‘This is either really, really good, or really, really bad,’ which for me means this is really attractive.” — 62, a model

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Either a quick glance at the campaign art or the title of Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon’s documentary suggests a nasty document of depravity, but via graphic clips, stills, and lengthy interviews segments, Graphic Sexual Horror evolves into a fascinating, repellent, strangely intriguing examination of one man’s uncompromising vision of bringing extreme S&M and bondage to the credit card-holding masses.

Insex flourished because of brilliant timing when the internet’s household penetration was on the rise, pioneering the interactive sexual experience from merely looking at forbidden images on a computer monitor to subscribers literally shaping the tortuous journey of damsels in horrific moments of emotional, physical and sexual distress, broadcast live in streaming video and screaming audio.

As outlined in the film’s intro segment, Insex was the creation of PD (real name Brent Scott), a former teacher whose own interest in S&M and bondage overtook his day job and weakened his marriage during the 80s, and pushed him into performance art. PD left his Carnegie-Melon post when it was clear the institution wasn’t interested in supporting his efforts to make art with a hellish bent.

PD attributes his interest in sexualized performance art to a show he experienced while stationed in Japan during a military tour of Vietnam. Witnessing his geisha server wrestled away from customers, dragged onto a stage, and splayed for patrons using rope was PD’s eureka moment, and he was determined to somehow bring that experience to the U.S., one of the most conservative countries when it comes to stark naked imagery.

If pickles and beavers had to be digitally obfuscated by Stanley Kubrick in order to release Eyes Wide Shut (1999) with an R rating to mainstream audiences, it seems ludicrous to imagine anyone could import graphic Asian bondage fantasies to the international scope of the internet, augmented with models that allowed themselves to be penetrated and bled for the camera’s faceless audience.

Of course, in cinema the combination of sex and violence already exists in niche genres, such as the arty foreign film (Tokyo Decadence), the serial killer film (Se7en), the torture porn realm (with maimed body parts substituted for maimed sexual parts), and in the works of mavericks and enfants terribles, such as torture fetishizer Takashi Miike (Masters of Horror: Imprint) and newcomer Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film).

It also seems to help if the work in question originated from Europe or Asia, was directed by a ‘foreigner’ or was filmed in a language other than English by a foreigner from Europe or Asia, because most of the aforementioned works are available in the U.S. in unexpurgated DVD editions. Put another way, as long as the potentially offending work wasn’t produced natively, it gets distribution.

PD’s debut work, the Super8 short “Worm” (1980) looked so much like a snuff film that it prompted a visit by the police, who eventually realized the contents were partly staged for dramatic effect. What was real, in PD’s eyes – and purposefully so – was the ‘sublime ecstasy’ of the model, writhing in a sack-like mesh with needle-like wooden pegs that appeared to be penetrating her skin (but didn’t).

PD had also done paintings of his fantasies and had gotten willing models to perform in elaborately restricted poses and contraptions which he videotaped, but those efforts didn’t allow him to explore the full potential of his obsessions. In spite of $25,000 worth of debt, he eventually set up Insex and as he claims, within 2 weeks, he made more money that six month’s wages as a teacher.

Why stick with a vanilla job when the chance to explore the limits of a self-gratifying dream was actually happening?

There was no going back, and Insex was on its way to becoming an extreme phenomenon, gathering at its peak 35,000 subscribers from various countries. The site was operated like a family run mom & pop shop with a hands-on owner, and models were specifically given numbers to ensure any burgeoning star wouldn’t take away from the company; the attraction was always Insex, not Mad Mindy from Montana.

The big point which PD, his handlers, models, and trusty metal worker (the self-named KGB) repeat in the doc is every one present and participating in each piece was there willingly. To ensure there was no doubt to any authorities, adult models addressed the camera with clipboards bearing legal age I.D. and contracts, as well as subsequent Q&As with PD in which their likes and dislikes were laid out, plus safe words and hard limits – the former letting PD and handlers know it when it was time to stop, and the latter making it clear they’ve reached the range of maximum torment.

The extreme nature of each piece ensured many models never returned, if they managed to complete their piece at all, for which they earned $300/hour, plus potential bonuses running in the thousands if they were particularly affecting in their torment (assessed by PD’s subjective criteria).

The camera was always focused on the model, documenting every emotional tremble and shriek. Says PD, “the explicit goal [was] to try and give the girl an orgasm,” but the money shot in PD’s eyes didn’t consist of screams, welts, or blood, but the peculiar look that was common among the models who finished a piece: with make-up eroded by tears, faces smeared with fluids, and bruises turning an inflamed purple, PD knew he created art when the models’ eyes had a trance-like glaze – their mind taking in the ordeal, figuring out the best way to rationalize the experience, and deciding whether the whole endeavor was the best decision or the worst mistake of their lives.

Those who left before the end of a piece apparently did so knowing they would never be called back, but the survivors became part of the Insex stock company. Moreover, nothing was nastier and tougher than an Insex shoot, and like the gashes in thighs from a severe cane whipping, it was for some a badge of honor within the extreme corner of S&M and B&D.

PD had effectively created a product that may have been designed to keep paying subscribers content, but it was also a peculiar environment where models and handlers (and probably videographers) could safely explore their own odd fantasies. Being comprised of like-minded souls, it was arguably a supportive environment, filled with many weird contradictions.

One clip illustrates the surreal and absurd nature of PD’s world. A model has hot pepper cream smeared on her privates and is screaming in agony. The next clip has her laughing with the troupe, because she managed to make enough terrifying sounds that tenants of the building called the police – the first time anyone dialed authorities since the company’s 7 years of operation. During all of this amusement, an assistant is using an antiseptic cloth to wipe blood from traumatized breasts, as though they were scuff marks from minor rough play.

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“He can make a girl, while she’s still consenting, do things that she would never have otherwise done” — Cyd Black, handler

“It was discouraged to use your safe word because it was a sign of looking weak” — Nina, a model

“The drive to make this business work turned me into… a monster” — PD

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During the early years of Insex, PD’s own gratification came from denying himself direct satisfaction with the models; he discovered he enjoyed teasing and extending the prolongation of their orgasmic journeys rather than participating in a piece and allowing himself physical closure. The model’s release was her own, and the camera was always there to capture the event, but climaxing didn’t apparently mark the end of a session.

Each piece morphed into several sessions, because as model Lorelei Lee explains, there was a process to the madness. Lee organized the events of her own marathon live session – all 6 hours worth, all streamed, as was typical of Insex’ special engagements – as the tearing down of ultra-femininity: eventually the candy coloured clothes, articulated makeup and hyper-red lipstick would be gone by the end, punctuated by the money shot.

For PD, what began as performance art turned into a business about extremes, and the live streams were outfitted with a computer generated voice that played the words typed by members – suggestions or comments, questions or observations which sometimes resulted in a change of props.

One can see the ego within PD turning into a monster, and several interviewed models support the view that PD didn’t like it when he was denied an idea. Safe words didn’t necessarily matter (or work if the mouth was packed & taped up), and as the ringleader and orchestrator of his art, things happened because it needed the gratification; if he couldn’t climax himself by getting into the piece and assaulting the model, then he’d ignore her hard limits and take her to the breaking point, using shock stimuli such as electrical jolts or near-drowning.

One model’s pleas to stop dunking her cage – often in mid-sentence as she gasps for air – smacks of snuff, yet one can hear the gears in PD’s mind rationalizing the cruelty as part of the performance: the viewer knows that what the model experiences is real, and that edge distinguishes his product from the fakery and simulations of lightweight websites. Ergo, he’s justified.

Another model, S4, is driven to tears when PD slaps her – a specific action she told him not do in their agreement prior to the session. What’s horrifying are the dynamics at play. As she explains to the camera at the beginning of the live piece, S4 returned to Insex because she believed, as from her prior appearance, the emotional extremes would help her deal with personal pressures, adding “it’ll help me with the rest of school… Hopefully.”

When she later reacts to the slap, PD blurts “You’re trying to gain control here,” and using wordplay and twisted logic, he argues the subscriber who requested a slap is entitled to seeing it because he’s a client, and ‘you know what we’re trying to do here’ (implying art).

Barbara Bell, in the DVD’s interview segment, argues that the much-talked about scene captures the ugliness of when an employee is bullied into doing something he / she knows is wrong, but the employer won’t let up. The reality is maybe two-fold: it’s good for business, and it’s an act whereby an egotist bullies a young woman with the intellectual capacity of a child because he knows she’ll give in; since she never tells him she wants to stop the session, we know it continued with him getting a money shot, and S4 getting her cash.

In another telling interview, model Nina describes a piece where PD decided to switch to anal violation, to which she never agreed. She admits it was ‘probably’ rape, but she returned to Insex several times, rationalizing the gigs were never about art for her, but money.

In a related clip, 62 wants the cattle prod shocks to herself and the metal cage to stop (at one point she clearly shouts “No daddy!”), but when asked if she wants to go on, she says ‘yes,’ probably due to a combination of pressure to accede and earn the full cash payment, and a need to please PD, which 62 later admits was futile because it was an impossible goal. The mystery of her psychosis is the need to find validation from an egotist bent on humiliating her time and again.

There’s also a codependency at work among the regulars. 912, who began as a subscriber, wanted “a relationship” with Insex / PD, and she was delighted to become a model. When she moved behind the scenes and became a producer / videographer, she noted a status drop, as the models were always the focus of PD’s attention, even after she began to yell ‘cut.’

Some of the interview subjects describe the pieces akin to the demented visions of a serial killer who snatches young girls for prolonged tortures sessions, and although he does cite serial killer Cameron Hooker as an interesting figure, it’s never investigated by the directors whether PD was inspired by serial killer culture, and whether he feels responsible for blurring the line between erotica, art, and making torture acceptable when its dramatized as non-consensual, as some of the clips clearly deal with a snatch & grab, full defilement storylines.

Graphic Sexual Horror is filled with opinions from handlers, models, fans, and videographers involved with Insex until its demise in 2005, and everyone has their own personal reasons for involving themselves with the site and PD’s madness. It’s creating living, provocative art; it’s for the cash that’s better than stripping money; and it’s a venue for theorists to experience physical concepts and find their own mental and physical limits, as was the case with model and eventual handler Claire Adams.

For one, Star (aka 101), it provided a distraction from drug binges and addiction, and she became the first of what PD termed ‘resident models’ – a corruption of creating performance art while in a closed environment not that distant from the characters in De Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom.”

The first signs of PD’s madness occurred when the troupe packed up and moved operations to the barn of his isolated farm, and improvised sessions went from days to weeks, with people fearful of speaking up and losing pay, and getting blackballed in a niche market where they’ve been able to thrive.

PD’s metal worker, KGB, crafted brilliantly horrifying objects, furniture, water tanks, and torture devices, and it’s doubtful after the extent of his creations that KGB could leave and create contemporary abstract metal art; his focus is specific to PD’s scenarios, and they feed off each other’s extreme ideas.

By having a resident model, PD and KGB could custom craft devices and scenarios on the spot, and while Star made ‘a lot of money,’ it also resulted in a peculiar love affair between herself and PD. (A somewhat related experience involved handler Cyd Black, who brought his then-girlfriend, branded Spacegirl, into the troupe, and his unnerving surprise when she consented to appearing on camera, and became addicted to PD’s extreme scenarios.)

PD realized his attraction to Star was growing when her drug problems became severe, and he argued he used the Insex sessions as a means to keep her sober, whereas her own attraction to the extreme play was to cope with personal demons: if she could survive the depths PD could achieve within Insex, the addictions were manageable. The capper to PD’s argument – earnest or not – is Star recalling her parents meeting PD for the first time: PD was apparently close in age to her parents, and Star quotes them as finding PD ‘surprisingly immature.’

The mania of Insex – getting more elaborate, nastier, and PD crossing the line between consensual and coercive assault – inevitably had to end, as models and coworkers in his troupe were working partly out of fear, or a need to please.

The parallels to De Sade’s own fetishes aren’t metaphorical: once extract has a model placed beside what resembles a covered box, and when the black sheet is removed, it’s another model trussed up onto a fetal position. Capturing her reaction on camera – pure shock, as well as a fear of what may lie ahead for herself – are part of De Sade’s use of voyeurism and judgmental onlookers, the fear of grisly intentions, and teasing the reader of what twisted stages a subordinate will undergo to complete the fulfillment of a tormentor’s ego.

In her brief interview clips, Star’s seemingly shell-shocked eyes and rocking legs reveal a bruised survivor of drugs, but whether her years as a ‘resident model’ with Insex did any good is known only by her.

A more peculiar figure is the model billed as Moonshine, who appears in the doc’s closing montage. As the camera pans up the tied legs of a model, it continues upwards, and shows Moonshine in a cage, singing an aria (“Ach, Ich Fuhls”) from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Besides the weirdness of the moment (not to mention the eerie poetry of Mozart’s libretto applied to the scene), there’s the odd footnote where the former music student / vegan / porn model attempted to mount her own documentary in 2005, vilifying the porn industry, her work at Insex, and as a model in scat videos.

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“He never hurt a human being that didn’t want to be hurt… We torture people who want to be tortured and we pay them, yet we are the criminals” — KGB, metal worker

“It’s not porn” — 912, model

“Is it porn? Fuckin’ A it’s porn… but I’d like to look at it as art” — Barry Goldman, Insex Model Agent

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When the end came, it wasn’t through court challenges but what PD describes as an “insidious” method of coercion. Knowing a court case would be long, costly, and difficult to succeed, the government convinced credit card companies to deny service as long as Insex continued to produce extreme material. PD claims he was shown a document by a bank manager wherein the Department of Homeland Security used the Patriot Act to cite the potentially dangerous relationship between terrorists using violent porn to fund their activities, and as one handler observed, with no means of processing payments via nervous credit card firms, the website – any site – was dead. That forced the closure of Insex, although PD has apparently resurfaced under a new venture, billed as Hardtied.

PD’s aim to bring Asian-styled bondage into U.S. erotica and porn worked, but it also fostered the development of a monster in what’s clearly an articulate connoisseur of erotic performance art with a singular and destructive obsession. Most porn sites would probably thank him for establishing a system for interactive porn using live feeds – this during the age of dial-up modems and smaller bandwidth capabilities – but his no-holds barred approach probably left rival sites less wiggle room to differentiate themselves today.

As for the validity of PD’s work, that’s strictly subjective, and will probably engender claims of exploitation, sadism, rape, and misogyny akin to the arguments wielded by ant-pornography advocates. But if bondage imagery in Japan is a venue to feed the needs of certain repressed personalities, then Insex succeeded in uncovering a sexual rage in America, whose population has been restricted from adult themes in mainstream films branded with the poisonous NC-17 rating, but are regularly exposed to a hybrid of sexual extremes within the torture porn genre from studios.

Graphic Sexual Horror should cause one to ask whether extreme consensual indulgences are worse than watching detailed Dolby Digital 5.1 dramatizations of pretty young men and women being forcibly tortured and butchered with hardware implements; a man tearing himself away from rings embedded in his jaws, arms, and legs before a bomb detonates; watching  a women be repeatedly raped before she turns the table and fires a shotgun through a man’s arse, and later uses fishhooks to pry eyelids open on another man for birds to feed on a pair of eyeballs; or a woman already traumatized by torture who’s beaten repeatedly before she’s skinned alive ever so slowly to reach a perverted plane of pain, ecstasy, and spiritual awakening – events depicted in the horror films Hostel 1 and 2 , Saw 3 (2006), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), and Martyrs (2008).

Insex required a credit card and adult age declaration with a mouse click, whereas those films are obtainable on commercially pressed DVDs with an easy cash payment.

In the end, neither is particular pretty, but they cater to specific connoisseurs and niche markets whose proponents and practitioners deem them to be forms of pop culture art.

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The Extras

Synapse’s DVD includes a selection of deleted scenes that offer slightly more info on the models. Strolling in a farmer’s grazing field with cows, model 62 confirms to an off-camera PD that her ‘special skill’ is to “make milk,” whereas another (Molly, who no longer appears in the documentary) is seen in extracts from a piece in which her c-clamped toes and restrained feet are pierced with needles, singed with cigarettes, and flicked with elastic bands – all underscored by screams distorting the audio track. Molly then answers a subscriber’s question of the experience, and she explains tearfully her relief in having her misunderstood foot torture fantasy finally fulfilled.

The last two scenes are the original pre-End Credit montage that contains material too intense for censors (leeches, milking, BBQ’ing) and was replaced with stills from alternate scenes; and a brief and rather meandering SUV ride with PD driving around his property, punctuated by a statement regarding being satisfied with working in the splendid isolation of his farm.

“More from the Models” contains alternate and unused interview clips that would’ve opened up the doc a bit, with more personal recollections of entering the Insex community, views on PD, regarding the Insex experience as a sign of toughness, and the subscribers who sought support amongst themselves in message boards when the site was shut down. “Barb’s Model Montage” is more like an outtake reel, whereas Lorelei’s recollections of her first pieces (including a ‘turkey shoot’) may have been part of a longer edit that played in film festivals (like Toronto’s Hot Docs in 2009), because in early reviews there were references to material no longer in the final cut, such as the models heading into the small town diner for a meal while still in their fetish gear.

The missing figure among the doc’s makers is co-director Anna Lorentzon, although Barbara Bell provides a bit of background info in her own Q&A segment. Bell’s own entry into Insex’ production team began when she was hired by PD to write and shoot a screenplay with Lorentzon, already employed by the site. Bell’s background included the novel Stacking in Rivertown, which contained risqué material, and made her ideal for the site. Her brief Q&A mostly addresses the film’s content, her surprise of the overall positive response from critics, and a dissection of the aforementioned slap that created a creative impasse and battle for authority between S4 and PD.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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.Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Saw 3 (2006)

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External References:

IMDB Wikipedia EntryOfficial Film SiteDirectors Interview

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Buy from:

Amazon.comGraphic Sexual Horror (Special Edition)

Amazon.caGraphic Sexual Horror (Special Edition)

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