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Human-animal hybrids walk a fine line between fantasy and horror. Primarily, it depends on how they are presented. Spiderman is a hero-type arthropod-human combo because he got some helpful powers out of the deal, but Brundlefly gets perpetually uglier and pukes in front of Geena Davis. For me, it comes down to the realism or the number of details I'm given. In a fantasy adventure, most of the time, my thoughts are far from biology--but bring up science, and my mind wanders. If the creature's depiction starts getting too grounded, I'm going to want to know some unflattering facts--like, how it uses the bathroom or what sexy time might be like (that could just be me though). Historically, mermaids have been on the fantasy side of things. They regularly show up in the kind of fiction where the difference between a companion and a monster is defined simply by which half of the character is human. So, even though they often lead sailors to their doom, they get a description that involves words like fair, beautiful, and even sexy. Aside from Barnum and Christopher Columbus, the mythos surrounding mermaids has been a blend of playful tricksters and supermodels. In reality, you would have to be more than stunning for me not to get caught up on the... bottom half is a fish thing. However, that romanticized view has recently changed a bit in cinema. As it does, horror has painted the fish maidens in a different light. We have had alternative renditions presented with some kind of morbid twist. There are some excellent examples, but for me, nothing has brought the mermaid to the fucked up levels that Guinea Pig: Mermaid in the Manhole has.
A man (Shigeru Saiki) stomps around in a sewer somewhere, looking for inspiration for his paintings and thinking about how life changes. To his surprise, he comes upon a beautiful mermaid (Mari Somei), who is inexplicably laying in the muck, having seen better days herself. After a short chat, he suddenly remembers that he had encountered the magical creature before, as a child. This propels him to scoop up the fish-person and take her home. He gets her to his apartment and into the bathtub.  Unfortunately, she then begins to grow some nasty boils that squirt blood at an alarming rate. He tries to stop the bleeding with some kitchen towels, but despite his care, it only gets worse. Quickly, it sets in that his hopeful dabbing is entirely futile, and colorful puss starts pouring out with the blood. So, logically, the artist begins painting with the excretions--as one does.
Mermaid in the Manhole is a bizarre, slippery plunge into grotesque poetic confusion. Gross and silly swirl together into an entertaining, chunky, short-story brought to full length by moments of unexplained reflection. The storytelling wavers between a BBC drama and an episode of the TV anthology Monsters while it weaves out an engaging puzzle of fucked up moments. Between the cheap sets and the unmanaged pacing, it can be off-putting, even before the sores become unsightly, which might lose a few viewers. By the time it presents sufficient nastiness, the content has waded through something resembling a soap opera dream-sequence with subtitles. At face value, it feels a little incomplete, and it doesn't hide its lack of explanation. No reasoning is offered for the existence of this fantastic creature, her diseased condition, or even how the painter got her into his apartment from the sewer without anyone seeing. There is some implication that the sewer was once a majestic body of water, and that the man had seen the mermaid there when he was young. However, it makes little sense outside of playing into the overarching cryptic theme. Our mermaid friend's ghastly lesions provide exactly seven different colors of puss and must be lanced to offer her some relief. We only know this because she tells the main character, who reluctantly cuts them open and ultimately uses them in his art. This is played out almost as a natural progression, and there is no more exposition given when creepy crawlers are birthed from the cysts. The elements of the film just exist all the while, in grim harmony (no matter how strange or fucked) like a half-forgotten memory. 
There is a mix of vibes in the runtime--along with profound or disgusting, is a tinge of corn and comedy. This regularly takes the form of noisy neighbors, who are presented as a sort of comedic island in a sea of tears and bodily fluids, though I may be missing some of their purposes in the translation to subtitles. A lot of the sadness is universal, and the emotions are interesting to watch quixotically unfold. Still, the nameless artist isn't really a relatable character, as his plight is almost too personal (if that makes sense). His story plunges into grimy artist-angst and comes out as some delusional anger, covered in tallow waste. The gory finish speaks to a more significant underlying meaning. To be truthful, I have no concrete idea of what the film is trying to say. I formed some theories as to what that is, but I don't want to spoil anything. I do know it wanted to show me some unforgettable gag-worthy visuals (and that was awesome), but along with that, this unsavory mess is, in fact, a distinct piece of abstract art. Whatever the point, I'm down, and I don't have to fully get it to be engulfed in the beautiful, disgusting strangeness.
Manhôru no Naka no Ningyo AKA Mermaid in the Manhole is the 4th or maybe 6th film in the globally notorious Guinea Pig series. The first two are the most talked about and gained their reputation for not only being relentless visions of torture and dismemberment but for the reactions following their release. Famously, here in the states, one legend tells of a drugged up Charlie Sheen being given a taped copy of Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood (1985) (a present from Chris Gore) and contacting the FBI when he believed the footage was from an actual snuff film. In actuality, the film had been a fictional creation by artist Hideshi Hino, based on his manga series Hino Horror, as follow up to Satoru Ogura's Guinea Pig: Ginî Piggu - Akuma no Jikken (1985).  In 1986 a third Guinea Pig: He Never Dies (by Masayuki Kusumi) was released, which featured a different, unconnected story. This is followed by a 4th Guinea Pig: Devil Woman Doctor (by Hajime Tabe and Satoru Ogura) in 1986 without connection to the previous entries. The third and fourth films deviated noticeably from the commitment to brutality of the first two films. Instead they included comedy and a relatively fleshed out story with the graphic content. With Mermaid in a Manhole, Hideshi Hino returned to the series, having started work on the film around the same time as Kazuhito Kuramoto's Guinea Pig: Android of Notre Dame. Instead of reinstating the series original spirit, the director's second installment took the gross-out special effects on an altogether different route. Effectively, the first films had been strictly a display of violence, and the follow-ups had been grotesque dark comedies. However, Hideshi Hino would change the mood once again, inviting several new factors into the project. While I would argue there is artistic value to found in all of the films, especially the first two, if you can stomach it, Mermaid in a Manhole is damn near poetic. This one still has the shock in globs, and it's just as hard of a sale for most viewers, but it's very much its own unique creature.
There is some confusion about the film's place in the series as various releases claim not Mermaid in the Manhole, but Devil Woman Doctor to be the fourth movie. According to some, this stems from Mermaid being in production at the same time as Android of Notre Dame, and a jumbled release order in some markets (If you have any info on this, with a source, let me know).
The technical qualities of the film come in two flavors: tight, frugal-chic, and incredibly effective special effects. Both the lighting and the sets are produced with a BBC-drama meets an early Cinemax softcore aesthetic, but are used well to further the film's balance between madness and depression. The editing is functionally minimal, with the exclusion of some stylized or thought-out moments. Similarly, the cinematography keeps it basic in many cases, using a consistent uniform framing, though it deviates from this to pair emotional themes with dramatic angles. The mermaid is well put together at all points in the film, to the degree that the half-human, half-fish aspect is a little creepy all on its own. Every so often, we see the tail splashing around in the water, and there's something inhuman to its motions, selling the fish chimera enough to go past fantastical to some unsettling realism. To fit with the only standing theme in the Guinea Pig series, there is a centerpiece of blood and pus-filled sores that eventually cover the body of the beautiful fish-lady. While the practical effects have their better angles, it's a masterful mess of pulsating body horror that pulls no punches. It makes me wince even after repeat viewing and is tailor-made to make any trypophobics in the audience take flight. This is all topped off with a display of gore in the fashion one would expect from the series, being both overdone and realistic enough. Altogether, the high-end gooey stuff splashed on top of the low budget sets is a surprisingly good look that I can only describe as a straight to video 90s fantasy film with an oozing infection and a heroin addiction.
Guinea Pig: Mermaid in the Manhole is the most delicious mystery seafood platter covered in boils I have ever tasted. Although the film is bare-bones at times, it is melancholy and disgusting in some of my favorite ways. It's not for everyone, or even necessarily fans of the other films in the series. Actually, it may not be for anyone, and not just because it's fucking gross and insane. It is akin to taking a peek into a personal notebook filled with graphic, fucked up doodles you were never supposed to see. The title water-nymph holds on to much of the classic mystique present in a bulk of familiar lore but corrupts it with a skin graft of memorable body horror. I'm glad it exists, although I’ll never look at Ariel the same way again.
(Warning: Trailer includes more spoilers than I did in review)
1h 3min | 1988
Director: Hideshi Hino
Writer: Hideshi Hino


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