“This documentary is about a website that engaged in the commercialization of bondage and sado-masochistic imagery and performances. It in no way represents bondage and sado-masochism as practiced by many adults in their private lives.”
In recent years the horror film industry has created the term torture porn. When you hear the term, it usually applies to that sub-genre of film where there are intense depictions of torture, mutilation, and most often death. Eli Roth’s Hostel films are likely the most cited examples, with the Saw franchise often referred to in that manner. It’s most often used in a derogatory way. It’s a style. It’s decried by many. Still, these films do good business. For most folks, they’re what you might call a guilty pleasure. But what if these films didn’t go quite so far? What if there wasn’t so much blood as there was torture. What if the woman clearly suffered almost immeasurable pain, yet never really died or suffered permanent damage? What if it were real? What would you call it then? There are over 35,000 people out there who called it Insex.
Let’s start out by explaining that Graphic Sexual Horror is not a horror film at all. It’s a documentary created by Barbara Bell and Ann Lorentzon, who were associated with Insex. The film is a quite candid look inside the world of one of the most famous websites of its kind. The site depicted scenes of incredibly graphic torture of real women, often through live video feeds. Now before you start to think that I’m describing the plot of some new horror film, there are a few things to make clear here. All of these women were paid, quite handsomely, for their performances. They signed rather extensive waivers and were capable of stopping the torture at any time. After watching the documentary, you might have reason to question that last statement, and we’ll explore that later. For now, it’s important to understand that we’re not talking about women who were grabbed off the streets and tortured to death by some maniacal serial killer. And it was all the brainchild of a guy known at the time as PD aka: Brent Scott, a one-time professor at Carnegie Mellon University. At the height of its popularity, the site was serving 35,000 paid monthly subscribers.
The documentary interviews a large number of the models who worked for the website over the years. They talk about what path led them to the site. They also talk about their feelings concerning the material they were producing as well as the ordeals they were enduring. Of course, the common theme was the incredible amount of money that was to be had. Thus brings up the rather gray area of consent I mentioned earlier. Models were given waivers where they were able to put in writing what their hard limits might be. You might be amazed at where those limits could be found. A very powerful clip on the film shows an interaction between a model and Brent during a live feed. He slaps her, which was one of her specified hard limits. Meanwhile she was more than willing to have vises put on her nipples or electrical current zapped to her genitals. She did not want to have her face slapped. When Brent crosses this hard line, we discover that consent is an iffy matter. She can say stop. But it will mean exhibiting a sign of weakness. More importantly, it will mean giving up a job that can pay as much as $2,000 for one live feed. The girls clearly understood that stopping a session likely meant they would not be invited back. So, the question becomes one of: “Is there a dollar amount that effectively negates consent?” The documentary does a fine job of exploring both sides of the question.
As for Brent himself? I have to say that I found him to be somewhat of an A-Hole. He certainly comes off looking like some kind of a nutjob. That doesn’t mean he isn’t smart. The film contains a ton of clips, usually short, where you’re taken behind the scenes of a shoot or live feed. It’s obvious that Brent was affected by the huge amounts of cash as much as the girls. Still, he’s seen to be enjoying torturing the girls. He taunts them relentlessly. Yet, you’ll find that many of the girls harbor only fond memories of the guy. I’m sure there’s a syndrome name for it somewhere. All in all, the girls appear to have left the experience no worse for wear. Of course, what emotional baggage or scars they carry is a harder thing to judge without having met them before their experience with Insex. I find it hard to believe there isn’t some weight they carry from the experience. Some of them had drug troubles, likely fed by the copious amounts of cash they were earning. Yet, it appears that in at least one case Brent was instrumental in helping a girl get clean. He does appear to be safety-conscious, and no girl was ever seriously injured.
Insex was eventually closed down by the government. It was one of those roundabout methods, but hey, tax evasion got Al Capone behind bars, didn’t it? So, you never know how they might come at you. Brent and his people didn’t face a criminal court, although he admits here he expected to. Instead, the feds sent intimidating letters to the credit cards and banks linking violent porn sites with terrorism. Running very much afraid of that label, the banks cut off the site’s ability to process those 35,000 members. Before long the industry’s life-blood of green cash was cut off, effectively putting them out of business without ever stepping foot in a courtroom.
Finally, it’s important to understand that there are some graphic images here as the title implies. Frankly, it’s nothing worse than we’ve seen on tons of fictional films and without the buckets of blood. Yet, these images are often far more disturbing. There is plenty of nudity, but this film is not pornography. You won’t see any real sex acts going on here. The focus is the girls and their pain. There is one full frontal on a dude that I always find disturbing, but he’s not engaged in what most of us would define as a sexual act. I found the film did an excelent job of keeping the focus on the people and their own insights. It is this trait that made this a more comfortable film to review and include here. But be fairly warned. This film is not for everyone. There are no punches being pulled here. Most of these clips are quite disturbing. But, isn’t that the point? Barb and Ann are making a powerful point in all of this bondage and suffering. It’s a point worth spending some time to experience, if you have the stomach. You won’t forget these images, but it won’t be because you were turned on by them, whatever your particular bent.
Graphic Sexual Horror is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. You always have to take into account that this is a documentary and not really something where image presentation is going to stand out. The website clips vary in quality, but they are fine, for the most part. There were some compression issues. Nothing that took away from the overall experience. The new interview material looks rather sharp with true color and nice contrast.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is strictly for the dialog.
Deleted Scenes: There are 4 including an alternate ending where Brent is trying to traverse a road that really isn’t there anymore. The guy does some damage to his vehicle, including a piece of a tree sticking out of the grill. Unfortunately, there is no play-all option.
Model Interviews: Again there is no play-all, and many of these pieces should have just run together. It’s a tedious way to watch sometimes just 30 seconds of video.
Interview With Barbara Bell: (8:29) Barbara is sitting in a garden talking about some of the key points of the production. There are some really obvious jump edits here, so it should be considered rather raw footage.
Here at Upcomingdiscs, we make it a very strong point that we do not review pornography. I often get sent titles that I believe cross that line enough to keep out of our pages here. I watched this film carefully, fully prepared to omit any mention once I was finished viewing the film. This film makes a valid exploration into the minds of the people who participated in this culture. It is not a “how to” film. The intent here really is to provide insight. I thought it would be a close call. It really wasn’t. At worst, the film is “borderline crazy, which is always interesting”.