Warning: this article contains graphic imagery and descriptions of extreme acts. This is a warning that gets thrown around a lot on the internet, but this material should be approached with caution.
With a name like Graphic Sexual Horror, it should hardly be surprising that this is the most disturbing film I've ever seen (including baby-raping arthouse flick A Serbian Film). In 2009, Anna Lorentzon and Barbara Bell directed documentary Graphic Sexual Horror about extreme BDSM website insex. It's... full on, to say the least.
By contrast, here's how Hollywood portrays BDSM in Fifty Shades Darker.
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Yes, Fifty Shades borrows a few of the lighter tactics popular in the BDSM community — a bit of slapping and rope, a paddle and a blindfold — but Brent Scott's insex website is genuinely about pain, fear and sadism. Graphic Sexual Horror is so disturbing to those outside the hardcore BDSM scene that I had to turn it off in the first 25 minutes before carrying on. Twice.
There are faked "amputee shots", caged girls pissing on each other, women hog-tied and anally penetrated without permission. Some are near-suffocated on a kind of ducking stool, others stumble, naked, in the snow, choking on a block of wood shoved deep into the mouth.
The documentary offers a great deal of first person testimony from many performers, such as Lorelei Lee and Princess Donna, although several women prefer to go by numbers rather than names. Some felt violated by the ordeal — one performer said that use of safewords was "discouraged" — but others found the experience empowering. Insex performer "912" said:
"I wasn't dirty, it wasn't people just taking off their clothes just because, to make a buck, it was something more intense, more genuine, and I felt honest in my heart that I could say without any question that it wasn't porn."
The imagery is proper hardcore, pretty difficult to look at — a woman screams as hot pepper cream burns her spread genitals — and it's weird to see the footage of the girls screaming then cutting immediately to her cheerily giggling about the police being called after passers-by heard the screams. Some performers found the agonizing submission a way of dealing with pre-existent problems, such as "101," who described her personal take on the work:
"The torture dissipates the depression because it makes you feel so good that you can take it, you know?"
Once the website was earning over a certain amount of money, insex were free to start developing more intricate and expensive ways of hurting their performers. A metal-worker is commissioned to create increasingly frightening and outlandish contraptions: cages, winches, spreaders, hooks and props to twist, trap and contort the human body into almost unrecognizable positions. Some are inspired or directly copied from medieval instruments of torture, such as The Pear, a metal device designed to open out inside an orifice.
Like other well-made documentaries on extreme sexual practices and uncomfortable material — notably Adi Sideman's Chickenhawk — Graphic Sexual Horror presents its disturbing subject matter as neutrally as possible, letting the performers' testimonies and images speak for themselves rather than imposing an explicit moral framework upon them.
The film culminates in a bizarre scene: one performer is hung, quivering on painful tip-toes, from an iron cage, in which another performer sings Mozart's 'Ach, Ich Fuhl's' from The Magic Flute. The images are hard to forget, but Graphic Sexual Horror is a marvelously uncomfortable and thought-provoking watch.