On a recent episode of Adventures In Movies! we discussed the charm of B horror movies. Gutterballs is a 2008 B horror film that is vulgar, gory, and sexually explicit. In other words, it meets all the necessary requirements for good exploitation schlock. Unfortunately, a disgustingly tone deaf early scene ruins any chance for enjoyment.
Grotesque sexual acts in horror are nothing new. The tree rape scene in the original Evil Dead is a an excellent example. The moment is shocking and memorable. However, director Sam Raimi does not sexualize the scene or allow it to linger in importance. The whole thing could have dropped from the movie and it would not have made a difference. It is a frightening scene and keeping it in highlights the evil.
Gutterballs has a brutal rape scene early on that is revolting even as rape scenes go. The moment goes on forever in a way that is reminiscent of Irreversible. Between the beating dehumanizing are a stream of one liners. These are not done in a way that is supposed to show how sadistic the characters are like in Reservoir Dogs infamous ear scene. Director Ryan Nicholson tries to find humor in the prolonged sexual assault of a woman.
Arguably worse is the way the rape is shot. The scene is made to look more sensual than disgusting. The camera slowly pans up and down the victim’s nude body. The closing shot (which follows the use of a bowling pin) shows the victim with what looks to be satisfied fatigue and ecstasy. The tender music and soft lighting make no sense following what has just happened.
After the opening, whatever happens during the rest of Gutterballs becomes irrelevant. The plot sets up some great low budget horror goodness. It is set in a bowling alley, the soundtrack is synthesizer happy, and the acting is scripting is bad even in its best moments. Again, it is all the goodness expected from a fun exploitation movie.
It is just impossible to get past the opening scene. Everything is tainted with the mean-spiritedness of the initial rape. One of the first skills involves a horror movie staple. A couple is having sex before being horribly killed in the act of cunnilingus. In any other movie, it would be talked about as a silly and creative kill. Here, it just harkens back to the ugliness of earlier.
Not content to have just one couple killed while having sex, Gutterballs also sees another pair brutally murdered just before they get together. There is also a graphic castration of a “tranny” and yet another rape. The movie seems to constantly be going out of its way to offend its audience in one way or another. Instead, it is just one off putting moment after another.
Gutterballs spends its entire run time trying to shock and disgust its audience. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. Exploitation classics like Faces of Death existed solely for this reason. And even horror icons like Wes Craven have used rape as a tool to terrify audiences. These types of tricks are low hanging fruit, but are also effective when done correctly.
The difference is those movies had a point. Maybe it was a very loose one and in many cases the audience did not agree with the creator’s supposed objective, but the fact is, films like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave were about more celebrating sexual brutality. It may not be one people want to see, but there is a story being told.
Gutterballs seems content to sensationalize sex and violence. Most horror fans will not see any problem with this. “Blood, boobs, and beasts” was a prevailing mantra of industry at one time. Director Ryan Nicholson decides to take the philosophy to the extreme with uncomfortable sexual violence that is supposed to be funny. It may be intentional, but it is still insulting to anyone who watches.