It's unusual to receive a horror DVD from Asia that focuses so heavily on the gore element rather than psychological terror or something closely linked to technology. The press release (unsurprisingly) concentrates on the more bloody elements of Meat Grinder which, with a title like that, you would expect to be a film in which bodies are reduced to mush.
The film follows Buss, a single woman left to fend for herself when her husband apparently runs away with the babysitter leaving her with a young daughter and his gambling debts. On one rather disastrous visit to the tables, her husband put down the house as collateral and then lost spectacularly leaving Buss to pick up the pieces and contemplate how to pay off such a large sum of money. Her ambition has always been to run a noodle bar just as her mother did and, when her portable noodle stall is destroyed in a student demonstration, she takes the opportunity to convert her house into a restaurant where she prepares the meat, cooks the noodles and vegetables before serving up the dishes to her customers.
You know right from the opening credits that the meat isn't exactly kosher as they roll over black and white footage of a man hanging from meat hooks above a large vat of marinating body parts. The very first scene shows a man trying to find Buss in the house only to have one of his legs lopped off from below the knee by Buss with a meat cleaver and, if that weren't enough, she picks up the stump and throws it at him, knocking him out before throwing down some stairs and nailing him to the floor by his finger ends. Once he is nice and secure, Buss takes a piece of cloth she has filled with herbs and spices and shoves into the poor guy's mouth so that the juices and aroma will percolate through his body and into the flesh so that the dishes she serves up are as tasty as possible.
There is a subplot involving Buss' daughter, Bua, who appears in the house at some quite inopportune moments and is disciplined for playing outside on her own where there is a water container. Buss makes frequent trips to the local pharmacy to pick up medication for Bua which, the owner and chemist advises, she shouldn't take too long -- advice which Buss ignores. Some of these scenes involving her daughter are in black and white, as are some other scenes that may or may not be flashbacks or dreams. The director, Tiwa Moeithaisong, also uses extremely oversaturated material which flares onto the screen to give the film a hyperreal appearance.
Meat Grinder is an interesting film that doesn't quite hold together as it introduces both the extremely bloody, gory and sadistic elements in which people are killed, mutilated and brutalised with a variety of sharp implements before becoming someone's lunch. Also in this rather heady mixture is a psychological aspect involving Buss' daughter and her gradual psychological breakdown. The chemist's son takes a keen interest in Buss, eventually falls in love with her and, like Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, begin a double act involving cannibalism, piles of bodies and force-feeding people spices so they taste good. Saying that, I found Meat Grinder to be an extremely effective and well written and directed horror film by Tiwa Moeithaisong and quite happily watched it twice.
The star of the show is quite clearly Mai Charoenpura whose performance is quite astonishing, flitting from vulnerable to sadistic in the blink of an eye and, like Norman Bates in Psycho and Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom, you begin to feel sympathy for Buss, even wanting her to get away with it. Although the film is a little like the Dumplings segment of the 'Three Extremes...' DVD, it is good enough to stand on its own and not borrow from other sources.
All that is on the disc is the original Thai trailer and I imagine there would be some more substantial extra features out there but language and rights issues would be a barrier to any UK distributor. That being said, the press release says that the retail version will contain a Making Of featurette which didn't come on this DVD-R.
The Picture and Sound
I was provided with a DVD-R for review which looks and sounds almost like a finished version, if not a direct copy of the thing itself. The film has extremely good production values, contrast levels and vibrant colours which show off the amazing work that the SFX make-up department did when creating the corpses, some with skin and muscle stripped away and they look extremely realistic. Tiwa Moeithaisong employs some amazing and extremely interesting visual techniques from black-and-white footage that makes you wonder where the scenes are set to extremely bright and vibrant oversaturated footage that gives a sense of hyperreality and surrealism.
On the sound front, the film is extremely well served by some superb sound design and an amazing score that really drives the film and flips from 'floaty' classical strings to an extremely up-tempo percussive beat when things get much more intense. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track does a terrific job of presenting the dialogue, score and sound effects.
The subtitles are reasonably good and allow you to follow the action if you don't speak fluent Thai. My only issue is that there are no spaces after punctuation so sentences can look a little bit bunched.
In order to write this, I watched Meat Grinder twice and was pleasantly surprised that it actually improved on second viewing when you are aware of the plot developments and can pay more attention to the construction and exactly what the aesthetic choices by Tiwa Moeithaisong really mean and they aren't just there for the sheer hell of it. If you are a fan of Asian horror films then this is worth watching simply for the amazing Mai Charoenpura and, if you like your films bloody, then this will be one for you.
Not only did I watched the film twice but, due to my computer crashing, had to write the review twice as well!