In 1997, a former professor at Carnegie-Mellon University started a phenomena. The website he created, INSEX.COM, was devoted to bondage, fetish and sadomasochistic scenarios. By the time the site was shut down by the Department of Homeland Security, it had 35,000 members who paid $60.00 per month to view its content.
Or so reads the back of the DVD box for GRAPHIC SEXUAL HORROR, an Unrated S+M related shockumentary about the rise and fall of the most infamous S+M website the world (or at least the States) has ever seen. Normally every DVD that sounds like it was merely named after its own genre or warning label is an uninspired piece of the worst kind of schlock, but in the case of this one, several issues are raised; many of which will challenge your own feelings on Feminism, pornography and freedom of speech. Even I found myself reexamining my own belief systems and realizing that when it comes to combination of sex, money, or the trappings of power, the potential of terrible abuse exists, torments even worse than the completely uncensored, unrated full- penetration adult antics that used to make up the contents of Insex.com. When it comes to the same old obscenity debate, please leave your notions of black and white morality at the door, because, in this case, the truth is more of a “black and blue” affair, and notions of true “sexual freedom” are the same old neutral shades of grey as a the fake foam “stone” walls of a webcam rape dungeon set.
For example, this film is filled with the testimonies of scores of adult fetish actresses who wax poetic about the days when Insex ruled the scene. While they all seem to be attractive, logical creatures who exist on the outer fringes of sensuality, the one thing they all agree is that the unbelievable money was the only thing that made them participate; the one thing that gave them true pleasure. In the glory days of Insex, a popular model that could cry, endure any torment or pain, or cry on command could make thousands of dollars a day. The secret? You had to do every scene that is proposed to you, no matter how extreme, painful , or physically damaging it was. Much like Ultimate fighters, many of the featured female players of this extreme fetish and domination website worked only every few months, simply to give their bruises, lashes and welts time to heal between “live events”. Of course, they lived a life of privilege and luxury even if most of them had their names replaced with a number for all site purposes. This was done, not for reasons of personal security, but just to make sure that the fan base they made for themselves would exclusively belong to Insex, limiting their ability to ever pursue their own fetish or domination websites. A very brilliant marketing gimmick this was, if not the very definition of dehumanizing. And yet the featured actresses spoke of only empowerment, if not unlimited income? Are they not one and the same?
Still, as a man who routinely probably throws out ten times as many adult movies as most men will ever own, I must always admit that before this film, I never before felt anything for the actresses who engage in even the most diabolical pornography, because I knew that, in this day and age of complete equality between the sexes, such slap and tickle sites operated on a “safe word system” where all it took was a secret signal from the woman in the scene and the cameras would stop, the chains would be unlocked, and the blowtorches would be extinguished. For such violence would not only be inhumane, but would be deemed “unprofitable” or “subject to multimillion dollar litigation” and likely get the site/studio shut down forever. Again, GRAPHIC SEXUAL HORROR taught me something even I didn’t know about the S+M sex scene; while the “safe word” does indeed exist and is respected for all scenes all featured talent, what really surprised me is that there is tremendous social pressure for an actress never to stop a scene, no matter how badly they are agonized, brutalized or bleeding. Not only are they exquisitely paid for their pain and suffering, likely better than most people who are ever involved in a personal injury lawsuit, but working for Insex was a coveted gig for a fetish star, and it was in their best interest to agree to anything that was done to them lest they never be invited back. Do you pity them? I did, admittedly, even though I know that they made their own torture bed and that they would have ultimately to lie on it… and be spanked until bloodied and sore.
Of course, not all coercion comes from a whip, a restraint, and the Insex prop department (which looks like a combination between a Hostel and a Hellraiser movie set). Featured models were routinely told that they would be forced to spend some alone time with none other than the creator of Insex himself, Brent Scott, so he may become “inspired” by them. This inspiration could take many forms for the women incorporating either sex or being urinated on and every act in between. If a model should fail to make themselves available for these UNPAID private sessions, such an unthinkable transgression would likely lead to a loss of work and the resulting loss of the insane amount of money which these women quickly became addicted to. While I am liberal enough to realize that, when it comes to all manners of sex, if everything is consensual there is no “wrong” being committed, yet these hardball tactics somehow make me realize that the fetish scene (and, perhaps, all pornography) is run on the same scenario of seduction and extortion practiced by street pimps, and I will likely never view it as “just harmless adult fun” anymore (even though I feel it should be available to all adults who wish to purchase and partake of it).
Eventually Insex was shut down by the Homeland Security Department, which wrongfully thought it was a way for terrorists to funnel money. While this is obviously utter fabrication based on politics, these justifications don’t need to make sense as they are obviously based on the usual morality-based legislation that always comes into play in our society when someone treads too far into the uncharted territory of indecency in the name of art, free expression, and profit. Still, for a website that publically packaged vicarious S+M illusion based on secret real life physical abuse and psychological coercion (using tactics that would have made the C.I.A. proud), the fact that they were ultimately shut down for bullshit political reasons that had nothing to do with their original offense or actually breaking any laws serves as the fitting final moral paradox of a film in which there are many. This is certainly the deepest and smartest film I have ever seen that featured any two of the three words graphic, sexual, and/or horror in the title. While it is slickly packaged like any another wank movie, this one will make you think instead.
Special Features Include unused interview segments, An interview with Co-creator Barbera Bell and a Theatrical Trailer.