When artist Brent “PD” Scott was teaching in college in the ’80s, he specialized in paintings of women in bondage that he passed off as social commentary, though he admits now that they were really an expression of a fetish he’d had since childhood, when his sister and her friends tormented him. In the ’90s, Scott moved on to films and photographs with live models, then started putting his work on the Internet on the website insex.com. Within the first two weeks, he’d made as much as he would’ve made in a semester of teaching, and before long, he had a steady supply of women who’d seen the site and wanted to volunteer to be tied up and tortured—some for the money, and some because they saw a chance to explore a forbidden side of their sexuality in a safe environment. But as insex.com rose in popularity, the FBI launched an investigation into just how much of what Scott was posting was actually staged.
Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon’s Graphic Sexual Horror begins with the tease of Scott’s brushes with the law, but it isn’t really a narrative documentary. It’s more a record of Scott’s work, supplemented by testimonials from fans, explanations by the models, and anecdotes about the times when insex.com edged up to the line of consent, and perhaps crossed it. The anecdotes and interviews are fascinating and disturbing in equal measure. Women talk openly and emotionally about what they got out of the experience, as do the fans, who praise Scott for concocting scenarios so extreme that there was an element of realism even though the models were willing participants. (“Which I later found out they were,” one fan says, with a creepy tone of disappointment.) And people who worked for Scott describe how a warped sense of purpose began to take hold within the business, wherein all concerned felt that they had to keep going further and further, whether they really wanted to or not.
But the heart of the movie is the footage from insex.com’s live feeds and recorded videos, wherein women were stripped, shackled, pierced, punched, electrified, hung, caged, submerged in water, and otherwise put in situations that left them bruised and weeping even though they were volunteers. There’s no honest way to make a documentary like Graphic Sexual Horror without showing what insex.com was up to, unvarnished. Still, there’s so much of that material in the movie—and so little external context—that at a certain point, Graphic Sexual Horror becomes less about extreme fetish porn, and more an example of it. That may be what Bell and Lorentzon were aiming for, to push the audience beyond their own boundaries, the way Scott and the staff at insex.com did. But there’s no denying, this movie is punishing.
Key features: Deleted scenes, bonus interviews, and a too-brief chat with Bell, who explains her intentions.