So many people nowadays have had their lives touched by addiction, cancer, and other insidious terminal diseases that cause immense misery and pain for loved ones. It's this personal sense of mourning and loss that is the underlying theme of "Painkiller."
What if you could replace pain with pleasure? What if, instead of suffering, we could experience sublime ecstasy? What would you do, what length would you go, to create something that would ease your loved one's pain?
In Jerry Janda's "Painkiller" two scientists create an organism that absorbs a person's physical pain, and replaces it with pleasure. However, like most creatures created to help humanity in horror films, things quickly escalate out of hand once the organism is attached to one of the scientist's spine. In a nod to David Cronenberg's "Shivers", the organism is a parasite that makes it's host crave sexual pleasure that is gained from receiving physical pain.
The theme of turning pain into pleasure was brought to the forefront of horror in the 1980s by Clive Barker's "Hellraiser." It is one of those borderline sexual taboos that tend to have more of a home in erotica than most horror movies, which is also why I think that it's one that should be explored further. Not because it's such an eyebrow raising topic, but because it is one aspect inherent to human nature that we often deny existing.
Like "Hellraiser", "Painkiller" is, at it's core, a twisted, perverted love story about two people's obsession with pain and pleasure. The killer, played by Jerry Janda, goes out of his way to hunt down a woman addicted to pain. The female scientist's partner loves her, and it's his love for her that makes it difficult for him to bring himself to hurt her. When it's apparent that there is no way to remove the parasitic pain loving entity, he becomes desperate to find a way to satiate her ever growing need for pain and pleasure. Because he can no longer stomach injuring her, he accepts an offer by a stranger who is more than eager to take care of the problem for him. It's clear that eventually, her addiction to pain will kill her, and she'll love every minute of it.
Overall the script is tight and written quite well. Short films have to have tightly written scripts, because they have to tell a story in a very limited amount of time. Speaking of the screenwriter, Janda also filled several other roles for the film, from producer to actor.
I have to say, while some of Janda's screen time shows him as a stiff, inexperienced actor, (this is his first time acting in a movie) by the end of the film, he fully gets into character for an explosive, viciously violent, end.
Kelly Rae LeGault's intense portrayal of the scientist who uses her own body to test the organism is chilling, and wonderful at the same time. The scientist enjoys the pleasure that the creature makes so much, that she quickly becomes addicted to it. Things go downhill for her and her partner after that.
As usual, director Jeremiah Kipp does a fantastic job creating a visually compelling story. While you might think that there's going to be a ton of blood and gore and violence committed on-screen, this short film is not torture porn. Almost all of the violence committed to LeGault's character is done just out of view of the camera. This filming technique allows the viewer's mind to fill in the details with horrifying pictures of mutilation and torture, without having to resort to graphic scenes or gratuitous body damage.
Some people may not enjoy the violence aspect of this film. Gorehounds will also be disappointed, as "Painkiller" treads a fine line between body horror and torture porn. I thought it was perfect in that respect. It showed just enough to make you cringe, but not enough to make you run from the room because you're about to throw up. Janda wrote the script like this on purpose. This is an intelligent film that doesn't spoon feed you every little detail. The audience is forced to fill in the gaps, and the lack of answers is not aggravating, but refreshing. It's not often that I find a film with a perfect balance of mystery and growing dread that "Painkiller" has.
You can read more about how the short film came about in an interview Janda did with [re]Search my Trash here.
If you love Cronenberg type body horror films, where science has gone completely awry and created a sensual monster, you'll love "Painkiller."