February 22, 2010

Torture Porn: That's My Line and I'm Stickin' To It

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My husband and I went and saw "The Final Destination" when it came out. It was hokey and silly and unrealistic and entertaining, though I am slightly surprised that it didn't go straight to DVD honestly. If not for the ability to show the movie at so many theaters in 3-D, I wondered if it would have gone to theaters at all.

When the movie was over, my husband reopened this can-of-worms discussion we've had going on for a while. You see, I refuse to see movies like the Saw movies and Hostel, movies that some critics refer to as "torture porn." I've had an objection to these movies for a long time, and I don't feel the need to sit through them. Not only do I not want to watch them, but I think it's a little weird that ANYONE does.

The problem is, up until this point I've been unable to explain why to my husband in a way that he can understand. What is the difference between "Saw" and "Inglourious Basterds," between "Hostel" and "Final Destination," between "The Collector" and "Doomsday?" Unable to articulate, it often came down to me saying "they're just different" and that it didn't really matter why because I still wasn't going to see them with him.

First, if you haven't heard the term "torture porn" before, here's a small explanation courtesy of Wikipedia:

In the 2000s, there has been a resurgence of films influenced by the splatter genre that depict nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism, sometimes disparagingly labeled "torture porn" by critics and detractors.[11] The Eli Roth film, Hostel (2005), was the first to be called "torture porn" by critic David Edelstein in January 2006, but the classification has since been applied to Saw (2004) and its sequels (though its creators disagree with the classification),[12] The Devil's Rejects (2005), Wolf Creek (2005), and the earlier films Baise-moi (2000) and Ichi the Killer (2001).[11][13][14] Edelstein also included Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) in the genre, due to its explicit scenes.[11] A difference between this group of films and earlier splatter films is that they are often mainstream Hollywood films that receive a wide release and have comparatively high production values.[13]

I admit that I used to be a bigger horror movie fan. The thrill of being scared was something I enjoyed. Something changed after seeing "The Ring" which I found highly disturbing. I couldn't get some of it out of my head, and ever since I've been a little more touchy about these horror movies. But to me, there's a difference between the bloody gore of a movie like "House of Wax" and the psychological horror of "The Ring" or "The Grudge."

Why? Maybe it has something to do with getting older, or with having a child. I'm not sure. I'm much more likely to agree to see a movie with my husband that I feel has some sort of originality and an actual plot. When exposed to previews like the ones for "Saw," I have no desire whatsoever to see the movie. I don't understand what redeeming qualities can possibly come from watching. Generally, nothing good happens at the end of the movie, and even when it does it's rarely enough to redeem the violence, gore, and sadism I've already been exposed to by that point.

When I think of older slasher movies like the original "Halloween" movies, there is often something campy, over-the-top or unrealistic about the violence. Additionally, the violence tends to be someone getting killed. In the past, it seemed that in the horror movies I'd watched the scare was that the bad guy jumped out from hiding, and the extent of the violence was ending the other character's life. I'm not saying that is not violent, don't get me wrong. But to me there is a big difference between that and extended scenes of torture and mutilation.

I think that another part of the equation has to do with the fact that in these 'torture' type movies, you've got a person committing cruel, torturous acts of violence against other people for no reason other than their whims. If there is such a thing as evil in human form, I'd say that would pretty much cover it. There is not supernatural element, and no redemption to come at the end. In general, the movie may end with one or no survivors, other than the perpetrator of the violence, who will go on to the sequel to continue the disgusting trail of blood. At what point does violence for the sake of violence become too much? Mhairi Shaw says it well in his article, "Torture Porn is a Controversial Horror Sub-Genre", when he says:

"Vast amounts of screen time are dedicated to gratuitous scenes of torture – every cut, twist and breakage is amplified, the camera rarely shying away. The idea of the ordeal playing out as a game/test is heavily featured. As a result, the more crucial elements of storytelling are forgotten – or sacrificed for long scenes of torment."

I also agree with Shaw's assessment that perhaps "torture horror" would be a more accurate description here since sexuality is generally not a big part of the picture.

More recently, I found myself at the new "Halloween" with my husband. The movie did have a little backstory and some interesting scenes and imagery. However, I still found myself afterward wondering why it had to be QUITE so violent? While some filmmakers say that the term "torture porn" is derogatory and means that critics can't understand this "art form," I wonder what exactly is artistic about such violence and imagery. Is finding new ways to torture people an art? Is watching someone be eviscerated really artistic? What would it really take away from the movie to remove a little of the blood and guts and make it actually scary instead?

To me, there is a line. There are certain things - rape, torture, sadism for the sake of horror and nothing else, stories with no redeeming values - that I don't want to watch. In the end, it doesn't really matter if I can explain where I draw my line or why I draw it there. It's is what it is. Obviously, my husband draws his line somewhere else.

What about you? Where do you draw your line? Do you watch those uber-violent movies? Do you enjoy them?

8 comments :

Kat said...

I can't do horror movies at all. I don't even care for violence. I mean I have still never seen Saving Private Ryan because of the violence. I guess I am just a wimp at heart :-)

Mandi said...

First, GREAT post. I'd never heard the term "Torture Porn" before but I completely agree that there is a distinction between that and more traditional horror.

I have seen a couple of the Saw movies and the first Hostel movie, mostly because I was dragged by friends. I typically watch them peeking between my fingers and covering my eyes half the time.

Also - I am with you. The Ring was amazingly creepy and The Grudge was the first movie that I let out a genuine scream in the theater. That movie scares me to the core.

Kara said...

I completely agree with everything you wrote. I enjoy suspense/thriller type movies like "Sixth Sense" or movies like "Hide and Seek" or "What Lies Beneath". I also used to love watching horror movies and it stopped even before I had a child. I completely think that the new horrors are getting worse, more graphic, more evil and I don't understand why people want to see it. I guess just morbid curiosity but it almost frightens me that normal people are interested in seeing so much horrible, evil and pointless violence. You mentioned "House of Wax" and for some reason that movie completely disturbed me, even more than "The Ring". Actually, now that I think of it "Jeepers Creepers" freaked me out pretty bad too at the time. In conclusion to my thoughts on this, where is our society going? How far are they going to push the line? I understand freedom of speech but shouldn't there be a limit to what we can make movies about? I'm sure people would be freaking out if someone wrote a completely racist movie.

Kori said...

I don't like horror movies, or overly violent/bloddy movies in general unless tehy are essential to the plot. Like Munich-it was terribly grpahically violent, but it was necessary. In general, I steer away from anything like horror, though-and always have.

Dumblond said...

This is a tough one for me. I like horror movies. I've seen a ton. Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Saw...I'm behind on my Netflix queue because it's so full and I have to watch them alone because my husband hates horror.
I don't like the term "torture porn". It makes me feel like I'm some deviant who gets her jollies off on watching people die in that way.
I.Do.Not.
Do I watch those types of movies? Yes.
Are they good movies? Not all of them.
Why do I like the ones I do? Don't know.
I don't make a habit out of deep analysis. I'll leave that to the professionals.

Dawn said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE horror movies. But I love traditional horror like Freddy. I do like the torture porn too but my taste in movies changed after having kids. Certain movies make me sick and I can't watch them. The movie by Casey Affleck "Gone Baby Gone" will never be watched me. Ever. Real life horror terrorizes me.
But I don't like blood and gore for the sake of blood and gore. House of Wax was horrible and should never have been made.

Lojo said...

I enjoy horror movies and don't have *quite* as much of an issue with torture porn as you've expressed, although I do think the trend has gone a bit overboard. Anything shock worthy seems to be worthy of consumption nowadays :/

I am actually more bothered by the overt sexualization of women in horror movies. Sexually titillate, then kill the source of sexual titillation. REPEAT. Total turn off for me. Especially when the source of overt sexualization doesn't even fit into the plot. Ridiculous.

Ediehope said...

I had a group of students one time who were into writing the mark for "Anarchy" on everything. My thought was that if anarchy really did occur, these guys would be crouching in the corner peeing themselves. They can think it's cool because they have never experienced it. It's the same with these violent torture movies. I doubt that someone who has actually been exposed to torture in real life could watch these types of scenes and be entertained. The truth is that there are people in the world RIGHT THIS MINUTE who are being physically or psychologically abused, or witnessing the same being done to someone else (perhaps their own child). It's a fucking incomprehensible nightmare. What would they think or feel if they knew there were people watching similar scenes and being entertained? Perhaps the people who are benefiting financially from these movies should have to live through it so that they could make a real choice about what they're putting out there. It's just another example of the way we objectify our fellow human beings and it's nothing but sick and wrong.

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