Film, OldVenue

The Curious Case of Torture Porn

For

The whole concept of the ‘torture porn’ genre (created by a fusion of the splatter and slasher genre) has been a much-debated issue since its emergence in the late 2000s. A comparison can be drawn between said emergence and tumultuous debate with the ‘video nasties’ scare of the eighties, when titles such as The Evil Dead were cut or downright banned due to their violent nature for fear that such content would inspire violence in the youth of the day. Of course looking back – with The Evil Dead and such titles now available uncut – it seems totally ridiculous that such censorship was enforced, and it’s becoming apparent that the same is true of the ‘torture porn’ genre.

There seems to be a somewhat sniffy attitude held among many which assume that films of this type have nothing to say and are violence for violence’s sake. I would remind those people that for every gory masturbation fantasy (the Hostel films) and trash which tries to make us sympathize with reprehensible people (The Devil’s Rejects), there are films of this type that do have brains (besides those strewn over the blood-soaked sets). The unrelentingly shocking Martyrs is an example of horror that holds you utterly transfixed by the gore but contains transcendent elements that are little-seen in cinema full-stop, let alone slasher flicks.

True, torture porn as a use of free expression is one of the more unconventional forms, but that hardly makes it less relevant. For some, it provides a way to relay messages and values in a different form, or gives the audience a window into the mind of the director, (even if all we find is the twisted immaturity of Eli Roth). The cutting or prohibiting of film for the purposes of censorship is akin to the burning of a book, regardless of its content or quality.

 

Against

Many will associate ‘torture porn’ or ‘gorno’ with famous examples such as the Saw and Hostel movies, which depict all sorts of imaginative ways of cutting, burning, gouging and of course, sawing human bodies. There is no doubt that we have a dark, perhaps latently sadistic, side; gore has long been a key feature in Gothic literature which spans back over centuries. However, it is the way these deeply graphic scenes of violence are represented in modern cinema which raises alarm. Consider this quote from Eli Roth discussing his movie poster at the press junket for Hostel 2: “Any time people see women in a horror film they say, ‘Oh, these girls are just pieces of meat.’ And, literally, in Hostel 2, that’s exactly what they are. They are the bait, they are the meat, they are the grist for the mill. So I thought it was actually a really smart poster … and really, really disgusting! I love it”.

It is troubling that he did not even pretend that there was a higher political motive behind the violence (like there might be in A Clockwork Orange, for example). Instead, Roth articulates the brutal misogyny which bubbles indiscreetly beneath the surface of these films. Here lies the problem: we see predominantly attractive female characters being tortured which blurs the lines between violence and sex in a dangerous manner. Having these films in the mainstream continuously desensitises audiences to this intense violence and creates a sinister journey of association which starts with the objectification of a woman’s body and ends with hacking her leg off while she screams in pain.

Though I am a strong advocate for artistic freedom, I believe that extreme examples of ‘torture porn’ express an unsettling departure from humanity, especially towards women, and therefore offer none of the emotional depth that can be found in other ‘dark’ cinematic works.

28/10/2014

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chrisrogers



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