Why I Hate Torture Porn

A recent issue of Rue Morgue had an interesting editorial on torture porn. Movies mentioned were The Butcher, Hostel and The Devil’s Rejects. The editorial spoke out against the “genre,” claiming, in not so many words that it’s just cruel and not entertaining or artistic.

I hate the term.

Torture porn is a lazy way to describe a movie. We know what torture is. We know what porn is. To describe movies as such (especially Rob Zombie’s film, which isn’t even a horror film) is to totally misinterpret a movie’s meaning. (Now that torture porn is such a huge deal, however, some of these critics may be responsible for the creation of such films.) It’s as if these critics are saying that a film that involves torture can’t have any artistic integrity or even entertainment value (as crass as that seems). What was really surprising about this editorial, however, was the inclusion of Zombie’s film.

The Devil’s Rejects is not a horror film. It’s a film that has horrific elements and scenes, but to consider it in the same family as something like Hostel is misguided at best.

When cinematic history looks back at this period of horror films, I believe the scholars will come to a few conclusions about the “torture porn” genre. The first being that it is a reaction to the political/social climate where as a country we were evil (I can’t think of a better word) to the rest of the world under Bush Jr.’s regime, and reality television, where souls were bared to the entertainment of the world, reigned supreme. The other thing that will be seen is that these films were not only a reaction to the political/social climate, but also the state of horror films, where far too many “horror” movies that were being put out there as scary were little more than PG-13 teen fright flicks with little in the way of scares and much in the way of computer generated nonsense meant to unsettle viewers, but was often confusing at best. People like Eli Roth (Hostel) gained their love of horror in the ’70s and ’80s when horror wasn’t safe and CGI had not taken over. As a director, seeing what has been done with the genre, he would naturally feel a bit insulted and challenged. What we get is what critics and general audiences have a hard time handling … thus calling it torture porn.

What is surprising is the remakes. The Hills Have Eyes. Last House on the Left. The original movies are not pleasant bits of cinema (I would love to see what the torture porn haters would say about them now), and while I refuse to see the remakes I have heard from people who have seen both versions that the remakes are toned down versions of what went on before. I imagine the Cannibal Holocaust remake will be much of the same. So what does this mean? Has the horror film grown harsher? Nope. The problem lies with the audience.

Audience (of which critics are a part) have grown softer. Audiences are used to having the punches pulled. They are used to things being safe. After cinema lost its balls in the ’80s, people started to feel very safe going to see the latest bit of “fright” or whatnot. And since we are Americans and have the attention span of an ADD MTV child, we forgot what horror cinema used to be like. Because of that, people are offended by what is coming out today (though it doesn’t even come close to the Guinea Pig series which came out well before this run of “torture porn”). It destroys their delicate sensibilities and bothers them, thus they dismiss it as mere “porn” because in their minds porn has no value.

Here’s the deal on torture. It’s been used in movies before Saw came out. Our government engages in it. (Where is the outcry there?) However, one is fiction and the other reality.¬†Horror movies¬†have always been examinations of what is happening in our society. To think they would not be influenced by the actions of our government is to say you don’t know the history of cinema or even horror cinema. It shows your ignorance.

Porn is an industry that generates billions. It is seen as a release for many people. It is sometimes erotic. Sometimes exploitive. It can be artistic or raw. No matter what it is, however, it serves as a release catalyst. It, like torture, has been around for a very long, long time. To dismiss its power or even societal value is to again speak to one’s ignorance.

The fact that people call these latest horror movies “torture porn” in such a dismissive way shows one thing: They just don’t get it. They are on the right track, as critics usually have some sense of film history, but they expose their biases in the terms they use. They expose their ignorance in the way it is said. So maybe it is torture porn, but it’s only that way because it upsets you, which is exactly the point.

I prefer calling them what they are: reactionary. (Though years ago I coined the term “Hell cinema,” though it would only apply to stuff like The Devil’s Rejects in this case.)

Some critics never get it right. And they wonder why they aren’t respected.

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