« Choosing A Sex Lubricant | Main | Hollywood Is Officially Out Of Ideas: Horror Movie Remakes »

September 08, 2008

Horror Movies And "Torture Porn"

The Tie Between Sex And Violence
Horror Movies And "Torture Porn"
By Elizabeth Black

There is something cathartic about a good horror movie. The suspense and terror are often accompanied by scenes of either blatant or repressed sexuality. Nastassia Kinski's character in the remake of "Cat People" must suppress her sexual feelings or she will change into a panther. The movie "Scream" is famous for its "rules", one of which is that any character (especially teenaged and college-aged characters) that has exciting, pre-marital sex in a horror movie will die before the credits roll.

Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies human sexuality and love, said that there is a tie between fear and sexual arousal. The hormone dopamine comes into play when we are frightened. The emotions involved with fear are similar to the feelings involved in sexual arousal. Fisher says that, rather than roses and a nice dinner, it might be more exciting to take your date to a horror movie if you hope to get lucky that night. In an article for iVillage, Fisher said that "the novelty of a dangerous situation you'd see in a horror movie or after trying a slightly risky, adrenaline-fueled activity together can also feed dopamine levels and make him want to feel emotionally closer to you via sex." Some of the best horror movies, such as the Nastassia Kinski "Cat People", the original "The Haunting", and "The Legend Of Hell House", have strong sexual overtones along with the terror. We jump into our partner's arms at the thrilling scenes, elevating our sexual arousal.

The appeal of horror films is that we control our level of terror. We can always avert our eyes, leave the theatre, or turn off the TV. We can remind ourselves that it is only a movie. We know what we are seeing is not real, and we can enjoy the thrill of being scared, yet being in full control of our situation. Real life doesn't always allow that kind of control. Quite often in these films, the hero or heroine survive the terror in the end.

Over the past year or two, it has been difficult to find good horror movies. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that seemed so wrong with the newest crop of terror. Serial killers had become very popular, but they can become boring very quickly. These new horror movies weren't so much scary as gross and dehumanizing. The sexual aspects remained, but the violence was much more intense. There are only so many ways you can kill someone without going over the line into Grand Guignol. Granted, confusing sex with violence is nothing new in horror movies. "Re-animator" contains a famous scene of the decapitated head of a scientist performing cunnilingus on the female star, who is strapped naked to a table. That is oral rape, since the man is forcing himself on her against her will, plus she is tied to the table, unable to escape. The heroine of the cult classic "I Spit On Your Grave" is brutally raped for forty-five minutes in a voyeuristic, sexualized fashion. She gets her revenge by creatively killing off all of the men who had assaulted her. The movie is cathartic in that she takes control of her situation following her rape, and she exacts her revenge. The modern horror films don't seem to do that. Creatively torturing and then killing people, especially women, just to do it over and over again gets old fast.

Or so I had thought.

The media has been following these types of movies, and calls them "torture porn". Another term being bandied about but is not nearly as common is "gorno", a portmanteau of "gore" and "porno". New York Magazine ticked off a list of these movies – "The Devil's Rejects", "Saw", "Wolf Creek", "Hostel", and even "The Passion of the Christ". A screenwriter friend of the New York reporter thought that the trend might just be "a way of ratcheting up the stakes". The reporter also noted that there is a masochistic as well as sadistic component to the mayhem. The sexual overtones are there, but the focus is on terrorizing, torturing, and then killing the main characters, especially female characters. These movies feel hopeless.

Modern tragedies do not affect the release of these films. Despite the shootings as Virginia Tech, Lionsgate released "Hostel: Part II" on June 8. This movie is about the torture killing of college students. Women are the main targets in torture porn. According to The Guardian, the most famous scene in the original "Hostel" was of "a man taking a blowtorch to a woman's face, her eyeball coming out and dangling from the socket. Later, another character snips it off with some scissors."

While the violence in these movies is obvious, also obvious is the sexual torture, especially of women. An article in The Guardian noted that "it's the violence against women that's most troubling, because it is here that sex and extreme violence collide." Nubile young women are shown in various stages of undress, and they are tortured, sometimes sexually, and then killed. According to New York Magazine, Carol Clover described differences between torture porn and older slasher films in her book "Men, Women, and Chain Saws". Clover said that "many hack-’em-ups are empowering; the “final girl” always slays the monster." Sally in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" gets away in the end. Adrienne Barbeau's Stevie Wayne escapes the ghosts of lepers trying to kill her in "The Fog". Jamie Lee Curtis slays villain Michael Myers in "Halloween" and its first sequel. Nothing of the sort happens in modern torture porn. Nicole remains trapped and cowering in "Rest Stop" after the audience watched her be physically and psychologically tortured for over two hours. She also ends up dressed only in her bra and torn jeans in the end, while covered with her own blood. Even the French have gotten into the act. We watch the hero and heroine of "Ils" ("Them") attempt in vain to survive their home invasion only to die in the end. The identity of their killers is an especially grisly twist that I won't identify in case readers plan to see the movie or the American version, "The Strangers", starring Liv Tyler. These movies also have the cache of supposedly being based on a true story. The "final girls" in "Wolf Creek" and "The Devil’s Rejects" also die grisly deaths after hours of torture.

The movie "Captivity" started getting negative press before the film released, which only gave it more attention. Nicole Sperling reported in The Hollywood Reporter that, "[i]n the wake of a public outcry against Los Angeles billboards and New York taxicab tops advertising the upcoming movie "Captivity" with images of the abduction, torture and death of a young woman, After Dark Films said it will take down the offending ads by 2 p.m. today." After Dark and Lionsgate received scads of phone calls complaining about the "gratuitous depiction" of the film's star, played by Elisha Cuthbert, being tortured and killed. The billboard ads were described as follows: "Abduction " shows Cuthbert with a gloved hand over her face; "Confinement" features the actress behind a chain-link fence with a bloody finger poking through; "Torture" depicts Cuthbert's face, covered in white gauze, with tubes shoved up her nose; and "Termination" shows her with her head thrown back, seemingly dead." Cuthbert is a very attractive young woman who was recently voted the 10th sexiest woman in the world by young male readers of FHM magazine. The expression on her face in the "Termination" ad was frighteningly close to an expression of sexual orgasm, although she was clearly supposed to be dead in the ad. The "Termination" ad had also emphasized Cuthbert's breasts, as if to sexualize her after death.

Josh Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly", has written against the "torture porn" trend. He wrote a letter to the Motion Picture Association of America in protest of graphic promotional material of the movie "Captivity". He wrote: "The advent of torture-porn and the total dehumanizing not just of women (though they always come first) but of all human beings has made horror a largely unpalatable genre." He also wrote that the ad campaign “is not only a literal sign of the collapse of humanity, it’s an assault … this ad is part of a cycle of violence and misogyny that takes something away from the people who have to see it. It’s like being mugged.” Jill Soloway, one of the writers of the hit series "Six Feet Under", described the ads as the most repulsive, horrifying, woman-hating, human-hating thing I have ever seen in public” and didn’t just represent “horror, this wasn’t just misogyny … It was a grody combo platter of the two, the torture almost a punishment for the sexiness. It had come from such a despicable inhuman hatred place that it somehow managed to recall Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust, porn and snuff films all at once.” The ads were taken down after much protest.

"Torture porn" may be a fad that is likely to fade. Hopefully, horror movies that rely on plot and character development and atmosphere to scare the public will surge in popularity once again. Movie-goers deserve good, seasoned horror flicks like "The Ring", "The Changeling", and "The Devil's Backbone" rather than a smorgasboard of bloody entrails and hacked body parts. Sex has a place in horror movies such as "The Vampire Lovers". Horror movie fans may once again enjoy their popcorn with a good move that will genuinely scare and entice them, not make them feel dehumanized and violated.

SOURCES

"'Captivity' Audience Rebels as 'Torture Porn' Arouses MPAA Fury," by Claude Brodesser-Akner. In The Zone. March 29, 2007.
http://www.tmz.com/2007/03/29/captivity-audience-rebels-as-torture-porn-arouses-mpaa-fury/

"Annals Of Ill-conceived Outdoor Movie Advertising: The 'Captivity' Billboards", by , Defamer: The L. A. Gossip Rag, March 19, 2007.
http://defamer.com/hollywood/captivity/annals-of-ill+conceived-outdoor-movie-advertising-the-captivity-billboards-245382.php

"Stop Killing Elisha On That Billboard, Thanks", by Stacy Parker, The Huffington Post, March 20, 2007.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stacy-parker-aab/please-stop-killing-elish_b_43916.html

"After Virginia Tech, Testing Limits Of Movie Violence," by Michael Cieply, The New York Times, April 30, 2007.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/30/business/media/30hostel.html

"For Your Entertainment", by Kira Cochrane, The Guardian, May 1, 2007.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2069198,00.html

"Torture Porn Again", FourFour Blog, November 1, 2006.
http://fourfour.typepad.com/fourfour/2006/11/torture_porn_ag.html

"Horror Movies 101: The Moral Majority Massacre (Part 2 of 4): The Slasher Film", by Lonnie Martin, Great Society,
http://www.greatsociety.org/fpm/content/view/225/2/

"Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn: Why has America gone nuts for blood, guts, and sadism?" By David Edelstein, New York Magazine,
http://nymag.com/movies/features/15622/

"Hollywood's Insatiable Appetite for Torture Porn
Frightening, sex-soaked flicks are becoming downright offensive," by Mary O'Regan , The Utne Reader, April 19, 2007
http://www.utne.com/webwatch/2007_295/news/12526-1.html

"I don't think sex or violence is harmful in movies," By Mike Goodridge, This Is London: Evening Standard, April 12, 2007.
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/film/article-23392393-details/I+don't+think+sex+or+violence+is+harmful+in+movies/article.do

"3 Kinds Of Sex All Men Crave", by Nora Zevelansky
Love & Lust, Sex Articles, iVillage
http://magazines.ivillage.com/cosmopolitan/sex/no/articles/0,,426380_672386-3,00.html

"Justin's Guide To Why People Die In Horror Movies", by Justin, Mutant Reviewers, December 6, 2003.
http://www.mutantreviewers.com/rjg17.html

"Scream", by Xamot, Everything Too, July 7, 2000.
http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=Scream


Posted on September 8, 2008 at 11:21 AM | Permalink

Comments

I read an article several years ago on the nature of monsters. Its hypothesis is that our monsters reflect the things a culture is not willing to deal with or think about.

The first modern fictional monster according to this article was Frankenstein's monster. The world was changing, science coming to the fore and the natural world was being left behind. This was something that frightened many people but they weren't willing to think about it.

So Frankenstein's monster was created by science and was distinctly 'unnatural'.

The next major monsters were Dracula and Mr. Hyde. The thing that the late Victorian culture that created them was not willing to deal with was sex. Dracula and Mr. Hyde were distinctly sexual monsters.

These days, despite its prevalence in movies and on TV, the thing people are not willing to deal with is death. It's not part of our lives and we're not willing to deal with it. So our monsters are killers because death is an unknown and it frightens us.

I suspect, judging from the 'torture porn' being created, that death is even more unknowable and more frightening than it's ever been. I also suspect it may be a commentary on the changing roles of men and how that frightens us as well.

Posted by: Rob Graham at Sep 8, 2008 12:11:29 PM

I agree with you, Rob. Death scares everyone to death (pardon the bad pun), and it seems that each generation has a new way of handling it. I think even the CSIs falls into the "how do we treat death?" category, because it's graphic but matter-of-fact. It tries to make death an everyday occurrence, even though the cases are usually murders. Each culture's horror movies show what I think the people are grappling with the most at that time. I have seen almost every modern Asian horror film in existence, and I think a lot of them have to do with the breakdown of the family. "The Ring" and its sequels (and the TV series - I have that on DVD), "Uzumaki", and "Dark Water" show families falling apart. I know that the family is very important in Asian culture, and attitudes about it are changing, especially women's attitudes about marriage, children, and the "work until you drop dead" ethic, especially in Japan.

I've done a lot of political and feminist writing, and I think "torture porn" reveals American fear about the changing roles of women, especially women gaining power and independence. While the "torture porn" trend is dying down, women's issues still make the news. Just look at how the first viable female Presidential candidate was treated by both parties and the media during her campaign. The current Republican VP candidate is getting similar sexist treatment (esp. from supposedly liberal men), but she's also a conundrum because (1) the same people who complained about women "whining" about sexism, and directed sexist commentary towards the female Dem. Pres. candidate all the while claiming they weren't being sexist, have suddenly discovered sexism when it's directed at their own candidate, and (2) she's been depicted in the media as progressive while her views actually represent a set-back for most women. The ultimate way to "shut the bitch up" - and that refers to any woman, not just one running for public office - is to kill her. While there are male victims, "torture porn" is well-known for the way it debases, torture, and finally kills women.

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 8, 2008 12:35:27 PM

I'm a writer of paranormal/horror erotica and found this article fascinating and informative. I adore horror movies, but when I say horror I refer to movies that range from anything staring Vincent Price to the original 'Fog' and even such modern movies as the 'Messengers' or 'Gothika'. I have no desire to watch a movie that is simply an hour and half to two hours of people being tortured, maimed, and mutilated with no purpose in mind than to see just how much blood the makers of the film can toss at the viewer. Whatever happened to suspense? To plot?

These new filmmakers who foist what amounts to violence for the sake of violence on movie goers need to take a long, hard look at the filmmakers who came before them. Those filmmakers could terrify and scintillate the audience without the buckets of blood/gore. They believed that the audience was intelligent and imaginative in their own right thus 'less was more'.

Thank you for posting this article. I would love to post a link on my MySpace page if that's okay. Just let me know.

Posted by: Jesse Fox at Sep 8, 2008 12:36:46 PM

Hey, Jesse, glad you liked the article. Yes, feel free to post a link on your MySpace page to it. I like the older horror movies, too, but there are a few recent ones that are quite good. I also loved the original "The Fog". Such a novel idea! I have the original on DVD.

Even movies from the past that were accused of glorifying violence actually had some points to make, especially about society. Look at the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "2,000 Maniacs". Both are very much over-the-top, but they weren't only about hacking people up. I think those two were about city people's fear of rural people they neither knew nor understood. "Deliverance" focused on the same theme.

Another point that you hinted at is this - why all the shitty remakes of perfectly good horror movies? Why remake "The Fog" and "Psycho"? Just see the originals! I found the original French version of "The Strangers" entitled "Ils" (Them). While it's not one of my favorites, it made the news because it was supposedly based on a true story. The surprise was the shocking ending. I won't give it away, but that ending really did make my eyes open wide, mostly because I think that is the "real" thing the reviewers talked about. Still, even though I didn't think it was all that great, why remake it? Why not see the original? The only remake I thought was good - better than the original, in fact - was John Carpenter's "The Thing". You probably know it was based more on the story than the original movie, and the remake is one of my all-time favorites. I have it on DVD.

Glad to see you here. This is a fun discussion.

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 8, 2008 1:22:24 PM

Even as a casual and occasional sampler of S&M activities, I have to admit that I often find gorno not only shocking but sickening. IMO, S&M is much more about empowering those who play, than not. Gorno on the other hand is not only about stripping away power but even humanity, turning human beings into their most basic animalistic characteristics of pain, need for survival, breeding, and too often, just meat.

But I suspect there's another undercurrent of appeal to these kinds of productions. It's not hard to look at the internet and realize the ever-expanding resources available to those looking for sexual stimulation in any and all forms. There just has never been anything like it. But as all of these strange and wonderful and twisted and sickening images are displayed to anyone looking for them, one really has to wonder how many of these people grow up exploring sex in this way without ever making the human connection, tied only to their computers. I suspect a great many people who are raised little enough by family and community, but instead by their televisions, video games, and internet access are simply utterly deprived of real human contact. The object of your sexual desires doesn't respond to you, what must you do to make it respond. And notice I say "it" and not "her" as there may not be any real connection made to the images on the screen to real live human beings.

I myself sometimes wonder if my interest in S&M came from some early imprinting of the faces of women in orgasm and simply not understanding as a child the difference between the expressions of pain and pleasure. I recall having the sexualized thoughts of BDSM as early as the age of 7 or 8. Whatever the root, sexual preferences in my opinion, one formed by my own experiences, can and do emerge early in life, much earlier than the onset of puberty. I never grew to harm animals, ever, nor women, ever, nor do I have any desire to do so -- but I admit, it can be very tough at times grappling with issues you just don't talk to your parents about when they give you the talk about the birds and the bees.

So how does society as a whole make the statement that this kind of abuse is revolting and unacceptable and yet grapple with it's own boundaries of art and entertainment and free speech, while fostering a society that is about the human connection and the good of one's fellow man and woman.

Or something.


Posted by: grimm at Sep 9, 2008 3:46:09 PM

Found my way here from Pharyngula (and find myself a tad frustrated with the article posted). While I by no means think gore flicks are the pinnacle of human culture, I do have disagreements with the arguments put forth. The article states that "torture porn" has certain attributes:

- "Women are the main targets in torture porn."
- "the focus is on terrorizing, torturing, and then killing the main characters, especially female characters"
- "while the violence in these movies is obvious, also obvious is the sexual torture, especially of women"
- "Nubile young women are shown in various stages of undress, and they are tortured, sometimes sexually, and then killed."

Yet these are the primary examples given of the genre (excuse mistakes from my memory):

"The Devil's Rejects" - Both men and women tortured and killed, in equal numbers if I recall correctly (couples were tortured). Some of it was quasi-sexual - one of the middle-age (not nubile) female victims forced to strip at one point...

"Saw" - If I recall correctly, several men tortured and killed, one woman briefly tortured but lives. Nothing sexualized in this film.

"Wolf Creek" - One man tortured and killed. Two women tortured mostly in the sense that they are chased around endlessly, then killed. If I recall there is a scene of threatened rape that is not completed. ("Based on a true story" I think).

"Hostel" - I haven't seen - but my understanding is both men and women are tortured(?). Sexually? Apparently not.

"Passion of the Christ" - Haven't see it, either. Was someone other than Jebus tortured and killed? Sexually?

(I don't have anything to say about "Captivity", haven't seen it, but it sounds like the author hasn't either, and is judging the film based on its ad campaign. Very intellectual.)

In other words, the primary examples given of the "torture porn" genre don't fit the central thesis that the sexual torture of women is at its center. Did the writer of the article even watch the films? Doesn't seem so since the article seems to rely on others' quotes a bit too much.

Women are only the primary victims of torture and murder in these films only if you ignore the torture and murder of men. If men are included, it seems they even outnumber the women as victims.

Sort of reminds me of when I was helping to organize a film series at a college and was told that no films with scenes dealing with rape would be permitted. I pointed out that they already had Shawshank Redemption on the list, and was told that it didn't count, since a man was a victim in that film.

Another example, perhaps, of seeing trends in the sensitivity of viewers and mistaking them for trends in what is actually going on - sexist, but perhaps not in the direction originally argued...

Posted by: Francine DuBois at Sep 9, 2008 4:54:31 PM

Francine,

You misunderstand. Torture porn does not only refer to women being tortured sexually, though that is certainly sometimes an element. The name refers to the graphic nature of torture in generally low budget movies, comparable to basic graphic sex in normal porn movies. Torture porn is simply the extremely brutal extremely graphic depiction of violence performed on victims irregardless of gender in movies. It doesn't have to be a low-budget horror movie, and a good example is Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" which is essentially the very detailed depiction of Jesus Christ being tortured to death. Or as also mentioned in the article above, look to the sensationalized offerings of autopsies on the TV show CSI.

There are examples of sexual torture gorno movies -- look if you can to the movie Irreversible for a 10 minute long violent rape scene followed by the victim nearly being beaten to death.

Similar to porno movies graphic depictions of sex, gorno movies portray violence in mind-numbing detail, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Posted by: grimm at Sep 9, 2008 7:12:52 PM

I've mentioned in my post that torture porn refers to the hopeless, graphic nature of the violence in the movies. I did not ignore men as victims. I talked about two things - the graphic, pointless nature of the violence itself, and how women have been treated in these kinds of movies. While men are killed in these movies, and I did acknowledge that, women victims are often under more of a microscope. That's been true of many horror movies for decades, the difference with torture porn is that it is nothing more than endless, escalating graphic depictions of torture from beginning to end without any real kind of point being made. Even graphic, older horror films such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" were making points about what some people found frightening at that point in time. Torture porn doesn't do that. It's just escalating, gratuitous violence that escalates as if asking how much the audience can take.

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 9, 2008 7:41:28 PM

Grimm, I think a key point about S&M is that much of it is about consent and safety, both emotionally and physically. It's no accident that S&M involves safe words. Torture porn takes away the consent and safety, reducing human beings to pieces of flesh to be ripped apart, for audience entertainment. I agree with you that S&M and torture porn have little if anything in common. S&M is also about allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and you know what happens to vulnerable people in torture porn.

While I don't practice S&M, I have written erotic fiction with S&M as a plotline. The vulnerability, trust, consent, and safety were very important in my story because that's what I learned about S&M in my research. While it doesn't appeal to me personally, I understand it. I agree with you that torture porn is very different.

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 9, 2008 7:54:15 PM

I remember a few months before "Saw" came out that there was a video online with a scene from the movie, touting "Saw" as the scariest movie made in decades. This blurb heaped all kinds of praise on the movie, really getting excited about it. I was getting excited too, since I'm always game for a good horror movie, so I watched the video, waiting to be wowed. It was the scene with the woman with the jaw harness locked on her head, and she had to dig the key out of the belly of the guy on the floor. She had only a few minutes to do it, or the harness would open and break her jaw. The dilemma was clear - save your life or take his to get the key? She dug the key out of his stomach and unlocked the harness, and threw it to the floor. A few seconds later, it opened. End of online video.

I just went... okay. That wasn't scary. That was pointless. I didn't even think it was really all that graphic or bloody. So this was the scariest movie in decades? I didn't agree, but I saw it later anyway. The thing that stood out for me the most was that there was a guy lying on the floor during the entire movie, and the two characters in the room didn't even acknowledge that he was there. They literally ignored the elephant in the living room. Of course, at the end, you know what happened.

I thought "Saw" was boring. I never did care much for serial killer movies (except for "Silence of the Lambs") because they seem to be very one-note. Give me Hammer Films and "The Devil's Backbone" any day over movies like "Saw".

Posted by: The Countess at Sep 9, 2008 8:05:13 PM

"The Countess,"

I do not misunderstand.

I do indeed understand what "torture porn" refers to, but the above article is so biased to focus on women and sex that the author doesn't seem to understand the standard working definition. If you don't see the bias, please reread the quotes I pulled and included in my first comment - they essentially redefine "torture porn" with women as the victims. The bias is particularly revealed when the films chosen as examples do not support that bias, and in fact may suggest an opposite trend.

My point EXACTLY is that the bias may be in the viewer, and not necessarily in the source material. You reveal a bias when you reference Irreversible's infamous rape scene, but not the other brutal scene in that film, where we see a potentially innocent man's head beaten dozens of times with a fire extinguisher until it is literally crushed to a pulp. Perhaps the brutal death of a man does not resound as strongly with you, or audiences in general, as the brutal rape and assault of a woman.

Similarly, the article mentions Wolf Creek as a film where in the end the "final girls" (whatever the hell that means, there were only two to begin with) die "grisly deaths after hours of torture" - yes, they were primarily psychologically tortured with the standard endless horror film chase scenes, and in the end one was shot and instantly killed, and the other stabbed with a swift death following. The male victim of the film is not mentioned at all by the article. He died a slow torturous death, being eaten alive from the feet up by dogs. I guess the author didn't find that worth mentioning.

Also, if you label "Irreversible" as "gorno" because of the one scene you mention, and see no other redeeming qualities in the film, then it is no wonder you are so quick to categorically dismiss so many other films with the broad dismissive label of "porn." Based on your assessment of Irreversible as "gorno," I can only assume that you would also dismiss Schindler's List, A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Psycho as nothing more than porno for degenerates.

I assume not, since when the article whips out the claim that "graphic, older horror films such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" had redeeming qualities, it really seems to be passing judgement based on the author's view rather than the material itself - and quite frankly, it makes the author sound like an ole-fuddy-duddy of the "they-don't-make-them-like-they-used-to" variety. When I think of the scene from that film, of an attractive young teenager struggling, impaled on a meat-hook, I'm not sure how you'd label that moment as anything but graphic torture of the pornographic variety.

But the article already implied a historical bias when it defended Halloween - Michael/Leatherface/Jason/Freddie finding new and inventive ways to kill "nubile" teenagers in each film surely qualifies more as "torture porn" than a film like "Saw." At its essence Saw is just two men locked in a room with no understanding of why/how they got there, with a horrible choice given to them to save their own lives. The point was much more creeping psychological terror than the off-camera gore that eventually occurs. You didn't have to like "Saw," but to call it a dismissive term like "gorno" just suggests that you were missing the point.

When Psycho was released in 1960, many decried it as the end of cinema as anything but movies for degenerates - such brutality as depicted in the film (not to mention the toilet!) was inexcusable and the art form could not be recovered. (As Josh Whedon declared hyperbolically regarding an advertising for a film, "a literal sign of the collapse of humanity.") The commentators of the world who have latched on to the label of "torture porn" share a lot in common with those 1960-era fuddy-duddies - seemingly, both are unable to judge films independently on their merits once a certain threshold of physical torment is depicted. Recently, the AFI listed Psycho as the #14 best movie of all time - I'm glad it wasn't dismissed as "gorno" back in the good-ole-days...

In closing, the whole idea of examining the presentation of male and female characters being tormented in popular culture is a good one. However, the article is too biased, takes a too simplistic approach to the problem, and paints too broad a stroke with its label of "torture porn." Seeing the torture and murder of women as a trend or focus in film isn't necessarily the result of a misogynistic, woman-hating/objectifying/devaluing, sadistic-male viewpoint - indeed the exact OPPOSITE may be the case.

An equally valid possibility is that people want to see something that horrifies them, and in our society violence against women is more horrifying than violence against men.

Francine

Posted by: Francine DuBois at Sep 10, 2008 9:13:24 AM