The Ascent of “Torture Porn”

Several years ago I was visiting with a neighbor, a career military man, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I asked him what was his most harrowing experience. None of those, he answered. He then walked me through his assignment in the military police, in San Francisco during the 50s, going undercover to penetrate the darkest corner of society's underside and expose what to most was simply unthinkable: the snuff-film world, the dark, seedy rooms where men sat, having paid hundreds of dollars apiece, watching grainy 8 millimeter footage of real humans being tortured and killed.

We wondered then if a "civilized" society could ever accept this genre in the open. It's worth asking again because we are inching ever closer to it.

As long as there's been a Hollywood, there have been "horror" movies. But what qualifies as horror in the eyes of today's horror movie manufactures is altogether different from anything Alfred Hitchcock considered as art.

Take Darren Bousman, director of the forthcoming horror flick Saw IV. He eagerly told MTV.com that in his new movie, "There is a scene…where I physically regurgitated in my mouth… There is stuff in this movie that I'm dying to see whether it gets past the MPAA [ratings board]." Scenes that make the directors vomit make them happy? Bousman told a horror-movie website he's looking forward to his next movie, a horror-film-meets-musical: "There's nudity; there's violence; there's tons of hot girls; there's breaking out in song while ripping spinal cords out. It's great!"

Perhaps you're thinking that these remarks sound like over-enthusiastic pre-release publicity, and I agree. But now take Eli Roth, the maker of the recent flop Hostel: Part II. His delight with gory movie-making is breathtaking. He told Interview magazine that, "Everybody says that I'm different on the days we're shooting the gore — that I'm just extra happy. I try to have that same excitement and enthusiasm for every scene, but when we're doing some really disgusting scene I'll catch myself gleefully jumping up and down at the monitor. I'm so happy I could cry."

And then he said something even more remarkable: "We're in a really violent wave, and I hope it never ends. Hopefully we'll get to the point where there are absolutely no restrictions on any kind of violence in movies."

It's been a bad year at the box office for horror movies, but that's not due to a reluctance to display gore. Due to their low cost and potentially high reward, Hollywood studios are churning out the horror product, 42 movies this year compared to last year's 23. Why aren't they working? Even scary-movie producers acknowledge that there's virtually nothing you can do to a human being onscreen that is taboo any more. The audiences have become de-sensitized, numb — bored.

Which is why these horror manufacturers have now drilled even deeper into the dark side of the human psyche. Self-proclaimed lifelong horror-movie fan Don Kaye wrote a piece for MSN.com suggesting the current ocean of gore on screen has even drawn its own name: "torture porn." It doesn't necessarily involve sex or nudity, although it can. "Instead, it expresses the idea that its viewers are intensely, pruriently aroused by the sight of human bodies — usually young, nubile ones, and quite often female — getting torn into bloody chunks in the most awful ways imaginable."

Exhibit A in this new genre is the forthcoming film Captivity, starring blonde beauty Elisha Cuthbert. In another case of over-enthusiastic publicity, studio executives were forced to withdraw promotional posters in New York and Los Angeles that showed graphic images of the abduction, torture and death of Cuthbert's character on billboards and taxicabs.

Kaye argued that the current tide of blood-splattered "torture porn" causes viewers to feel disgust, not hair-raising fear. The characters are never developed enough to make the audience feel any emotion about them. They're simply straw men and women, there to be sliced and diced. Filmmakers are trying to help audiences enjoy a smackdown of pain and death.

But is this what audiences really want? The current downturn in the horror-movie assembly line could suggest a real disgust with the new trends, or it could simply be an oversaturated market. Or perhaps the horror movie manufacturers will decide that not even "torture porn" is enough and it's time to go deeper still.

What then?

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  • Guest

    The Nazi's are behind this sick theater! Wait a minute……they've been defeated now for 62 years. Hmmm…… Since World War two was battle for control of the world, maybe their enemies are behind it??! Nah, makes too darn much sense.

  • Guest

    It makes you wonder if these directors weren't making movies, would they be serial killers?  Seriously.  I'd be really interested in an FBI profile on these directors and writers based on the content they're putting on the screen.  Are movies just a safe outlet they've found to live out something they really want to do?  Our 'art' reflects our culture and look at the violence in reality.  Serial killer is a household word and the plot of several prime time series.

     

    This isn't a product of the Nazis.  They were just a recent student of the darkest part of what lies in humanity, nourished by real Evil.  Humanity can tap this darkness at any time, then it was during a time of war.  What's really disturbing now is that it is for entertainment.  If people were shown real war footage, but were told it was only a production, would they find it entertaining?  We're not that far from the screaming crowds of the coliseum as we would like.

     

    This is spiritual warfare.  Your soul is damaged by such images.  You should be distressed to see another being in pain, not over-joyed or aroused.  If we sink any lower, what's it going to take to win back our collective soul?

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