Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Line Between Horror and Horrible

A recent email from my sister Meredith got me thinking more about the whole "torture-porn" debate still going on. I have been pretty silent on the issue except for the occasional derisive generalization or dismissive sigh. I don't have much to add that hasn't been said more eloquently elsewhere, so feel free to skip this post if you've already read three or more articles on the topic.

After the release of Hostel II, I followed the latest wave torture-porn discussion that raged across the internet. One of my favorite bloggers, Film Brain, had a succinct post a while back that made some great points. I stayed out of the discussion for the most part, just as I stayed out of the screenings, possibly because I'd already been burned by enough low-quality, high-shock material riding on notoriety and hype. I have to say that I don't like the films known by the "torture-porn" moniker nor do I understand the pleasure in watching them. I get extremely annoyed at the people who are only interested in "proving" how much gore and sadism they can take.

Keep in mind, this is coming from a guy who loves gialli and appreciates the mix of style, kitsch, murder and exploitation that gets stirred around in that frequently maligned subgenre.

Some randomly cobbled-together comments on the subject:

1) I think the phrase torture-porn is too loaded of a term and should not have become the accepted subgenre title. I think the individual movies have to be evaluated in terms of their modes of audience engagement, the filmmaker's intentions and the reception by audiences before they deserve the designation of "torture-porn" and sadly, I don't see anyone even attempting to do that seriously. It would make interesting reading for sure. That said, I too have tossed the phrase around with a derogatory tone and I admit it is convenient and widely accepted.

2) I usually feel that enough talent can redeem almost anything. I like plenty of intense, violent, exploitive and/or immoral movies, but usually they have to offer a good reason for their form and content. Recently I've grown somewhat troubled by films taking advantage of my weakness for artistic presentation. It gets frustrating in movies like "Hard Candy" or the works of Gaspar Noe when cinematic talent is used as an excuse to gain a critical or popular acceptance of what is essentially shallow shock value or malicious sadism. Still, I find these films to be better then their hackneyed siblings.

3) Meredith's mentioned the worn-out gender stereotypes and that hits upon two of my biggest problems with these films: sexism and uncreativity. They go hand in hand, since there is hardly anything less inspiring in our artistic community then someone regurgitating internalized patriarchal superiority and abusive gender stereotypes. And as Film Brain points out, the victims taking blood revenge doesn't justify the whole tedious exercise. It isn't that every movie has to be completely gender PC; most gender cliches (even boring positive ones!) can be happily subverted just by depicting characters as distinct and developed personalities.

4) To this day I am still more frightened by films like "Picnic at Hanging Rock" (1975), "The Vanishing" (1988) and "The Innocents" (1961) (which together have about a teaspoon of blood) then any dozen gory trips through shaky-camera ax chases, blood-drenched torture scenes and shriek-scream monlogues. The more unwittingly desensitized I become to violence and gore, the more I realize that what frightens me are abstractions like facing illness and death, societal wrongs, the unknown and the intricate depths of the human mind. Ironically, this ends up meaning that I am more scared when contemplating the psychology of some of these directors then I am when watching their movies.

5) I assume that, like every wave of shock and horror that has come before, all of this "torture-porn" controversy will seem like very tame and humdrum stuff to future generations. While that may be an unhealthy state for society to arrive at, it does mean that I can look forward to the day when nothing this side of legal shocks anyone at all. Then maybe directors will give up trying to shock and return to making interesting, insightful and imaginative horror films.

1 comment:

Mad Dog said...

Inland Empire was more frightening to me than Saw.

Laura Dern needs a fucking hug or something.