Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Why I Hate Torture Flicks

Credit given where credit is due: "I Know Who Killed Me" is an excellent title for a horror film. The rest of it isn't much to write home about  – although obviously I still have some things to say about it, or I wouldn't have started a blog post talking about it. Anyway… I don't know enough about the torture porn subgenre to know if this properly counts as one of those films (yes, I've seen Saw, boring boring boring, will return to this below), but it certainly got me thinking about the phenomenon as a whole. So, even though I Know Who Killed Me (2007) has a great title, and could potentially have been a very traditional mad scientist/lunatic avenger crossover story, it never quite hits the spot. New use of traditional themes is hardly anything new for the horror genre, in fact (as I suspect you will be aware…) this is the foundation for the entire, excellent genre as a whole. HOWEVER (yes, capital letters, because this is a big one) – a traditional theme can still be presented in an original way. In fact, if you want anyone to take any interest in the story that you're trying to tell, that would probably be a good way of going about it. And no, Chris Sivertson and Jeff Hammond, trying to tell a dozen different stories in one single hour-and-a-half flick does not necessarily count as "originality". Instead, it makes it a lot harder for the viewer to try and determine what the hell is actually going on, and what on earth you're trying to get at with your film.

 I found Saw (2004) really boring. I mean, really boring. I've heard loads of people say that the find the "story" intriguing, and I genuinely just don't buy it. I don't even remember most of the story, apart from a desperate wife, insignificant kid, standard retiring police officer, regretful husband (OR HE MIGHT HAVE SEEMED REGRETFUL OR ANY OTHER KIND OF THING IF THE MAN HAD POSSESSED EVEN THE SLIGHTEST HINT OF ACTING SKILLS) and the very same deranged avenger kind of plot as mentioned above. What more do you really need to know? You're not watching Saw for a meaningful story or insightful psychological profiles, you're not even watching it for the hot girls because there aren't any. You're watching it because you want to see exactly how the characters will be tortured, you pervert. You want to see every blood-spattering, overly graphic detail of their bodies being ripped apart by a psychopath (sometimes indirectly, obviously). Either that, or you're covering your eyes and turning away every time something gross happens (which, with this subgenre, would mean everything "essential") but still want your friends to know that you're real tough because you sat through it without wetting your pants. I literally don't see any other possibilities. Pushing your limits, sure, I did that once when I was 16. I got over it.

The term "torture porn" is a strange one. Even though I'm fully aware of what it's meant to describe, every time I hear it I still kind of imagine it to be some kind of sick, super fetishistic and super exploitative porn. As in, still dealing with sex. Because that's what porn is meant to be about, unless I've got it all wrong (of course even this can still be debated and long live postmodernism for that, but this is neither the time nor the place for it). And while "torture porn" might possess those other, erm, qualities, it's not about sex. Not in any obvious way, anyhow. But as my imagination just proved, the term does carry some rather effective associations – and I think I've concluded that I think it means the following: the torture is to "torture porn" what sex is to plain porn. It is the essential element. And it's also making a statement about the interested viewer. You don't care about the story, be it a visit from the plumber or Lindsay Lohan's missing twin sister, and you don't care about the characters. You want to see some genitals, or alternatively some body parts being chopped off. Up close. You want to hear the woman scream.

Of course, horror films and porn have always (or "always" if you prefer) been linked, especially on academic levels. And it's hardly surprising: they are both body genres as the ever faithful Carol Clover put it. They are both concerned with the physical and both genres have undeniably touched upon aspects of gender politics throughout the history of their existence. And if you really want to think about, I'm sure you could make a very convincing argument that they're both inherently disrespectful (for lack of a better word) to the idea of human nature with which we normally like to associate ourselves. Yes, I'm speaking for everyone. Get your own damn blog. No, I won't read it.

I have a very genuine love for the horror genre as a whole. I love the overall geekiness of it, self-referencing and the in-jokes, I love the villains and I even love some of the vitims (for example, it's not that rare for me to think of Leatherface and Ripley as closer "friends" of mine than a lot of real life people that I know). I love that a horror film can bring a smile to my face no matter how bleak the story at hand might seem to be at first sight, or to the untrained eye. The films that I'm referring to in this post do none of those things. Imagine what The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) would have been if it had been made in this tradition? (Don't even bother mentioning the remake, I'm not going to watch it.)

I struggle to see any creativity in the torture porn subgenre as a whole. I don't see how someone can defend spending their time making films if the only thing that they have to grab the audience's attention with, is what I like to call the car crash syndrome (you know you shouldn't watch, but you can't help yourself). It's not big and it ain't clever, and it isn't even entertaining. It's too much like certain infamous internet forums but robbed of even that desperate level of humour. (One example that I haven't yet watched but have higher hopes for is The Human Centipede. That looks fun!) I can watch gore, I can watch people being hacked apart and hopelessly pleading for their lives. But if that's all there is to it – what's the point?


  1. I totally agree....
    I've always felt the Hostel and Saw movies were grossly overrated.

  2. I haven't actually seen Hostel, or any of Eli Roth's films come to think of it, but I'm pretty sure I have a dvd copy of it lying around somewhere. I just have to let some time pass between each of these films that I watch, as I get way too aggravated.

  3. D to the itto.

    One of the reasons I enjoyed TCM so much was due it being way less gorey than I imagined it would be.

    Curb w/ Scorsese: the "threat of the violence" vs the balls in a bag. I love Larry.

    Furthermore, unnecessary rape scenes - ROB ZOMBIE - could be seen to be the epitome of the cross over between torture porn and, y' know, porn.


  4. Great post! I included a link to it in the second issue of Spatter Analysis.

    Check it out!