The following article originally appeared on my Facebook profile but the varied discussion, plus the fact that people are STILL calling MARTYRS torture porn, has moved me to throw it up here as well.
So I'm cruising through borders today to buy the book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE for my friend's kids cause every child should own it (especially before the new movie comes out). And I stop to look at the new horror magazines. The new RUE MORGUE had a cover story on the new French horror film MARTYRS (See the review elsewhere here for my thoughts on this film) which I thought was cool. I dig when magazines spotlight foreign or indie horror. But right across the front of the mag is the headline "Transcendent TORTURE PORN punishes NORTH AMERICA" written with that exact emphasis and capitals. I immediately just put the magazine back down in disgust.
Come on people it is time to stop with the fucking term TORTURE PORN.
Rue Morgue you're better than that. The term TORTURE PORN is a lazy bullshit term developed by the American right wing news media at the height of the popularity of the SAW and HOSTEL films that was supposed to denigrate the genre. Using it when describing genre movies plays into that mindset and insults not only the movies you are writing about, but the fans and the genre itself. Horror films are NOT pornography. Nor are they torture, no matter if that is what they portray. No one is being tortured for real, it is all special effects. JACKASS would be closer to something that you might want to call TORTURE COMEDY maybe (but I don't even subscribe to that idea).
Tony Timpone editor of FANGORIA magazine (who has been at the helm of that mag for over twenty years now. Who is ever the Editor in chief of a magazine for that long?) has said in some recent interviews that he thought the recent French horror film FRONTIER(S) was nothing but, wait for it, TORTURE PORN. He wrote and editorial 2 years ago slamming the film CAPTIVITY (before he even saw it) for being, you got it, TORTURE PORN. (Granted CAPTIVITY sucks the gas from a dead donkey's ass, but that is beside the point). Now Tony, FRONTIER(S) is actually a pretty prime example of the tried and true backwoods massacre/survivalist horror film (HILLS HAVE EYES, TEXAS CHAINSAW, ring any bells?) and yes CAPTIVITY does cater to the torture elements of some modern horror films, but as bad as it is, it also hearkens back to the sexual obsession type films of the early 70's such as THE COLLECTOR or even PETS. And guess what? None of those older films are even remotely TORTURE PORN!!! (But god yes CAPTIVITY sucks)
You want to see some actual TORTURE PORN? Then here is some... Try the German series SLAVE SEX from the 80's. Shot on video XXX S+M videos that ran at least into 30 volumes or more that showed things like women hung by their breasts by rope, burned with blow torches, steel skewers and needles pushed through their breasts, labia nailed to the table etc. Men with hooks through their penises with buckets hanging off them, their cocks sewn INTO their scrotum, pubic hair set on fire, scrotum nailed to boards etc. Or the other famous German underground porn series FORCED ENTRY that ran into the 40 volume range that centered on simulated rape and not so simulated torture? Then we can travel to Japan for the BUSHIDO tapes that are rumored to have been made by the Yakuza and are pretty much just woman being sexually tortured by heavily tattooed underground mafiosotypes with ropes, hooks, speculum, whips, rods, canes, needles and anything else they can get their hands on. Or what about the TOSHIHIRO RARE FETISH series where women are tied up and have various viscous liquids poured into their eyes, nostrils and other orifices and then are covered in cow and pig guts before being sexed up? And I'm not even going to tell you what happens in the SQUIRM FEST tapes.
This stuff is actually TORTURE PORN. Two things make it fulfill that term. 1) It is actually pornography. The goal for these tapes is to arouse and get the person watching off. There is no plot, no story construction, no characters, no fancy camera work. Just you are there watching this SEXUAL stuff happening for the benefit of the the camera and therefore YOU the viewer. And 2) There is actual TORTURE going on. Granted the participants are getting paid (at least I would hope so, though some of the shit they go through makes you wonder if they are just repaying some Yakuza debt, or drug habit and sometimes they sincerely don't look like they want to be there. But I'm sure that is all part of the frisson of these as well) and are taking the abuse the same way a boxer would a twelve round fight.) But in the most outright obvious, clear explanation of the term, these are actually TORTURE PORN.
Movies like HOSTEL, SAW, MARTYRS, FRONTIER(S), INSIDE, CAPTIVITY, HAUTE TENSION, or any other recent horror film are NOT. Because not matter how much you may or may not like the material they are NOT pornography. No one is in the theater jerking off to them. There may be a few sickos who do, but then there are lots of sickos who jerk off to Disney cartoons too and that doesn't make them Pornography either. The intent of these films is not sexual gratification and release. The intent is to horrify, scare and provide catharsis. To take the viewer on a ride through a series of complex and unpleasant emotions and fears, that by the end will hopefully allow them to release some aggression and terrors. Also the so called TORTURE on screen is never under any circumstances real. The violence is acting and special effects. Even a film as questionable as say MURDER SET PIECES, where it is arguable that the director is putting the actresses through the paces for his own sexual gratification, is still at the end of the day, phony. These are effects, camera trickery and people acting out scenarios for the service of a story to be viewed by an audience that is here for no other reason but to enjoy a horror movie.
But to call horror films TORTURE PORN is to put horror films in the same ghetto as porn. Now I have nothing against porno at all. I watch my share, hell, I even know a porn actor or two. I've nothing against the genre. It is as legit as anything else. But this term is being used to degrade. Porn is generally seen by the public as something bad or to be kept in the shadows and fought against. That it is somehow poisonous to good people. Yet it is a multi-billion dollar industry, so we know the people who say those things are liars. But to label the horror genre with the porn tag is to put it into bed with the porn genre and say it is also something bad, something to be ashamed of. Something unhealthy and evil, that will corrupt the family and normal people of the world. And that is a dangerous precedent to set. The right wing media was setting out to do just that when they started throwing around the term TORTURE PORN several years ago. The aim was to scare middle America into thinking horror films were the equal of the hardest most unsettling pornography that were scarring the youth of the nation. The Bill O'Reilly's of the world (who openly admitted he had never even seen the movies discussed) was happy to throw the whole horror genre under the bus. Now we have the genre itself walking right out in front of the bus willingly, saying "yep we are TORTURE PORN. Our genre is made of SHIT and we are gonna keep saying it!"
TORTURE PORN is a bullshit term made up to hurt the genre and scare idiots who watch too much TV. Lets stop hurting the genre by bandying it around and start being more creative and smarter than those we would like to see the genre fail. Let's stop using the distinctions created by the media that degrade our precious genre and in the process stabbing ourselves in our own hearts.
Trailer for FRONTIER(S) (this trailer sucks BTW..