FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 8, 2006

Le Freak, C'est Chic

There was an interesting article posted yesterday at the Delaware Journal Online: Torture Scenes Go Mainstream.

I was obviously aware of the numerous torture scenes in both Saw and Hostel (I wrote a bit about the latter movie here), but I had no idea that scenes of onscreen brutality were such the rage; apparently graphic torture scenes have made their way into the home as well, on such shows as Alias, 24, Nip/Tuck, Lost, and Prison Break.

Undoubtedly, this is just another burdgeoning trend in Horror Movie Land. Torture flicks step carefully into the limelight as the more sanitary I Know What You Did...-style flicks fade from view. Color me uninterested, no matter what grandiose statements Eli Roth claims to make with his bloody thrill-kill efforts. Speaking about Hostel, Roth says:
Right now we're at war, and then you have Hurricane Katrina, where there are people on roofs screaming for help. I have this feeling that civilization could collapse, and that if you go overseas, you could get killed, that you could be in the middle of nowhere, and that someone could kill you and no one would find you.

I think the whole "(lost) in the middle of nowhere, someone kill(s) you, no one finds you" idea is interesting. In fact, I thought the idea was put to great effect in The Blair Witch Project, which was a violence-free movie. So why do we need the onscreen torture? Why do we need to dwell on human suffering?

Roth continues:
Everyone's life has a price. I want the audience to feel guilty. I want them to feel sick to their stomach, but by the end they're screaming for blood. Everyone has this evil within them.
Hmm. I don't think I would ever rejoice while watching someone being brutally tortured, even if it was "The Bad Guy". Dude, I know what it sounds like when doves cry, OK? However, again, the whole "Ha ha! You have a dark side!" idea could be explored extensively. But it only works if you make the audience realize they've got a bloodlust, if you actually do make them feel guilty about it. Otherwise, it's as Thomas Doherty (chairman of the film studies program at Brandeis University) says in the article's conclusion:

"What we're seeing now is a pornography of violence for creative imaginations."

So what about these movies and TV shows? Do they make the audience feel anything beyond a morbid thrill at watching torture? Are they just a big, bloody, onscreen wank? Honestly, I wouldn't know, because I'm just not into the whole realistic, prolonged human suffering for entertainment thing.

Ah, well. The face of horror is changing, yet again. Call me when the next trend hits, unless it involves line dancing or wearing sweatpants in public...I'd have to pass on that one, too.


Clay McClane said...

'Pornography of violence for creative imaginations' is right on target. I mean, I'm a gorehound from way back and all, and why it's okay to watch guts explode from a guy's torso in 'The Thing' and it's not okay to watch someone be tortured in 'Hostel' seems hipocritical. And I don't worry about true fans of this stuff any more than my mom worried about me when I was watching Night of the Creeps.

My biggest problem is that this is such a step backwards for horror (should it even be considered horror?). I feel like we hit a peak with 'Scream' and then quickly backed away from it.

Stacie Ponder said...

Good point, Craig. It's not that I'm opposed to gore or anything like that. I don't get upset if a horror movie is gore-free, but I don't seek it out. I love The Thing, I love Romero's zombie movies, and I love most slashers.

There's a major difference in the amount of 'realism' in some of these movies- I'm not referring to how good or authetic the gore looks, but rather the acts perpetrated. I can distance myself from the violence in The Thing or Dawn of the Dead: it's very cinematic, and I never feel like I'm watching a snuff film.

Now, in some slashers (let's use Friday the 13th here), the violence is obviously more grounded in reality than, say, The Thing. A camper getting their throat cut is violent and gory, but it's not drawn-out, it doesn't last, you don't see the camper suffer long, and you don't feel as if Jason necessarily enjoys what he's doing. Those are the aspects of on-screen torture scenes that bother me: it's not the bloodshed, but the gratuitous suffering. I simply don't enjoy watching it.

As far as effects of people watching these kinds of movies go, well, I'm not a proponent of the "blame the movie" or "blame the videogame" way of thinking. It's hard to argue against the idea that we ARE getting less...I don't know, sensitive? a society. I don't think everything needs to be sugar-coated, but whenever a news report plays a 911 call when reporting about some horrible incident, I just think do we really need to hear that? Listening to people in extreme situations, having the worst moments of their lives is just another part of the news story now. Even OnStar uses these kinds of audio clips in their commercials.

I'm just not down with it, that's all.

And as for it being "a step backwards for horror", you're right. And whatever you want to say about these torture-flicks, however you feel about watching them, I think most people will agree that gruesome doesn't equal scary.