Cybersurfing: Salon seeks meaning in Torture Porn

SAW 2Earlier this week, Salon.com posted an interesting article regarding the recent trend in “Torture Porn” horror, in which films like SAW and HOSTEL show graphic depictions of mutilation and gore. Interviewee Thomas Fahy, the director of the American Studies Program at Long Island University, approaches the subject in a scholarly and insightful way, making valid and interesting points about underlying social commentary in the horror genre. However, there are a few points Mr. Fahy overlooked that deserve to be mentioned.
Not every reason for the success of these movies is related to some cultural relevance.
There is the very real possibility that, at the start of this whole thing, audiences were just flat-out bored with the same horror structure. The only twist ever added was that the good guy doesn’t get away. With the first SAW movie, people were shown something that made them squirm again, much as they did during the first horror movie they ever saw. Freddy putting a razor-tipped hand through someone’s chest had become old hat, but a man forced to saw through his leg to escape – the plausibility alone fascinated everyone. The continued success, despite the declining quality, could simply be a result of people being interested to see how the each new sequel will top the previous  one.
Insecurity.
Should you want to delve into cultural significance, an alternative theory that at least applies to the American audience is the idea that our world has been turned upside down. From a cultural point of view, the last decade has shown not only a decline in the American image abroad, but also here at home. From being attacked, to the war and its subsequent fallout, to recession – we as a people find ourselves reeling and uncertain of where we will land. These torture porn films provide a focus for this feeling, showing characters trapped in dire situations – without understanding why – struggling to right the ship once more. The end may not be pretty, but there is sometimes a sense of hope that at least things can move on.
History Repeats Itself.
Despite the examples Mr. Fahy makes in the article, it can certainly be argued that the basic horror movie mores are still present. While it may be true that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake has a female attacker, the fact remains that the victim is portrayed as a helpless girl who must be saved and avenged by her parents. Also, the recent remakes of famously violent horror films aren’t adding and expanding to the message of the originals. It is all about the money, playing off audience recognition of a famous title with the idea that, in today’s society, they can get away with more! And as said before, bloody curiosity may just get the better of moviegoers in that respect.
An important thing to consider is that these movies, for all of their twisted traps and diabolical deaths, are in no way pushing the genre forward. People will, as they did prior to the first SAW, get tired and move on to the next shtick. Torture porn may be here, but not for good.
ARTICLE LINKS:
SALON.COM (Original Article): http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/06/07/philosophy_of_horror_movies?source=newsletter
NYTIMES.COM: http://nymag.com/movies/features/15622/
SPINETINGLER MAGAZINE: http://www.spinetinglermag.com/2010/03/31/the-new-six-figure-torture-porn-industry/

One Reply to “Cybersurfing: Salon seeks meaning in Torture Porn”

  1. Yeah, Thomas Fahy said a few things in the Salon interview that don’t quite add up, like suggesting that the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is darker than the original because it doesn’t contain the camp element. Well – there was no camp in the first ELM STREET – that’s only in the sequels.
    In general, I think “pushing the envelope” has always been part of horror. The main difference now is that – in addition to mainstream critics who slam these movies – there is also a blog-o-sphere out there that will sing hymns of praise to them.

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