A Brief History of Torture Porn
So what is Torture Porn? Well, its dictionary term says that its graphic violence and sexually suggestive imagery, but its also used to describe films with just graphic violence. There does not necessarily need to be any sex involved at all. You can have sex in a film, without that film being pornographic, and you can have torture and violence without it being Torture Porn. A true Torture Porn film is a movie that’s entire emphasis is on Torture with little or else to support it. Like Splatter films, Torture Porn films will contain violence, nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism. Generally the name Torture Porn is thrown at any film that depicts people being tortured or maimed for gratification; sexual or otherwise.
At what point did slasher film become Torture Porn? Its a good question. When did this transformation take place and why are some films dubbed Torture porn and others not? Torture Porn is a term that started being used mid 2000’s, with Films such as Saw , Hostel and Wolf Creek starting this new age of horror. These films were named “Torture Porn” by critics, most notably by David Edelstein, the chief film critic for New York, who is thought to have coined the term. Films such as Misery and Silence of the Lambs involve imprisonment and torture, but they are seen as general Horror. This is because typical horror films deal with fear, whilst Splatter films and Torture Porn deal with physical harm and pain. They also lack any real moral compass, overlooking social and moral order in favour of style and gore. Torture Porn films rarely have any real closure. In other words, good never overcomes evil. Even if they get revenge the damage has been done, whether that be physical or mentally.
What’s the difference between Splatter and Torturer Porn? A Splatter films emphasis is usually on the gore, the more over the top and lavish the better. Films such as Day of the dead and the Evil Dead would fit into this category. Torture Porn’s content would lack any moral order or story, like in the film Hostel, where the film is based around people torturing and killing people for fun. There is no underlying story, nor any lessons or hidden meanings. It’s just about people torturing people. A film such as The Pit and the Pendulum might be confused for being Torture Porn, because of it’s graphic portrayal of violence, but its overlaying story of temptation and atonement, plus it’s character development, firmly set it apart. The brutality has purpose, whilst in Hostel, the violence has no real justification. In a nutshell, having a series of pointless and violent tortures scenes rather than a storyline, would classify the film as being a Torture Porn film.
The Saw films have a story, why are they classed as Torture Porn? The saw films do indeed have a story, but it’s not the films strong point. The story never really holds the film together; it’s the depiction of torture and gore that keep audience going to the cinema year after year. The films overall story arch keeps changing and gets thinner and thinner as the film series goes along. The only consistency is the violence. In the scream films, the story and character development is key. More of a whodunnit than a all out gore-fest. Yes it is subjective, but the general rule of thumb is, if it’s graphic torture with little purpose, it’s Torture Porn. Saw does not have emotionally investable characters, nor a story arch that fit’s the films together, it has people being maimed , tortured and killed in more and more graphic ways.
How has it evolved? You could argue that films such as Driller Killer and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were early adopters of the genre, there certainly have all the right elements, but back in the 70’s and 80’s, horror was still at its early stages of evolution. Before this time, low budget Sci-Fi and Hammer Horror was as scary as it got. The 80’s gave birth to modern horror and 2000’s gave birth to true Torture Porn, with Saw being the first real example of this. Film makers are constantly pushing the limits of what they can get away with. There’s a fine line between entertaining and disturbing, and some films are moving over this line, winning fans through pure shock factor. This has moved on from simple torture to bodily disfigurement, with The Human Centipede (2009) paving the way. We can only imagine how far this can be pushed in the future. How far is too far?
Why do we watch them? Its the same reason why would go to a freak show, or slow down on the road so we can get a peek at a nasty car accident. We fear pain and death and we repulsed and fascinated by it at the same time. As rational human beings, we know that what we see on screen is not real. If for a second, we thought that it was, we would not be watching it. We do not want to see people being hurt, but the idea behind it fascinates us. And that’s what film is, a way to experience things that we would never see or do, without any of the consequences or without anyone getting hurt. With Torture Porn, there is also the psychological element to it. The Serial killers, in these films, frighten us because they are working outside of what we call society, yet we also look to empathize with them, to understand their needs. It scares us to think that anyone could do such horrible things to people, and we strive to make sense of the madness.
What are the best Torture Porn films? One of the biggest franchise in Torture Porn is the saw films, spanning 7 films, one released each Halloween from 2004 till 2010. Another popular main stream series is the hostel films, which depict rich people paying to torture and kill innocent travelers. On the other side of the road, you have independently made films such as The Human Centipede and Tusk, which both deal with psychotic doctors transforming people into un-human shapes.
Torture Porn is a graphic, senselessly violent genre that pushes the limits of horror to its furthest edges. It’s creativity is only equal to it’s gore, with elaborate torture and deaths throughout. It has no other purpose than to repulse and shock, yet it’s casual approach to violence leaves us thoroughly entertained.
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