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Oct 8, 2008

Torture Porn: Why this Horror Genre Moniker is a Misnomer

This tale starts with the horror movie Hostel, directed by Splat Packer Eli Roth. When Hostel premiered on January 6, 2006, it ushered in Eli Roth as a true blue horror director who possessed competency and confidence. In an article by film critic David Edelstein of the New York Magazine entitled Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn, the dubious term “Torture Porn” was first coined and in subsequent articles about Hostel was picked up and used to describe the revitalized horror sub-genre the film belong to. From the outset, I could never understand the title they were ascribing to Hostel and its brethren. Let’s examine each part of the Edelstein’s term shall we. First up is Torture. Torture is “the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.” I take no issue with this part of the term. It is accurate. The next part of the term, Porn, I completely take issue with. Not only does Porn have nothing to do with what is going on onscreen, when placed along side Torture, it has nothing to do with the definition of either word. Porn is the abbreviation of Pornography which is “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit.” Seeing a naked ass on screen is not pornographic, especially since you could see five asses per season on the television program NYPD Blue, which aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), a television station owned by Disney. And a breast is not pornographic in many situations, especially if the possessor is being hacked to pieces by a fictional serial killer wielding a prop knife.

This brings us to the question: Does the presence of a naked breast or an ass make a movie Porn? Is Trading Places Comedy Porn? Is Old School? What about American Beauty? Should that fall under the genre of Drama Porn? What should we call the Halloween franchise under the Edelstein criteria? Since the films star Michael Myers, involve Knife torture, terror, copious nudity (which is Porn in the minds of some non-dictionary owners) and a serial killer that suffers from the Curse of Thorn, the Halloween franchise should be called Thorn Porn. In your garden variety Porn film, there is usually some kind of sexual stimulation or penetration. Where is this present in the horror movies (the Saw franchise, Cannibal Holocaust, Hostel I and Hostel II, Wolf Creek, Ichi the Killer, Baise-moi, etc.) the Torture Porn moniker has been capriciously applied to? There is no sexually climaxing or getting off (for real) in these films. It’s all fake and make believe. So once again: Where is the Porn? Where are Teagan Presley, Hanna Hilton, Bobbi Starr or Sunny Leone? I do not see them.

Maybe the pejorative Torture Porn moniker was created to describe the fact that the directors of these horror films (James Wan, Ruggero Deodato, Eli Roth, Greg McLean, Takashi Miike, Virginie Despentes, etc) are getting off “mentality” from what they have created and filmed. If that is true, how is that Pornographic? A person that enjoys his work is a lucky person. A newscaster who enjoys his evening newscast does not have his work considered Broadcast Porn (well, not unless there is something lewd going on underneath the table we are not privy to, like in Police Academy). The same is true for a torture horror movie that may or may not contain nudity. It is not Porn or a sexual fetish film of any kind. It is a horror movie that involves torture that contains nudity. The correct moniker for this horror sub-genre should not be Torture Porn. It should be Torture Horror.

Anyone with access to a dictionary and the proclivity to look up the word is probably aware that I did not use the first definition of Pornography. That definition is “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement”. So within the confines of this definition of Pornography, Edelstein’s Torture Porn label treads congealed, blood-strewn water more readily. I still do not like the connotation, the dirtiness his title implies. It takes a horror movie, an expression of thoughts and ideas (the good ones anyway e.g. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) and smears them with a sheen of unwarranted depravity. Do some Torture Horror films use gratuitous nudity for their own sake, for a selling point, sure. Everyone knows sex sells. We are bombarded with sexual innuendos in television commercials every single day. There are some horror movies, however, that use sexual titillation for a purpose, to advance a storyline or to show a normal slice of life within the confines of the horror movie. Examples of this would be the nude scene(s) in The Stepfather and The Last House on the Left.

David Edelstein’s Torture Porn moniker is the unfortunate by-product of some horror films’ perceived overuse of the naked female form and what some critics would call gratuitous violence. Some would see the nudity in a few of these films as a substitution for substance and a thoroughly thought-out plot line. In some cases, this is absolutely true but not in all.

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  • http://www.reelwhore.com/ waywardjam

    Great post! I always assumed the Porn in Torture Porn referred to excessive tortue or people who get off on the damage inflicted. But you’re right, that’s just a brand/subgenre of horror. Heck, even if the first half of Hostel was what some meek viewers would think of as soft core, the other films lumped in the Torture Porn category (Saw, Wolf Creek, Turistas, Craptivity) don’t hold a candle to the nudity and sexual content in Hostel.

    Simply put it’s a provocative title that news media and advertisers were able to utilize for marketing. It’s all about the buzz words, even if they make no sense.

    Dude, no mention of Tera Patrick in the Porn laundry list?! To each his own I guess.

  • http://www.reelwhore.com waywardjam

    Great post! I always assumed the Porn in Torture Porn referred to excessive tortue or people who get off on the damage inflicted. But you’re right, that’s just a brand/subgenre of horror. Heck, even if the first half of Hostel was what some meek viewers would think of as soft core, the other films lumped in the Torture Porn category (Saw, Wolf Creek, Turistas, Craptivity) don’t hold a candle to the nudity and sexual content in Hostel.

    Simply put it’s a provocative title that news media and advertisers were able to utilize for marketing. It’s all about the buzz words, even if they make no sense.

    Dude, no mention of Tera Patrick in the Porn laundry list?! To each his own I guess.

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    Glad you like it. It took a while to edit. I didn’t think people were reading it. Craptivity? Lol.

    Now people use the provocative title of Torture Porn as the accepted title for the horror sub-genre. Its unfortunate.

    Sorry about Tera. She doesn’t even get an honorable mention. The other actresses in my Porn laundry list are much better “performers”. Plus Tera didn’t need the implants. She had D’s. Neither did Teagan for that matter (Christ they look bad).

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    Glad you like it. It took a while to edit. I didn’t think people were reading it. Craptivity? Lol.

    Now people use the provocative title of Torture Porn as the accepted title for the horror sub-genre. Its unfortunate.

    Sorry about Tera. She doesn’t even get an honorable mention. The other actresses in my Porn laundry list are much better “performers”. Plus Tera didn’t need the implants. She had D’s. Neither did Teagan for that matter (Christ they look bad).

  • http://www.reelwhore.com/ waywardjam

    Yes, Craptivity holds a special place in my heart as worst horror flick of 2007. Shame on Elisha to use her hotness to lure me into that film.

    Yeah, it was a sad day when Tera unveiled her new twins, always thought she was fine au naturelle. I can’t picture Teagan right now – I’m sure I know her. I will have to do some further ‘research’ to confirm.

    On a side note – love the Dark Knight Anime pic in the banner – still waiting to see that.

    waywardjams last blog post..My 2 on Indy 4

  • http://www.reelwhore.com waywardjam

    Yes, Craptivity holds a special place in my heart as worst horror flick of 2007. Shame on Elisha to use her hotness to lure me into that film.

    Yeah, it was a sad day when Tera unveiled her new twins, always thought she was fine au naturelle. I can’t picture Teagan right now – I’m sure I know her. I will have to do some further ‘research’ to confirm.

    On a side note – love the Dark Knight Anime pic in the banner – still waiting to see that.

    waywardjams last blog post..My 2 on Indy 4

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    Captivity was horrible. I’m glad I saw it for free.

    I did the Teagan “research” for you. Just click on Teagen Presley in the post.
    Teagan is the actress everyone said looked like Britney Spears when she first began “preforming.” A nose job and two boob jobs didn’t do her any good at all.

    Thx about the Batman: Gotham Knight Banner. Cutting the original picture down to banner size was a pain. I can’t wait to watch the DVD. Look between Categories and Recent Posts. There’s something there that might interest you in this regard.

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    Captivity was horrible. I’m glad I saw it for free.

    I did the Teagan “research” for you. Just click on Teagen Presley in the post.
    Teagan is the actress everyone said looked like Britney Spears when she first began “preforming.” A nose job and two boob jobs didn’t do her any good at all.

    Thx about the Batman: Gotham Knight Banner. Cutting the original picture down to banner size was a pain. I can’t wait to watch the DVD. Look between Categories and Recent Posts. There’s something there that might interest you in this regard.

  • http://www.reelwhore.com/ waywardjam

    She did look just like Britney in the early years. Yeah, the tennis ball boob look doesn’t do her justice.

    Thanks for the heads up on Gotham Knight. Just a little more than a month away, I can hardly wait.

    waywardjams last blog post..This is SO Our Lives!

  • http://www.reelwhore.com waywardjam

    She did look just like Britney in the early years. Yeah, the tennis ball boob look doesn’t do her justice.

    Thanks for the heads up on Gotham Knight. Just a little more than a month away, I can hardly wait.

    waywardjams last blog post..This is SO Our Lives!

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    That’s why her most popular “performances” are her earlier films.

    I’ll be seeing Batman: Gotham Knight in about half that time hopefully.

    Here’s a link to a story I wrote on it previously: http://film-book.com/batman-gotham-knight/

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    That’s why her most popular “performances” are her earlier films.

    I’ll be seeing Batman: Gotham Knight in about half that time hopefully.

    Here’s a link to a story I wrote on it previously: http://film-book.com/batman-gotham-knight/

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    My Torture Porn article has been republished and has sparked new conversation:
    http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/06/24/130041.php

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    My Torture Porn article has been republished and has sparked new conversation:
    http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/06/24/130041.php

  • http://girlinthebox.100webspace.net/ Milf Soup Fan

    Hey, just stoped to say that I like the way you write…You made my day :D Thanks for this! –NaNCY–

  • http://girlinthebox.100webspace.net Milf Soup Fan

    Hey, just stoped to say that I like the way you write…You made my day :D Thanks for this! –NaNCY–

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    No problem Nancy. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    No problem Nancy. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • http://themoviewhore.com The Movie Whore

    You know a few months ago I got into it with one of my commenters on this term. I am glad to see that someone else has a problem with it too.

    The Movie Whores last blog post..What I Will be doing today

  • http://themoviewhore.com/ The Movie Whore

    You know a few months ago I got into it with one of my commenters on this term. I am glad to see that someone else has a problem with it too.

    The Movie Whores last blog post..What I Will be doing today

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    I do. I don’t think I’ll ever like the title, but I can see how someone would think of it.

  • http://film-book.com/ filmbook

    I do. I don’t think I’ll ever like the title, but I can see how someone would think of it.

  • TruthBytes

    I believe you’re pinching someone else’s argument, believe it or not. You set-up the premise of ” pornography ” as simply the showing of naked flesh. You then blow-down your own straw man and explain to us why these films can’t be properly boxed into that reductum. The term ” torture PORN ” does not refer merely to the displaying of naked ” parts ” but more to the pleasure that certain people derive from watching those same-said parts get, uh, tortured. It’s the getting-off on the torture that makes the films of this sub-genre pornographic. The addition of ” porn ” to ” torture ” in this context is akin to , say, ” emotional ” to ” intelligence “. It’s oxymoronic, as both service opposing arenas, yet combined, they serve as one. Maybe ironically. Maybe not so. Are there some people ( mostly 19-year-old-boys-of-all-ages ) who get-off on seeing a girl screaming for her life as the tormentor gouges her eyeball ? Of course. Are there some people ( again, the boys . . . . ? ) who would actually masturbate to this ? Of course. We watch pornography to GET OFF. So, merely sub getting-off whilst watching the SEX with watching the TORTURE and, there ya’ have it : torture PORN. Clear ? That’s the point. Whether you’re actually yanking-it or not is immaterial. Do these body-count films serve as a form of titilating ” release ” of
    some sort, whether there is actual nudity ( porn as defined, then said definition decimated by you ) or not. It’s not the SIGHT OF A BOOB ( gasp ! ) that makes these fims porno-for-the-gore-sub-set. It’s the ripping, tearing, slicing, dicing of that BOOB, and the apparent relish or even sexual arousal the viewing of said brings/gives to some folks, that makes it ” pornographic ” to SOME people. Placing the two words together to form a completely new term. Now, do you understand ? And this is not some anti-what-have-you screed or rant. I’m a dude who belives that living in a free society does not guarantee you the right not to be offended, so watch it, whack it, do what you will. No sweat off my blanks. I’m merely responding to you as a horror enthusiast. For me, the sooner we leave behind the cheap-&-easy crapola of torture porn and slasher/body-count flicks and get back to REAL horror films with, uh, plots . . . pacing . . . honing . . . uh, SCRIPT . . . the happier I’ll be. I know, I know : to each his own. I’ll wait . . . . In the meantime, whack-away, my friend.

  • TruthBytes

    I don’t think you understand what torture PORN refers to you. I’ve left you an expanded comment on the commentary section of your essay. Thank you.

  • TruthBytes

    To clarify : the term ” torture porn ” is SUBJECTIVE. It refers more to the reaction, and motivation, that some people have to/in watching this level of ciematic splatter. The showing of a boob, a penis, a vagina, et al, is defined as pornographic, in the pure state. However, not everybody would react the same to it. Some people would watch a porno film and be unmoved. Others might become aroused and begin pleasuring themselves. Again, it’s subjective. Some folks would watch a torture ” horror ” film ( as you have it ) and shrug. Others may get-off on it ( literally or not ). To me, these films do not even serve as horror. They’re just horrible, as in El Stinko. ( They suck. Hey, there’s a pornographic image ! ) TORTURE PORN aptly describes the subjective stance of the person watching the film, not the OBJECTIVE moniker, reference, label of the material itself. Pornographic to the person watching it who has a fetsh for torture. It’s not a literal, by-the-books definition of PORN. It’s taken to add a layer to TORTURE. Some folks may get-off ( again, literally or not ) waiting for the toast to pop-up . . . . That may be adequately described as BREAKFAST PORN. It’s ” porno ” to the guy/gal gettin’-off on it. To you, to me, it’s the most important meal of the day.That’s all. TORTUNE PORN IS THE AROUSAL FACTOR SOME PEOPLE EXPERIENCE WHILE WATCHiNG THESE SLICe-&-DICE FLICKS. OVER AND OVER, IT SEEMS. That’s what it’s all about, my friend.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com

    “TORTURE PORN aptly describes the subjective stance of the person watching the film, not the OBJECTIVE moniker, reference, label of the material itself.”

    Well said TruthBytes. The subjective was an oversight of my article.

    “They suck. Hey, there’s a pornographic image !”

    Lol.

    “TORTUNE PORN IS THE AROUSAL FACTOR SOME PEOPLE EXPERIENCE WHILE WATCHiNG THESE SLICe-&-DICE FLICKS.”

    Do you believe that’s what David Edelstein had in mind when he coined the term “Torture Porn”? It seemed to me that it was a construct that he used to describe the continued flow of these films from directors, that they were “getting off” on their films.

    If that is the case, all directors are guilty of creating “porn” of some kind like you alluded to with “Breakfast Porn”. It also means that I was mistaken in my original stance on the term Torture Porn.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com

    “It’s the getting-off on the torture that makes the films of this sub-genre pornographic.”

    How do you know that people are actually “get-off on it ( literally or not )” to these horror films, certifying the moniker Torture Porn? What if no one is? Is it still porn if people are only watching it for blood and gore? Like you said though, the getting off is in the mind of the person receiving gratification of some kind from it. it doesn’t have to be physical. It can also be mental or philosophical.

    “It’s not the SIGHT OF A BOOB ( gasp ! ) that makes these fims porno-for-the-gore-sub-set. It’s the ripping, tearing, slicing, dicing of that BOOB, and the apparent relish or even sexual arousal the viewing of said brings/gives to some folks, that makes it ” pornographic ” to SOME people.

    Well said (again) but how did Edelstein KNOW this arousal (or “a form of titilating”) was taking place? How does anyone? He couldn’t. He assumed. We KNOW its takes place to “porn” but how do we know it takes place for “torture porn”? There are twisted individuals that “get off” on strange things in the world but issue with these people is that they do not talk about it (well, possibly to Kinsey) so how did Edelstein KNOW for a fact?

    “For me, the sooner we leave behind the cheap-&-easy crapola of torture porn and slasher/body-count flicks and get back to REAL horror films with, uh, plots . . . pacing . . . honing . . . uh, SCRIPT . . . the happier I’ll be”

    Those horror films do come out but most come out in other countries, not the US. Some do but they are few and far between. I wrote about them and The State of the American Horror Movie here: http://film-book.com/the-state-of-the-american-horror-film/

  • TruthBytes

    First, you are a very good writer. Second, are you a film reviewer with a book, as I’d love to read it ? FULL DISCLOSURE : When I wrote my piece, I was feelin’ kinda’ smug. ( NO !! ) I read your piece and thought, ” What the BLANK ! Another person defending this tripe ! ” I am putting together info for a short story I’m writing on the effect of GORE films ( that’s a more apt description, I think ) on a small town chosen as the site of a GORE film festival. The premise is that, predictably, all the residents of this town go BONKERS with bloodlust, upon the screening of the films in their quiet corner. All except one : the owner of the local adult video/novelty shop . . . . It’s a satire. ( I hope. ) A work in progress. I fired-off what I thought were some pretty cogent points, still feelin’ smug. I will admit I had not read the original article which contained the term ” torture porn ” to which you were responding ( well, critiquing. ) When I had first heard the term, I attributed its linkage of sadism and pornography to the term’s subjective stance as relates to the person watching these films. That is MY take, I admit. ( ” Breakfast porn ” ??!! Okay, okay, that was WEAK ! ) I do believe that GORE films of this type do as well as they do because of the arousal factor ( however maybe subconsciously for the majority of viewers . . . . yet we know there are guys out there who, well, pound the veal using these films as the marinade. Did I just mix metaphors ? ) I am not a prude. As I wrote, nobody has a right to tell anybody else what they can watch ( read, write, eat, THINK. ) That’s fundamental. It just seems that the industry has become saturated ( ! ) with these slice-&-dice-splatter-a-thons that, let’s face it, employ minimal artifice yet maximum GORE. And I don’t mean in the technical aspects. Many one of these films are very well photographed, edited, even scored. I’m talking about script ( the same-ol’, same-ol’ . . . . young folk disemboweled for they should not have gone down that dark lane or near that crazy house with the crazy characters. Oh, no ! The car has broken down. Hey ! There’s a light in that house up ahead . . . . ) I’m talking about pacing, honing, suspense, and not giving away the store in the first five minutes, for fear that our audience may become bored or not possess the ability to follow. Do any of the kids watching these films ever feel as if they were being insulted and treated as if they were all strung-out on ” Red Bull ” ? I’m talking about direction, too. Keep the camera focused for more than a few seconds and stop staging it as if you were trying to compete with the video game industry. ( That is what many of these people are doing, literally. They’re not so much filmmakers as videographers. ) Gore, bloodletting is fine as an adjunct, to startle, to add emphasis. Even then, its use should be tempered, for its effect eventually wanes. Recently, I was screening the 1953 ” It Came From Outer Space “. During the commentary section, the reviewer told the story of how when the film was first screened, many in the audience previewing it wrote on their comment-card that the alien-monster should not have been shown, that it would have been better left to the imagination . . . . Not to play ol’ curmudgeon-contrarian here, but could you IMAGINE trying to do that today ? I know, I know. Tastes and expectations change over time. Wow ! Is there anything else I haven’t covered ! Sorry. ( Hey, a writer WRITES. ) Re-focusing, TORTURE PORN, I think, is the subjective stance of the viewer. I promise I shall read the original article that prompted your critique. And, please, no hard feelings. I should be thanking you for indulging me. In closing, please let me know if you have published a book. I’d very much want to read it. Be well.

  • TruthBytes

    I want to read your article.
    I’m having trouble accessing it here on this site, and my search engine is not providing any help.
    Would you mind directing me to it ?
    ( Don’t laugh . . . . )

    Thank you.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com
  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com
  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com

    Thanks for your retort and kind words. I thought you had read the Edelstein piece.

    No book published yet. I do not even have an agent yet. We’ll see.

  • TruthBytes

    Thank you for the link to the original torture porn article.

    However, I was hoping more to read your article, ” The State of The American Horror Movie. ” You are a good writer, and I would like to read it. I can not navigate to it. Please, help . . . . Is ” Film-Book ” your site ? I like what you’ve done, if so.

    Again, thank you.

  • TruthBytes

    I am flyin’ without ” agency ” myself.
    You don’t need to thank me for stating a fact : you’re a good writer.
    You’re right about ” Predator. ” That was 1988. Think we could still do it today.
    The SUSPENSE ( and, yes, a li’l mystery, as cornball as that reads ) is/are KEY.
    When prepping for ” Alien “, Ridley Scott stated that he wanted to keep the creature ” shadowed ” as much as possible. It worked. Every early shot we received of the ( fully-grown ) alien kept us wondering, ” What the H E L L is that ??!! ” That approach works, for it makes the ultimate reveal all that more intense and rewarding. I really believe there is a hunger for that brand-of, yes, old-school FILMmaking in the general audience. It’s just not being currently serviced, for the industry has been taken over by videographers and CGI-techies who, despite having the talent of the technique, have lost touch with the basics. It’s like cooking. At culinary school, you FIRST learn how to properly chop, slice the onion. Once you’ve mastered that, you can then apply the batter or breading and turn them into onion rings. First come FIRST. As Michael Curtiz opined, in order of importance : SCRIPT, THEN DIRECTOR, THEN ACTOR. Thanks, man. You’ve made me smile.

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com

    FB is my site.

    Here you go:
    http://film-book.com/the-state-of-the-american-horror-film/

    At the bottom of this post is a section labeled: “More Articles like This One:” You can find it there as well.

  • TruthByte

    Thank you.

    Gonna’ check-out both Facebook and the link to the article ( which has been probabaly under my nose the whole time. NOTE TO SELF : When trying to write a cogent and sound re-BUTT to an article, i.e. when trying to ” look smart “, make certain you actually know what you’re doing on the gentleman’s page . . . . )

  • http://film-book.com/ Film-Book.com

    I am looking forward to your thoughts on “The State of the American Horror Movie”
    Also, do you write film reviews?