May 5, 2007

XXX Torture Porn

**Sorry for this being one big chunk of text, but you'll understand why soon. The thought of posting images to make an example just isn't worth it quite frankly.**

This started out as a simple reply to an entry at My New Plaid Pants featuring a newly released image of Heather Matarazzo gagged and hanging upside down, but it started getting way too long for a comment so I thought I'd just post something here instead. It's incredibly rushed and not at all structured well, but it's 1am so I don't care. This entry contains spoilers to the original Hostel I guess, not that there's much to spoil. People die gruesomely. Yawn. Anyway.

I've been reading some of these articles that have been popping up alot lately about violence in film and the whole "torture porn" subgenre that's emerged (as if it's only a NEW thing in horror, geez). Usually I just let the writer continue their deluded attitudes about horror films (well, the majority of horror films) and think that they're looking way too much into the issue when most people just go to horror movies for some jumps and scares and to frightened witless by something that isn't actually happening in the world as we know it.

But the more that I think about Hostel 2 the more I get kind of repulsed at the idea and the more that I really start to think Eli Roth is quite a repulsive man.

I don't generally buy the whole misogynistic angle that writers seem to take to horror movies, but then again neithr do I always buy the idea of directors that say it's all about female empowerment (well, certainly not in this day and age), but that's not the point. I do however think there's something incredibly disgusting about what Eli Roth is doing with this film. He is, in my opinion, selling the film as being about the torture and murder of young women. Pure and simple. Just like those quite revolting posters for Captivity, I think Hostel Part II is praying on the desire to watch young attractive women be murdered. As if the entire point of the movie is just to observe some sick fantasy. And considering the plot of the movie being rich people enacting murder fantasies there's certainly credence to that theory.

Eli Roth is, clearly, a man that relishes in violence but I'm not sure if it's in a particularly healthy way. There doesn't seem to be any noteworthy skill to what he decides to put on the screen. Like, he seems to be getting off on just having the ability to kill people for the sake of it - just as the Saw movies do equally reprehensively I think.

Maybe I too am just over-thinking the situation like the issue writers I typically think are being myopic, but it really does make me feel kind of sick. To be honest, in the original we actually didn't see all that much of the males tortured, but in the end he decided to have the woman kill herself and have the good looking American get away free and easy basically. In Part II it just seems to be all women, all torture, all the time. The IMDb lists a lot of females that are, probably to Roth, ripe for the taking. I may decide to watch the film on DVD and it may prove to not be this, but that doesn't make it appear to be anything more than just the classic Scream quote - "Some big-breasted girl who can't act who's always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It's insulting."

Taking a look at the poster archives for Part I and Part II also brings up another frightful element to Roth's party. The original film had posters that showed a man holding a chainsaw, another showed some tool of some sort and another involving a man with a drill placed in his mouth. Only the third one is particularly nasty (ignoring the international posters). The posters for the second film are of a particularly more grizzy variety. Ignoring the "slab of beef" I implore to you look at this one and not think it's sick. I refuse to post it on here because I just think it's detestable. I guarantee a whole swag of 15-year-old boys would see that on the Internet and go "sweet!"

I dunno, it just worries me. I didn't like the original much at all, I thought it was sort of silly and only attempted to be scary in the last 20 minutes or so (and even an untrained monkey could wrangle suspence out of that). I will usually defend gory movies. I think there's a place for them. But I do think there gets to a point when it is simply a sick director playing out his sick fantasies for people to watch under the guise of "it's just a movie."

Anyway, New Young Pony Club just came on iTunes so I'm going to finish this now because the song makes me happy and hopefully I can just get the repulsiveness of this stuff out of my mind. Until, of course, the movie opens and tonnes of young men go to the movie and cheer everytime someone gets their face blown away with a blowtorch or something. :/

[Holy shit, the conversation really drags on in the comment section. Have a gander if you're interested and leave a thought. It's incredibly interesting.]

10 comments:

JA said...

So. My response is probably going to be a ramble in reply, too, since I'm sorting out my thoughts as I type as well. But, though we obviously disagree on Eli Roth's skill and intent, I can't agrue against the fact that I have trouble with some of these films and with deciphering what their agenda is. When I sit in the theater and people treat the scenes of torture as popcorn entertainment, I get as repulsed as you do. I've only seen the first Hostel the one time in the theater (though it's sitting besides my DVD player now for me to watch again, since these conversations have been popping up a lot lately and I need to revisit it if I'm gonna keep defending it), and I had/have a lot of problems with the last third or so - I do remember thinking that, when it turned into a revenge fantasy about killing the Evil Gay Guy, I didn't like the tonal shift. Up until then, I thought it'd been, at the very least, really interesting in what was going on behind the character's masks. One of our main characters was obviously somewhat sexually confused, and the other guys were played up as frat guy pigs - one of the most comedically horrific moments in the movie is when we see the Hot Chicks without their make-up on - and I really do believe that Roth was deconstructing a lot of canonical horror ideas with the first film. Again, I have to watch it again to get a firmer grip on all this. But there was much more than torture porn going on, at least to my eye.

But similarly to you, I was and am worried about women now being the leads in this second film, but honestly I think Roth, even if he plays up that angle in the marketing and in interviews - hey, he's gotta sell shit, and that shit sells - well I think the films themselves (so far) speak as to something else going on. There's a lot going on in the background in Cabin Fever too that speaks about "young male American idendity" that is squeezed between shots of people barfing blood.

I said this was gonna be rambling.

But going back to what I said about the Horror Canon and how I think Roth undermines and plays with what's come before - I watched Mario Bava's 1964 Italian Giallo classic Blood and Black Lace last night, and that's a forty-three year old film that exists to put women in their bras and have them completely unable to defend themselves against a killer at all. I mean, it was comedic - the women simply fall to the ground and writhe around in terror, and this is what horror has been for a very long time. I'd brand Bava's films "torture porn" before I'd brand Roth's, because I wasn';t laughing at what was happening in Hostel; I wasn't cheering at the screen, and I most def. was not being turned on by it. It was seedy, ugly, went on too long and was put right there in my face. It's reminding me, as of this second, of the shot in Children of Men, after the spectacular inside-the-car long shot, when the camera stays behind and stares at the carnage of the two murdered police officers - it's ain't pretty, and it ain't fetishized; it's ugly and uncomfortable. And that's how big chunks of the first Hostel made me feel. Yes, the posters are most def. fetishized imagery, along the lines of Mapplethorpe. But I don't think anything in the actual film ends up looking like that, or feeling as sterile as his poster-art does at least.

Okay, I've rambled way too much. I'm just saying how I saw/see things, and I'm not disrespecting your opinion, which I find perfectly valid - like I said, this is murky ground and I'm not completely cnvinced one way or the other as to the validity of what we get with these movies, esp. when something as reprehensible as the Saw films keeps getting churned out, and when I do hear people in the theater watching these movies like some kind of football game it does make me sick too. But I think it's horror's job to incite these sorts of conversations and reactions, to push these buttons, at least when done intelligently.

RC said...

hey...i totally agree with you that there is a limit, and when their is an audience of mass that enjoys seeing pretty girls killed and tortured, it's unhealthy, sick, and gross.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Hell, it's not even just the fact that they're pretty young women, it'd still be the same if it were men (at least the men in Hostel were horrible, but of coarse the horrible male escaped and the innocent woman killed herself), but to me it just seems like Roth and the Saw people are making a movie just to kill people.

Let's face it, the plots of these franchises are pretty much the most paper-thin you're going to find. They exist purely so these people can graphically show people dying. While I don't think that way about all recent horror movies and it's only Saw and Hostel movies that I actually think are truly in poor taste.

I mean, these guys are having money thrown at them just so they can make the deaths bigger and more elaborate. When "torture porn" (I don't particularly like that phrase, but it's the phrase everyone's using) movies of the '70s were around (think Last House on the Left or, hell, even I Spit On Your Grave, a movie that bored me silly but was about a woman getting retribution on the men who raped her and left her for dead) they were made by people who wanted to confront audiences and make them sit up and take notice when all they had was $7000 and amatuer actors. The hyper violence served a purpose. Movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even the recent Wolf Creek are terrifying because of their premise and that reality that is created and how unrelenting they were even though they actually weren't that graphically violent.

I admit that the premise of Hostel would normally scare the bejesus out of me, but I didn't get the feeling that Eli Roth was slowly trying to scare me. I thought that he was simply setting up an imaginative way to show people dying in lots of gross ways (slit achiles heals, blowtorch to the face, chainsaws, etc). Same goes for the Saw films. For me, everything around the deaths is just window decoration and when you enter the store you get confronted with death. Not scares. Pure unadulterated death. I don't think they care about making us care about characters or setting up scares. They just want to see people die. And they're more than willing to do it.

Ugh. it's way too late for me to be going further into this. I hope when I wake up in the morning that there are a couple more comments that are as thought-provoking. Whether you agree or disagree, I certainly think it's a worthy topic of discussion.

Let it be known though that it was Heather Matarazzo that inspired this entry. I always knew Heather+horror would continue to make me angry after that ill-conceived leopard print cameo in Scream 3.

JA said...

The first thing I told my boyfriend upon reading that Heather was cast in Hostel 2 was that I don't know if I can watch something awful happen to her, so I hear you on that point, Glenn.

But again, I think it's something actually smart on Roth's part, and that makes him different from those asshole directors who do the Saw movies - to cast someone that I think most people will, or already do, really root for, and then confront us with seeing something we really don't want to see. I don't expect to enjoy Hostel: Part II, just as I wouldn't say I enjoyed the first one, but I do expect that it will, like the first one, challenge me.

But it's funny that you brought up the way you see the Saw and Hostel films existing purely to find new and horrific ways to kill people, cuz after I wrote my last comment I was thinking about precisely that, and how it's actually been the dividing line between the two franchises for me; why I can appreciate (mostly) what Roth's doing, and HATE what the Saw films do. Because I don't think that Roth really did that. All the ways you listed - blowtorch to the face, chainsaws, eyeball gouging, slit achilles heels - are, honestly, in the realm of thinking up an "Imaginative Murder" in horror films, really rather played-out. There's nothing there that I haven't seen done in other horror (or non-horror, for that matter) films plenty of times before.

Yes, Hostel might've gone out of its way to stick the camera right in front of these horrific acts and not cut away and use all the tools of the trade to make it as gory/real-looking as possible, but I never got the feeling that Roth was doing what I feel the Saw films do, and what makes me absolutely sickened by them, which is exist purely to find new thrilling exciting ways to rip a person's body to shreds. In terms of the way the characters were tortured in Hostel, it was really mundane. And ugly, and real.

But in the Saw movies, there I feel like the movies are only being made to show us super-stylized murder-thrills. Nothing in Hostel struck me that way, at least. I mean, in the last Saw film there is this elaborate machine that this guy's hooked into that works on a timer and slowly twists all his limbs in the wrong direction, one at a time, in slow and gruesome detail, as the flesh and bone of his arms and legs and finally his neck shatters and tears and snaps. And all I got from that scene was somebody behind the camera thought it'd be really cool to see that happen to a human body, to see if they could do it with CG (and besides the fact that it was, IMO, a wretched thing to show, the CG was terrible and it looked unbelievably fake), and the Saw films really push me over the edge because then, after showing us endless scene after endless scene like this they try to moralize about what they're showing in the most false, overbearing detail, where we get Jigsaw preaching about personal responsibility and the moral quandaries his elaborate death games present when it's so totally obvious that all they want to do is cut to the next scene of someone's face being melted off. And that's all they are, from start to finish, are ways to one up the killings.

Hostel, on the other hand, doesn't even get to any killing (again, from what I remember from my one viewing, correct me if wrong) until well into the movie, and yes, Roth did make the guys dolts and jerks, but I found there still to be a lot likeable about the characters - esp. the best friend who does get killed, the one who's shown having some sexual confusion going on - so that when their time did come and they were tied up in those rooms, I was horrified, but in a sort of waking nightmare sort of way - not where you're jumping at what's in the shadows, but in the sense that you find yourself somewhere you don't want to be seeing something you don't want to watch but it keeps going on. I think there is a fertile ground here to ask one's self exactly the need for this sort of horror - is it meant for huge audiences? I don't think a lot of people get it, or are able to interpet it right - I'm meaning the people who cheer at all the wrong moments. And if your film is being interpreted in a way that goes against what I think it's actually trying to say, then maybe you, as the filmmaker, have got to reinvestigate what you're doing. And I guess I'm hoping, and my hopes for Hostel 2 are, that Roth gets this, and finds a way to really tell the people cheering in the audience that he's not making a movie you're supposed to be cheering at. I really don't think that's his intent, and I felt as if, in the first film, he did lose this a bit at the end where the main character's murder of the main torturer was in fact played for cheers, when I think Eli was trying (and I am giving him some benefit of the doubt here) to paint the main character's revenge as ugly and brutal an act as the original torture was. I don't think he wholly succeeded with the first film, but I do think he was actively trying for that.

And again with the word vomit. I'm actually really glad to be having this conversation though, Glenn, because I really do have plenty of reservations with regards to these films being popular and getting rip-offs made of them, and it's nice to have somebody with an opposing POV to chat it through with. My mind's really not made up wither way and a lot depends on what I think Roth does with the new film. No matter what, this kick will be played out soon enough and some new brand of horror will be the rage. It's always cyclical.

And I'll refrain from getting into the other thoughts I've been working through, in which I use the first Hostel film as a template in which Roth is mirroring the first World War... ;-)

JA said...

Whoops, I meant the 2nd world war, not the first.

As if I've not said enough. I shut up now.

Paxton Hernandez said...

I really don't know why you all get so furious at Roth. Gosh, he's a horror director!!! He has sick fantasies!!! And yes, horror can be so nasty sometimes.

It's a movie, Glenn. Only a movie! This kind of discussion has been brought up before in site like the IMDb, about so called torture porn. And it's getting kind of tiring... But now after the tragedy in Virginia everybody wants to point fingers at someone.

Porn is supposed to get you sexually aroused, when the films directed by Roth are supposed to give you the creeps and the gross.

P.S. Just for the record I didn't get aroused after watching Hostel. Actually, I was left with a serious impotence during three days. For real.

Relax, is only a MOVIE. You are taking everything so serious. And more serious shit is happening in Irak and Darfur as we speak.

Best Regards!

Paxton Hernandez said...

But I pretty much agree with what JA said

Kamikaze Camel said...

Oh you did not just do the "there are starving children in africa" thing. I hate that.

But, seriously, my point IS that people are going to see these movies to, in essense, be aroused by the murder of mostly innocent people. They're not going to see the latest allegory between this world and the Iraq War or whatever. And that's why Hostel 2 worries me. It just feels like it's spilling over into being actually being purely about young boys watching half naked girls get their faces ripped off or whatever. I'm obviously not a fan of Hostel but I can admit there it appeared as if there was something going on behind it, but I don't think he knew what and I don't think he got it out there very well.

Yes, I know Eli Roth is a horror director so he has violence on his brain, but I'm not entirely sure if it's the "good" kind. It's one thing to want to make a scary movie that relies on people being killed, it's another thing entirely to want to the make a movie just to show people dying in grotesque ways. And I think, obviously, that's where Ja and I are seperating in terms of our views. I get the impression that Roth is doing that, while Ja thinks not.

The Saw films though, I don't know how anyone can support them. They're just beyond retched.

But that "It's only a movie" bullshit does NOT float with me. No way. I'm sorry, but these people are making movies that people are paying money to see and when people are paying money purely to see people die in increasingly-sick ways, I want to call foul.

Please don't assume I'm one of those people that thinks those who watch movies like this are going to go out and copy them though. I'm not sure where you got that impression. Bringing up Virginia Tech wasn't really part of what I was saying.

And I know this discussion has been going on for a while and what I said in the original post was that I usually laugh at the people writing them, but with these films I do think there is a case that they're sick for the sake of being sick.

Also, there was that recent poll that was about the scariest movie ever made and Hostel was #1! WTF? Having to cover your eyes and wincing at violence doesn't equal scary.

J.D. Judge said...

[cracks knuckles] Okay.

I have not seen Hostel and I have no interest to and I really don't have any feelings on that. It's horrific, and I don't wanna see Anne Hathaway's best friend from The Princess Diaries get disgustingly and brutally tortured.

No, the thing I'm angry about here is the Saw hate. The first one was fucking brilliant, and while the second one was lacking and pointless, that doesn't ruin it for me (and I haven't seen the third one yet.)

No, I am not insane. No, I do not have a "blood lust." My love for it is actually the lack thereof. What I see it as is a surprisingly pius (yeah -- I said it) judgement film. Jigsaw kidnaps his "victims" from the file of society that most of us live, the sinners, but ones of comitting "not that-big" sins. But the thing that proves (at least to me, seeing as I'm the only one) it's greatness is the fact that he doesn't technically torture them. In a court and a good lawyer, he would get time for the kidnappings, but by technicality, not the direct murder. Probably manslaughter or some shit though.

Saw is perfect, a brilliant non-horror horror movie. Or at least I think, and that's all that matters. :P

camobel said...

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