L.L. Soares Guest Blogs: The “Torture Porn” Dilemma

Today’s guest blog is courtesy of horror author L.L. Soares. He is the co-author of In Sickness by Skullvines Press and Breaking Eggs by Sideshow Press. He has been published by Cemetery Dance, Horror Garage, Bare Bone, and Gothic.net. His work also appears in the collections Best of Horrorfind 2, Raw: Brutality as Art, and Right House on the Left. Furthermore, he co-edited the story anthology Dark Jesters and co-writes the movie review column Cinema Knife Fight.

And as an added reward for visiting the Hideaway, one blog reader has the chance to win the ebook of In Sickness. Simply contact me HERE and put the word IN SICKNESS in the subject line and I’ll randomly draw a name from my cauldron.

Now that I’m out of breath, let’s unleash the madness of Mr. Soares.

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The “Torture Porn” Dilemma

by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares Guest Blogs: The "Torture Porn" Dilemma L.L. Soares Guest Blogs: The "Torture Porn" Dilemma 38160 1523101285552 1475193816 1292415 3856397 nSo let’s talk about “torture porn,” shall we?

Lenny Bruce once said that once you embrace a word and make it your own, it loses its power to offend. So on some level I want to embrace “torture porn.” I want to be able to laugh about it and accept it. And I come really close to succeeding.

But there’s this real sense of judgment to the phrase. A kind of moral rectitude that grates on my nerves.

The esteemed reference Wikepedia (he said with tongue firmly inserted in cheek) —the encyclopedia of popular culture itself—tells us that the phrase originated with movie critic David Addleson in The New York Times to describe the first HOSTEL movie. But the media wasted no time snatching it up and making it their own, and I’m not just talking obvious outlets like FoxNews. This wasn’t a right-wing issue. The left gobbled it up as well. It didn’t matter that at the time the word hit the mainstream, news stories like the Abu Ghraib scandal were going on in real life. It seemed like the fictional use to torture and horror—rather than the real kind—was the more truly offensive.

I really don’t like phrases that are based on a “moral argument” because they tend to be knee-jerk and there’s usually very little thought behind them.

So, when Roger Ebert (normally, one of my favorite film critics) dismissed a well-made horror flick like WOLF CREEK because it was “morally offensive” to him (and, suddenly, the film’s merits didn’t mean squat, unlike the latest brainless action film or dumb romantic comedy, because those didn’t offend his sensibility and thus were reviewed using different standards), giving it zero stars, this shocked me. He is normally a lot more thoughtful. Or, when Wesley Morris of  The Boston Globe condemned HOSTEL PART 2, saying it is simply “deplorable,” —like that alone should tell us why we shouldn’t see it—that’s offensive to me. Because it’s a way of saying “You’re too dumb to decide whether this movie has merit, and instead of looking at a movie objectively on its strengths or weaknesses, you should simply avoid it completely, because it offended me.” And that’s not what I’m looking for in a film review. I’m looking for a smart, informed opinion that actually tells us what’s up there on the screen.

“Torture porn” suggests two things. The first is that porn is bad, which is highly debatable (and another moral battleground); the second is that, if you somehow see one of the movies thus labeled, and you actually like it, then there is something wrong with you.

That’s funny. I thought if you liked Daddy Daycare” with Eddie Murphy or “The Breakup” with Jennifer Aniston, that there was something wrong with you. I guess I didn’t get the latest memo.

Stephen King probably put it best when he said that horror is “supposed to make you feel uncomfortable.” It’s supposed to fuck with your head. And I don’t want safe little monsters that disappear when the sun comes up. I want horror with teeth. And films like the HOSTEL films and WOLF CREEK and even the less interesting SAW films, were still much more effective than the fifteenth Friday the 13th sequel or I Saw What You Did Last Winter Vacation Part 8, or whatever mainstream, watered down bullshit is playing the multiplexes to sold-out audiences.

I like movies that make me feel uncomfortable when the end credits come up. And some of the movies labeled “torture porn” have done this, and done it well. Sure, there have been some clichéd clunkers too, but that’s true with any genre or subgenre.

But with a label like “torture porn” you’re not just attacking a film, you’re also stigmatizing an audience. You’re also painting a lot of movies with the same tired brush. Something thoughtful and more literary (it’s based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, which was in turn based on a true life crime) like THE GIRL NEXT DOOR would easily fit into the criteria for what is “torture porn,” and yet it’s more ambitious than most films that usually get lumped into this category. Is that fair to the filmmakers and the audience? I don’t think so.

Instead of bandying these stupid labels around, why not judge each film on its own merits? And if graphic violence or even a nihilistic tone offends you, then maybe you shouldn’t be reviewing these films in the first place, since you’re not the intended audience. Just like I wouldn’t presume to be a good choice to do regular reviews of kids’ movies.

I can tell you that several of the films that have been stigmatized as “torture porn” have been a lot more interesting than the majority of the the stale, watered-down  PG-13 pablum that’s dumbed down and made for mass consumption for the teenagers who have lots of mommy and daddy’s money to spend (and, of course, there’s no reason to label these kinds of movies with any kind of derogatory,  business-killing catch phrases). And what that means is we’ll get fewer interesting flicks, that actually stretch the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and more of the same old garbage.

If that’s what you want, fine. But I want something more. I want movies that challenge me, and might even offend me. I want something that’s going to make me actually feel something. But most people don’t go to the movies to feel. They go there to escape.

So I’m sitting here wondering if I should embrace the term “torture porn” and just laugh about it instead of going off on a rant about why it’s simplistic and reactionary. And I guess it doesn’t really matter, because I’m going to be interested in seeing certain movies no matter what they’re called, and turned off by others. And there’s nothing I can do to change the media, because it thrives on catch phrases and sound bites and keeping things as one-dimensional and dumb as possible.

5 Responses to L.L. Soares Guest Blogs: The “Torture Porn” Dilemma

  1. Louise says:

    I never really realized torture porn was offensive, because I never really thought of porn as being a bad word. This gives me food for thought. What doesn’t work for me with some of these flicks, like the Hostel series, is I just don’t connect with anyone. Everyone seems so one dimensional, I couldn’t even get behind the bad guys. I could appreciate the make up and effects though! But I just couldn’t find a challenge behind the gore, because I didn’t feel involved in the characters at all.

    Take Pinhead, for instance. There’s my gore. I mean, he’s a right bastard, but I can admire his charm, his craftiness, his skill in the hunt. And I like some of his victims, so when he rips their intestines out, I’m getting into it.

    Excellent points about labels, LL!

  2. Louise says:

    *runs back to say* Wolf Creek was a very good flick! Definitely enjoyed that one.

  3. S.D. Hintz says:

    That’s true, Louise, in terms of difficulty connecting with characters. I had that same issue in regards to Hostel. And the words “torture porn” are a bit of an oxymoron. Torture brings pains, porn brings pleasure. Still seeing one of these words as being good. lol

  4. Louise says:

    haha! Good point, S.D. :D

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