Is there artistic validity to the “torture porn” subgenre of horror films?

By Liz Fuga

Some critics say that the so-called “torture porn” subgenre (very gory horror films from the early 2000’s to now) is on the decline.  Seeing as the Saw franchise apparently ended, the releases of ultra-gory remakes of 1980’s slasher films becoming less frequent, and the rise of both the Paranormal Activity franchise and the original’s director Oren Peli producing Area 51. Whether the trend is actually declining isn’t my concern, but since it is nearly ten years old, I thought I would discuss some of its common criticisms, whether the subgenre deserves any artistic recognition, and the phrase “torture porn” itself.

To answer the second point first, it, of course, deserves artistic recognition.  Barring snuff films and other films depicting real violence, I think extreme and experimental films have a place in society and art.  They can pioneer techniques that can later be used in more mainstream films, and, in the case of violence, they can satisfy a person’s natural morbid curiosity (an urge that used to be sated by public executions).  Also, in regards to violent and/or gory films, the special effects, blood effects and creativity of the kills can be admired on a technical basis.

Many critics of this subgenre argue that there is little to no plot, characters, or commentary within these films, and/or are not very fun to watch.  I don’t think that’s necessarily fair.   I have yet to come across a torture porn that was just violence.  In general, these films do have a plot which often includes, especially in the case of the Saw films, some sort of commentary.  The characters, too, tend to be more developed than some earlier horror subgenres.  Horror films, in my opinion, are meant to scare or disturb; they do not need to be fun.  I agree that torture porn films don’t have the same camp value as, say, slasher films, but I’m not always in the mood for a slasher film.  Sometimes I want a film that takes itself a little more seriously that still has great blood effects and creative deaths.

In general, I am pleased and even impressed with many films in this subgenre, despite the fact that it has its roots in older exploitation films.  I really enjoyed how Saw and its sequels develop characters and have the running commentary of society sanctioned violence.  I don’t really like Hostel, but I appreciate how it tried to harken back to the rape-revenge films of the 1970’s with a more modern twist.  The Halloween remake, despite Rob Zombie clichés, tried to be a bit more psychological.  And even the completely abhorrent Nightmare on Elm Street remake managed to have a few new, interesting and innovative ideas (even if they were dropped almost immediately).  These films are trying to be smart, even if it doesn’t necessarily work, and I think that’s an admirable trait to carry into the future of horror films.

Criticism follows every genre and film, and, naturally, people have their own opinions about what is good or tasteful.  I, however, don’t care for the fact that this subgenre has such a degrading and, frankly, inappropriate label.  The gore is not meant to sexually arouse; if anything, it is supposed to make you cringe.  I can understand the label in a “meta-porn” sense since these films do usually have a “money shot” for blood and gore.  I would be okay with the label in that regard were it not for the fact that there is actually pornography with horror and torture elements.  This makes discussion of the topic difficult if the other party has no idea what mainstream torture porn is.  A great example being my discussion with my editor about this article:  he mistook torture porn for actual pornography.  I don’t understand why this subgenre can’t have the same label as its predecessors, splatter film.  It tells us that the films have a fair amount of gore, and can be disturbing if you’re not into that.  That is just how I see this issue, I am very curious to hear what other people think on the matter.

 

 

0 thoughts on “Is there artistic validity to the “torture porn” subgenre of horror films?

Leave a Comment