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The Horror Blog » Blog Archive » On “Torture Porn”

On “Torture Porn”

Things have been quiet recently among the various horror blogs. Too quiet. Which is why I’m ecstatic that Sean T. Collins has taken me to task for my wholesale dismissal of the term “torture porn”.

Sean contends that “We all know what it means”, a statement I couldn’t disagree with more. In fact, Sean backpedals on this statement later in the same paragraph with “…sure, “porn” might give them the wrong idea…” That’s my point entirely.

Sean defines “Torture Porn” thusly.

“Horror films in which the physical brutalization of a person or persons, frequently to death and always while somehow immobilized or held captive by the brutalizer or brutalizers, is the primary locus of horror in the film”

Wouldn’t simply labelling these as “Torture” films do just as well, and without the inherent confusion Sean admits exists with the addition of the word “Porn”? Whatever your feelings on pornography, the tag “Porn” adds connotations to a sub-genre of horror film that doesn’t really need it. I’m sure someone will come along to correct me on this, but I’m fairly sure “Torture Porn” is the only horror sub-genre label that denotes not only the content of the film but also suggests a particular quality, as well. Someone may say they just watched a tepid lesbian vampire film, or attended a particularly good underwater nazi zombie double bill, but with the possible exception of Sean himself I’ve seen no one apply qualitative statements to “Torture Porn”.

“Torture Porn” is.

To muddy the waters further, so far I’ve been witness to at least three different definitions for “Torture Porn”, none of which match the one Sean has provided.

Films in which the torture of characters is the sole focus to the exclusion of all other considerations.

This is the most common view of “Torture Porn”. It differs from Sean’s definition in that a film falling under this definition doesn’t just use torture as a hook, it strips away any and all other factors, such as characterization and plot. The problem with this is that it relies on a qualitative opinion of the film. One proponent of this definition, John Campea of The Movie Blog, has categorized films he feels falls under the term “Torture Porn”, many of which I would disagree with. We can both agree that the films discussed portray acts of torture, but we won’t always agree on the worth of the remainder of the film. This is different from, say, debating whether or not 28 Days Later is a zombie film. That debate doesn’t hinge on the merits of the film itself.

Films which are designed specifically for an audience that gets off on torture.

It may come a distant second, but the people who believe in this definition are quite vocal in their disdain for movies they probably haven’t even seen. They seem to believe that “Torture Porn” was created solely for the enjoyment of people who enjoy watching other people suffer, like snuff films, when, in my experience anyway, the reason most people go to see such films is to experience the thrill and suspense of escaping a horrible fate, if only by proxy. I don’t doubt that there are many individuals who thrive on the suffering of others, but most mainstream “Torture Porn” films are either too tepid or too empathic to fall under this category.

Films in which people fuck and torture one another at the same time.

This is what I think of when people bring up “Torture Porn”, and since films like this actually exist I must concede that Sean was correct and that the term is not entirely useless.

I still like “Gorno” better.

15 Responses to “On “Torture Porn””

  1. Moorhead Says:

    I work in post production and we frequently throw together short clip shows that have ‘porn’ affixed to the end. For instance, if we need a clip show of incredible weather footage of stuff getting ripped apart, we call it ‘weather porn’.

    ‘Pornography’ can be defined as ‘lurid or sensational material’, which this ‘weather porn’ most definitely is. There’s no editorial and no point of view, just ‘Whoa, look at that house getting ripped apart!’ Sure, it’s slang to a certain extent, but it works.

    And I think it works here, too. Hostel, Captivity, etc. IS torture porn. The whole point of these movies is to push the envelope, to see how far they can take things on screen. The stories these scenes of torture are built on are way too flimsy to suggest that any of this was put together for any reason OTHER than to gross out and be intense. It’s lurid and sensational.

    It’s torture porn.

  2. Steve Says:

    Hey, Craig. Thanks for popping by.

    My viewing habits are almost entirely centred around “lurid and sensational material”, so I can get behind that. However, I’d argue that at least one of the movies you’ve mentioned above, Hostel, isn’t simply trying to push the envelope and does has a much stronger story than you suggest. So strong in fact that it was my favourite horror film of 2006. So, that being the case, is it no longer considered “torture porn”?

  3. Cinebeats Says:

    I’m so damn tired of that idiotic term. I wish it would go away forever. It’s more than useless and and was clearly invented by a critic who knowns nothing about horror films.

    It was first used as a derogatory term but horror fans now use it and I do find it insulting to some degree.

    There is nothing new in any of the so-called “torture porn” films that we haven’t seen in horror movies for the past 30-35 years so why the new label?

    Gorno is a bit better but I still think it’s pretty pointless as well.

  4. Steve Says:

    Gorno is pointless but it makes me laugh. I think it’s because it reminds me of Gonzo.

  5. Louis Fowler Says:

    Well, to be fair, I do use the HOSTEL films as masturbatory fodder.

  6. Logan Says:

    I think Torture Porn is as gratuitous a term as the genre it was coined to vilify.
    It exists to get uptight people concerned about nothing (as usual). I found this blog b/c I have been searching for a movie that was released I believe in 2004 or 2005, and was only theatrically released for like a day. roger Ebert panned it as the “most gratuitous waste of film ever made…” or some such crap. It was about 2 girls who go to an outdoor rave and descends into what the director claimed is the “goriest American horror film ever.” I like gore, I want to see it. I can’t remember the name for the life of me. Do you know it? Have you seen it?

  7. Steve Says:

    I have not seen it, but I think the movie you’re looking for may be “Chaos”. I did watch the DVD extra where the director visits the morgue. It was fantastic.

  8. Movie Clerks » Eli Roth is No Fan of (Some) Film Critics Says:

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  9. Hoopla - Entertainment Blog » Blog Archive » Eli Roth is No Fan of (Some) Film Critics Says:

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  13. frank Says:

    Check out the actual movie entitled “GORNO” by, Les Norris,, the film was released a few years ago by Brain Damage Films,has music from Manson,, very weird.

  14. JENNETE Says:

    That movie was ok…i mean if u have a movie entitled “Gorno” u would think that maybe, we might see some nudity? see a little more blood? But no, not in “Gorno” we get a little blood, but i think that the thing that works in Gorno is that one terrible event, follows another and another , and the foul dialog is priceless… Besides “The Great American Snuff Film” “Gorno” is my second favorite Braindamagefilms release ever!!

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