Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Torture Porn Redux

I may have misled Knox in my recommendations post by referring to Borderland as not torture porn. I see my reviews at the time suggest otherwise but apart from a gory opening, I'm not remembering the details. As I recall, the horrors were less flamboyant and more banally real--making them all the more horrible.

I remember mostly being concerned about it, rather than it actually happening. I'll review it when I can and see if my recall is correct.

Meanwhile I'm watching Captivity, which caused a kerfuffle when it came out because of its posters. The kerfuffle struck me as dumb. It is torture porn, though, by my definition. The movie's sole purpose seems to be to degrade Elisha Cuthbert. Her abuse, interspersed with other women being abused, dominates the first half hour. The second half hour is more abuse, with another person being abused alongside her.

The final half hour is the big reveal, the why, the twist ending. The entree into this part is really, really stupid, but that's not the point, really. The point is, we've had an hour of torture up till now, there's nothing you can bookend it with that makes this movie not about sadism, or that makes it a documentary, or anything other than enjoying that first hour at some level.


The script was co-written by schlockmeister Larry Cohen, who recently wrote the tight Phone Booth and Cellular but who goes back to the blaxploitation days and the It's Alive series. He also directed one of the better "Masters of Horror" episodes. No big shocka, though, he's a working man, and someone probably said, "Hey, Larry, whip us up something Saw-like."

The real gut-punch, though, is that it's directed by two-time Oscar nominee Roland Joffe, who achieved fame with The Killing Fields and The Mission--which was referred to as something akin to torture porn at the time, unfairly, in my opinion--and then went weirdly off the rails by directing (at least in part) Super Mario Bros., the first ever video game movie.

Freeman Hunt (whose blog is missing from my roster on the right, I just noticed) maintained in an earlier thread that the Saw movies were just about torture--that that was all that was going on. But here you see when that really happens. Cuthbert is simply tortured. There's no suspense, really. She's going to be tortured, she can't do anything to stop it, there's no transformation that can occur, she's done nothing wrong other than be pretty and famous.

If you just can't tolerate the gore, all the reasons for it--however, good--won't change that. If that's what you're into, then you don't care about the reasons. But if you see it as just another color in the palette, then there's minimally an aesthetic and maximally a morality to how it's applied.


  1. I'm interested to hear what you have to say about Borderland, because if it is indeed T.P. it's a deal-breaker. I think Unrest is free on demand right now, so I'll probably watch it this weekend. Sounds like an interesting premise.

  2. I know it can be a deal-breaker, which is why I got this update in.

    I remember being worried about it, but I recall the violence being run-of-the-mill, even ordinary. I found that effective because, while it doesn't look like much, a small knife going into your belly can ruin your whole day.... ISTR this movie playing very effectively on that.

    But I'll see if I can't re-review it.

  3. I haven't been able to edit my blogroll for months because it's through Blogrolling, and all of their editing functions have been offline. (They were hacked and have been rewriting the whole program.)

    I should probably start my blogroll over from scratch.

    Will talk torture porn later... family time...

  4. Right around Halloween, I was watching Bravo's "Scariest Movie Moments" and they showed some scene from Last House on the Left that I still can't forget. If I could go, "Ew, that was gross" and move on with my life, I wouldn't mind. But it's always the horrible stuff that seems to get permanently imprinted on my brain.

    Gore in itself doesn't really bother me, but three guys disemboweling some woman out in the woods for a prolonged time, and giggling... can't take it.

  5. knox,

    Last House On The Left is, to me, the archetypal torture porn movie. It is very hard to watch.

    I re-watched it again recently just to see if it had the same impact. Of course it didn't but it still is a horrible movie to watch.

    I believe Wes Craven has said he put every terrible thing he could imagine into that (his first movie).


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