Horror Debates: Is “Torture Porn” a Derogatory Term?

Our forth installment of Horror Debates sure is a scorcher! Torture Porn swept the nation a few years back and here to debate whether or not the term “Torture Porn” is derogatory or not, is Zach S. from Z for Zombies and Awkward Creations, going head to head against Mattsuzaka of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby and Paracinema…The Blog fame. Aaaand, we’re off!

Is “Torture Porn” a Derogatory Term?

“No” Zach:

Torture Porn. Say it out loud. Even if you’ve never seen a selection of this genre you immediately know what it is about, and you desperately want to find out more. Cinematically Torture Porn punches you in the gut and never apologizes for it. These two buzz words now replace the tired moniker of “slasher” as the quintessential means of describing the most gruesome horror films nowadays. And for a genre that rarely sees major studio backing, its word of mouth that separates the pop favorites from the cult classics. Horror is meant to be unsettling, unnerving and it’s really only these films that push the envelope that can jolt the most jaded of viewers. This is the direct result of graphic content being graphically depicted. Many argue that Torture Porn comes at the price of sacrificing storyline and character development for unflinching ultra-violence and gratuitous nudity, but you get exactly what you pay for; the last true incarnation of truth in advertising. This phrase, meant to embattle movie goers, has spurned the general populace into thinking the term Torture Porn is a slap in the face to their proclivities to witness such acts. I say Torture Porn is the last battle cry for what can be cinematically tolerated in a free society.

The need to shock and horrify with Torture Porn is a shot across the helm to modern cinema to not only exceed the craftsmanship of their predecessors, but to also sicken and titillate the expectations of today’s apathetic audiences. With Torture Porn the artistry of special effects is fully embraced to create the most realistic depictions of inexcusable acts. Not showing the moral consequences of these illicit actions and visually censoring them is the most detestable act of all, leaving the entire process sterilized and void of any artistic merit or redemption. The entire purpose of Torture Porn is to stimulate a reaction of repulsion and arousal. This results from a direct conflict of our inhibitions perpetuated by social norms against our animal instincts of survival. This genre serves as a counter balance to the fantasized silver screened notions of life, death and the pain depicted within more commercial films. What shocks and terrifies with Torture Porn is then extrapolated and imitated by film producers as the new standard of compliance in the world of Horror. Torture Porn has officially cemented a once softly spoken sub-genre of horror as a full blown Hollywood career maker. And if you do it to Nazis you get an Oscar nod too.

Torture Porn, is an identifiable label, has all warnings of its content and purpose in its very definition. I mean, what the hell else would you call it? This genre isn’t for the kids, it’s strictly for the hardcore. Any form of censorship that could be rallied against this breed of film by using the term Torture Porn in a derogatory fashion is immediately rendered mute. So say it loud, I’m watching Torture Porn and I’m proud!

“Yes” Mattsuzaka

What’s my all-beef patty with the term Torture Porn? Well, it’s a subject that is not quite as relevant as it was a few years back, during the height of the critically created subgenre, but what it stands for, is always pertinent to horror and its many detractors. Torture Porn was created by claimed horror fan and film-critic, David Edelstein, who described some of these films as “Movies that are so viciously nihilistic that the only point seems to be to force you to suspend moral judgments altogether.” It’s a term used to downgrade a portion of horror, saying these films are not worthy of any artistic value. It is a term used to describe a type of film that has been around for a lot longer than Hostel and that is Exploitation, which is what these films are in the end.

Why would it become a focus all of the sudden? Because these films made a splash at the box office and people were going to see them. They are no different than say, Last House On the Left, or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so why is this term created now? It’s a way to take from our genre with a negative tag, a tag that implies that these films are nothing more than pornography, or better yet, trash. This has been an issue that has plagued our genre of choice for many years and even films that are regarded as classics, were put under the scrutiny of critics trying to take a stance as well as make a name for themselves, by disrespecting what we hold near and dear to our hearts.

Torture Porn is a term meant to get a rise out of politicians and overzealous Christian groups, who now have a perfectly frightening and dirty sounding name for a type of film they reject, a type of film that many of these people know nothing about. Horror as entertainment has been dragged through the mud for as long as it’s been successful and it has been used as a political platform to frighten parents into keeping their children safe from the horrors of these movies by voting for them. Anytime there is a school shooting, or some child related act of violence, there is instant backlash and horror is one of the first on the receiving end.

In the 80’s, the term Slasher was meant to degrade those films of that time, even though Slasher films had been around for years already, it wasn’t until a Friday the 13th came along and became successful, that critics and do-gooders went after them. Over time, the negative term Slasher was embraced by fans, thus taking away its meaning, but Slasher is a much different in it’s description. It fits. Torture Porn insinuates that and equates the bloodletting on screen to the same release one would get sexually when watching pornographic material. It is a way of making these movies less than what they are, which is art.

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Now it’s your turn to weigh in on the term Torture Porn dear reader - do you think it’s derogatory, or no? Make sure to leave your thoughts and thanks to our lovely and gorgeous participants for taking part in the debate!

12 comments:

Rach555 said...

Have to say I agree with Mattsuzaka.
He said it right when he said that the term implies that the films are nothing more that pornography. Even worse than that is that it implies that the actors in these film are nothing more than porno actors, and that is a fucking travesty.
These actors spend hours with make and fake blood plastered all over them. They have to be prepared to look absolutely awful, screaming or crying with snot running from their noses. They deserve respect which the term "Torture Porn" doesn't offer them.
That's my 2 cents, anyway.

oducerproducer said...

Gotta agree with my buddy Zach, nothing is wrong with the word. It's a sub genre, sure it may have been created by the media, but it disgusts the media too. I mean what sub genre would Hostel or Saw fit in? Giallo? Maybe, slasher? Meh. Torture Porn, DING DING DING.

forestofthedead said...

They aren't porn but have torture, call them torture films. If you go to Wikipedia and look up cannibal films you will not find information about movies depicting real cannibalism, you will find a description of a sub-genre of exploitation films, which torture films are.Call them torture films because they involve torture, not torture porn. You like porn? Fine. But these movies aren't porn and so at the very least it's misleading.

Highly Caffeinated said...

Good debate guys.
Torture porn. Makes sense for a label of something you enjoy watching but feel dirty for watching it after the fact.
As a film maker, it is a tag that needs considering. In my upcoming film, there is a scene that I had to give a large consideration to as to whether or not to 'show', or imply. To make it 'torture porn', or to do it off camera, which a lot of people say is scarier, having to fill in the blanks in their own minds. Like the final act of 'torture' in Martyrs, we see her reaction and hear the sounds, and between the four of us watching, we all squirmed at it for all different reasons for what we thought was happening.
While I greatly enjoy 'torture porn' flicks, there does seem to be a stigma attached with that label now, so I'm going with the off screen version.

The Divemistress said...

Good on Matt for pulling out the Edelstein. I gotta say, you guys trumped me--I've been preparing a piece on this subject for a little while now. I'm not gonna weigh in here, but I will say this: the media ran with "torture porn" without fully understanding Edelstein's comment, which in turn influenced all of us. And by all of us, I mean everyone, those for and against.

Ashlee said...

With films, especially the oft overlooked genre of horror, I'm always trying to grasp how they effect what surrounds them: the culture at large and their reactions to them. I think that's what Matt did well here. It's maddening that sometimes the very participants of any cultural group aren't given their fair due of signifying their own products and their own symbols yet authoratative power structures label films "Torture Porn" riddled in negative connotation to affirm their own selfish missions. Our voices as the fans get lost within them and we're stuck constantly having to defend an art form that has as much relevancy as a Spielberg flick. Not that others outside of the constructs can't have an opinion, but those opinions are often written off, dismissed, and even worse marked as inferior and we're again, back at the high vs. low culture debate.

Christian said...

The term 'torture porn' is not stating that the work itself is pornographic, the term is a reference to the 'money shot' that both porn and graphic horror relies on. In porn it is the ejaculation, in horror it is the special effects. That is the comparison with which the term was created for by Alan Jones.

Doug Tilley said...

Of course it's degrading. Both to the exploitation/horror genre as a whole, and to the creators of these films. For one, it's ridiculously simplistic - it labels each of these films as a cookie-cutter, repetitive excuse for violence. Even the worst of these films takes a lot of production hours, and - with few exceptions - are honestly more than an excuse to drench the screen with gore.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that the preponderance of torture films has developed from concern over the torture of Guantanamo inmates, but I do believe that the most commonly cited "Torture Porn" examples: Hostel, Wolf Creek, Saw, etc. work on a level outside of simple degradation and unpleasantness. And I honestly don't care for any of those films.

But, really, the only proof you need in regards to it being seen as derogatory is that almost all of the creators of these so-called "Torture Porn" films hate their films being labelled this way. There's been an almost wholesale rejection by the directors, not because the label does harm to their box-office, but because it undermines their abilities as artists.

Matt-suzaka said...

Great debate on Zach's half and some solid and insightful comments from everyone. I hit 500 words exactly, but could have went another 500 just as easily! As for some of the above comments: I agree that the label "torture" works just fine for me and the Torture type of film has been around for so long without the porn part added on.

With the gore money shot comparison to the ejaculating money shot in porno - I don't know about anyone else, but when I see a sick scene of gore, the feeling I get is not that of blowing a load! And that is the comparison as it was intended, not necessarily what is seen on screen, but what the viewer takes from it.

Martyrs was also brought up, and that is a film that most (or at least I) consider to be a great film, but it has a Torture aesthetic. So what is Martyrs often referred to? "Existential" Torture Porn, which is a way of saying that Martyrs is too good for being just a Torture Porn film, thus saying that the term only refers to films that are not good enough to be considered art.

And lastly, when I did a little bit of research, you have no idea how many results came up for porn sites that depicted torture, so that kinda says it all right there. Thanks to everyone that commented and I hope non of you are ever tortured, but have lots of porn, or something like that!

Christian said...

You can't judge the artistic merits of these movies because of what websites came up when you Googled the words 'torture porn.' It's common sense that you would get nothing but smut, but that is hardly the fault of the filmmakers. And it wasn't them who coined the term, blame the film critic responsible.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Another excellent debate guys! Thanks for the awesome contributions.

While I do feel it was initially meant as a derogatory and demeaning term, we have to look back at other art movements like the Dadaist movement, a name that had the same negative connotation. Critics have attached names like this to all forms of art that they deemed "unworthy," however true art will withstand any criticism, and films like THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, WOLF CREEK, and HOSTEL will end up proving this fact.

Zach S. said...

This was an awesome opportunity, thanks for the spotlight. Matt had some great points, but no matter what you call it, labels are for jars. The comments have been awesome as well. This is one of my favorite new forums of cohesive thought and valid opinions.

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