Recent torture pornographers such as Eli Roth arguably have aligned themselves with 1970s American horror auteurs not only to legitimize their work but to cash in on their rebel credibility.
The NEW REPUBLIC article is an interesting way to follow up on my previous essay written earlier this week about horror movies.. I actually made the point that horror movies, in general, are a lot less scary in our current reality—and even more, who wants to look at torture porn films and slasher gore galore when you can turn on the nightly news and see edited versions of beheading videos and then download the real deal yourself should you wish to..?
It wasn’t long before horror directors such as Eli Roth were claiming that their work could trace a direct lineage to the “war on terror”. “I really try to load up the films with ideas,” Roth insisted, citing with pride the university seminars discussing his Hostel series as “a post-9/11 response to Iraq and torture”. The ecstatic violence of that franchise at first attracted the scorn of many reviewers, who dismissed it as “torture porn,” but Roth’s articulate justifications for his on-screen cruelties seem to have won over the academy.
This strategy of media management isn’t new—Night of the Living Dead’s George Romero said in 1973 that his pioneering zombie film was intended as “a statement about society,” and its semi-documentary style and black hero, murdered by white authorities, served to corroborate his claim. Yet, presenting Romero with a lifetime achievement award in 2009, Quentin Tarantino characterised his movies as consisting of “heart-stopping violence, explosive bloodshed, undead flesh-eaters and dismembered ghouls.” So does the political content really give life to the films, or is it ancillary to the thrills of gore and suspense? And does the meaning that a filmmaker attaches to his lurid tales ultimately matter?
Although it would be a folly to dismiss interpretative readings of the horror genre entirely, I am skeptical of the claims of critics and filmmakers alike that a zombie or torture movie is primarily to be approached as political allegory. That attitude seems to conform to an apologetic attitude to art, in which the work serves, at best, a medicinal function: the Hostel series is valid because it negotiates, even purges, society’s anxieties about Abu Ghraib, and so on. Yet Eli Roth is not Noam Chomsky. And who thinks about Nixon or Vietnam when confronted with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
I don’t know if the movies are always set to be political allegory, or if the interpretation comes after to defend the amount of horrific violence that often accompanies torture porn flicks. But I know this, and will defend the notion to the end: Pick any horror movie of any decade and you will get a pretty decent idea of what that time’s people, thought patterns, and headlines were like.
I have a few friends that disavow all things horror—people who avoid the genre at all costs. I myself avoid the torture porn flicks simply because I’d rather a deeper scare than one which simply attacks my sense of decency. But I believe that horror films are from the rough end of town, and they are emblematic of the life and times we are from..
Oh, and wrestling does, too.