As a personal reference point Jenny MCartney uses her Ulster childhood to begin her extremely well delivered and trenchant argument about the arrival of torture porn on the big screen (or whatever other grimy subgenres are cleverly marketed as mainstream cinema and rake in the cash for your raunch entertainment!). She wonders at our enjoyment of it all – and the references used.
I agree with her concern that we seem unquestioningly entertained by the downright nasty. The overt use of (mainly) young girls pornographically and graphically tortured, or American backpackers in Europe being sliced to bits Iraq style isnt something that passes me by unnoticed but I dont feel its something you can challenge really without coming off as a prude. Im glad Jenny managed to put this piece together so convincingly. Im reminded of a scene in Gladiator where Maximus chops some hapless slaves to bloody pieces, the audience cheers and he spits at them angrily "Are you not entertained?"
This ‘genre’ generally trys to trump the video market which has upped the stakes with virtual violence. The abuse and imagery is akin to marketing Iraq, Al Qaeda or Abu Ghraib along side all the other nasty stories that roll across the news every evening. In about 2 years from now films are going 3D (to hit back hard at internet piracy). What next? Virtual colliseums where you reenact your favourite torture porn flic maybe, sort of like a snuff movie? Its probably wise she is asking the questions now. So im asking you guys – is there a line, ever?! Or is it a case of switch off or dont go see ’em!
"The sight of bloodied people begging for their lives, at length, doesn’t feel like entertainment: it feels like a very grim reality….This is not a debate about violence in films, but about the nature and perspective of violence (in them)".
"In interviews, …Roth (director of torture porn movie Hostel) glibly dropping references to shocking real-life events in the news and on the internet, such as the al-Qa’eda beheading of the journalist Daniel Pearl and the torments inflicted by American soldiers on Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. He invokes them urgently, but vaguely. His logic, which is never fully explained, appears to be that the most appalling kind of torture really does happen in the world, and therefore he is somehow authorised to depict it for scary fun. This doesn’t add up"
‘something has, however, changed profoundly with the advent of ‘torture porn’ as a mainstream genre and the proliferation of real-life terrorist beheadings on the internet. The will and reach of the censor is slipping: increasingly, we will have to take responsibility for ourselves….’ and adds ‘The more of it audiences consume, the less they understand. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four the panicked hero, Winston Smith, describes a nightmarish night at the flicks, as the audience relishes the sight of a boatload of enemy refugees being bombed, and roars with laughter at a mother’s hapless struggles to protect her small boy from death. We are not so very far away from that now. There must come a point at which audiences ask a different question from what will the torturer do next to his victims on screen? We must ask what watching him is doing to us".
A couple of different critical takes on the first and second films:
"Even if you hate Hostel, it is hard to deny the impact that has been made by allowing a niche genre film, that is equally split between gratuitous amounts of nudity and some truly shocking moments of carnal depravity, loose on over 2,000 screens, and then seeing that same film top out at number one by beating out stalwart Christian epic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as anything other than one of the seven signs of the apocalypse. So as you sit down in your soft suburban cells and toss off a copy of Hostel into you DVD player, consider this as you cringe in terror and cower at the streaks of crimson filling your plasma TV’s. Given the box office success of Hostel and its usurpation of industry expectations, is Eli Roth the Messiah or the Antichrist of the new millennium?"
"The performances are good however the three leads remain frustratingly under-developed so it’s difficult to really care about them when the torturing starts. The biggest problem is that the film’s central death scene is so relentlessly unpleasant that it’ll genuinely make you question why you came to see the film in the first place. The script is uninspired and the film isn’t particularly scary or suspenseful, it’s just plain nasty" (going on to then conclude its natural appeal to gore fans)
(Hills Have Eyes 2 ‘Iraq torture’ poster)