Torture Porn

Torture Porn

A Story by Anton Cancre

An unfinished theory-based discussion of torture films.


“Trying to write meaning into the characters and their journey wouldn't actually work, because the experience of the horror is what gives the film meaning”

-Greg Maclean, “The Road to Wolf Creek,” Fangoria issue #248


Before I get to the point that I wanted to make amongst all of this seemingly useless drivel -I promise that there is a point here, so please indulge my meandering- I should probably warn you that I am a horror geek of nearly preposterous proportions. Don't worry... I do go outside, have a job, do not live in my parents' basement and have even touched boobies (believe it or not, most of us fill these criteria). In fact, my absolutely wonderful wife is kind and generous enough to allow me to touch them quite regularly basis. But I am a geek about horror in pretty much any form of media and I take this particular passionate obsession very seriously; just ask the people who have banned me from ever bringing a movie over to their house. You have been warned.


That said, there is one form of horror film that I find absolutely unconscionable: the Torture Film. Often confused with slasher films, their are several features that distinguish this odious form from the more pure and ideal other. The most obvious distinction shows up in the body counts; while slasher films feature a large number of potential victims, torture films have a much smaller number of victims but the stress is on a long, drawn out kill. Jason may be creative with how he kills you, but he'll make it quick; the psychotic inbred family of The Hills Have Eyes will toy with you, capture you, and then toy with you more before skinning you in front of your kids. The difference here is the same as that between a dog killing a rabbit and a cat killing a mouse. I'll never understand how any sane person could “get off” on watching these elaborate, excruciating set pieces over the comparably benevolent and humane euthanasia presented in slasher films.


However, the choice of victims in a torture film is even more deplorable because of its abject renunciation of the standard rules of slasher victims. What do the poor people camping in the Australian Outback in Wolf Creek have to do with Alexia and her family in High Tension have in common? They've done nothing wrong... no fornicating, no drugs and no plans to steal a million bucks from work. The killers in slasher films may be committing vile and heinous acts but they are merely collecting on the wages of sin. In this light, creatures like Michael Myers are no less demons to us, but they become demons who are inadvertently meting out divine will. Unfortunately, the same is not true with torture films where the victims are random, guilty only of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Even worse are films like Eli Roth's Hostel which allow the most immoral of the possible “heroes” to live after the rest have died. Are we to learn from these films that the innocent are punished while the guilty live?


        Of course, this inability to moralize their deaths creates an interesting effect on us as an audience, leaving us thinking that it could just as easily have been us stranded out in the wilderness and pursued by those murderous b******s. We could be there dying alone and in tremendous agony. But why the hell would anyone want to do that to us? Why would anyone abuse the trust we have placed in them by sitting down and placing our fragile minds in their hands? After all, these are horrible, gut-wrenching feelings to have... but isn't that exactly what many of us feel when we are bombarded with images of those two 757s slamming into the Twin Towers or the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It could have easily been me or you (yep, I am addressing you again, oh ephemeral reader) who got on the wrong plane, picked the wrong day to actually show up to work or open one of the Unabomber's special deliveries.


We live in a time where even if terrorists are not actually salivating over geysers of our red, white and blue (but mostly red) American blood at any given moment, we are certainly told that they are. So we are terrified every second of every day, whether or not we think about it consciously. We are terrified that the next time it might be us or someone we love and no one can survive under the weight of such constant unspoken fear.

Torture films allow us to feel that very fear, to scream and cry and gasp as we actually engage it, to openly acknowledge it in a completely safe environment. We know that we can shout “it's only a movie” and that, at the end of this harrowing couple of hours, the lights will come on and everything will be okay. Heck, we even occasionally get to experience a little of ye olde empowerment if the hero/heroine manages to exact a usually equally brutal revenge upon the initial brutalizers, something we see in Hostel and I Spit On Your Grave as well as several others. Either way, we get the catharsis that we need to continue going about our daily lives without blowing most of our mental fuses.


Now, where's my damn popcorn, Coke and Wrong Turn.


© 2008 Anton Cancre

Author's Note

Anton Cancre
On top of the normal concerns, I am particularly curious about the accessibility of this work. Is it easy to read an enjoyable for people who do not have their literary heads up their asses. I'm trying to work out a critical style that is based in strong theory but aimed at actual people.

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Hmmmmm.......I really liked your take on this concept. Very thoughtful...I liked the boobies part, for it is

Posted 13 Years Ago

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Added on July 7, 2008


Anton Cancre
Anton Cancre

forest park, OH

There isn't much to say for or against the man who lies locked inside... I exist, therefor Nietzsche has to acknowledge me. Sometimes the glass is half empty, sometimes half full, usually knocked ov.. more..