Monday, June 04, 2007

It's back!

With the release of Eli Roth's Hostel II this upcoming weekend, the familiar "torture porn" argument has once again reared its ugly head. I've already engaged in three different conversations on the subject at three separate blogs (as well as reading one rather scathing review of Roth's movie): Reel Fanatic relays some interesting words by Joss Whedon on the topic, Moviezz expresses his woe about that specific sub-genre, Bleeding Tree's Neil Sarver is wrestling with what to make of it all (specifically with regard to Hostel II) and Dave Poland's attack of the film can be found over at The Hot Button.

I've already expressed my own personal thoughts on the matter, so I don't feel the need to go into it again. I do, however, want to briefly mention something that I think is very important for this ongoing discussion. In the course of disagreeing with a person's ideas/attitudes toward a particular film (or type of film) it's very easy to allow that to infiltrate one's attitude toward the person. This is a distinction that I always try to keep in mind for myself because I am only too aware of what it feels like to be personally condemned by others for liking a certain film (or kind of film). I may find "torture porn" to be immoral and unhealthy but as I express my disdain for it I want folks to remember that I am not standing in judgement of those who do find some sort of redeeming value in those films. I might think that these individuals are wrong (or at the very least mistaken) but it's difficult enough for all of us to co-exist together (let alone have any kind of meaningful communication) without us all looking down on one another. Granted, we can evaluate the ethical/moral value of a person's actions/ideas but it is not our place to judge the person themselves. It may be true (and I doubt anyone will deny this) that there are some rather sick and twisted individuals out there who do indeed "get off" on the kind of sadistic, explicitly violent images depicted in some movies, but I am not prepared, at this point anyway, to "write off" anyone and everyone willing to defend those movies as being this exact kind of person.

So, I just want to remind everyone (myself included) that as we continue to debate this subject, let us try to show respect and be civil towards one another, avoiding generalizations and name calling. Not everyone who likes the Hostel movies is necessarily a "desensetized, disturbed, perverted sicko who just enjoys images of rape and torture for their own twisted pleasure" and not everyone who dislikes the Hostel movies is necessarily a "hyper-religious, fundamentalist right-wing nutcase trying to force their values on others and spoil everybody's fun."


TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damian Arlyn said...

It's certainly something to keep in mind, I think, since we so often confuse the two and it usually ends up with each side getting VERY angry with the other.

RC said...

this is a very sensitive view towards the subject.

it is a twisted genre to devolop in contemporary cinema. it will be intersting as many films along these lines come out in 2007 to see if the market grows or if this is just a bleep on cinema's radar screen.

personally, i do hope it goes away.

Steve C. said...

I'll (eventually) see Hostel II, but from skimming Mr. Poland's description, it certainly sounds like I may have to let Roth go his merry way afterwards. Sounds like another Chaos. Yeesh.

As much as a lot of hardcore horror heads dislike the term, I think "torture porn" is the best descriptor -- like porn, the intrinsic worth centers around redeeming value. The problem is that most thought in said films stops at the level of FX.

Damian Arlyn said...


Thank you for the compliment. I also often wonder if this trend of horror films will eventually run its course. Liek you, I hope it does.


What's interesting is that I had already decided, prior to hearing any details about Hostel II, that I wasn't going to be seeing any more Eli Roth films. From Poland's description, it does sound like another Chaos.

And you're right in that while the label "torture porn" seems to anger a number of horror fans, I still feel it's an apt term.

Chris Stangl said...

Steve: "like porn, the intrinsic worth centers around redeeming value."

Is this a typo, or does this sentence make no sense?

Damian: Your blog, your rules, and I can't think of any pressing reason you should see any Eli Roth films; but "the label 'torture porn' seems to anger a number of horror fans, I still feel it's an apt term."

How? What is the link between movies with extended setpieces of make believe violence, intended to horrify the spectator and movies which depict explicit and unsimulated sex acts? Just that there is a promise of sensationalistic spectacle intended to "excite" the audience? Then does Michael Bay make "explosion porn"? Are Busby Berkeley musicals "choreography porn"? Because I presume torture is repellant to you and sex is not. So why are they equally balanced on the exploitation scales?

Damian Arlyn said...

First of all, Chris, I have to admit that I am a bit surprised (though flattered) that you're still reading my blog. I figured you would have given up on me long ago.

Secondly, I've done so much debating on this topic over the last few days that I'm really just weary of the whole thing now (hearing the same arguments and responses over and over) and I don't particularly feel like getting into it all yet again. I read the piece you wrote on your own blog and I suspect that you and I are probably coming from such radically different perspectives that I'm not even sure how much it would accomplish at this point. We might end up doing the very thing that I advocated not doing, i.e. talking past each other rather than to each other. I don't know whether or not you read my piece on why I've decided not to watch any more Eli Roth movies and even if you did I don't know that it would provide you with the kind of answers you're seeking from me, but I'm not sure how much better I can say it than I do there.

Clearly you don't like the term "torture porn" and that's fine. You don't have to. I don't even like to use it myself very often (simply because it does seem to anger people so much and I don't see the need to be constantly and deliberately provocative) and perhaps I should try to refrain from doing so unless I'm actually prepared to defend its use with coherent arguments and logical reasons. I will admit that I still think it's a term that captures quite accurately the essence of a certain kind of movie and there's a part of me that feels that it is more or less self-evident, someone either "gets" it or they don't, they see it and recognize it for what it is or they justify and rationalize it away because of their own pre-dispositions. Now, maybe I'm wrong. I can admit that. Maybe by approving of that label I'm engaging in the same sort of "dismissive judgment" that I wrote in this post about trying to avoid. That's something I'll have to think long and hard about (sincere self-examination is always a good thing) but I think I'm just calling a spade a spade. I really do.

Also (and this may not be the most appropriate time and place for this and I'm sorry about that), I don't know why, Chris, but whenever I'm in a conversation with you I always seem to feel like I'm in a "battle" of some sort. Whether it's my status as a Speilberg fan, my opinion on the shifting philosophy of movie merchandising or my ideas regarding Eli Roth and his movies, I always seem to be on the defensive. Obviously I can't have anything against personally because I don't even know you(although you seem very smart, educated and eloquent) but there is a very strong agressive quality to your writing that can be a little bit exhausting to respond to. Not that I'm suggesting all online correspondence has to be happy and pleasant ("Group hug, everybody!") but I don't know that it should always be emotionally and psychologically trying and intense. I know I invited you to participate in my "31 Days of Spielberg" project (and that invitation is still open) even though I knew you would most likely disagree with a lot of what I'll have to say. I want to get folks from all different perspectives chiming in and as such I thought you could be very helpful in that regard. At the same time, I'll admit I'm a little apprehensive about it. It's not that I am not looking forward to addressing whatever questions abd criticisms you will no doubt have for me, I just hope I'm not going to be so "spent" from all of my writing that I'll have the energy to properly "engage" you in the manner you deserve to be engaged.

PIPER said...


Jeez, I leave for Disney for a week and all hell breaks loose.

Keep up the fight. This is a brave stance you are taking and you should stick to it.

I guess I'm curious where you ran into such heated debate as to cause you to write the latter part of your post.

I've been catching up and have followed all the writings from Dennis' blog to The Bleeding Tree to here.

My opinion is that as a horror fan I'm sort of glad that horror has been brought to the forefront, I just wish it was by a better director and better material. Horror has seen lots of ups and downs and in my opinion this is a down. My hope is that this will cause the pendulum to swing back and as a response to the gore, we will see horror movies with more suspense. Time will tell.

Damian Arlyn said...

Well, in retrospect, I don't know that it was that "heated." My own sense of persecution for my beliefs probably overwhelmed by objectivity at that point and I'm a little embarassed about that. Whether I actually was "under attack" or not is debatable, but I felt like it at least. The exchange on Reel Fanatic's blog was probably the one that I enjoyed the least. The discussion on Bleeding Tree's blog wasn't so bad and Christ Stangl does have a tendency to be, as he himself characterized, a rather "prickly" writer (his response to this whole debate is certainly interesting). Fortunately, Chris and I worked out our differences in private correspondence, so it's all good.

Like you, Piper, I hope that this is just a phase of the horror genre and that in the future less emphasis is placed on physical suffering and more on suspense. As part of my "31 Days of Spielberg" project I watched Jaws again the other day and, like Psycho, I still marvel at what a masterpiece of audience manipulation that film is. A film like The Descent is a step in the right direction I think.

Kevin Wolf said...

No plans to see Hostel II based on part I. I'd say to Roth, you're given license to be more explicit, it would be nice to do something with that. Not just indulge in an empty-headed gross out.

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