I’ve never been that into horror movies much, they’re not the films I tend to go and see in the pictures and unless its one I’m particularly interested in seeing I wont watch it on telly. Likewise I don’t have many horror movies on DVD. There are some exceptions – I do really like The Shining, but that’s more cos its a good depiction of someone losing their marbles, or Dark Water which is a good psychological horror. And Young Frankenstein of course.
So maybe its just cos I’m a shit the bed etc but watching films like Hostel and Saw (and from what I’ve read on Wiki/seen on YouTube of other films like Captivity etc which haven’t been on telly) theres a new genre in horror which just focuses on using disturbing scenes of death and torture for the sake of it.
Obviously the whole point of horror – especially the best ones, like The Shining or Dark Water which I mentioned earlier – is to make the audience tense, and create an environment of things getting worse and worse, building to a terrifying climax. For example, in Dark Water the lead character continually finds a “Hello Kitty” bag in her flat despite repeatedly binning it. Its not scary when you write about it but when you see the film and know the context it’s disturbing, and has a point in raising the tension up to the films ending as part of waves of things getting gradually worse. But the kind of stuff in Hostel, Saw etc is qualitatively different from what you’d get in previous horrors, even your gorier non-psychological ones, like the Omen, or slasher films.
In films like Hostel you get stuff that disturbs you, but that’s the end itself, not the means to the end. The point of the gore isn’t to prepare you and ramp up for some terrifying end – it is itself the terrifying end in itself, the “money shot”. The whole point of these movies for the fans and from the directors is coming up and watching more inventive torture scenes of people suffering and being tortured to death, from cooking someone in an oven, having their head split open with a buzz saw or frozen alive. The name they’ve come up for these kind of scenes is “Torture Porn”, or alternatively “Gorno”.
For movies in the “Torture Porn” genre excessive torture and death is the point. As I said earlier It’s not a means to an end, seeing someone get half drowned in a vat of pig guts is the end, it’s the point of the film.
Relying on excessive gore is what various bad horror movies have done and its not really important beyond avoiding them cos they’re shite. But with torture porn, there’s more disturbing stuff going on – first of all, there’s a lot more focus on the victims suffering, and being tortured to death. Often its not excessively gory, but the suffering is a lot more acute and intrusive than real gorefests like The Evil Dead. And secondly, when the victim is a woman – who is usually sexually attractive, her death and torture is often sexualised. So there’s actually something that’s quite dodgy and disturbing from a political viewpoint, above and beyond what you think of them as films.
The Hostel films are probably the worst in terms of torture for the sake of it, but its Hostel II that’s the most disturbing in terms of those wider concerns beyond excessive gore that I mentioned, and they’re a typical example of the stuff you get in the genre.
To give a brief background, the story in the Hostel series revolves around a factory in Slovakia where wealthy businessmen can pay to torture and murder people – with locals being dirt cheap and Americans being really expensive (the trailer for the second film went through the prices of different nationalities, talking about how sometimes Mexicans or Russians were cheap but “An American girl – now that will cost you”).
In the first film it’s basically about group of male backpackers from the US, going about Europe looking for sex and boozing. They get told about this Hostel in Slovakia full of beautiful women who would trip over themselves to shag them. When they get there, they both get laid ostensibly on the basis that the women fancy Americans.
But it’s all just a ruse to get them lifted by the torturers who run the Hostel – who bribe the local police, and have the whole village in their pocket. One of the guys gets tortured by a drill wielding, repressed gay middle aged man who is married with kids, who made sexual advances to him on the train to the village. The other manages to escape after almost choking on his own vomit when being threatened by a generic chainsaw wielding nutcase.
When he escapes he bumps into one of the “clients” who has paid to torture folk. He compares it to going to see prostitutes, saying he would never forget the kind of power he would get from killing someone compared to going to strip clubs and brothels. This client goes on to burn an Asian girl’s face with a blowtorch before the American escapee intervenes.
The second Hostel film makes the first one look quite pedestrian by comparison. Here all the people who are killed at the torture factory are women. There’s a bit of added back-story on the people who do it – they’re both American businessmen, and are brothers, one of whom hates his wife – and it shows the “bidding” process where the girls are bought. The older brother is more assertive, and has convinced his younger brother to go along with it, comparing the confidence they will get after they kill someone to the the confidence the first guy who got laid in their class had. He says that once he kills someone his wife will “fear him”. Later on, when the younger brother meets the girl he’s bought, he remarks that she looks exactly like his wife. When he has her locked up in the Hostel, she tells him that although she looks like his wife, shes not – he responds of course she’s not, he could never kill his wife, while going on to threaten her.
It’s a similar set-up from here where the group of girls are lured to the Hostel and butchered, this time by another beautiful woman, now on the pretext of a spa holiday instead of sex. You can obviously tell that this time, cos it’s a sequel the torture scenes need to be ramped up, and in this case sexualised. For example, the first death scene features one of them being hung upside down and slashed, so that a (naked) woman can bathe in her blood.
The other scenes get even more obviously dodgy – the next woman to die (the one portrayed as the ‘slut’) is dressed up in a corset, make up etc and has her head cut open with a saw by the older brother. He can’t kill her because he gets disturbed when he sees her head open, and gets ripped apart by dogs when he tries to leave the Hostel without killing. She is killed later on by his younger brother The one remaining who does manage to escape does so after being threatened by rape, and by castrating the younger brother, throwing his cock to wild dogs and leaving him to bleed to death.
Hostels not the only film in the torture porn genre to use sexualised and excessive torture of women as a selling point – the people who did Saw III admitted that one of the reasons they had a woman naked when she was frozen to death was that cos they thought if they had her wearing a shirt, it would stick to her body and make it look pornographic, accepting that its not something that they’ve overlooked, even if their excuse is paper thin.
Another film, Captivity almost didn’t get an MPAA rating in the USA cos it used an unauthorised advertising campaign showing the female lead going through stages of kidnap, imprisonment and torture. Captivity itself is all about a young female model being captured and tortured, with minced pieces of eyes shoved into her nose through tubes.
The complicating factor about the Hostel movies is that as films, I actually think they’re quite good just watched apolitically based on the tension that’s built up, the cinematography and the atmosphere – which is kinda like the horror movies I enjoy. The concept of the torture factory itself is scary, and the way the village is depicted as being an isolated “Wicker Man” style community of cover up’s of ritual murder works well. That said, the way the village is treated is a whole other debate – the population are all depicted as criminals with even the weans attacking tourists for money. The Slovakian Government itself protested the film – but they’ll have been somewhat undermined considering their ex-Minister for Culture plays the owner of the torture factory in the film!
But its pretty hard to enjoy Hostel, despite its qualities as a piece of cinema when its all created to build up to women being tortured and murdered, and that process being sexualised; with either blood falling onto a naked woman’s breasts, or when one of them is dressed in underwear and has her head cut open with a buzz saw. It is like watching the worst kind of porn, where all you can do is grimace and wonder if at any point anyone thought slashing a woman’s jugular with a scythe was really ok. Thanks but I’ll have a big empty hotel built on the site of an Indian Burial Ground and five John Denver Christmas Specials with Jack Nicholson going for his wean on a tricycle.