Hollywood's Insatiable Appetite for Torture Porn

Frightening, sex-soaked flicks are becoming downright offensive

| April 19, 2007

Chainsaws, butcher knives, machetes, axes. Such were the commonly used utensils of horror in slasher films of yesteryear. Now, with movies like Hostel, Wolf Creek, and Grindhouse raking it in at the box office, killing off characters with shiny sharp objects isn't enough to satisfy moviemakers' and moviegoers' bloodlust. A faux trailer running between Quentin Tarantino's and Roberto Rodriguez's Grindhouse double-feature shows a cheerleader being vaginally impaled while jumping on a trampoline. Saw III has a scene in which a young woman dangles naked from a meat hook. Ads for the upcoming film Captivity show a scantily clad Elisha Cuthbert with tubes in her nostrils, slowly being drained of blood. Dubbed 'torture porn,' this new breed of cinema has horror movie stars -- especially women -- being killed off in more gruesome, highly sexualized ways than ever.

'Sex sells, violence sells. We like to watch. I get it,' writes Huffington Post contributor Stacy Parker Aab, one of many speaking out against the ad campaign for Captivity. 'There is just a point though where the level of sickness is so acute, the pendulum swing[s] so hard in the wrong direction, that we need a moment of stillness to witness.'

Joss Whedon, creator of cult TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, concurs. According to the Australian, Whedon wrote a letter to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rallying against Captivity's promotional material. 'The advent of torture-porn and the total dehumanizing not just of women (though they always come first) but of all human beings has made horror a largely unpalatable genre.'

The Australian's Lynden Barber reports that in response to the outcry, Captivity's production company, After Dark Films, withdrew the ads. Nevertheless, ticket sales will likely increase, fueled by the controversy surrounding the distasteful marketing. 'Unless the state starts issuing fines for this sort of thing,' Josh Tyler writes for Cinema Blend, 'expect to see the same tactic used again on whatever the next torture porn flick is.'

And expect people to continue filling movie seats. Barber offers an explanation for viewers' insatiable appetites for excessive violence: 'Clearly some audiences, jaded by graphic violence, are looking for more extreme thrills... Torture prolongs the suffering and, for some viewers, the adrenalin.'

Christopher Goodwin writes for the Times Online about yet another disturbing aspect of the spate of torture-porn films: many of the genre's biggest fans are young adults and teenagers. While Goodwin notes that even the 'normally complacent MPAA' was stirred to action against Captivity's ad campaign, the group hasn't used its most feared tactic to keep kids from seeing such films: the dreaded NC-17 label. 'An NC-17 rating would mean that, technically, nobody under 17 could see the films in a cinema -- which is why studios edit to avoid them and gain R ratings,' he explains. 'These allow even young children to see them as long as they're accompanied by somebody over 21, ideally a parent. God help us.'

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