Thoughts On Thrillers, Horror, and Torture Porn.

I’m going to do something here I don’t do very often: just have a discussion. That’s right, no movie reviews or anything like that. I felt like giving my opinion on certain semi-related (especially these days) movie genres: thrillers, horror films, and torture porn. These labels get thrown around a lot, and half the time incorrectly.

For instance, earlier this year, a Spanish film entitled El Orfanato (The Orphanage) was released. They called it horror. The movie is not so much horror as much as it is a supernatural thriller or mystery. Words got thrown in like “terrifying” that could turn people away from such an amazing film if they’re not fans of horror. The label gets thrown around so much that it can, in fact, ruin a movie’s turn out.

The biggest disaster to be caused by the act of mislabeling was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village back in 2004. It was labeled (and advertised) as this super scary horror movie, so when people went to see it thinking they were going to be scared, the only thing we were left with were countless reviews being thrown around saying it was horrible and completely unscary. It’s all in how you go in to a movie. If it had been marketed as a thriller/drama/romance (which is what it was), it might have gotten slightly better reviews, because people's expectations wouldn’t have been elsewhere, meaning they wouldn’t have been nearly as hateful. Likewise, M. Night’s Lady in the Water was treated the same way, when it was more of a children’s fantasy/fairy tale. I remembered having to continually convince my mother that the movie was not meant to be a horror movie every time a trailer came on TV, and she never believed me.

A more recent example of this was Bug in 2006. With the director of The Exorcist at the helm, it was immediately given descriptions such as “one of the most terrifying and truly scary movies I have ever seen.” And (gasp) it wasn’t. And it was never meant to be. It’s a psychological thriller and drama. There was a moment when I was waiting in line somewhere, and some lady started going off about Bug, and how it wasn’t scary at all and that she had demanded her money back. That’s faulty advertising for you. It's even on the poster (click to enlarge it).

Similarly, movies like the first Saw are labeled as horror or torture porn, and they’re usually neither. Bet let me digress for a moment and explain for those who are unaware of what I’m talking about.

The term torture porn came onto the scene because of Eli Roth’s Hostel, in which the first half of the movie is like Cinemax porno, and the second half is, well, people torturing other people to death (I also briefly go into the term in my discussion of the Japanese movie Audition, which has wrongfully been lumped in this subgenre, as well). Since then, people have been twisting the meaning of the term to fit a whole bunch of other films into this random and new subgenre of horror. The most recent to get slapped with the title has been Untraceable, which really only has the torture side down. What people are saying about the subgenre label is that it implies people get off to the gore and torture like they would to porn.

So back to Saw; not only is there no sex or nudity (we’re talking about the first installment only here), but the gory stuff is actually rather minimal. In fact, I wouldn’t even label it as horror as much as a crime and/or psychological thriller. Yet people continually thrust it in with (the God-awful) Hostel and the like. Why is that?

If Silence of the Lambs were to be made today, it would probably be considered torture porn because of Buffalo Bill, when it is, in fact, a crime thriller. In fact, any movie these days that has some kind of psychotic killer that likes to toy with his victims in any fashion will be considered torture porn, and I don’t think that’s right.

Honestly, the only movies I consider acceptable to fall under that label are Hostel and Hostel: Part II (and maybe Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead, because there’s a lot of sex, nudity, and blood, and it’s torturous to watch). And they’re all really, really horrible movies (and I don’t mean because of the subject matter… I just mean they’re boring, horribly made films). So when you link good movies like the first Saw or any other kind of remotely decent movie to that subgenre, it’s irking.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Advertise the movie how it is, and it might just get a better response. Hopefully M. Night’s coming film, The Happening, really is as awesome as it appears. Also, Eli Roth and Uwe Boll need to stop making movies, because they both really suck at it.

That is all.


  1. Hmm, I'll have to disagree with you on two counts there.

    First of all, at the exclusion of ghost stories (sorry, 'Supernatural thrillers') or anything where there's a human killer, you don't exactly offer up what you think constitutes a horror? Just a little constructive criticism there, I think when you're making such a statement, it could give a lot more grounding for you to inform us about what you believe makes a horror.

    Secondly, Eli Roth isn't that bad, really. I found both the Hostel films remarkably tense, and it takes a director with some degree of skill to pull off that kind of tension. I'll probably write reviews of the Hostel films at some stage and articulate my thoughts on them further.

  2. Eli Roth sucks. I'm sorry, but he does. And the only interesting part of the first Hostel was when the main guy and that girl were trying to escape the warehouse.

    Otherwise, both movies were incredibly boring, not tense whatsoever, and the gore looked beyond fake, taking me out of the moment. Not to mention the lack of any real story, character development, or good acting. The idea behind it (human trafficking) was good, but they're awful attempts.

    For me, Eli Roth is up there with Uwe Boll on the 'horrid filmmakers' list. But then again, you are a Uwe Boll fan... so that kind of explains it :P

  3. I only agree with you on one part, and that's with the gore. The blowtorch scene, and the aftermath of which looked very fake. Aside from that, I thought the effects were very well done.

    But honestly, Eli Roth is a very clever writer and director, and in the case of the characters, there's a part where Oli reveals he has a kid, and the others reaction to this later on tells a great deal about their naivity and how easily they'll trust someone without really knowing anything about them. There's considerably subtle character building going on throughout the film, and very often it's not spelled out for the audience.

    As well as that, the characters of Todd and Stuart in the sequel are incredibly well written, more so than the protagonists of the film even. This is especially evident on repeat viewings, Stuart in particularly I felt is an incredibly real character, he appears very passive and timid on the outside, but a serious inner hatred is burning, bottled away, and we get glimpses of this as the film goes on before he reveales it to Beth.

    Ok, it certainly isn't There Will Be Blood, but as a gore movie, I've found it has a remarkable amount of substance and subtletly compared to it's contemporaries. Hostel is just considerably above average for what it is.

    Aside from that, I just found both films magnificently thrilling, like the scene where they're following the guy in the jacket, whom they mistake for their friend. It reminds me greatly of The Wicker Man, or Don't Look now, and captures an excellent atmosphere.

    One of the scenes that struck me the most from the sequel was the bidding scene, that disturbed me somewhat, and it wasn't the big brash kind of disturbing with gore, it stirred me on a higher level, I think that's when we really get things put in perspective for us, it grounds the film and the circumstances with a lot of gravity.

    Apologies for going on about it, but I guess I'm frustrated with the overwhelmingly negative opinions on the Hostel films, because it appears to me that most people have simply glossed over a lot of the finer details and subtlety that are present. It's double frustrating because I don't particularly love the films either, but I end up not being able to help myself ranting about them.

    Honestly though, I don't think it's fair to compare Eli Roth with Uwe Boll at all. It's true, I do enjoy Uwe Boll's movies, but solely on the "So-bad-it's-good" level, you can't argue with how unintentionally funny House of the Dead is, but the man clearly has no grasp of subtlety, tension, or pacing, all of which I find Roth has a keen grasp on.

  4. I might... *might*... give you 'clever director' for Eli Roth. But clever writer? No way.

    As for the sequel... I do give you that the character of Stuart was a good one... up until he basically said 'fuck it' and tortured them anyway. That lost every ounce of character development that had been building thus far and totally ruined it for me. To me, it was unrealistic for the character that had been shown thus far and was only done as an excuse to throw off the viewer.

    And I don't gloss over the more subtle details. I know where you're coming from, and I don't just see the Hostel films as pure gore-fests. I know exactly what Eli Roth was attempting to do. I just think he failed at it. But that's my personal opinion.

    And I'd have to see House of the Dead again before I could give you an opinion on its 'so-bad-its-good' factor.

    I guess my biggest problem with Roth is more psychological. I saw Cabin Fever with one of my exes, and she never let me live down the awfulness of the movie (as it was my choice), burning the annoyance and hatred of Roth and his films forever into my membrane.


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