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July 16, 2007



I recognize that people who enjoy torture porn movies are not, in fact, serial killers, but I do wonder what the psychological basis is for enjoyment of those movies.

I personally would never elect to watch one, and not because I'm squeamish: I'm an Emergency Medical Technician and a medical student, so believe me, I've seen (and smelled) disgusting gore and rotting corpses. I think I firstly don't enjoy or become frightened by watching people get tortured, and secondly don't need new and horrifying ways of hurting people floating around in my head; those ideas would never occur to me on their on.

These standards, however, do not prevent my love of a well-heeled action flick, regardless of the gore, because action movies are gore within a broader context, not simply gore for its own sake.

I think there has to be something more than "what will they think of next?" driving the popularity of these movies, and whatever that thing is, I don't think it's positive.


Elisha Cuthbert's body of work reads like an "Exploitation 101" syllabus. From pumas to PG13 porn-comedies to Paris Hilton to torture porn. And she's Canadian! Talk about your soiled Snow Whites...

I think "torture porn" is one-half marketing slogan, and one-half hysterical nanny-state label. It's certainly not a proper cinematic genre in and of itself.

Loved your post about "Wolf Creek", Rich. It moved me to rent it a week later. I also decided to finally give "Brokeback Mountain" a gander. Maybe I was going for some sort of pastoral theme, but it was an unusual double-feature, to say the least. Turned out to be one hell of a depressing evening, actually.

Digging the screamy banner, dude!
Is that Sally Field third from-the-end?

(austin) scarlett fever

You so smahhhhhht.


Pajiba is just a place for the self-righteous "film goers" to hang out and pump up their inflated movie egos by insisting a movie must be art, dahling.

Whatev. It is a movie, see it or don't. No need to eviscerate the fans who do want to see it.

But as the commentators mention, the sight is for like minded individuals, not the lowly plebes who like their popcorn with (gasp) butter.

I can't read their pretentious reviews anymore.


"Barth of You Can't Do That On Television"

Rich, are you a Canuck? Is YCTDOT getting near Degrassi fame down there? Canadian 80's TV kicks ass!
P>S> I cannot think of anything grosser than Barth & his Maggot Burgers.


*Another* blonde to add to the front page. Now if only Winston or Rudy could get a wig...

JK, I like my kitties au naturel.

As far as the film and the review, agreed. At least mostly. This kind of film was never up my alley, but I can see how Dustin's review went perhaps a step further than just the film.


I don't think that it's the wanting to see wanton gore and meaningless gross-out scenes that really makes you question the viewer, but rather, the viewer that is interested in this movie because it's a hot chick getting tortured. The advertisements feature her breasts somewhat prominently, either smooshed up against the glass when she's buried in sand or the focal point of the prone body laying motionless on a gurney. I've heard my share of stories about the kind of basement-dwellers who want to see this movie because it's specifically "a hot chick getting tortured". The way I see it, the movie is more about putting a woman "in her place" than it is just another in the string of new torture porn exploits.


KRISTIN: Horror films actually serve a very important psychological function. Wes Craven says they are "like boot camp for the psyche," in that they put viewers through viscerally felt terrifying situations, leaving them not only with some constructive contemplation of how they would have behaved had they been in that situation, but also with a reassuring sense of "I made it. I went through that and I made it."

This isn't a new phenomenon and it isn't limited to films. Since the beginning of storytelling, every culture has scared itself on purpose, through mythology and children's stories. Think of the monsters and carnage in a volume of Grimm's tales or Mother Goose rhymes. Children wandering through the woods captured or chased by wolves and witches who wish to eat them. The giant at the top of the beanstalk wanted to grind Jack's bones to make bread. The jealous queen wanted Show White's heart in a box, which isn't a far cry from current horror images.

It's a safe way to teach children that the world is scary and to help them rehearse for the fears that they will face someday. These stories developed at a time when life was cheap, short, and miserable, and children needed to understand the reality of death because it was everywhere. A wolf might not eat a grandparent, but a plague would. A witch may not eat small children, but a marauding band of 'barbarians' could kill their parents and sell them into slavery.

Our First World lives now seem almost ridiculously safe by comparison, but our automobiles bring daily carnage to every major city, and we are still plagued by diseases we don't understand or can't treat. And villages are still raided in Darfur, and children are still slaves in India and China.

I'll put my second reason in the next post.


KRISTIN: On the previous point,
My four year old niece is terrified of bugs, so her parents were surprised to see that she decided on her own to take a picture book of bugs to bed with her for a week. On her own, she wanted to face that fear head on, and acclimate herself to what was scaring her.

The other reason for gruesome horror?

It's all about adrenaline.

Many people watch horror movies for the same reason that people ride roller coasters, jump from planes, shoplift, gamble, tie each other up during sex, eat habañero peppers, become stockbrokers, ski, and do other activities that give them a surge of adrenaline. A handful of people seek that adrenaline through harming others or committing other serious crimes. Others may cut themselves to snap out of emotional numbness or to sooth mental pain. Bodybuilders and bulimics alike get positive reinforcement from the physical pain they put themselves through.

For a smaller number of people, each adrenaline jolt requires upping the ante, just like drug addicts over time need more product to feel the same high. That's why we have surround sound home theater systems, horror movies that tend to come in waves of increasingly strong depictions of the terror du jour, and every new roller coaster that is sold as being faster, taller, and scarier.

We are naturally primed to respond to certain stimuli with a fight-or-flight adrenaline surge: the color red (painted on walls or viewed in lab settings) has been shown to raise blood pressure and heart rate, increase aggression and agitation, and make people antsy and impulsive. Pure bright red was most likely to be seen by early humans in the form of fresh blood, either from a killed animal or in human violence. So our response to intense red was once very useful.

Effective horror movies use every Psych 1113 trick to cause people to feel something: disgust, anger, terror, agitation, etc. They frequently are set in dark places, the music always includes crescendoing dissonance, and shock scenes of dismemberment and gore abound. The Satan's Spawn series of films from the Nixon-Ford era, Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen, as well as earlier and later films with creepy children, are so disturbing because we have a difficult time wrapping our minds around evil children.

Children as victims is another sure shocker: if you want to show a villain as especially callous and cruel, you have him/her kill a child or a pet. It's no coincidence that the first deaths in Psycho Bitch movies like Audition, Single White Female, and Fatal Attraction are the protagonist's pets. Gwyneth's head in a box at the end of Se7en would have been less disturbing if we didn't know she was pregnant.

We do lots of things for recreation and entertainment that arouse unpleasant emotions. Why would anyone watch Schindler's List except to feel the horror, sadness, and grim reality of the Holocaust? Why do so many people, especially women, love to watch sad movies guaranteed to make them cry?


i swear i will NOT see this movie to see what all the fuss is about. Nope, not even when I read such a negative review--denouncing its horrors in no way piques my interest at all. I am not at all curious as to what new boundaries this film may claim to cross, and I swear I could not care less what so-called commentary or even special effects are involved. I am not a part of the society critqued in the above comments and neither is anyone else who left those comments. I am a completely detached, wholesome individual and refuse to seperate content from creator. There's simply no excuse.

I mean, it's not like the genuine hate and disgust for this movie is going to make people who aren't so easily deflected by a movies content want to go see it more or anything.


p.s., I should see se7en.


starstattoo, awesome awesome analysis. Well thought out and makes a lot of sense.


I'm an art historian and I would just argue for some deep context here.

Images of extreme torture and violence weren't perfected by Hollywood, but rather by Netherlandish and German painters of the Renaissance. This is where the term "Gothic" originates and the style is associated with the realistic depiction of sadistic cruelty and suffering.

Bruegel's gruesome accuracy in portraying elaborate bloody scenarios reaches its height in his The Triumph of Death, for instance.
Jigsaw has nothing on 16th century pictures of the disemboweling of a saint or figures probing St. Thomas's chest wound with fingers in up to the knuckle.

Although the religious intention was to frighten the viewer into morality, these images also relied on perverse titillation. No pun intended, but Saint Agatha is usually pictured carrying her own severed breasts, for example, and Christ's Passion is represented in meticulously realistic detail, every scene of torture articulated for maximum horror.

If you want ideologically ambiguous uses of images of violence and degradation, check out Christian religious painting. It was aimed precisely at stirring up a mixture of fascination, fetishism, and repugnance, all meant to inspire shame and awe that could be manipulated by church authorities.

Give me trashy self-parody any day.


Side note: Rich, you should name each of the girls and the horror movies they're in that spell out the fourfour banner.

Is it wrong that I'm not perturbed so much by the torture porn as that seeing a piece of crap to write intelligently about it costs $11 each at the theater??? Bring on the bootlegs!!!


Plus, Elisha just looks like she's shielding herself from a blast of spray-tan.


Well, I understand what Rich and some others are saying, but I agree with Kristin. There's a difference I think between horror movies and torture porn. Yes, people like to be scared. Yes, I have watched classic horror. And I’ve watched 90's horror (a la Scream) more so to figure out "whodunit." But, this torture porn stuff is different. It's intentionally sexual in nature and its purpose is to entice via sex and violence.

This is America and it's a free country in so far as you follow the law. I am in no way condoning censorship or saying that these movies cannot be made, but that doesn't mean that others cannot question why someone would want to watch such a film.

While Rich and others might want to watch it for intellectual reasons, we all know that most people are not that intellectual. Your average guy on the street who wants to see a naked girl get cut up isn't thinking "now, what was the motivation for the director's cinematography in this shot?" He just wants to see a naked girl get cut up.

And that's what's most disturbing in and of itself.


I haven't been scared or offended or interested in modern torture porn all that much. It all seems a little bit safe and goofy to me. Saw? Fucking laugh out loud bad.

The films are never really creepy or scary because of the way that they are shot and edited and the scores are usually distracting and overbearing and silly. What's scary about a horror film that looks like a car commercial? The slickness of the films makes them seem fake and if it doesn't seem really real, it's not scary or interesting or psychologically disturbing.

I dare any modern filmmaker to make a film as psychologically fucked up and scary as any of the 70s T-P mainstays. It's just not gonna happen into today's modern studio system.


Thank-fucking-you, sir. This review set my teeth on edge, and quite honestly I see more offensive things on primetime TV than any so called "torture porn", a really stupid classification, by the way. I've never been turned on by a gore movie; I watch these films for the same reason I watched all my other fave horror movies, b/c it's fun and scary. You can only psychoanalyze entertainment so much before you have your head firmly planted up your own ass. Really, sometimes it is merely entertainment. In other news, this movie looks like it sucks, and I probably won't see it.


thank you, rich, thank you as always.

the greeks understood catharsis; shakespeare struggled to keep it alive under repressive cultural conditions; it's now barely holding on in our puritanical times.

we need places and times to scream in culture, or else all hell breaks loose. instead of condemning torture porn, critics would be better served to examine what function it serves. but that would take genuine critical though, wouldn't it?


Back to the Pajiba review (I have a doctor's note excusing me from all Elisha Cuthbert movies): this review reflects a problem with many folks of our generation, including critics. It seems that many don't interact with the text itself, whether it be music or movies or TV, but rather view it in this strange detached context where they picture who else would be in the audience with them. e.g. I choose to like this movie; this says certain things about me and other people who like it.


I'm a bit sqeamish, so as a rule I don't see any of these movies, but I don't judge those who do. I do read Pajiba, but as of late, I have been a bit disappointed with the elitism over there. I've commented a couple of times on that site and a bitch better have her spelling and grammar together or else. Plus, I didn't know who the hell Nathan Fillion was, but the readers voted him the star they'd most likely want to bump humps with. Well Zeus forbid if anyone disagreed in the comments.


I'm a chick, and I admit loving violoent movies, maybe not particularly the torture porns, but they belong to horror, my favorite genre. There's something about watching the victim struggle and rooting for them to possibly turn it around on their predators, or to see what kind of flair the tormentor might possibly have to offer. I don't know, maybe sometimes I think the villains are sexy, but I certainly wouldn't want to meet a real psychopath!

Now I haven't seen Captivity and don't intend to since Rich affirmed my suspicions about its crappiness, but don't people get it? By all appearances it's a movie about a hot girl in bondage. Come on. I think even if you're not into committing kidnapping, brutality, torture, or murder, it's gotta be sexy as hell for at least the straight men to see a woman in distress. I've seen so many real-life dudes go mushy for a helpless girl, even if she was completely stupid. After seeing the film, they can fantasize about rescuing her, if not spanking her. Look at the S&M community. It is sooo obsessed with safety and consent! Full-on or semi-sexual interest in this sort of non-vanilla fantasy world does not point to true psychosis or violence.

I think Rich really nailed this as usual.


So then...by the same logic, is it fair to say that people who like sappy romances are sad and unlovable since they have to get their romance-fix from a movie?

Of course not...you'd get crucified if you said something that insensitive.

Or how about people who watch satires? Does it make me heartless because I laugh at fat-people jokes, or racist because I laugh at stereotyping? No.

These people are the same types as those who demonize movies like Harry Potter. So ridiculous...


Rich, well-written as always. James Gunn recently wrote a blog about the psychological purpose of violent horror movies in response to similar condescension toward horror fans by Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert). You can read it here: http://www.jamesgunn.com/updates.html#7-9-07


Rich please, the level of cognitive dissonance in this post is spell binding!

Okay, not really, I just learned what cognitive dissonance was (from a link in one of your other posts!) and I thought about how perfectly ironic reading this post after that one was, heh.

I don't care one way or the other, just don't try to kill and torture me, and tell your friends not to either.


The "torture porn" genre doesn't offend me so much based on the levels of violence displayed. What bothered me most about these films for the most part is that when Saw came out, it was a suprise hit, and now the studios seem hellbent on recycling that same formula to success. I wasn't a fan of the first Saw movie myself, but I think a big part of why it was successful was that it was unlike most films in the horror genre coming out at the time. Just like how when Scream came out and it resulted in multiple knockoffs, each worse than the one before it. And hell, it's not even limited to horror. In the wake of Pulp Fiction, how many bad Tarantino-esque knockoffs were there? But the Saw movies seemed to be the fresh exciting thing (I only saw the first two, and actually enjoyed Saw II), and then along came Hostel (which was just awful), and I've just skipped all the other ones that have been unleashed in their wake.

It just always seems funny that the studios fail to grasp what the winning forumla really is. Since Saw seemed so different from everything else being released at the time, it's standing apart is what made people go see it and spread word of mouth. Copying it as a route to success not only misses the point, but it almost always seems to diminish the films' legacy in a way for future generations. They'll fail to see what was so unique about it and the originator seems to be hurled in with the dungpile.

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