According to Carroll, what is the role of torture in the torture porn franchises Saw and Hostel? Using references, explain this in your own words. How do you think these purposes might relate to the socio-political environment of that time period and such events like 9/11 and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal?
The horror franchises Saw and Hostel fit into horror’s sub-genre of torture porn. Torture porn, in these franchises especially, normalize their viewers to the torture and horror elements found throughout the features. The definition of torture porn describes a horror film which focuses on horror-aspects related to ‘physical or mental torture, imprisonment, binding, and abduction are centralised’ (Reyes, 2014). The victims in torture porn horror films are commonly subject to severe forms of punishment (often undue), this is usually includes torture and other means of causing immense suffering. According to Reyes, this pain and punishment is used to create a feeling of uneasiness in the audience, as the viewers imagine their own bodies being subjected to such torture while watching. It’s these feelings of pain and disgust which makes films like Saw and Hostel so effective in drawing out audience empathy, thus making them popular.
Their popularity isn’t due to that feeling alone however, as Reyes (2014) accurately comments, fictional threats – especially those which encourage viewers to identify with the body of torture porn victims – are paramount in creating fear within an audience. Fear is an essential part of any horror film, be it through existential dread, sudden actions enticing fright or through torture porn’s method of constantly displaying pain and disgust, fear is one of, if not the most important factor in the creation of such a production. After watching the film, the fear is to stay with the viewers – as they’re now aware of, or privy to, previously unknown types of pain and discomfort. This will linger in their minds as they want to avoid feeling the same discomfort that they saw on screen.
The writers and directors of torture porn films are critically aware of the current social and political climates of their audience, so much so that they specifically target and prey upon already established fears found throughout society. The social climate surrounding the release of Hostel, was one of fear. The fear of terrorism which gripped the American public at this time (post 9/11) was immense, and Hostel played into that fear. Reyes (2014) puts it into perspective saying that because of the United States’ potentially ill relations with other countries at the time, tourists could be targeted and tortured because of their disdain for Americans. It’s these beliefs which help build fear in the minds of viewers, making Hotel much more frightening (and even plausible).
Reyes, A. X. (2014). Body gothic: Corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film.
History.com Editors. (2019). ‘9/11 attacks’. History.
Edwards-Behi, N. (2017). ‘Cinema |A response to post-horror’. Wales Arts Review. https://www.walesartsreview.org/cinema-a-response-to-post-horror/