Week 4: Torture Porn and Post Horror

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?

 

Horror as a genre has always been an outlet for the fears and feelings of civilized society, allowing us to experience things that we are supposed to avoid, and engage with feelings that we otherwise would avoid. Torture Porn is a subgenre of horror focused on excessively violent acts and the gore that is associated with them.

As a subgenre, many critics believe that torture porn can be most easily identified as being inspired and influenced by the slasher films. The similarities in the excessive violence that they share are similar, but there are some key differences between the two, such as not establishing a key character who will survive, which makes the suspense and horror for the audience even more real as is is unclear whether any characters will still be alive when the end credits roll.” Jones (2013). The possibility that the character that you empathize with the most or feel the most attached to could die at any moment creates more fear than the more pre-scripted slasher films, were it is often easy to tell who will survive, so the fear is not as prevalent. They were often derided by critics, and the very use of Porn in the title added a dirty, unacceptable patina to those films that had that label.

Franchises such as Saw or Hostel used the shock and disgust factor of their excessive violence to draw in the audience, who at this time had been relieved of their innocent view of how the world worked first by the 9/11 attacks, and the subsequent war on terror that showed many of the dark extremes their own governments would go to. At the time that these films were coming out, there was a general fear of what the world was going through as the definition of the enemy changed from an opposing nation in a war to anyone who decided to commit an act of terror. The possibility that your neighbors, your friends, could kill you in an extreme act of belief in a cause was reminiscent of the fear of Communist infiltrators during the Cold War. Horror became the way for the wider public to cope with their own fears and worries by putting themselves in an environment that exposed them to fear but gave them a modicum of control over what was happening to them. These films explored the darker facets of humanity, and used the audiences superior moral position to create that sense of disgust in the audience. The fear that was felt in America in particular as they discovered how horrible real life was, and how hated Americans were in some parts of the world, were played on in these franchises. Hostel in particular played with the idea that to go outside of the United States was extremely dangerous, though it often was Americans themselves that were the ones paying for the pleasure of torturing other Americans. The sense of American superiority, especially their way of life in a capitalist society, are reinforced by the protagonist of Hostel II being able to buy her way out of danger, “a crowning indictment of U.S. consumer culture” Murray (2008).

The torture in these films was used both as a way of reaffirming the American belief of the rest of the world being more dangerous and less civilised than their own way of life, and also gave people an outlet to cope with their fears about the evil they now knew existed in the world.

 

All Stripped Down: The Spectacle of “Torture Porn”. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15405700802587232

Jones, S. (2013). Torture porn: Popular horror after Saw. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

JUMP CUT A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/TortureHostel2/text.html

Reyes, X. A. (2014). Body gothic: Corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

 

Post Horror

 

In this lecture, I have briefly outlined how Hereditary contains elements of folk horror, cosmic horror and family drama. Using examples from your own readings and the film, describe how you feel these elements make up the film Hereditary and how it might fit into the larger canon of “prestige horror” from Rosemary’s Baby to today.

Hereditary is a mix of multiple genres and sub genres, all working together with their own tropes and traditions influencing the creation of the film. While some had more of an influence than others, they created a film that was grater than the sum of its parts.

Based around the pagan beliefs and rituals of European tradition, Folk Horror is generally set in small towns or villages and plays with the sense of isolation as well as quite often a very religious society to create the horror aspects of the film. The small town cult aspect, with the worship of ancient/nature gods in these films, seems to have been inspired by “the hippie philosophy ‘gone bad’ as earlier hopes of man and environment in harmony looked, by then, unlikely to be realised.” (Folk Horror). The idea of living closer to nature appealed to many people, but the fears of what could be lurking in the quiet woods was always there. In Hereditary, the themes found in Folk Horror are used both in the setting and the monster of the film. The home in which most of the film is set is in the woods, surrounded by nature and separate from the civilization from which safety could be drawn. This helps to intensify the fear during the nighttime scenes, as there is no one nearby to help as things go wrong. The demon that the cult is trying to invoke, Paimon, is also very reminiscent of the pagan worshiped deities found in the folk horror genre.

Family Drama focuses on the interactions between the family. The family of protagonists face a large number of issues among themselves, and have to deal with that in addition to the supernatural problems they face. Each of the family members have issues with each other, with Annie nearly killing her children while sleep walking, which created a lot of resentment, and feeling guilt about allowing her very manipulative mother to get her hooks into her daughter Charlie. When Charlie is killed, Annie blames her son Peter, who in turn feels that it is his mothers fault as she insisted that Charlie go with him, adding more to the barriers between them. As more secrets about the family come to the surface, such as Annie’s attempts to have a miscarriage when she was pregnant with Peter, the relationships deteriorate, adding to the rising tension of the film.

Cosmic Horror is the fear of the unknown, of powers and forces that we cannot comprehend. In Hereditary, this manifests itself as a fear of the manifesting powers of Paimon. Be it the communing with the dead, the possession of characters or the reanimation of the dead, there are many examples of unexplained horrors within the film. One example of this is Charlies sketch book, which the deceased child uses to communicate, at first benevolently but soon escalating to images threatening Peter. When Annie tries to burn the book, her arm catches fire, and later when it is doused in flammable liquid before being burnt, her husband burns to death. The audience does not know why this is happening, only that some dark force is manipulating everything in the families lives.

Hereditary makes use of all the elements that it draws from extremely effectively, and creates a real sense of dread in any audience that watches it. I believe that Hereditary does belong in the canon of prestige horror as an excellent example of how horror can be done with a slow burning plot and more atmosphere than jump scares.

Folk Horror. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.folkhorror.com/

Hereditary as Folk Horror: Horror Movie. (2018, October 06). Retrieved from http://www.horrorhomeroom.com/hereditary-as-folk-horror/

Trussell, J. (2018, July 02). Prestige Horror Has Arrived. Retrieved from https://filmschoolrejects.com/prestige-horror-movies/

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