Week 4, Post-Horror and The New Weird – Question One + Three

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 role of torture porn focuses a lot on the physical body being put through massive amounts of pain and stress in both the film franchises of Saw and Hostel. Looking at Hostel first, the body becomes objectified to the point where there is a sense of disgust, uncomfort and revulsion in the audience. That emotion is channelled as a result of watching the film heavily emphasise the body being mutilated and destroyed past the point of tolerance. According to Reyes (2014), in the Hostel series, the torture industry becomes a profitable worldwide corporation at the expense that the “…victims in this trilogy are reduced to their material reality, to meat, and a random price is put on their heads.” (pg 134). Both the monetary aspect and objectification of the body through torture aspect of this subgenre relate heavily to the socio-political environment of the time period. For example, Hostel played with the fear that that if Americans left their country then they would be hurt. This was portrayed through the narrative of the film, the main characters were American and on holiday in Amsterdam before being kidnapped and subjected to torture. The main characters were “… passive spectators of their own dispossession and objectification…” (Reyes, 2014, pg 56).  Those fears related to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The film also highlighted their extreme distrust in the elite members of society and their distrust of people from other countries in general. In the film series, the torture industry was a booming worldwide corporation, where the rich and powerful would pay for the poor and middle class to be tortured and killed for entertainment. So, without a doubt, the film Hostel essentially illustrated the fears Americans had developed as a result of 9/11.

Now, looking at the film franchise Saw, while Hostel focused on the objectification of the human body, Saw focused more on the actual torture aspect of the subgenre. Not too long after the events surrounding 9/11, there was a torture scandal involving the military from the United States of America, which was brought into the international spotlight by Amnesty International. Amnesty International had published reports about the United States Military abusing the human rights of Iraqi prisoners in the Middle East. That scandal was the first time many people around the world were confronted and presented to real-life torture, and was the event which caused ordinary members of the public to scare themselves for the enjoyment of it. That socio-political event which also heavily influenced the films in the Saw series. Reyes (2014) mentioned that Saw’s “… operations and intricacies are greatly responsible for the generation of a feeling of powerlessness that is essential to the films’ affective goal” (pg 139). The main purpose of this subgenre is to emotionally impact the audience who are watching the film – in this case it is done by creating a sense of sympathy for the victims in the film and then by making them screech in revulsion at the mutilation scenes. In fact, Reyes (2014) also mentions that “ the fact that it does not cut away but often zooms in on the moment of mutilation…” (pg 124) adds to that revulsion. However, while grossing out the audience is the ultimate goal for films like Saw to accomplish, this is subject to how realistic the torture scenes look on camera.

Question Two: Rose (2017) defines this modern boom of prestige horror as “Post-Horror.” What does he mean by this term? Find and read some critiques on his definition online and respond to both. Do you think Post-Horror is a valid term or not? Using examples and references explain your position.

Post-horror and traditional horror movies can be identified as two slightly different subgenres of horror. Post-horror films tend to place a focus more on the atmosphere, the drama and conflict between characters rather than jump scares and gore and blood. As a matter of fact, Rose (2017) agrees with this and distinguishes post-horror films from older and more traditional horror movies, he believes that modern horror films or post-horror films now have more of a focus on a person’s mortal and societal fears. Additionally, in an interview with the writer-director of A Ghost Story, David Lowery, Rose’s (2017) article mentions that if you “look at any horror film and you can trace it back to a particular social or personal anxiety…”. The 2017 film Get Out illustrates that idea perfectly. Set in America, the film uses the horror genre as a means of allowing the characters to explore the racial tensions faced in society. It alludes to the racial tensions Americans have been dealing with the past few years with racially motivated shooting as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. It is simply a horror film illustrating the issues Americans are dealing with everyday. Therefore, I agree with Rose’s statement, however, I only agree to his statement to a certain extent. While there is a clear difference between post-horror movies and traditional horror movies in relation to the cinematography and slime levels, a lot of film and literature genres have always had a focus on societal fears. For example, the 2011 film The Help is a period drama about a white woman’s relationship with two black maids. The drama film places a lens on racism in America during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The book To Kill a Mockingbird an older Young Adult historical novel, published in the 1960s, also deals with racism. So, evidently, society’s fears and anxieties have always been illustrated into popular genres.

There are also a lot of critiques regarding Rose’s (2017) definition of modern horror films as ‘post-horror’. One in particular, Brown (2019) concluded in his article that “terms like… ‘post-’ horror are little more than marketing catchwords designed to rebrand horror and grow its viewership. It is too soon to determine where these horror-drama hybrids sit – only time will dictate where such films fit into the history genre”. While I agree with Rose’s definition to an extent, I also do agree with Brown’s definition for “post-horror” to a certain extent again. The idea that only time can define where horror movies fit into, logically makes a lot of sense. For example, films and movies that are considered as classics now, were not considered as classics when they were first written. H. P. Lovecraft’s work is a good example of that, he did not make a lot of profit by publishing his work, he also was not very well known for his work. However, after his death his work was under the spotlight more and now is the inspiration to many more modern day works – such as George R. R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones was heavily inspired by Lovecraft’s work. To conclude, both Brown and Rose make good points about “post-horror”, and I agree with both of them to a point. 

References for both questions:

Brown, M. (2019, May 15). The problem with ‘post-horror’. Retrieved August 12, 2019, from https://overland.org.au/2019/05/the-problem-with-post-horror/

Reyes. 2014. Torture Porn. In Body Gothic: Corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film.

Reyes. 2014. Body Horror. In Body Gothic: Corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film.

Rose, S. 2017. How Post Horror Movies are taking over Cinema.

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