WEEK FOUR: TORTURE PORN & POST-HORROR

QUESTION ONE:

The role of torture in the Saw and Hostel film franchises is to play on the viewers fears over the human body, on a physical and metaphorical level. These fears are linked to the wider societal fears of the time, following the terrorism and torture scandals of the early 2000s. 

In the Saw franchise, the use of torture plays on the idea of justice and punishment. The torture victims of Saw are being put through a sadistic atonement process which will only end by mutilating their body or death. The role of torture here is to push audiences to question the morality of torture. There is context and reason given to each torture a victim has to endure, so the audience understand these are not random attacks. Therefore, as the torture was an consequential punishment based on morality, it raised the question whether torture could be justified. Wilson (2005) claims that, the dynamic camera work and editing of these films blurred viewpoints, literally and morally. Audiences were not able to be by-standers, they were both the torturer and the tortured. The unavoidable violence and torture used in the Saw series questions the audiences moral standpoint on this issue.

In the Hostel series torture is used as a metaphor for the exploitive nature of large corporations (Eggerton, 2010). In the Hostel series, victims are abducted and then sold to the rich as essentially a piece of meat they can do anything to. They are objectifying the human body and reducing it to nothing more than a commodity. It begs the audience to ask themselves, where do we draw the line at what we can purchase? But also, what is the true cost of the products and services we buy? Hostel repositions torture from a form of intelligence gathering, to nothing more than a hobby for the excessively wealthy (Reyes, 2014). By giving both the torturers and victims a face, it also pushes the agenda that this could be a reality. It is not faceless monster completing these atrocities, it is humans, just like the audience.  

According to Reyes (2014), torture became a significant part of horror in the mid-2000s. This surge in popularity can be linked to the socio-political environment of the time, when the horrific events of 9/11, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as well as rumours of torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp were occuring. During this time, Western culture was being subjected to real life images of terror and torture that could not be dismissed or ignored. The shock value of seeing these terrible acts on screen brought fears around the human body and morality to the forefront of society. The fact that real life horror was clearly visible in society, allowed fictional horrors to push the boundaries of what is acceptable on screen but also society. Torture did not have to be implied off camera, it actually made it more believeable seeing it happen right in front of the audiences’ eyes (Reyes, 2014). Terror and torture had become part of mainstream media and horror capitlized on this financially and morally. That is a large reason the film franchises Saw and Hostel achieved so much commercial success during the mid-2000s. 

QUESTION TWO:

“Post-Horror” is a term that encompasses a series of recent horror films in a new subgenre of horror. According to Rose (2017) Post-horror films are defined by their lack of conventional horror elements, like jump-scares, dramatic evil monsters or the final surviving girl. Instead these films create suspense by not revealing all. They attempt to instill a sense of dread in audiences through atmosphere, character dialogue and other subtle hints of something else being presence. Horror films which fall under this category according to Rose (2017) include It Comes at Night (2017), A Ghost Story (2017) and The Witch (2015).  

The Post-horror label has been heavily critiqued and rejected by fans and critics alike. One of the main critiques of the Post-horror label is a disagreement to Rose (2017) suggesting horror is a rigid genre “governed by rules and codes” more so than any other genre. Edwards-Behi (2017) finds this classification both “incorrect and ignorant” as it fails to acknowledge the fact that, genre is only a framework. This means genres, are guidelines more than concrete definitions. Horror has redefined itself throughout its history more than any other genre. This is because horror has often been used a vessel to reflect societal fears, which have never stayed the same. 

Stewart (2017) suggests the label is elitist and comes out of a refusal by critics to accept horror as a high quality and purposeful genre, meaning any well received horror film must be categorized as something separate from just horror. Therefore, Post-horror is just a way to repackage horror for those who do not acknowledge the artistic value the genre. This can be seen by recent horror films like Get Out (2017) and Heredity (2018) being called a “social thriller” and “psychological family drama” respectively. According to Edwards-Behi (2017) the terms “social” and “family drama” are used as they apparently carry more weight in the cultural sphere than horror does. This is why many horror fans and critics are rejecting the term Post-horror as it seen disrespectful to the horror genre as a whole.

Despite films labelled as Post-horror by not having the horror conventions audiences have to expect, they are essentially still just horror films. The films which are being considered as Post-horror still share a lot of similarities with classic Horror titles. Heredity’s elements of dysfunctional family, body possession and paganism all feature heavily in previous horror films like The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Shining (1980). Even the racial issues of Get Out have also been previously explored in Night of the Living Dead (1968). At the core, horror films main purpose remains scaring the audience. The method of how they scare audiences has undoubtedly changed, but so it has in the past, numerous times.  Therefore, I don’t think the term Post-horror is necessary at this time.

References:

Edwards-Behi, N. (2017). A Response to Post-Horror. Retrieved August 14, 2019 from https://www.walesartsreview.org/cinema-a-response-to-post-horror/

Eggerton, C. (2010). 100 Years of Horror: Culture Shock: The Influence of History on Horror. Retrieved on August 1, 2019, from https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/20853/100-years-of-horror-culture-shock-the-influence-of-history-on-horror/

Reyes, X. A. (2014). Body Gothic: Corporeal Transgression in Contemporary Literature and Horror Film. Wales: University of Wales Press.

Rose, G. (2017). How post-horror movies are taking over cinemas. The Guardian. Retrieved August 10, 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/06/post-horror-films-scary-movies-ghost-story-it-comes-at-night 

Stewart, T. (2017, July 8). Sorry, but “Post-horror” is just another unnecessary elitist label. [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.cybercraftvideo.com/blog/2017/7/8/sorry-but-post-horror-is-just-another-unnecessary-elitist-label

Wilson, K., (2005). Horror in History: A Decade by Decade Guide to the Horror Movie Genre. Retrieved August 2, 2019 from http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com/index.php?pageID=about

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