Post Horror & Torture Porn

Torture Porn

Sadomasochistic Phenomena and 9/11

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans became aware of a significant new reality: there was 9-11pican enemy at the gates and they had a bone to pick. The events of Abu Grahib, the new popularity of suicide bombings and the horrific wave of filmed beheadings on the internet and the televised terrors of the Taliban put the destruction of American bodies at the front of the media cycle (Ignatieff, 2004). After a decade of relative peace, America was plunged into a war that made use of the media in new and bloody ways – and in Hollywood films like Saw and Hostel began to reflect a bleak and nihilistic world. According to Amanda Alvarado, (2007), this is no coincidence.

download (2)The early 2000s were time fraught with fears about globalism, and isolationism. American tourists, in many movies, live a fantasy of a disinhibited Europe, where they can be free to do drugs, have casual sex, and let go of some of the inhibitions that they should keep firmly tucked away whilst at home. The movie Euro Trip (2004) is almost parodied by Hostel,  characters in Euro Trip meet Europeans of varying degrees of silliness, who are at the end of the day, kind hearted and sweet. In Hostel, the Americans find themselves the targets of extreme animosity. Any kindness shown to them is only a tool of manipulation in service of the torture and dismemberment that is the ultimate goal.

It is possible that this American made film is reflective of a guilt the nation of America

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Chris Bartlett’s Photographs, New York, 2019

 

was feeling (Alvarado, 2007). Many were against the war in Iraq and their republican led government (Alasdair, 2019). After the leaking of images from Abu Grahib – pictures of Americans smiling while subjecting prisoners to grotesque physical and psychological punishment, America was left reeling. As photographer Chris Bartlett, rather miserably, put it, “The camera became a torture instrument” (Alasdair, 2019), and this became true not just in real life, but in Hollywood too. As Alvarado posits, horror movies in a post 9/11 Hollywood don’t muchneed to set up the rules of the filmic world, they are already set in the real world – the real world is bleak and horrid enough.  Indeed, in Hostel II (2006), the American Elite are among those torturing American bodies, objectifying them and using them in a reflection of the nihilistic view of the world the franchise poses; at this point, human bodies are pawns in

download (1)

a bloody game won by the highest bidder. The premise of Saw and its sequels is that people must choose whether they die or cause themselves grievous bodily harm. The destruction of the body comes from the admission that one has done wrong and deserves to lose the privilege of having a functioning body. As Reyes (2014), says “torture porn negotiates corporeal anxieties at both superficial and metaphorical levels.”

 

What does it all equal? A Sadomasochistic enjoyment of a new kind of catharsis, one that is set in a world that couldn’t take the lens off the “corporeal anxieties” of the 21st century? Perhaps. Or perhaps the world is too nihilistic to care what it all means. Now, eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, torture porn has dropped from the mainstream, and the world is still fraught with horrors – but Alvarado (2007) points out that a nihilistic viewpoint is not helpful in the long term, and at its core, fear is uncontrollable. Perhaps the torture porn phenomenon served the world its worst fears, and in a larger cultural sense, allowed the mainstream to move past the fears.

Perhaps.

References

Ignatieff, M. (November, 2004). The Terrorist as Auteur. Retrieved August 16, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/movies/the-terrorist-as-auteur.html

Alvarado, A. (August, 2007). Living in Terror: Post 9/11 Horror Films. Retrieved August 16, 2019, from https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20163

Body Gothic: corporeal transgression in contemporary literature and horror film – Torture Porn (Reyes, 2014)

Alasdair, S. (April, 2019). 15 years later: Abu Ghraib and the faces of torture in Iraq. Retrieved August 16, 2019, from https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/15-years-later-abu-ghraib-and-the-faces-of-torture-in-iraq-1.854512


Post-Horror (Question 2)

Is the term “Post-horror” an attempt to distance “cheap” horror movies from highbrow art?

Post modernism, while hard to define is, in general, about defying conventions. It’s moreGet_Out_poster about asking questions than it is about standard narratives; it dissects tropes and breaks boundaries (Hull, 2017). Some even say that Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) was more political drama than horror movie (Rose, 2017). Understandably, moviemakers can feel a bit insulted about the attempt to disassociate literary and academic ideas from pop culture – as if meaningful discourse is, somehow, only possible in highbrow art. However, in the last few years, we’ve seen horror movies defy this boundary placed on them by genre conventions.

tmp_1k627H_4e8cf868a700cd77_MCDHERE_EC082In Hereditary (2018) a light is shone on the horror of grief and trauma in a family, their isolation leaving them open to a terrifying fate. Post-horror films like Us (2019) and Get Out talk about race and class inequality; to watch these movies without pondering the social economic state that they are describing is impossible, which was writer Jordan Peele’s intention (Zinoman, 2017). In Get Out, black bodies are literally objectified, turned into commodities, and the traditional trope of a good white family is turned on its head, becoming the monsters that the hero must defeat. In Us, an upper-middle class black family is terrorised by exact copies of themselves living in misery underground. The final twist of the movie forces its audience to reconsider their perception of protagonist and antagonist.

Even the filmic language of post-horror tends to be unusual or unconventional. Ari Aster, tmp1063532286768578563writer of Hereditary, chooses angles that frame his actors like dolls in a doll house, mimicking the actual miniature sets in the world of the film, giving the characters a helplessness, a sort of God’s eye view reminiscent of cosmic horror. In an interview, Aster said that he wanted to make the movie feel like the family was being watched, as though somebody else was pulling the strings (Kohn, 2018). The way the camera moves between the doll-like miniatures and the house itself, while not entirely new – think Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) – creates a filmic atmosphere quite zTJ3FiB_VSHlsingular to Hereditary (Raup, 2018).

Similar techniques can be found in the series The Haunting of Hill House (2018), where five children live with deep trauma after the suicide of their mother. The children, fully grown up, have to deal with literal and figurative ghosts representing each of their different responses to their pain. The argument -that difficult topics like these are new to the genre- is a shaky one. As some say, these elements were always part of horror (Muncer, 2018). Stephen King wrote about the difficulties of abuse and adolescence in his book It (1977). Rosemary’s Baby (1968) dealt with the fear of modern motherhood years ago, and Silence of the Lambs (1991) with its themes about womanhood, identity, and trauma was nominated for an Oscar. Horror has always been a post-modern medium, so why call anything Post-Horror?

Well, for one thing, there’s a very obvious difference between the products one would 220px-A_Nightmare_on_Elm_Street_(1984)_theatrical_postercall “post-horror” and just “horror.” It’s very clear to any audience that Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is not post horror. It doesn’t change convention, it relies on jump scares and cares little for character relationships. That doesn’t negate it’s validity in popular culture, but the point is that it’s not trying to make the audience think deeply on a difficult, more literary topic. When you describe something as post-horror, you outline what will be a part of it, and what wont. Perhaps to call films post-horror sounds a little elitist, but to ignore the term altogether is to ignore a very real trend toward changes in horror as a narrative medium.

References:

Hull, J. R. (2017). Get Out. Retrieved August 21, 2019, from https://narrativefirst.com/analysis/get-out

Rose, S. (July, 2017). How post-horror movies are taking over cinema. Retrieved August 23, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/06/post-horror-films-scary-movies-ghost-story-it-comes-at-night

Zinoman, J. (February, 2017). Jordan Peele on a Truly Terrifying Monster: Racism. Retrieved August 25, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/movies/jordan-peele-interview-get-out.html

Kohn, E. (June, 2018). ‘Hereditary’: The Year’s Scariest Movie Required Years to Make and Painful Experiences No One Will Discuss. Retrieved August 25, 2019, from https://www.indiewire.com/2018/06/hereditary-ari-aster-interview-inspiration-history-1201972348/

Raup, J. (June, 2018). Ari Aster | Hereditary | Film Comment Talk. Retrieved August 25, 2019, from https://www.filmlinc.org/daily/post-type/videos/?

Muncer, M. (October, 2018). Horror & Post Horror: Film 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYn3swCLimI

 

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