01 June 2011

Anatomy of Torture

This was supposed to be a review of the movie "Borderland", one of the "After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For" in 2007. Unfortunately, after about twenty minutes into the movie I had to stop watching. I wanted to stab myself in the face with a spork, it was so bad. This rarely happens, but when it does it's such a bummer! I was sick for a week and the best thing about it was wading through the long list of movies saved to my DVR and finally working my way through them.

The "torture porn" genre, often credited to Eli Roth though films of this nature have been made for decades, is certainly getting played out. You can't have torture for the sake of torture. Like any movie, there must be a plot (even a basic one) and characters we care something for. Roth is certainly a master at creating these types of stories as well as knowing when to stop and move on. I'm looking at you "Saw" and "Final Destination" franchise! In Roth's films, the characters interact well with each other and often have back stories worth knowing. The violence and gore serve the plot rather than as the only thing holding the movie together.

I recently re-watched "Hostel", though I'm not sure how appropriate the term "re-watch" is. I've watched this movie twice before but never in its entirety. The first time I tried watching, it was really late at night, I may have been drinking, and I kept falling asleep. I woke to a young man getting his Achilles sliced and fell back asleep. I woke again later to some other torture scene and fell asleep again. The next day I figured any horror movie I fell asleep to must not be worth watching. Then I saw "Hostel II" and fell in love. If this were the sequel, with a great story line featuring both sides of the same coin, hunter and hunted, than the first film must be better than I gave it credit for.

Perhaps it's "Hostel"'s fault for my disgust at "Borderland" and it's blatant rip off approach to gore. In horror, bad writing is easily forgiven by story. Bad acting can be covered up with blood and guts. But a combination of both is just lazy. "Borderland" is about a trio of mid-twenty somethings on vacation in Mexico looking to do what all young males in Mexico in movies are- boobs, booze, and drugs. Once there, they uncover a human sacrifice cult who, I assume, end up torturing and killing them. I don't really know. They lost me when Rider Strong, aged 28 at the time, loses his virginity to un underage prostitute dressed like Sailor Moon whom his friend paid. Groan! Okay, so it may have points for being based on a true story. Okay, so maybe it got better. The problem is, this is the age of ADD/ADHD and I don't have the patience to wait for a movie to decide to start.

While Roth wisely chose not to make a third "Hostel", the geniuses at Twisted Pictures/Lionsgate just can't help themselves when it comes to sequels. 2004s unique and uniquely disturbing "Saw" was a break through in horror when it came out. Here was a movie no one knew much about, made for pennies, that scared the bejeezus out of everyone. Entering the arena of forever famous villains is Jigsaw. Is he the puppet? The puppeteer? What's the end game? Huge box office sent the producers into a diabetic coma and they've popped out a movie a year since it's release. "Saw II" introduced more players and expanded the universe slightly, making it a worthwhile sequel. They should have stopped at "III".

Newline saw it's cash cows crow when they released "Final Destination" in 2000. It wasn't a huge success in the theatres, but DVD sales were enough to produce sequels with ballooning budgets but similar returns. Not the best market strategy I'd say, but they've put out 5 of these pictures. How many more ways can Death come for these kids? Besides, when you make a movie called "The Final Destination", that should be it. Seriously.

There is room in the world of horror and popular cinema for films that push the boundaries of decency and taste. Whether it be serial killers, cannibals, sadists, or toys possessed by evil; all can thrive and be enjoyed. The problem is not in the content, it's in the delivery. The notion that there are no new stories only new ways of telling them is especially poignant. Roth changed the co-ed camping genre with "Cabin Fever", James Wan gave us the worst puzzle solvers of all time in "Saw", Greg McLean took the hitchhiker genre to the outback with "Wolf Creek", Rob Zombie paid perfect homage to 70s exploitation with "House of 1000 Corpses" and it's follow up "The Devils Rejects". But the media and audiences act as if this is new. It isn't. George A. Romero, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and the incorrigible Roger Corman have been making "torture porn" for years. We just called it horror. The fact is, horror is at its best when it's character driven. And, we don't even need to know the characters. How many A-list celebs starred in any of the above films? None. All made millions. 

So, to the hordes of hungry film students out there dreaming of their own "Hostel", take a deep breath and ask yourself, "What would Eli Roth do?" If the answer sounds like any movie you've already seen, you didn't really ask him. Go back to the drawing board and work a bit longer. I promise, it will pay off in the end. 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous01 July, 2011

    ahaha terrible!!