In a forum I belong to, a member mentioned watching a documentary that claims that the rise of torture porn in current media is linked to the post-9/11 cultural movement and the Iraq war. The documentary also claims that because we are now bombarded by real-life violence all the time and because the sense of safety as white middle class Americans was shattered by 9/11, we are hungry for more intense and graphic violence.
I wholeheartedly disagree. The filmmakers obviously completely ignored the history of intense violence and torture in horror films.
I would say that it probably started with Two Thousand Maniacs! in 1964. In case you’ve never seen the film, it is about a ghost town that waits for unknowing travelers in order to torture them to death with various insane carnival-esque games in order to maintain their immortality.
Filmmakers upped the ante from there. In 1972, we were given Wes Craven’s brutal image, Last House on the Left. Which was actually a modern retelling of the intense film, The Virgin Spring. In Craven’s tale, the father gets revenge on his daughter’s attackers with a variety of items- including a chainsaw.
I must also mention the “grindhouse” movement which contained many of these banned films. And, I’m not talking about Tarantino and Rodriguez’s film fest. The old grindhouse films were usually poorly acted, but were brutal.
1978 brought us I Spit on your Grave. The original film is still banned in many countries because of it’s horrific 30 minute gang-rape scene. In an odd sort of way, it could be considered an empowering film because the victim does torture all of her attackers to death. Most intense is probably when she separates one attacker from his penis.
The end of the movement probably came with Cannibal Holocaust (1980). This is probably just about the most difficult film to watch in terms of torture. This film is so intense that it has been rumored to be a snuff film for years. Not for the faint of heart. There are multiple grotesque scenes. Nothing about the movie is easy to watch. I recommend watching it only if you are a serious horror fanatic.
So, this documentary really needed to read and watch a few movies. Hostel (2005), which is one of the most cited examples of “Torture Porn” has nothing on Cannibal Holocaust. And, everyone can agree that there was much less violence on television in the 1970’s, so the splatter movement did not begin with post 9/11 fear. It is simply the recycling of a genre.