Torture Porn

“Torture Porn” is most commonly a phrase applied to a movie the critic applying it didn’t like, regardless of merit (cf. The Passion of the Christ). This is unfortunate as it robs the phrase of any meaning.

The label “torture porn” should only be applied to movies where the point of the film is to titillate the viewers through the suffering of others. This is why I don’t consider Saw torture porn: However sympathetic Jigsaw is made out to be, he doesn’t enjoy the suffering of others and the audience isn’t expected to either. In Hostel, the young characters are victimized by the wealthy older psychos, and there’s no empathy for the older guy (even before you know how crazy he is).

Death Wish comes to mind–it’s the 25th anniversary–though it may not be a good example. Been a while since I’ve seen it. A lot of those revenge flicks of the ‘70s were particularly affectionate toward the violence committed.

On the other hand, Hostel II clearly meets the definition, in parts. In what was probably an attempt to keep things edgy, there’s a strong focus on the mechanics that make the whole thing possible. Then there are some twists to keep you “on edge” about what happens next but which also tend to put you into sympathy with someone doing violence and enjoying it.

Then there’s an actual porn scene where blood is used instead of some other bodily fluid. I mean, really: A hot older woman tortures the “homely” girl and–well, it’s pretty awful, or it would be if it weren’t so silly.

You could argue the point, since there’s no narrative or exposition about the older woman, but director Roth knows how to make something ugly and there was a sympathy, at least at the level of the imagery, for this act. In other words, one gets the sense he is trying to titillate there despite the perverseness and horror of the situation.

Interestingly, Hostel II flopped compared to the first movie’s relative success. True sadism is a niche market.