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Tortured to Death

Here’s somethin’ for you to envision. A girl – oh, alright, or a guy – she’s tied up. Bound around the waist, ankles and wrists by what appears to be yards of phone cord. An overturned refrigerator that has seen better days serves as her bed and she’s in an abandoned gas station, jumper cables affixed to her toes. At the other end of those cables are a meaty pair of callused hands – their owner masked by shadows – that threaten to connect the alligator clips to some makeshift method of electrocution (figure it out). These hands suddenly put positive to the negative and before you know it our victim’s little piggies are turning black from the electrical charge. Toenails splitting, pus oozing from blistering flesh.

Care to guess what modern horror film that’s from? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t exist anywhere but you could have taken your pick from any one of today’s interchangeable “torture” offerings.

Raise a severed appendage if you’ve just about had it with this sub-genre like I have. I’m sure I’m not winning any friends when I say it’s time to hang up the blowtorch. Look for new ways to give audiences the heebie jeebies, not make them retch in repulsion (two very distinctive emotions). This isn’t a way to out friends/filmmakers whose names rhyme with Beli Moth and Karon Shousman who each have new films in-the-works that fall under this category, it’s a call for change. When a supreme gorehound such as myself asks for an end, that must mean something, right? Or am I the only one…

Shed blood, by all means. Let it flow forth Kubrick-style from flooded elevators; let it run freely into the theater aisles. Just find a new way to do it, but make sure you scare me in the process. I had a recent movie-going experience that was presented in 3-D. A supposed slasher film where the killer’s handiwork didn’t occur onscreen, strangely enough, until the third act where it suddenly devolves into an extended sequence of blatant cruelty – a young woman’s bare foot is run over with a razor blade, her thighs cut and bleeding profusely. It goes on for a while in startling 3-D…but to be honest, I was B-O-R-E-D, just as I have been with all the imitators who have come in the wake of Hostel and the “Saw” series. Even with those popular films, the violence worked a level that didn’t necessarily frighten as it simply made you squirm.

Don’t hand me the “but these films are a reflection of our times…whaa, whaaa, whaa…” Sorry, Charlie, the rich, subtextual underpinnings (alluding to the grotesqueries in Iraq and so on) these films once carried have all but moved on to more exploitive pastures with box office dollars in their eyes. The torture genre is now tantamount to that trusty schoolyard joke that begins with “What’s grosser than gross?” with each filmmaker trying to outdo the other, and it’s not just limited to “the new blood.” Even vet John Carpenter stooped to new lows in his “Masters of Horror” entry “Pro-Life” when Ron Perlman’s character breaks motivation to “abort” a male doctor right in the taint.

In some strange twist of logic, I think Roth’s forthcoming Hostel sequel gets off easy because, well, the first film was sort of the harbinger of the torture craze (although Dark Castle’s House of Wax had a mean bind ‘n super-glue gag that resulted in Elisha Cuthbert getting a digit cut a year prior). Let this series run its course. Plus, Roth has proven that there’s more than meets the eye with his work. Saw IV, ditto. These films have become the Friday the 13th franchise of the new millennium and they have a place in my heart.

Still, my leniency is thin with both sequels.

I would much rather have seen Roth move on to Cell and test his merit with Stephen King’s layered tale of societal breakdown due to malevolent technology. And Darren Bousman even admitted to me humorously one day that he was taking on what I might consider a “career killer” days before his third “Saw” sequel was announced. Would I prefer to see how he accomplishes Repo! The Genetic Opera – a risky, genre-twisting venture – over how he furthers Jigsaw’s legacy? I’m curious about the latter, but yes – give me something new. Something to make me sit up and take notice.

The future doesn’t hold much promise of an end to this fear fad. After Dark Films’ Captivity is keen to capture “Hostel”-like success, Michael Haneke is returning to Funny Games and Twisted Pictures has just given the go-ahead on a film pertinently called Tortured (see that story here). However, for all of the copycats creeping over the horizon there are promising gasps of fresh air like Warner Bros.’ Trick ‘r Treat, Dimension’s 1408, Frank Darabont’s The Mist, Sony’s 30 Days of Night and Dreamworks’ The Ruins on the way to remind us that horror isn’t always restricted to a gag in the mouth and a stranger approaching you with a horny smile and a drill in his hand.

Read the previous Rotten Truth (“Has Horror Lost its Libido?”) here. And feel free to drop me your thoughts by clicking on the byline above.

Source: Ryan Rotten