The Horror Honeys: Torture Porn and The Horror Film Fan Divide

Torture Porn and The Horror Film Fan Divide

A Slasher Honey End of The Year Rant by Chassity

It’s that time of year again. The time when our days are filled with leftover holiday food, winding up any loose business, and most importantly, finalizing our new year resolutions. 
Shhh
I’m one of those people who absolutely believes in making them, but only if they’re not the same clichéd resolutions everyone else makes. 

Which brings me to one of my own resolutions that has everything to do with my love of horror, and it has gotten under my skin increasingly as the year has gone by. 

By “it,” I mean the use of the term “torture porn.” What I want in 2015 is for us as a horror family to agree to just stop using those words altogether. 

When this term first became a thing, nothing about it bothered me. In fact, I thought it was interesting, and kinda cool that there was this new subgenre of horror films - one I’d fallen in love with. 

But that was before it became abundantly clear to me that the phrase was more than just a defining category, it was actually a derogatory term. Someone can say “it’s a zombie/slasher/supernatural” film and mean nothing by it other than to explain to you what kind of formula and plot you can expect from said movie. But stating “it’s torture porn” has a whole other meaning. That seems to mean you’re not just talking about the plot and style of killer, you’re basically critiquing the movie as disgusting, overly violent, and gratuitous compared to other horror films (yeah, that makes me roll my eyes, too), meaningless, and lacking any semblance of a plot. 

The gist of it, in case you missed the last five years of splatter film trends, is that “torture porn” movies are fetish films made solely for the most hardcore of fanatics.

Disclaimer time: I won’t deny a little bit of bias here, as I am a huge fan of the flicks known for supposedly inspiring the phrase (particularly Saw). But while I’m not so biased that I can’t admit they do have their flaws, my issue with the label is less about my love for the franchises and more about the dismissive nature of it all, and what it means for the horror genre in general. 

Horror, as a whole, has always been subjected to a fair share of criticism and belittling of its value. Any fan has had some experience with being looked at weird for calling themselves a horror lover, and we’ve all been asked some variation of “How can you watch that stuff? You’ve gotta be a little bit twisted to like that!” You could literally throw a quarter anywhere and it’s guaranteed to hit someone who’s more than willing to talk trash about horror and how awful it is. 

Which is why it was all the more surprising when I realized that “torture porn” was used with just as much derision and degradation among people who call themselves loyal fans, as it was among scary movie “detractors.” 

And that’s the main reason I have come to hate the label so much. With so much negativity from non-fans, the last thing we as actual fans need is anything that divides us. But, naturally, that’s exactly what labels like this do. There was a time when I could bond with someone over a love of the entire genre and it was a great thing. But now, as soon as I met a fellow splatter buff and the question of “what’s your favorite horror movie?” comes up, that sense of division is felt immediately. I always answer the same way (the Saw films), and watch their entire attitude towards me change. Suddenly I’m not on the same level as a fellow fan; I’m one of those people, who like those movies. Torture porn and other similar labels often draw a line right down the middle: those who are “above” this style of film, and those who can’t be “serious” film nerds if they have the audacity to like such movies. 

And what does this all mean? Simply this: we’re reaching a point of embracing the stereotypes assigned to people who love thrillers, slashers, zombie films, and anything frightening.  Torture porn is seen as the bottom of the barrel, and non-lovers already think that people who like scary movies do so because it’s a way to indulge our psychotic side without actually going out and committing the same violent acts (let’s face it, it’s 2014 and there are still a ton of people who think all of us are only one step away from becoming serial killers ourselves). Then, if even other horror cinephiles look down on the subgenre as fetishizing, it only gives the impression that there must be some truth to the stereotype. 

Okay, I’m not completely unselfish in this call to horror fans to stop dividing ourselves. I also hate the term because as a supporter of the subgenre, I take offense to the negativity of the definition, in particular the arguments that these flicks have no storyline or plot, and no significance other than gratification. It’s just not true. 

No meaning? Take Hostel, Saw, and Untraceable, three films that come to mind at the mention of those two words. Here’s the thing: the first is a socially relevant movie addressing America’s cultural arrogance in relation to the world, the second is a franchise about justice, being appreciative of life, and the discrepancy between right, wrong, and the way crimes are handled by law enforcement, and the third is basically one long lecture on voyeurism, journalistic sensationalism, and sensitivity toward victims of tragedies in the media. Sure, the violence is there, but it all leads to something big and meaningful by the end of each of these movies. There’s always a message, so I have to think people are either just too blinded by hatred of horror to see it, or they’re actually the ones who are just in it for the gore. 

All that said, torture porn is an incomplete way to define any of the movies thrown into this genre. It’s a way of being self-deprecating about our film choices and about a genre we love. And it needs to stop. Let’s agree to try to find any other way to describe these films in the New Year. We’ll all be better fans for it, and the overall image of horror will be better for it.