Apart from its value as pornography for sociopaths, one has to wonder, what is the appeal of torture movies? You are out of touch if you have to ask, because these are enormously successful films, the true icons of our time. Not that they are entirely original. In the 1960s Drive-In “B” movies shoveled up the gore. Night of the Living Dead was the most graphic of these, but flicks like Blood Feast were churned out seemingly by the million. These were low-budget quickies, never mainstream theatrical releases. Surprisingly, at one point, such movies were restricted. Adults only. Rated X for violence. Now they show them on Saturday morning TV, if not even more graphic, modern slasher-fare.
Imagine a movie in America being rated X for violence? Maybe for showing a woman’s nipple, but not for violence.
Ironically, in Part1 of this blog post I linked to a scene from a favorite black and white horror movie from 1934, The Black Cat – And it turns out this film has a torture scene at the end! But the difference could not be more striking. The torturing in this Karloff/Lugosi movie is done largely off screen, with only the eerie shadows of the participants in view. Naturally, it is much more psychologically powerful that way.
Gruesome, gross-out horror movies are extremely cheap and easy to make, and as such they are cranked out like hot dogs by production houses large, small, and microscopic. One of the funniest movies of all time is a documentary about a small time indie film-maker trying to complete a horror movie. It is called American Movie, and it’s a must-see, every bit as much as Citizen Kane.
Hard core horror is just one more symptom. It would not be as big as it is if we did not live in a society soaking in hate and unfocused, impotent rage. That may sound like the kind of pronouncement you’ve been hearing all of your life. There’s a joke that says the inscription on the Rosetta stone translates out to say – “The music the kids listen to these days is a disgrace!” Every generation thinks the world is degenerating. But there is another truism that also cannot be denied –
“You are what you eat.”