We can argue over whether the term “torture porn” is accurate or fair in the world of horror, and just might in the future.  But today, what we cannot argue is that it is now used in reference to horror films all the time by critics and fans alike.  So what is it, really?

What torture porn  actually is, I believe, depends on both the intent of the film and the emotional investment of the viewer.  Meaning, what moral or lesson is the film trying to teach us and are we able to recognize it when presented with it?  Is there even a lesson to be found?  In my estimation, torture porn movies are simply over-the-top graphic, cringe-inducing horror films that have no real reason for all of the gore.  Not that horror should always need a reason for gore (it shouldn’t), but it is nice to have one when the blood and guts are so thick and visceral you need a hacksaw (ha ha), a barf-bag and possibly a therapist on speed-dial to get through it.


For instance, I personally consider the Hostel franchise to be pure torture porn.  What lesson do we take from these films?  What is it that we learn?  Don’t go overseas and stay in a crappy hostel?  Don’t trust foreigners?  Whatever the supposed moral or meaning that (perhaps) is supposed to be in these films is virtually non-existent.  Instead, the viewer is saturated with horrific violence for no discernible purpose.  Thus, there is no real point for us to recognize even if we are able to do so.

On the flip side of Hostel we have Martyrs — and many reviewers have incorrectly branded both as torture porn.  Is Martyrs gruesome?  You bet.  Does it include a continuous 15 minutes of some the most brutal scenes I have ever seen in a film?  Why yes it does.  I would even go so far as to say it is more brutal than Hostel.  That said, it’s anything but torture porn.  It is in fact, the exact opposite.  The film manages to make you question a whole host of things, but most importantly it leaves you thinking about some damn deep issues for days afterwards.  Martyrs clearly was  not made for the younger audience, which in itself is a rarity today.  One would have to be an old soul indeed for anyone under the age of 18 to even begin to comprehend what this movie is even about.  Simply put, the fact that it strives to make the viewer learn something (in this case, about themselves) and the fact that the violence was a necessary element for the film to make its point absolves it from any attempts to label it as torture porn.

This is not to say that torture porn is necessarily bad or shouldn’t be made, on the contrary — it has its place in the horror genre.  Although it’s not my cup of tea, I don’t think that watching a film is going to create any serial killers or harm any burgeoning young minds.  But I do think it wise for those of us who love the horror genre to at least acknowledge that it does exist and that we should be careful to avoid equating torture porn with gruesome, but meaningful horror films.

OTHER BRAIN THINGYS:  There are a lot of other films that have been tossed into the torture porn pile that really aren’t besides Martyrs.  The Saw films, for instance, are not torture porn (even though they do give us lots of creative ways to kill people and man, I love them for it).  The Devil’s Rejects?  Well, you can decide that one.  Lastly, in the interest of full disclosure, apparently I am a “fuck-wit bible thumper.”  Who knew?