Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gratuitous Sex and Violence

Apparently cinema is in the grip of 'torture porn'. It must be true - I read it in the paper. Apparently modern horror films concentrate upon depicting extreme violence against women, presented in such a way as to make it seem somehow 'attractive'. So exploitation cinema objectifies women and makes them the subject of extreme male sexual and sadomasochistic fantasies? Well, fuck my hat, I never knew that (as Mark and Lard used to say in those far gone halcyon days when they were on Radio One in the afternoons)! I think you'll find that this has been going on for decades - it's just that a mainstream journalist has noticed it and managed to sell an article based on this startling theory. Actually, the article in question (in The Guardian), does acknowledge that this isn't a recent phenomena. Whilst the article's main text focuses upon the alleged transgressions of the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse double bill (which I haven't seen, so can't comment on), the sidebars do give us the 'highlights' of exploitation cinema, including Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. Unfortunately, it doesn't give the full stories in its summaries of these films, leaving the impression that they glorify violence and are totally reprehensible. To set the record straight, whilst the former film does focus on the rape and murder of two teenage girls in its early section, it goes on to show the perpetrators of these acts themselves subjected to a similar ordeal by the parents of one of their victims. The point it is making - I think - is that violence desensitizes everyone exposed to it, and that it is self-perpetuating. Similarly, I Spit on Your Grave features the rape and humiliation of a women, but then shows her turning the tables and meting out a terrible revenge on her violators. Once again, it can hardly be seen as glorifying violence or rape.

The fact of the matter is that all horror films, from those creaky old Universal classics, through Hammer, slasher movies, right up to contemporary gore movies, tend to have the 'woman in peril' as a central motif - with all of its S&M, rape and bondage implications. Quite possibly this can be traced right back to the genre's origins in Gothic literature - only the cultural references have changed over the years. By ignoring this historical aspect, the article in question completely misses the point. It fails to fully grasp that in Grindhouse Tarantino and Rodriguez are paying homage to these earlier forms of exploitation film. One thing that has changed about horror films in recent years is that increasingly they choose to ignore such things as suspense, plot or characterisation in favour of boringly repetitive and realistic looking violence perpetrated against various cast members (often, but not exclusively, female), made possible by advances in special effects. Indeed, I tend to avoid horror films these days because they are so tedious and mechanical. But getting back to the original point; obviously, some films (of any genre) are misogynistic, some films do appear to glorify violence and some do pander to male fantasies. But more often than not, these are mainstream films. You can't blame the whole problem on a single genre. Granted, some of the people who make horror films these days do appear to be complete arseholes when interviewed, but equally, there are plenty of mainstream ('legitimate') directors who enjoyed working their misogynistic and/or macho fantasies out on screen and subjecting their leading ladies to all kinds of degradation, (take a bow Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Peckinpah, to name but two). So, stop going for the easy targets and cheap headlines, and tackle the big boys in the industry, after all, they're the ones making the blockbusters which get into every multiplex and are far more likely to be widely seen that the average low budget horror flick.



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