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Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11

Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11: Horror, Exploitation, and the Cinema of Sensation

Series: War Culture
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11
    Book Description:

    Saw,Hostel,The Devil's Rejects: this wave of horror movies has been classed under the disparaging label "torture porn." Since David Edelstein coined the term for a New York magazine article a few years after 9/11, many critics have speculated that these movies simply reflect iconic images, anxieties, and sadistic fantasies that have emerged from the War on Terror. In this timely new study, Aaron Kerner challenges that interpretation, arguing that "torture porn" must be understood in a much broader context, as part of a phenomenon that spans multiple media genres and is rooted in a long tradition of American violence.

    Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11tackles a series of tough philosophical, historical, and aesthetic questions: What does it mean to call a film "sadistic," and how has this term been used to shut down critical debate? In what sense does torture porn respond to current events, and in what ways does it draw from much older tropes? How has torture porn been influenced by earlier horror film cycles, from slasher movies to J-horror? And in what ways has the torture porn aesthetic gone mainstream, popping up in everything from the television thrillerDexterto the reality showHell's Kitchen?

    Reflecting a deep knowledge and appreciation for the genre,Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11is sure to resonate with horror fans. Yet Kerner's arguments should also strike a chord in anyone with an interest in the history of American violence and its current and future ramifications for the War on Terror.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6404-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Torture Porn: From 9/11 to the Multiplex
    (pp. 1-21)

    Imagine this scene: a bound and hooded man, his leg severely wounded—shot when he was captured. His wound is allowed to fester for days on end; it oozes and produces a pungent odor. His bindings are so tight they cut off circulation to his extremities, causing excruciating pain. He is held in a bare and dark room for an undetermined time. His only contact is with his captors, who take turns berating him and peppering him with threats.

    Imagine another scene: a man imprisoned in a cell six feet long, three feet wide, a low ceiling, and closed off...

  5. 2 The Torture Porn Genre: Key Tropes
    (pp. 22-55)

    To date there has been no definitive or substantive effort to outline the genre of torture porn, and even with its tacit recognition, there is no real consensus on its defining tropes, let alone agreement on its name. Steve Jones laments, “it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint precisely what the characteristics of Torture Porn films are.”¹ With reference to the explicit gore associated with torture porn, it has alternatively been called by critics and horror fans “splatter horror,” “spectacle horror” (Adam Lowenstein), or “torture-horror” (Jeremy Morris), and the directors commonly associated with torture porn—Roth, Wan, Zombie—have also been...

  6. 3 Some Antecedents: Sadism, Exploitation, and (Neo-) Slashers
    (pp. 56-75)

    Torture porn did not spontaneously arise from the ashes of the World Trade Center; it locates its heredity in a multiplicity of sources. And we might be too hasty in locating the source of torture porn exclusively in the post-9/11 experience. “If anything,” Steve Jones observes, “the obscenity of the ‘porn’ aspect of Torture Porn is the cruelty one human being is willing to inflict on another, and this is a more universal theme than the majority of War on Terror readings of Torture Porn account for.”¹ Indeed, torture porn negotiates complex, sometimes even contradictory matrixes of cinematic narrative, sociopolitical,...

  7. 4 The Saw Franchise: Videogames and the Sadistic Pro(an)tagonist Jigsaw
    (pp. 76-105)

    James Wan’s 2004 filmSawis one of the progenitors of the torture porn genre, and at present, the franchise now includes seven films. Torture porn is a distinctly American genre, and theSawfranchise is certainly emblematic of it. There is only one small problem with this, though: Wan and his close collaborator, screenwriter Leigh Whannell, are Australians. Wan was actually born in Malaysia, of Chinese ancestry, but was raised in Perth on the western coast of Australia and went to school at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Wan and Whannell met in film school in Melbourne and...

  8. 5 The Hostel Films: Consuming Bodies
    (pp. 106-142)

    Whereas theSawfilms have fairly complex plots, Eli Roth’s 2005 filmHostelis straightforward: American travelers Josh and Paxton, along with their Icelandic buddy, Oli, sow their wild oats while touring Europe and are lured to Slovakia with the promise of available beautiful women. Of course, this is merely a ruse, and the Elite Hunting syndicate, which caters to the sadistic taste of its exclusive clientele, abducts them. Syndicate clients pay thousands of dollars to torture and kill abductees in an abandoned Slovakian factory repurposed as a complete in-house torture facility.Hostel: Part II(2007) starts where the first...

  9. 6 “I Think We Took a Wrong Turn . . .”
    (pp. 143-179)

    Paxton narrowly escapes in Eli Roth’s 2005 filmHostelin part because he is bilingual, able to speak English and German. InHostel: Part II(Eli Roth, 2007), Beth possesses the disposition of the financial elite, being capable of speaking Sasha’s “language,” the language of “high rolling” and “high-stakes” business. And in many respects, the films in the present chapter have to do with a character’s ability or more commonly their inability to read the local signifiers of danger or to mobilize the local signifying system to their own advantage. Josh and Paxton, in the firstHostel film,typify the...

  10. 7 Soft-Core, and Beyond Torture Porn
    (pp. 180-208)

    The Fox Network series24premiered November 6, 2001, predating torture porn. If we elect to crown James Wan’s filmSaw, which was released October 29, 2004, as the first torture porn film properly speaking, which I am inclined to do, then,24precedes it by three years. From a certain perspective,Sawmight be viewed as the hardcore version of24. And it is interesting to note that Tobin Bell, the actor who plays Jigsaw, is also cast as Bauer’s nemesis, Peter Kingsley, in the second season of24. AlthoughSawdoes not include elements of international intrigue, it...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 209-232)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-242)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 243-248)
  14. Index
    (pp. 249-254)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 255-256)