Tuesday, June 5, 2007
I have really been enjoying all of the online discussion and disagreements on Eli Roth's upcoming HOSTEL 2 and the state of horror in general as of late. I have been amazed to see the wide ranging and strong opinions film fans seem to have on Roth and this so called 'Torture Porn' phrase that is being thrown around so much in the media these days.
I would be seeing HOSTEL 2 no matter what just because of the casting of the legendary Edwige Fenech. I would like to throw my two cents in on the subject though and say that I would be seeing, and looking forward to, the film even without the iconic Fenech's presence.
I was more than a bit cold on Roth's debut film CABIN FEVER. I just didn't understand the hype but I admired the first HOSTEL very much and felt that his THANKSGIVING trailer was among the best thing I have seen this year. Roth seems to be very consciously following the lead of a handful of directors, such as Fulci, Deodato, Craven, Martino and others, who believed the horror film has the capability to truly shock and disturb. It is this very primal, and at times almost oppressively dark, feeling that horror films lost in the nineties and that a handful of young directors have been trying to reclaim this decade.
I have always found it ironic that it was Wes Craven, who at his prime delivered some of the most truly unsettling and visceral horror films ever, would have been the guy who helmed the film that more than any other would turn the genre into a self referential, humorous and ultimately extremely sanitized form. I liked, and still like, SCREAM and SCREAM 2 but they created a winking and back patting breed that would give birth to a seemingly endless succession of safe and typically very bland films. I saw many of these films throughout the mid to late 90's...some were okay, most were very bad. I noticed that each one seemed to be a little safer and a little more meaningless than the last. These weren't films about anything other than pushing a lousy soundtrack of trendy songs and giving roles to forgettable teen tv actors. These seemed to be films designed for the PG13 rating, show us as little as possible and suggest something perhaps even less.
Obviously there have always films that combine humor and horror and I'm not suggesting that horror films always need to be graphic. What I am saying is that a key element to the horror film is to take us, and yes show us, places that are typically unseen and locked away. The so called horror films of the late 90s stopped doing that, they just began showing us television versions of things we had seen in countless other better films.
I really began to miss the extreme horror films of my childhood in this period. Films like DAWN OF THE DEAD and the original HILLS HAVE EYES became something more than just films that I loved from my youth. They became prime examples of everything that I loved in cinema that modern culture, and specifically the opening weekend gross watchers, had taken away. It's no coincidence that it was in the mid 90s that I started to obsessively hunt down and collect Italian horror films. Here were films that I hadn't known as a child that I could discover as new. The importance and greatness of a film as extreme as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST seemed overwhelming to me, and it felt like we would never be allowed to see anything quite so graphic and disturbing as that powerhouse again.
One of the most exciting experiences I have had in a theater this decade was seeing Alexandre Aja's 2003 French film HAUTE TENSION (HIGH TENSION). There had been rumblings of a change in the horror landscape in the early part of the decade but here was a film so unrelenting, so bleak and so truly disturbing, that it felt to me like it was at times literally shaking the screen. HIGH TENSION seemed to open a floodgate of angry, and at times nihilistic, films that have given us some of the most extreme violence cinema has seen since the late seventies.
Not many of the films have been great, but for all their failings I admire pictures like WOLF CREEK, HOSTEL, SAW and Aja's HILLS HAVE EYES remake more than most 'great' horror films of the last 15 years. These films and filmmakers are trying to make horror dangerous again...to take the darker aspects of society that are continually thrown at us in the media and turn them into something we can properly internalize and hopefully understand.
"Torture Porn" is the most ridiculous media created term since "Punk" became "New Wave". It feels like a term made up and jumped on by people who not only don't know anything of the history of horror films, but plain just don't like them. A film like Rob Zombie's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, which I loved, has been grouped in with this so called genre but the themes and images from it are decades old. I doubt very seriously the critics who use phrases like "Torture Porn" even know who Lucio Fulci or Ruggero Deodato are...sometimes I wonder if they even know who Sam Peckinpah is.
So I will be at HOSTEL 2 opening weekend and I hope it is as twisted and graphic as possible. Horror films should cause a reaction...they should make us feel and see things that hopefully we don't have to in our everyday life. A lot of people do not like these extreme images these films are promising and that is perfectly fine. Don't buy a ticket...it is a as simple as that. I fear though that 2008 will bring a landslide against the return of the extreme horror film and that the studios will once again start playing it safe. As a rule I try not to get political on this blog at all but I find the idea that both presidential parties might again try to deflect attention from the real issues with a battle against artistic expression to be the most horrifying thought of all.