Torture Porn, a Beginner’s Guide

Hostel II: how bloody do you want it?

Hostel II’s blood, gore and torture is generating column inches faster than a skillsaw can rip through warm flesh, but some people still don’t know what torture porn is. This is for them…  



What is a splatter movie?

Films like Hostel: Part II slot into the category known variously – depending on whether you’re a fan or a critic – as Shock Exploitation, Splatter, Gorno (that’s gore + porno), Torture Porn or, at the comedy end, Splatstick. They’re catagorised by lots of flesh (usually female), lots of innards (generally animal), a gleeful approach to the subject by their directors (almost always male) and an unnatural fixation with domestic power tools (drills, blowtorches etc).


And the Splat Pack?

A broad brush definition: American thirtysomething males who came of cinematic age in the 1980s. The most notable Splat Packers are Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever), Rob Zombie (House of a Thousand Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects), the writing/directing duo James Wan and Leigh Whannell (Saw) and token Brit Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers). They’re heavily influenced by cult classics such as Maniac (1980), Cannibal Holocaust (1985) and Bad Taste (1987), but also have a boy/man relish for utter junk like Caligula Reincarnated As Hitler (1986). Artistically they worship at the shrine of foreign masters such as Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi The Killer) and they are currently presided over by Grindhouse auteurs and patron saints of schlock Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (remember the brains all over the back of the car in Pulp Fiction?).


Best examples?

For the best gore since the genre fell from grace during the 1980s ‘video nasty’ scare, you can’t beat the Splat Packers. See Cabin Fever (death by flesh-eating virus), Hostel (eye-gouging, drill in the head), Ichi The Killer (giant needle through the chin), Saw (disembowelment, head blown off) or Wolf Creek (crucifixion). But gore is increasingly turning up in mainstream offerings too – see Resident Evil or the recent Underworld: Evolution starring fragrant Kate Beckinsale. There’s even an art-house variant for those who like Torture Porn with a foreign accent – see Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-Moi or Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible, starring Monica Bellucci.


What next?

An embrace by the art and mainstream crowds means only one thing – the genre is running out of steam. It’s also hard to top a scene in which someone’s face is blowtorched, the scorched eyeball is yanked from its socket and the dangly bits cut (the first Hostel film). But diehards will doubtless turn out for Wan and Whannell’s Dead Silence, about a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy; Cell, Eli Roth’s stab at a Stephen King story; and new boy Todd Lincoln’s Hack/Slash, which doesn’t really need a plot summary, does it? All come Certficate 18 guaranteed.


© Steve Morrissey 2007