Let me be very clear about this. I don’t like gore. I don’t like blood-splattered screens, lingering camera shots of screaming teenage girls (and they are usually teenage girls) or macabre medical instruments being inserted into the human body.
It is what is unseen, what is felt rather than witnessed, that tingles my senses
and pimples my goose. The sudden shadow on a bright day, the cold fingers brushing your neck. It’s why this painting by de Chirico is far more terrifying than this thing – is it a paperweight?- by Jake and Dinos Chapman.
Several years ago, I watched Saw on DVD with a friend. It was nasty, relentlessly dark and pretty stomach-churning. I remember thinking, ‘I ought to like this! It’s unsettlingly realistic! It’s tightly plotted! It’s not the genre-bound nonsense of Friday 13th Part 12, and there’s some imaginative use of a bathtub as a plot device!’. But I couldn’t like it, however hard I tried, and I couldn’t watch it a second time. While I may theoretically quite like the Grand Guignol-ness of it all (and the admirably creepy villain), the bloody, nihilistic tone was too much for me.
Torture porn is closely related to body horror, which is as old as the hills. I used to watch David Cronenberg films when I was a teenager – because I was a precocious little oik who believed everything I read in Melody Maker – and would grimly sit through Shivers and Rabid, determined to find something to admire. However, Cronenberg is a very clever and urbane man, whose later films have an intelligence – if not a warmth – that I can’t imagine ever emerging in Eli Roth’s movies, for all the director’s statements about the objectification of women.
I read an interesting article in Total Film about why Saw-style films have, in recent years, fallen out of favour with audiences who prefer the creepy, corner-of-the-eye eerieness of Paranormal Activity or horror-on-your-doorstep of Eden Lake. Let’s hope. I do wish that one’s memory had a delete button – I’d delete Saw, Hostel, Hostel Part 2, most of the early Cronenbergs and the remake of the Wicker Man, just because it’s dreadful.