I Love Torture Porn: There's Nothing Wrong With Gore in Horror Films

Stand back, this is going to be messy.
Stand back, this is going to be messy.

Growing up, people used to signal their broad and presumably good taste in music by stating, "I like everything ... except country and rap." It's hard to say why country and rap got the short end of the stick, other than that these supposedly musically adventurous souls were actually pretty pedestrian in their tastes. These days, you don't hear that so much from music people -- presumably they now claim to like everything but "EDM and Justin Bieber" or some such -- but a similar refrain is often heard from supposed horror fans: "I like everything ... except torture porn."

Fuck that. Torture porn is awesome.

See also: The Misunderstood Mastery of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Torture porn is the name applied to any horror movie that revels in its gore. Films like the Saw series and Hostel are the movies most associated with the genre, but I've heard the term used to dismiss just about anything with more than a cursory amount of gore. But what the hell is wrong with gore?

Gore has been a part of horror movies almost since the beginning. Okay, you won't see a lot of blood or guts in any of the classic Universal monster flicks, or really anything made before the late '60s -- Night of the Living Dead marks the turning point here -- but across the entirety of the modern era, dismemberments, decapitations and close-up looks at all kinds of wounds have been a staple of horror. In the last decade or so, though, the rise of the PG-13 horror movie has really toned that down, so perhaps it's not surprising that the term "torture porn" began to gain traction around the same time.

Now, I'm not saying a movie has to be gory to be scary or good. Plenty of horror movies get by with an absolute minimum of actual gore, and that's fine. But gore can really add to a movie's impact and sometimes, yes, the gore can make a movie. Gore, done well, gets a literal visceral reaction from the viewer. You see someone else's stomach turned inside out, and yours knots up. That's an effective tool and can really add to the impact of a movie. And sometimes, it's enough to carry the movie.

The first Saw film -- one of the key players in the so-called genre of "torture porn" -- was actually a pretty decent, if unrealistic, thriller in the vein of Seven, and barely more gory than that respected film. By the third or fourth movie, the franchise had devolved into an excuse to show ever more elaborate puzzles pulling people apart in ever more elaborate and disgusting ways. And you know what? It was still pretty damn awesome.

Not every horror movie can be, or should be, high art. Horror serves a deeper, more basic function: serving as a safe outlet for our anxiety and fear. Gore, especially in its extreme, does an excellent job of this. There is an elemental horror to realizing we are stuck in fragile, delicate bodies that can be disassembled and destroyed with very little effort by anyone with a little determination and access to a meathook or a pair of scissors. Torture porn, as the more extreme gore films are called, are all about exploiting this fundamental fear, and for this they should be exalted, not derided. Especially in our safe, relatively pampered society, people need to be reminded how easy it actually is to be broken.

I suspect the appeal of these films is at the heart of the hatred toward them as well -- they work too well. There's not really much that's scary about most horror movies -- anyone over the age of ten knows that vampires aren't real, dead people don't really come back to life hungry for the flesh of their friends and family and that aliens, even if they exist, probably aren't all that interested in sticking mysterious instruments into our butts. But a guy with a box full of razors and thirty feet of rope, cursed with too much free time and not enough of a conscience? That's fucking scary. Seeing what that guy can do to turn you, the bright, clever individual with hopes and dreams and a great personality, into a pile of meat ... that shit will give you nightmares for real.

So much of what we do in life, from religion to art, is meant to distract us from the fact that we are just fragile bags of meat walking around, hoping no one bursts us before we wear out naturally on our own. Torture porn does the exact opposite, reminding us of our meatbound mortality by pushing it into our face over and over again. That's not just worthwhile, it's a goddamn public service. Remember that the next time you reach for a "scary" movie, and plan accordingly.

Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.



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