ByMatt Stumpf, writer at Creators.co
I love all things horror. Books, movies, video games, etc. My favorite horror films include Martyrs and Sleepaway Camp. Let's talk movies.
Matt Stumpf

Eli Roth — to some, he's a visionary and is making horror movies fun again. To others, he's peddling nothing but gratuitous violence and excessive gore. He's a divisive figure (that's for sure), but the one thing we can all agree on is that he's getting people talking. I enjoy Roth's films very much. I find them to be intense movies that really challenge my personal limits, which is ultimately what I want out of movies. I want to be challenged, but at what point do we draw the line? At what point does the violence completely overshadow the film's meaning? Roth's films are routinely categorized into the not-so flattering "torture porn" genre.

Torture Porn

1. (informal, censorious) A genre of horror films in which sadistic violence or torture is a central aspect of the plot.

Graphic violence can really help make a movie more memorable, and it can aid in the plot. Martyrs, for example, uses torture to focus on Anna's suffering. It's used as a plot device and effectively conveys the message Pascal Laugier wanted to get across. The difference between a movie like Martyrs and Hostel, however, is fairly large. Martyrs is a film that focuses on the suffering rather than the torture, while Hostel focuses almost solely on the torture.

Extreme violence has almost become Roth's calling card, and it's to be expected in his films. From Hostel and Hostel II, to more recent films such as The Green Inferno, the violence is still there. These are extremely difficult films to watch, and Roth himself has said they are not for everyone. Responding to criticism towards Hostel II, this is what Roth had to say:

"My films are not for everyone, and many critics dismissed the film because of the violent scenes, which is the very thing horror fans are paying for when they see a film like Hostel II."

Roth knows violence is drawing people in. Just look at the success of the Saw franchise. According to Forbes, the Saw franchise is the second most successful horror franchise in history, bringing in a total of $416 million. Saw is viewed as the very definition of torture porn. It's a film series that people remember for the violence, rather than the plot. It's a common theme with these films — many people remember the "eye scene" from Hostel, but struggle to remember the plot. If this is the case, then how effective is the violence? Are we missing what the story is about because the violence on screen is so extreme? In some cases, I argue yes.

As stated earlier, I do enjoy the films of Eli Roth very much, but he isn't the only one producing extremely violent films. Take a look at a much older film, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. I won't delve too much into the details of this film, as it is extremely difficult to watch and quite controversial. However, it deals with some very intense themes, and through those, I feel that the message is lost.

The film is based on the Marquise de Sade's novel, The 120 Days of Sodom. The message behind that is that when people are left unchecked, they can do horrific things. This is great to know going into the film, but the violence on screen really starts to blur the line between pushing boundaries and depravity for depravity's sake. Salo is the original "torture porn," and it's absolutely earned that categorization.

Looking at horror films, there are positive ways to use violence, and there are negative ways to incorporate it. Something like Salo is an example of the violence going too far. It makes you turn your head and it makes you uncomfortable, but it's easy to forget what the film is trying to say. I don't like the term "torture porn" as I feel too many films get thrown into it without merit. Films that use violence successfully to convey a message are more than just mere "torture porn" — they're art.

Films like Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, however, seem to fall into the other category with films like Hostel, Saw and Salo. It's viewed as just trying to make people uncomfortable with a parade of gore. This seems to be a common sentiment with viewers in regards to the newer horror films. The critique is that the films are more focused on gross-out horror rather than developing an actual plot. If sacrificing the plot is the necessary trade-off for making someone uncomfortable, is it really worth it?

Horror films are designed to push us and make us uncomfortable. Where do you draw the line? When do you say enough is enough? Is it when a film really pushes the envelope and just showers the viewer with gore? Do you think extreme gore is even a plausible plot device? I look forward to hearing from you all in the comments.

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