The horror genre suffers from a multitude of negative generalizations and silly stereotypes. Some of these are well earned and may be considered a badge of honor. Everyone loves a great boobie shot, right? Others are simply due to a lack of knowledge regarding the genre or ignorant and misguided snap judgments. For those of us who love and live horror, it's a normal part of life, but for the public at large, they don't get it, they don't care and you know what? That's fine. We are all allowed to have our opinions, but the one opinion or prejudice that exists against the horror fan community, that I take personally, is the notion that we will watch anything disturbing. Obviously, if we enjoy a good slasher film, then surely we want to see people engage in coprophagy and newborn porn. Right?
So many banned and controversial films to choose from and so little time; where does one begin? Absolutely exhausted from hearing about A Serbian Film and Salo:120 Days of Sodom I did the unthinkable and made them a double feature last night. I tend to be of the school of thought, "let's just do it all at once". You know when you think to yourself, "I may as well just finish off this pint of ice cream right now because then it will be gone"? That's how I tend to approach movies whose infamy precedes them. I prefer to revel in depravity for an extreme, but short amount of time rather than sprinkle it over many days. So, what kind of evening did I have? Not the best of my life, but certainly not the worst either. The thing that really got under my skin while watching these films is the fact that they are put upon the horror crowd. Neither of these films are horror films. They are horrific for sure, but not horror.
The most basic definition of a horror film goes something like this; a motion picture designed to frighten, panic, cause dread and alarm and generally invoke our worst fears, captivating and entertaining us while helping to create a cathartic experience. Regularly, Science Fiction, Thriller and Noir all overlap into this broad definition. So, while that covers a large swath of topics, I really do not see how the events of A Serbian Film or Salo are included in that. Yes, it is a very, very fine line that separates a horror film from a plain horrific film, but there is a difference.
I am well aware that A Serbian Film is a political statement, but I have absolutely no idea what that statement is because I just couldn't see past the awful images I was being assaulted with. In all honesty, I find A Serbian Film to be well made with some beautiful imagery and a pretty great score, but that is all very hard to see under the rape, decapitation, humiliation, degradation, violence and the newborn porn. You can't un-ring that bell. I have a very short list of movie moments that I wish I could take back; the turtle scene in Cannibal Holocaust, the rape scene in Irreversible, Henry and Otis watching their home invasion snuff film in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and now the newborn porn scene in A Serbian Film. Actually, I can never un-hear this scene. Never. Congratulations Mr. Spasojevic? I would consider this film a drama or a thriller, but not a horror film.
Where to begin with Salo? Well, it always seems to be brought up in the same conversation as all of the movies I have already mentioned along with some others; I Spit On Your Grave, Inside, Martyrs and many more. With the exception of Irreversible, these are all proper horror films. Yes, they have horrific moments, but overall, they are horror films. Salo is just a drama, pure and simple, and it's not a very good one. Sure, there is some torture in the last ten minutes of the film, but when did the horror audience become reduced to wanting to see anything just for the sake of shock? At this point, I think we can all agree that the always controversial torture porn genre crosses this line at times as well and it is the number one reason that it gets taken to task so frequently. As a fan base, we may be willing and able to endure things that the next person cannot, but at what point are you just insulting us by assuming that we will enjoy a film about four fascists who receive sexual gratification from mentally, physically and sexually abusing 18 adolescents? It's this question that brought me to my ultimate takeaway from the awesome double billing that was A Serbian Film and Salo. I am offended that these two films are put into the horror category for no apparent reason other than that they are vulgar and despicable.
Yes, a horror fan watches some unthinkable things and is willing to go places, both mentally and emotionally, that other film goers choose not to visit; which brings me to the cathartic aspect of horror. It is a scientific fact that watching a horror film elicits a physical response that no other type of film does and I happen to be of the school of thought that this is what appeals to a horror fan on a deep level. Horror fans tend to be an overall more emotional, thoughtful and sympathetic group when it comes to what they want to receive from their entertainment and in every horror film there is a moment of catharsis. A Serbian Film and Salo never provide this particular emotion because they aren't horror films. For most people, these could simply be classified as foreign films. Why aren't the foreign film buffs expected to watch these as part of their cinephile background?
Horror is a grossly misunderstood and misrepresented genre and by allowing films that are nothing more than crass and exploitative to share the same shelf space as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Halloween, Maniac, Night of the Living Dead (we could go on for days here) is a disservice to the entire genre and more than that, an insult to those of us who believe that horror is a legitimate place where the boundaries of cinema and storytelling can be pushed in thoughtful and respectful ways.
You can read more opinion pieces and movie reviews from Lisa at Haddonfield Horror