So I’m sitting shoving DVD after DVD into my computer, and I’m getting increasingly bothered. Something isn’t right in the film world and I feel like I’m in a very small minority who have noticed – or care.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reviewing so-called horror films which are less ‘horror’ and more ‘horrible’. Yeah, you expect some disturbing content when you watch Psycho Zombie Killers 13, because otherwise they’d have to remove the words ‘Psycho’, ‘Zombie’ and ‘Killers’. And possibly the number 13. But we have a new trend creeping in which doesn’t involve the un-dead, more the brain-dead.
It’s rape. In an apparent return to a short period of the 1970s which we all would all do well to forget, the portrayal of violence against women, particularly sexualised violence, seems to now be the mandatory inclusion in any slasher, creature or zombie flick. Take The Wizard of Gore, with its scenes of women being stripped and brutally tortured (but they’re okay in the end, so that’s fine). Or Insanitarium, with a woman being tied to a bookshelf and raped with her own underwear in her mouth (to add insult to injury, she barely reacts). Maybe you’d prefer Lilith, with its objectionable ‘twist’ involving a woman forced to have sex with her own father in the name of religion (but hey, she deserved it).
The list goes on. Otis genuinely believes that the kidnap and rape of teenage girls is the basis of an entire comedy. Oh yes, and how could I forget Donkey Punch, where even consensual sex involves belting the woman in the back of the head? Is anyone else starting to squirm?
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been here before. Wading back through the mists of time will reveal ‘exploitation’ films like Last House on the Left, which features situations so vile that reading the synopsis on Wikipedia might make you throw up. And then there are the unfathomables, like SS Experiment Camp, where you get all of the above but set in Nazi concentration camps. An article in The Times this year notes the BBFC comment “there is nothing in this film that anybody should have any concerns about”, before pointing out that “The film depicts women being raped, electrocuted, hung upside down, having their ovaries cut out and burnt alive in incineration chambers by guards dressed in Nazi uniforms. That does sound ‘concerning’.”
You’re not bloody joking. But the difference now is that where we once had laws to prevent this material reaching our screens, we now have laws that seem to look on and approve. The BBFC is not only passing everything it can get its hands on, it’s letting us all know about it in the form of its ridiculous categories (“Ooh look: ‘Violence, frequent, some sexualised’ – let’s hire this one!”). The 74 films banned back in the Eighties are now no longer ‘bad’, despite being exactly the same as they were before, and so we’re getting mega-edition six-DVD box-sets and some nice new modern versions to boot. Wander into HMV and you too could own footage of a teenager being raped while her attacker carves his name into her chest. Wonderful.
It begs a question about what’s changed between then and now. If it was down to Wes Craven et al, you’ve believe it was a reaction to the increase in violent worldwide events – torture at Guantanamo Bay, for example. Craven maintains that films like Last House were a reflection of the horrors of the Vietnam War, and that he was trying to capture this in his film-making. Watching him being interviewed on a documentary last year, it would have been perfectly fair to come the conclusion that he was actually capturing his own puerile and depraved thoughts in order to make a bag of cash. (Of course, I can’t say that, because it’s ‘art’.)
More likely we’re just sliding further down the slope than we’ve previously managed, having nothing like the Video Recordings Act 1984 to save us this time around. It seemed to start, at least publicly, with franchises like Hostel – a combination of porn and torture which with huge intelligence produced the phrase ‘torture porn’. In the original Eli Roth picked on men and women alike, but Part II was more obviously heading into ‘violence as rape’ territory and both films equated mutilation with sexual excitement. The House of Commons even pointed out that owning stills of Part II could be against the law as examples of ‘extreme pornography’. (Action taken: none.)
Roth, like Craven, applies all kinds of intellectual reasoning to his films, and everybody seems too scared – or uncaring, or unaware – to challenge it. Even the term ‘torture porn’ would seem wrong on various levels, but the ‘free speech’ argument and the desperate desire not to look like Mary Whitehouse has resulted in nobody attempting to challenge the trend. Charles Walker MP stood up to describe the obscene nature of Hostel II, but being a Conservative he didn’t count and it got through uncut – unlike in Germany, where the uncut version is banned, and New Zealand, whose government required the removal of an entire scene before it got a release. In the UK we will happily allow the portrayal of sexual violence against women, but Fight For Your Life is still banned outright for racist language and Cannibal Holocaust got nearly six minutes cut out of it…for animal cruelty. We have strange priorities.
It’s difficult to write an article like this for two reasons. The first is that it inevitably loses its way when all you really want to say is “For God’s sake, let’s ban this shit”. The second is that it’s incredibly hard to fight for what I can only describe as ‘balance’. I’m no zealot – I don’t want to see the removal of all vaguely unpleasant content from the shelves and can’t see any good reason for doing so. But equally I can’t sit and watch the blatant and unchecked use of women being violated for ‘entertainment’. It makes no sense to me that it could be remotely acceptable. Sadly, having a ‘bad feeling’ doesn’t wash in this ‘rational’ society. I have to show that all this stuff is causing harm, and “Duh, look around you” doesn’t cut it.
I also need to be thinking in extremes – I’ve either got to allow it all or be completely against everything, otherwise my opinion doesn’t count. If that’s not a reflection of the desire for conflict we seem to have in this world, I don’t know what is. Any room for Ms Middle-Ground?
Yeah, it might pass. Perhaps I’ve been really unlucky. But as far as reviewing horror films is concerned, in the last two weeks it’s been three-for-three. Once is uncomfortable. Twice is offensive. Three times is fashion, and if we’re going down that route then let me be the first to object. Strongly.
This is just the fifth column that Den Of Geek publishes every week. We therefore cannot help you with your dictators or the avoidance of triangulation devices.