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EXPLOITATION (aka, What The Subgenre Of Ultra-Violent, Torture/Revenge-Centric Horror Movies Used To Be Properly Named Before A Mr. Fancypants Critic Coined The Absurdly Ridiculous Phrase “Torture Porn”)

July 31, 2011

Call me crazy (trust me, it won’t hurt, even my friends call me worse sometimes) or even old fashioned (yet I refuse to think of myself as “old” in any sense) but I remember a time, not so long ago, back in the late 70s to early 80s when my older cousin was sneaking me in to the local Drive-In in the back of his El Camino (yeah that’s right, I said “El Camino”) under a tarp next to his cooler of cheap beer for a triple feature of crazy-assed balls-to-the-wall horror movies.

Not just any horror movies though, mind you – these were the masterpieces (or abominations, depending on whether or not you lived your life by Siskel & Ebert back then) of the time.  I’m talking DAWN OF THE DEAD, JUST BEFORE DAWN, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE FOG, HALLOWEEN II, just to name a small select few.  Hell, on one very, VERY rare night, there was even be a Herschel Gordon Lewis marathon, which took me out of the 1970s Exploitation fascination my budding horror mind was beginning to take and introduced me for the first time to incredibly cheesy yet sassifying 1960s Splatter goodness.

Splatter, I could go on about for days, especially the “so over the top violent it becomes comedic” early films of Peter Jackson.  Who could forget their first time watching BAD TASTE or BRAINDEAD (DEAD ALIVE, to us Yanks).  I know I sure as hell do.  What could one even call films like that?  Splatsitck?  Damn, I like that one.  Please tell me it hasn’t already been used so I can take credit for having coined an actual positive horror movie label.

Anyway, let’s deal with my issue.  It’s actually been an issue of mine and many other folks I know for over half a dozen years now as well.  Let’s start with two of my favorite movies of the first decade of the new millennium…in no particular order – WOLF CREEK, and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS

WOLF CREEK was based on a true story of disappearing travelers in the Australian Outback and just hit all the right nerves with me. It was, beyond any shadow of doubt in my mind, a genius flick not only for the way the subject matter was handled, but how brutally intense it was.

Now, REJECTS…dear lord and sweet baby Jesus!  Rob Zombie’s crowning cinematic achievement so far is perfect in every possible way to me.  Brutality almost beyond belief, intensity out the ass, blackly comedic moments that lead to even more brutal intensity thanks to incredible writing brought to life by the perfect cast…this flick was the perfect throwback to the 70s Exploitation flicks that Zombie, me, and countless other writers grew up on and were influenced by.  It is also, to me, what PULP FICTION is to many of my friends, and what THE GODFATHER was to my parents – nothing short of epic brilliance on a plane that few people ever achieve.

All was going very well for me getting my fix of retro-feeling Exploitation/Grindhouse in 2005.  But then in early 2006 came Eli Roth’s HOSTEL, and very shortly after that came film critic David Edelstein, who in his review for the movie, invented and used the phrase “Torture Porn” to describe the violently intense torture and mutilation scenes contained within the movie; and unfortunately, the wildly ridiculous and inaccurate new classification stuck and has since been used to describe pretty much every extremely violent horror movie since, from the SAW sequels to TOURISTAS, CAPTIVITY, SCAR, HOSTEL: PART II, and was even backdated to include flicks such as WOLF CREEK and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS; as well as the wave of brutally well-done French horror that came our way in the 2006 to 2008 range, most notably HAUTE TENSION, MARTYRS, FRONTIER(S), and my personal favorite of the bunch, INSIDE.  It’s still used even today to describe the newer wave such as both THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remakes, as well as THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (which was totally lost on me) and its upcoming sequel.  Hell, the phrase is even making its way down to the indie level on flicks such as Jeremy Benson’s incredibly well done and definitely worth checking out human-trafficking flick, LIVE ANIMALS.

So, honestly…how in the pink fuzzy fuck could some jackwagon critic come along out of nowhere, coin a new phrase, and suddenly have it become the hip & trendy new way to describe ultra-violent horror flicks??  To be fair to Mr. Edelstein, he didn’t actually come out of nowhere…when you’re the chief film critic for New York Magazine, your words do carry some clout.  I can’t recall ever reading a review of his that I agreed with though, especially when it came to horror.  Although he and I did have one thing in common – back in 2009, we were both very much looking forward to the premiere of JENNIFER’S BODY.  I don’t recall his take on the flick and right now I’m too lazy to research it, but as for me, I hadn’t been so greatly let down by anything in my life with the exception of two things – meeting Jeremy Piven, and my first marriage.

But it didn’t end there, sadly.  Later that year, SAW III came out and was blindsided right out of the (Lions) gate by none other than Bill O’Reilly, who called it “sickening” and even threatened to look into spearheading a movement to ban horror movies altogether.  Pffft…nice try, dillhole.  I have to admit, I was originally appalled and angered by his uneducated attack as well, and even wrote a huge rant about that for the site I was working for at the time.  That was the point in time for me when I realized that political affiliations really didn’t mean a thing to me anymore due to how blurry the lines have become for me between parties in the last few years.  But that, my dear fiends, is more of an editorial rant for my local newspaper.  Hmmmm, not a bad idea…Dane, call me!

In retrospect, it was really kind of silly to get all up in arms and conspiracy theorist about the whole thing back then.  Why?  Mainly because the company O’Reilly works for, that his show is broadcast on – Fox – also had horror movies coming out shortly after this attack and more than likely figured someone of his stature might bring them the publicity that they needed to put asses in theater seats if there was such a negative commotion about things and people needed to see for themselves and satisfy their own morbid curiosity.  Sadly for them, it backfired.  Not a huge surprise though, as we all know the HILLS HAVE EYES 2 remake and TOURISTAS both sucked hot frosted goat balls.  Whether we actually fell for it at the time though (Yep, I did, with several Fox movies that year), doesn’t matter now, and I guess they deserve points for trying.  Wait, that just reminded me of the ALIENS Vs. PREDATOR movies. Okay, no they don’t deserve any points at all.  Fox execs, go sit in the corner and face the wall till you can make good horror again, assclowns…

If you haven’t been able to guess by now, YES, I flipping hate the phrase “Torture Porn” with every fiber of my being, and I firmly believe that “Exploitation” still fits the bill best when it comes to describing that type of movie, and there’s now an underground movement going on (in my head, anyway) to do away with the newer phrase once and for all even though I should more than likely accept that it will probably forever be a part of our culture now.  But I just don’t understand why, nor do I really think I want to.  Just because there is nudity and/or sex and/or rape and/and/or all of the above doesn’t make it porn.  Not even close, Bub.  Trust me, I know porn.  And you can also trust in the fact that myself and most of the rest of the free world would much rather, if given the choice, wax the dolphin to beautiful, sweaty, naked, writhing bodies exchanging fluids and doing what they do best on screen as opposed to waxing same said dolphin to some dude getting his yarvals snipped off with a pair of pruning shears or some lovely lady all tied up getting her eyeball sizzled with a butane torch till it pops out like a kernel of Orville Redenbacher’s finest microwaveable Movie Theater Butter flavor.  Torture is torture, and porn is porn.  See the difference?  You’re damn right, you do…perverts!

– Craig McGee

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