I’m not a horror movie expert – I hardly ever watch them – but I’ve noticed some recent trends in the genre. There seem to be three kinds of horror movies being released: the apocalyptic movie serving as a metaphor for global warming or nuclear destruction, the sequel and/or prequel to an already popular series and the torture-porn film.

By torture porn, I mean movies in the same vein as “Saw” or “Hostel,” in which beautiful young Americans – often in isolated locations, sometimes in foreign countries – get dismantled and reassembled in increasingly grotesque and nauseating ways by psychopaths. Although the methods may vary, one thing remains the same: Many of the people being tortured are sexy, college-aged women.

I have very little respect for horror films as a genre, though I understand and respect the work of directors like Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski. I suppose what bothers me so much about contemporary movies is their reliance on shock and sex, whereas in “The Shining” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” the directors had to rely on the psychological power of the story to frighten the audience. The actors in classic horror films weren’t talentless starlets hoping for their shot at fame or C-list actors trying to cash in a final paycheck before their career is over (I’m looking at you, Cary Elwes). None of the actors in “The Exorcist” were sexy; the power of the movie lay in the prosaic nature of the lives portrayed. I mourn the passing of the days when a movie could be successful without relying on nudity to keep an audience entertained.

Now, in our post-“I Know What You Did Last Summer” era, the Sarah Michelle Gellars, Jessica Albas and Jessica Biels of the world die on screen, keeping their fame alive in the process. Much more disturbing to me than the awful acting in contemporary movies is the gruesome and foul nature of the violence inflicted on the female characters, especially in “new wave” splatter films, like Alexandre Aja’s remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Sorority Row” (the latter’s plot revolves around the killing of 10 sorority girls), focusing on torture and mutilation.

I appreciate movies with violence and viscera, and very firmly believe that there is a way to make a movie bloody and shocking without resorting to abject violence against women. Quentin Tarantino is as well known for the ghastly imagery in his films as he is for his treatment of the female characters, placing them in the role of the aggressor rather than the victim. Even when Tarantino’s women are dying, they are powerful and sexy, but not in a degrading way. (Of course, as the executive producer of “Hostel” and “Hostel II,” he isn’t completely immune to the unsavory modern standard of on-screen mutilation, either.)

The repulsive violence of the torture-porn movies brings up issues of sadism, and while I find myself nauseated by many of the violent acts, these films have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars domestically and abroad. Audiences are flocking to these movies that document violence of a sexual nature, present overtones of sex slavery in the bondage of women and evoke erotic imagery of bare flesh and bondaged women.

This soft-core porn for the masses mirrors the hard-core sexual fetishes salirophilia, mysophilia and coprophilia. All three refer to the desire to sully and foul the object of desire, with coprophilia referring specifically to arousal from feces, seen in the news-making porn “Two Girls, One Cup.” A new film, “The Human Centipede,” has been making news due to its grotesque scenarios, taking the torture-porn genre one step too far. When did this sort of grotesquerie leave the realm of counterculture and become acceptable in mainstream cinema?

We are socialized to see girls as the purer sex. It is boys who are allowed to burp and fart with relative impunity. Society’s reluctance to recognize the discharge of bodily fluids from women (the common refrain of “girls don’t poop” serves as a key example) has left us in a society where menstruation is a taboo topic of conversation in mixed society and tampons are hidden from the outside world in purses. Perhaps because women are supposed to be clean, to smell fresh and are never meant to get dirty, the idea of roughing up a woman with blood and viscera has become exciting to us. Our Freudian phases of development have gotten shuffled, and now we conflate the taboos of sex with the taboos of dirt.

With nudity and sex socially acceptable in our media, and extreme violence seen in critically acclaimed movies such as “Saving Private Ryan,” it is not inconceivable that violence of a sexual nature will soon become commonplace in our movies and television shows. Indeed, rape and violence against women serve as common plot devices in shows such as “Law and Order: SVU” and the “CSI” series, but the acts of rape, murder and mutilation are never shown. The recent success of horror films featuring the targeted torture of women indicates that these movies will continue to be made, and as audiences become immune to the levels of violence, the amount of blood, pain and degradation featured on screen will increase.

Whitney McAniff is a sophomore in the College. The 52 Percent appears every other Tuesday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.