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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The case against torture

    Justyn Dillingham columnist
    Justyn Dillingham

    Every year around Halloween, the horror movies start rolling in, as relentless and implacable as those insufferable zombies.

    There is, of course, the unending stream of zombie movies. There are the torture-packed “”Hostel”” series and the sadistic “”Saw”” saga, with their exploding jaws and showers of blood. There’s that one about vampires in the Arctic – soon to be followed, I’m sure, by one about vampires in space.

    There’s the inevitable remake of some “”classic”” from the 1970s – the remake being necessary because “”they couldn’t get away with as much back then.”” Then there’s the five or six sequels to every last one of these films.

    It may seem churlish to condemn horror movies at Halloween, but there is no more appropriate time than now -ÿwhen one can, while watching an innocuous reality show, be bombarded with nine previews in a row for “”Saw IV”” -ÿto dissent from the conventional wisdom that says they are only harmless fun.

    In truth, most of these films are not really horror at all, since they violate every tradition of the genre. The “”monsters”” of traditional horror – the vampires, stitched-together ghouls, freaks, mutants, werewolves, oddball loners – are really heroes. The ugly and fearful are revealed as more sympathetic than the “”normal”” folks. Dracula, the fearsome vampire king, is a rather lonely and sympathetic figure. Frankenstein’s creation is a nobler being than his foolish creator. Even Hitchcock’s murderous Norman Bates is more well-meaning and tragic than evil.

    In modern horror films like “”Saw”” or “”Hostel,”” rather than identifying with victims, we are invited to watch as they are subjected to horrifying fates. Indeed, we are even invited to laugh, as the “”smartest”” of these films are often applauded for their “”dark comedy.””

    In “”The Hills Have Eyes”” or “”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”” or “”Wolf Creek,”” the villains are not monsters, but ruthless torturers or faceless psychopaths – not human psychos like Norman, but simply projections of mindless fear, like the “”strangers”” children are warned to avoid speaking to.

    The more relentless, cruel and excruciating a movie, the better an “”experience”” it is said to be. Every now and then The Loft Cinema shows a marathon of a score of the “”sickest”” films it can dredge up. “”You’d have to be a real man not to hurl,”” as the ad hype goes.

    Modern horror films -ÿ””torture porn,”” as some of them have been dubbed – are basically an endurance contest. Thus, the most unwatchable ones are said to be “”for horror buffs only,”” which is a polite way of saying that they’re basically pornography for people who enjoy seeing horrific violence.

    To which my reader might well respond: What’s wrong with pornography? Nothing, as long as it appeals to the simple, healthy desire for sex. But there is nothing simple or healthy about the desire to see women’s bodies hacked to bits.

    The most vivid thing in these movies is their loathing of the human race – and particularly of women. Reading online reviews of films like “”Hostel,”” it’s hard not to be struck by the gleeful relish with which horror fans discuss how the “”annoying”” character (usually female) meets her fate.

    Why have we allowed this to happen? Why have we allowed a holiday designed for children, a holiday that once treated spooks and ghouls as the source of lively fun, to be hijacked by cynical filmmakers who all too clearly identify with the sadist torturers who populate their films?

    Of course, there’s always one sensible soul who steps up to insist that he’s a fan of these movies, and he’s perfectly normal! Why, he’d never dream of hurting a fly. How can I possibly condemn these movies, when such a forthright fellow as he takes so much harmless pleasure in them?

    To which I respond: Why do you like these movies? No one likes anything without a reason. What is it in you that delights in films where women are torn to shreds in ruthless, precise detail?

    Stare at that void long enough, and you’ll find it staring back at you.

    Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in history and political science. He is also the wire editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at

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