Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time To Stop

I've noticed a sharp divide between horror and something else in film. I'm not sure what to call the something else---it certainly has horrific elements in it, but the sub-genre isn't entirely horror. In my opinion.

Back in 1931, when Todd Browning exposed the theater-going public to Freaks, the content of the motion-picture was considered so offensive and tasteless that it was banned in many venues. It wouldn't be truly re-discovered by the horror community until its re-issue in the sixties. And after thirty years it had lost something---it was still strange and depressing, but perhaps it had lost its ability to shock.

In the late sixties, with the Vietnam war coming into the living rooms of America, film makers would have to work harder to disturb jaded tastes. Shock is easy to affect, after all, compared to building suspense, character, and developing plot and theme. Shock is simply a matter of looking around the market place, seeing where the current lines are drawn, and then going a step further.

Hence, Texas Chain-Saw Massacre, Nightmare On Elmstreet, Friday the 13th, Last House on The Left, Halloween, etc. Now, I know some reading this list will shake their heads and say: "Those are classics!" However, I assure you at the time of their release, that across the film-going community they were often considered lacking of merit. They were evidence of the rot in society and the corruption of the teen audience they were often aimed at. Today many youthful audiences consider the above titles quaint.

In the last few years I've had the opportunity of watching films the current teen generation considers their own. Hostel, the Saw series, Cabin Fever, etc. Little more than snuff film. they are freed of the obligation their predecessors felt to pretend to be something other than a succession of violent images for a video game gobbling consumer. No longer do we have to worry about pacing or plot. Characterization is no longer an obstruction. This sub-genre of shock horror, this hearkening back to the sideshow is freed from any obligation or concern over consequence.

Which brings us to The Human Centipede. 

The plot is simple. Two women traveling through Germany break down and seek a phone in the middle of a rainy night. They are drugged by a demented scientist who is intent on creating a human centipede--surgically joining three people by joining mouth to anus and cutting certain ligaments so the co-joined victims must crawl. What is his motivation? None is really given? What do we know about the characters? Next to nothing. Suspense? None.


And to be honest, The Human Centipede, as disturbing as it was, doesn't disturb me. No. What disturbs me is what comes next. With the door being kicked open a little more, with the bar being dropped a little further, with an audiences' collective sensibility being further numbed by an appalling succession of images---what's next? That's what scares me.
And considering this, you should be scared too. In fact, it's possible Human Centipede has already been surpassed as the most tasteless and morally bankrupt film of all time. There is currently a film available entitled  A Serbian Film , wherein one of the characters is described as watching a film in which a man helps deliver an infant and then proceeds to rape the newborn. I haven't seen A Serbian Film, and I won't. 

It's time to take account of who we are and what we want for ourselves and our children in society.


Genie of the Shell said...

I think there is also a confusion going on between fear and disgust. It's harder to cause fear in a modern teen audience than repulsion. Hence shows like "Fear Factor," which have less to do with fear than with gross-outs. The two films you describe at the end sound not so scary (because the premises are so ridiculous and there is no suspense), but absolutely nauseating. I haven't seen the Saw or Hostel movies, but I hear they also rely almost exclusively on the shock factor of disgust, not fear, exactly.

SQT said...

I read the description of "The Serbian" and the mind balks at that kind of depravity. It's interesting to read the supposedly artistic justifications, but I do buy it for a second. I don't know if it's desire to shock or a need to see how far the envelope can be pushed that drives people to create this garbage. But I doubt art has anything to do with it.

SQT said...

Oops. Should say "don't buy it for a second." I can't type to save my life these days...

David J. West said...

I'm glad you have thrown out the distinction Stewart.
For a long time I didn't consider myself a horror fan - but taking stock of what I do like, I realize I was making the mistake of lumping all these together.
I am a huge fan of what I'll refer to as classic horror-but not the shock/disgust/genre that parades itself as horror.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Genie, I expect teens to push envelope and seek things which shock. Its part of who we are. But to exploit that, to desensitize an audience is potentially dangerous.

SQT I promise I will never watch The Serbian. However, I can see films like this traveling through the internet through downloads and direct to dvd.

David..Horror is an art, its an exploration of the dark side of human nature. Gore---that's appealing to something foul within the hive mind

silviamg said...

I think you should add "Deadgirl" to the list, which is all-zombie rape, all the time.

I was telling my husband the other day that I wished they made more movies like Warlock (that 80s movie with Julian Sand) because it was fun. I really can't have fun with stuff like Saw. Like you say, it's not even scary. Just gory and gross.

Charles Gramlich said...

I thought the first SAW really had something different to say and liked it a lot. I don't think the needed to make most of the sequels. As to this Serbian stuff, it's clearly a little kid wanting to shock his betters. Just sounds incredibly boring to me. It's like the silliness of the piece called "piss Christ."

Sci-Fi Gene said...

I've seen (and reviewed) THC and I have to say, my reaction was a) it's a lot less disturbing than might be expected from the trailer (this is true of most horror movies.) It's a really simple and gross idea - the director came up with (or read about) a particularly horrifying image and built the film around visualising/ sharing/ exploring it rather than any deeper meaning... also IMHO while it is often laughable, it's not dull.

For me there is a difference between this and TS - in that while I was curious enough to watch THC, I have no intention of ever seeing TS.

T.D. Newton said...

I have seen A Serbian Film and, trust me when I say this, the "newborn" thing (while it does stick with you) is most definitely not the most disturbing portion.

While I'd never recommend to someone else that they should watch it because it is so disturbing, I disagree that the film was made purely to shock or disturb. It has a surprising amount of characterization for what it is.

I wouldn't really call films like that and Human Centipede (and Antichrist and others) "horror" just like I wouldn't call Planet Terror/Deathproof "horror." And yet, much of it is horrific, violent, and disturbing.

In the end, though, it's not up to me to say what is and isn't "art," and I'd never leave the decision up to someone else as to what I can and cannot watch. "Piss-Christ" is a great example, as is the case where the woman tore up the painting of Jesus engaged in a "sex act" here in Colorado. There's room enough for people to disagree, and well they should if a piece goes against their moral beliefs, but it's never going to be okay to make that decision on behalf of others.

Not in USAmerica, anyway.

T.D. Newton said...

Ack, sorry, the tearing-up was of a print, not of the actual painting. (which makes it doubly futile, IMO)

Stewart Sternberg said...

Silvia, I saw Deadgirl, and you are correct. It was a vile film. Charles, I actually enjoyed the first two SAW films. However, the rest in the series have been lackluster.

Sci-Fi Gene, I saw THC as well, and was not impressed. The idea was shocking, but if they had decided to work in a subtext and give us a reason to give a damn, it might have been memorable for something other than its grossness.

TD, I understand that one person's art is another's pornography, but the difference between art and pornography is often context.

RD Williams said...

I think the title you are looking for, to name this...other type of Crap, to put it nicely.

I had never heard of these two movies you mentioned, but even your short descriptions make me wonder what depraved mind would even come up with something like these...things.