The Meaning of Torture Porn
Horror movies have always been violent, but in recent years, it seems, they've reached gruesome new lows. The past few years, the "torture porn" trend -- as exemplified by the many "Saw" films -- has continued unabated. A recent film, "The Human Centipede," centered around a German surgeon trying to assemble the gastric systems of three tourists, and this September, one of the most notoriously violent horror films of the '80s, "I Spit on Your Grave," will be getting its own slick remake. (The movie, in which a city writer visits a lakeside home, is gang raped and takes violent revenge on her rapists with, among other things, an outboard motor, was described by Roger Ebert as "so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters.")
But it's precisely the extreme nature of horror that makes it such a lightning rod for debates about hot-topic issues within American culture -- like racism, women's rights, consumerism and sexuality -- along with broader issues of morality. A new book, "The Philosophy of Horror," a collection of essays from academics, edited by Thomas Fahy, the director of the American Studies Program at Long Island University, addresses the latter, with contributions about the hidden messages of everything from "The Birds" to "Hostel."