Ten long years ago a new horror movie trailer hits the internet which ends up igniting a long lasting fire in the world of horror arguably creating or at least launching a sub-genre into the mainstream. Whether horror fans like it or not the ‘torture porn’ genre is here to stay and plays an important flesh burning, blood spraying part in horror’s evolution.
2004’s Saw, by James Wan director of other notable horror flicks The Conjuring and Insidious, shocked audiences with its brutal yet creepy and thought-provoking portrayal of physical suffering, changing the landscape of horror forever. Two seemingly unconnected men awaken in a rundown bathroom chained by the ankles and separated by the corpse of another victim rotting in a pool of blood. A tape recorder explains to each of them a set of rules and instructions they must follow in order to be freed of this masochistic game they’ve been thrust into. What follows is a simply brilliantly executed horror film, chilling to the bone and wildly cruel with twists and turns to no end.
Surpassing the profits of 1996’s Scream, Saw quickly became a highly successful franchise in the years to come spawning six sequels (and rumors of more yet to come) with skyrocketing profits totaling over $100,000,000 worldwide making it one of the highest-grossing horror franchises of all time.
Whether you’re a diehard fan or not we can all agree that everyone loves a good horror film but Saw got its’ post-9/11 audiences up close and personal, making them confront a very newly relevant anxiety and topic of much debate, torture. Since the attacks in 2001 the use of coercive interrogation has increased significantly as well as the public’s knowledge of its use, naturally films reflecting this new issue began to surface shortly thereafter. Although not necessarily inventing the genres Saw did without a doubt have a great hand in defining and maybe even kick-starting the modern “game” horror and infamous torture porn genre.
Critics and fans alike have come to bastardize the term “torture porn” to harshly condemn certain films like Hostel, Martyrs, The Human Centipede, and A Serbian Film, whom all quickly followed Saw in an attempt to cash in on its success. The basic rule of thumb now almost seems to be if a film is seen as gross or graphic by anyone too old or uptight to enjoy it, it is negatively labeled “torture porn”. The visceral displays of suffering even crosses genres in films like The Passion of the Christ and Unthinkable and went on to influence new genres such as New French Extremism.
Although today the genre has become be somewhat diluted. now spawning many straight to DVD imitations, ten years later after the earth-shattering Saw we now have a well defined brutal history of creative dismemberment and graphic violence. Has it’s golden age come and gone? Perhaps, but in the end no one can deny the effect Saw had on horror narratives and no matter what your stance may be on the film and the torture porn genre its’ legacy will do doubt be long lasting. They appeal to the dark nature hidden inside all of us, and as the great Stephen King said about the genre, “sure it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable.”