Let me start off by saying that the idea of being tortured by someone is absolutely fucking terrifying. Being bound and helpless while someone else indulges in their sadistic tendencies at your expense is something that no one would ever want to experience, let alone even think about. If this is so, then why oh why has there been such a huge wave of torture flicks released in theaters and straight-to-DVD over the past few years that somehow, someway, manage to become hits?
For any horror film fan, casual or die-hard, one can easily notice how the genre more often than not tends to follow certain trends. In the late 70s, John Carpenter's original "Halloween" helped birth the slasher film, which ran well throughout the 80s as well. The slasher film usually consisted of sexy (and usually horny) teens being stalked and killed by a masked killer, a sub-genre of horror films that experienced a rebirth of sorts in the mid/late-90s thanks to "Scream" and others of the ilk, before finally being beaten enough into the ground until recently.
Flash back to 2004, when the trend in the horror film genre was that of PG-13 rated Americanized remakes of Japanese horror films. Beginning with "The Ring", various studios followed through with "The Grudge", "Dark Water", and other forgettable duds, as well as assorted sequels, prequels, and blah blah fucking blah.
One film however, dared to be different, and this film was the original "Saw". An independent horror flick that became a surprise smash hit and helped make Lions Gate a big time movie studio, the original "Saw" presented a simple, but surprisingly intricate, tale of two men who wake up chained to one another, and a hacksaw on the floor between them. Gory, stomach-turning, and featuring some genuine surprising twists, a sequel was no surprise...
...and now here we are in 2010. "Saw VII" is filming (in 3-D no less) and since 2004 on when "Saw" first became a hit phenomenon, we've had a new "Saw" film every year, all of which have continued to up the ante in terms of how much the audience can be grossed out. In between now and then, we've had other torture films of the ilk, including "Hostel" and its sequel, "Turistas", and lesser-known films that went straight-to-DVD.
The most alarming factor in discussing these films is not the fact that they have all made money, but the fact that these flicks display nothing but sadism. As said before, the idea of being tortured is horrific yes, but seeing it unfold on film is rarely frightening at all. Early slasher films, such as the original "Halloween", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and "A Nightmare on Elm Street", were truly scary and suspenseful, while offering varying degrees of gore and blood-letting. There may have been a sadistic element or two, but nothing to the degree of what can be found in the aforementioned modern films that pass for horror today.
Last year's "Saw VI" was a surprise dud at the box-office, losing to "Paranormal Activity", which like the original "Saw" before it, was a surprise independently filmed hit that no one had anticipated would achieve such massive popularity. Ironically enough, the director of one of the "Saw" films (i.e. not James Wan or Darren Lynn Bouseman, both of which have moved on to greener pastures) is helming the upcoming sequel to "Paranormal Activity". Maybe this is a sign that the torture brand of horror films has reached its peak...however what comes next may be something even more detrimental to the genre...
Part 2 coming soon!