IN CINEMAS 21.01.2011
Sex and Horror. They go together hand in glove, but the use of sexual violence in movies is a lot more troubling than a Vampire’s kiss or two teens engaging in pre-marital sex before being dispatched by a masked killer driven by the repressive morality of the filmmaker.
Rape is used as a weapon in real life. Conflicts around the world are blighted by this most twisted of battlefield techniques, which drive families apart and cause stricken communities to experience heartache and division for years after the initial conflict.
So, does this justify using rape as a weapon in what is essentially a commercial entertainment? It depends on the movie I think. If the film is played with total conviction and builds a realistic environment for it’s characters, then, in a world where the worst can happen, it is horror cinema’s job to hold up a mirror and give the audience a safe place to play out the emotions of a terrible situation. It’s easy to have a negative reaction to a genre that presents the audience with the very worst that life has to offer, so why do we watch? We watch partly because our world is relatively safe but our bodies are designed for living much more dangerous lives than we do in the modern age. This is why cinematic peril is so appealing. The other reason is catharsis. We’re fragile individuals and we all have a sell-by-date. Extreme horror than revels in the debasement of the flesh gives us a unique charge because all our lives dangle on a very thin and frayed rope.
Personally, when I ‘survive’ a particularly nasty movie (if of course, it’s as well made as the I Spit on Your Grave remake) it feels good to have confronted the most unpleasant things that could befall me in some weird, parallel world of pain and dismemberment. People who complain and lobby for the castration of extreme horror films miss the point. Throughout human history, two of the great driving forces of art were sex and death. Medieval artists produced vast paintings depicting scenes of torture and hell-born fury that could be blurprints for scenes in a modern torture-porn flick. In previous centuries, executions and public tortures were popular entertainments. We all have a savage side and we all ponder mortality. Extreme horror films exist because filmmakers need to express these basic instincts.
In the case of I Spit On Your Grave, you have a stripped down machine of a film that, as discussed in last weeks post on the RAPE-REVENGE GENRE, boils the style down to it’s raw elements. No subplots, little background, just a vicious attack, followed by a pitiless retaliation. The viewer isn’t asked to make any moral choices, there’s no ambiguity, just brutish macho violence followed by hellcat fury. We aren’t asked to be aroused by the attack or to cheer on the revenge. We are asked to go on a journey into our own worst excesses and I think, in some strange way, we come out lifted on the other side…