Blurry Boundaries

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on January 5, 2013). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

Yesterday, I posted this to my Google+ account:

Just watched the red band trailer for the new Evil Dead remake/reboot. That is so not for me. I like the original with and because of its crazy low-budget camp, and love that they just ran with that for the rest of the series and went completely goofy. This new, ultra-realistic, ultra-violent, ultra-bloody take, even if it’s more in line with what they originally wanted to do, doesn’t appeal to me in the least.

I like my horror creepy and/or with a good dose of humor mixed in. Today’s trend towards ultra-violent torture porn just makes me feel ill.

Then, earlier today, I tweeted this:

Watched The Cabin in the Woods today. Crazy, and really good. Glad I hadn’t read any spoilers beforehand. #IMDb

Then just a few minutes ago, Prairie and I finished watching the fourth season of Dexter, and while the ending cliffhanger was upsetting, it was upsetting in the way a good TV cliffhanger should be, and we’ll definitely continue watching the series.

There seems to be some possible irony in all of that.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure just where the boundary between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” violence lies for me. There were definite moments in The Cabin in the Woods that were more violent than I was really comfortable with, and Dexter occasionally pushes right up to the edge, but in both cases, I think there are three things that make the difference and keep me watching:

  1. The stories are good. Even in the moments where the violence pushes further than I might like it to, I’m already invested enough in the characters and the plot that I’m willing to deal with the occasional cringe and “was that really necessary?” thought in order to continue with the story.

  2. They don’t dwell on the violence. The acts, while necessary to the story, aren’t the point of the story, and as such, even when they’re shown on screen, it’s generally not a huge, long, drawn-out scene. It happens, there’s that moment of shock, and then they move on.

  3. The violence is a part, but isn’t the point. I’ve seen other films (the first Saw film, for instance, which was two hours of my life whose only useful purpose was to convince me that I have no need to ever waste time on any of the rest of the series) that are truly deserving of the “torture porn” designation. The violence is the point of the film, and any bare minimum of plot is there only to move from one violent act to the next. Even films that aren’t part of the modern “torture porn” style of horror can fall victim to this kind of approach: For instance, part of why I didn’t think much of Tim Burton’s take on Sweeny Todd (which I’ve enjoyed on stage) was his insistence on showing every slit throat in loving closeup. Once would have been quite forgivable in order to get the point across, but I found the repeated shots of gaping bloody throats to be quite unnecessary.

Of course, there’s a lot of grey area in all of this, and the boundary between what works for me and what doesn’t is definitely very, very blurry. Sometimes it just boils down to the old cliché about the difference between erotic art and pornography: I know it when I see it.