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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 June 2007, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Torture porn films - horror or hype?
By Tim Masters
Entertainment Editor, BBC News website

Bijou Phillips in Hostel 2
Hostel: Part II revisits the grim torture factory seen in the original

To some they are 'torture porn'. Others say they don't know what all the fuss is about.

Recently there has been no shortage of horror films where sadistic torture, mutilation and murder - often with women as the victims - are central to the plot.

The last three weeks alone has seen Vacancy, Captivity and - from Friday - Hostel: Part II playing in cinemas across the UK.

Hostel: Part II is the follow-up to Eli Roth's box office hit from early 2006 in which a group of male backpackers fall prey to a torture ring in Slovakia.

A poster campaign for Captivity was pulled earlier this year in the US after complaints about the graphic images featuring the film's lead Elisha Cuthbert.

Critic Mark Kermode's review of Captivity on Radio Five Live was typically forthright.

"It's a grotty, nasty, sleazy, infantile piece of dung," he said.

Last year, another torture-flavoured film, Saw III, grabbed headlines after reports of punters fainting in the cinema.

A clever marketing ploy perhaps, or are these films really pushing the boundaries of violence and on-screen bloodshed?

As the owner of a strong stomach, I went to see Vacancy, Captivity and Hostel: Part II in quick succession. The comments below are based on notes made during the screenings. Warning: contains potential plot spoilers.

VACANCY - cert 15

Kate Beckinsale in Vacancy
Kate Beckinsale regrets checking into the honeymoon suite

Plot: A couple's car breaks down on a remote road. They check into a seedy motel run by a creepy proprietor. Before settling down for the night, the couple find some videos which show people being horribly murdered - in the very room in which they are staying...

Vacancy starts off well. It's full of atmosphere and clever shots use reflections to up the tension. My heart is beating faster.

But the film isn't as grim as the trailer suggests.

Its "snuff movie" footage is brief and glimpsed via TV screens. Most shocks come via the thumping, shrieking soundtrack.

Body count - 7
Jumps - 5
Laughs - 2 (unintentional)
Gore score: 2/5
BBFC advice: Contains sustained terrorisation and strong violence

My first yawn occurs about one hour into the film's 85 minutes. It's all so predictable: a feisty heroine, a tunnel escape, people who won't stay dead.

There's tension aplenty, but by the end I'm trying not to laugh.

CAPTIVITY - cert 18

Elisha Cuthbert in Captivity
Elisha Cuthbert plays Kim Bauer TV action-thriller 24

Plot: Top model Jennifer Tree is drugged and kidnapped while out at a charity event. She is held captive in a cell and subjected to a string of tortures by a mysterious cloaked figure who exploits her deepest fears...

For the first time in years I feel queasy watching a film. It's a torture scene involving Jennifer, a blender, a funnel and some interesting ingredients from the fridge. We're not talking about a fruit smoothie here. It's tough to watch - and the camera doesn't flinch.

Body count - 7
Jumps - 3
Laughs - 1 (unintentional)
Gore score: 4/5
BBFC advice: Contains strong violence, torture and grisly images

A scene shortly afterwards will not go down well with dog lovers.

There's a strong sense of deja vu here.

As in Vacancy, the torturer lurks behind banks of TV monitors, the heroine crawls through a tunnel and a corpse won't lie still.

And all this from director Roland Joffe, who directed The Killing Fields and The Mission.

Once the film reveals its not-so-big twist, it loses its punch - and I get to keep down my lunch.

I emerge from the tiny screening room onto a busy Soho street crowded with happy Londoners, and I feel grubby.

HOSTEL: PART II - cert 18

Bijou Phillips in Hostel 2
The original Hostel film topped the US box in early 2006
Plot: Three American girls in Rome are lured on a weekend trip to Slovakia. They are unaware they have been earmarked for slaughter by an organisation called Elite Hunting, which enables rich (and sick) individuals to torture and kill with impunity...

Having seen the original Hostel on DVD, I know what to expect. In a departure from the original, director Eli Roth devotes more screen to the torturers themselves and what makes them tick.

The violence itself veers between sick comedy and extreme sadism, with nods to Hammer and Italian horrors from the 70s.

The result is an uneven narrative that spends its final act pulling increasingly extreme scenes of mutilation out of its blood-stained toolbag.

Body count - at least 10 (some in flashback)
Jumps - 2
Laughs - occasional sick humour
Gore score: 5/5
BBFC advice: Contains very strong bloody violence and horror

On an obviously bigger budget, the torture factory now resembles the lair of a James Bond villain, complete with an army of guards in black boiler suits. How does anyone keep this place a secret?

Ultimately Hostel: Part II is a horror film, made by a horror fan to please other horror fans. It's inconceivable that anyone else would want to pay to see this.

'Nothing new'

After the screening I catch up with horror film journalist and author Alan Jones, who is puzzled by the fuss over "torture porn".

"There is nothing new in this," he says. "People have been on stone slabs being tortured by people since Frankenstein."

But is there a difference when the horror has no fantasy element?

Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein
Hammer became synonymous with the horror genre in the 50s
"That's the problem - most people can write off the Hammer movies because they can be explained away as fairytales.

"But with Hostel it's dealing with what people don't really want to address. And that is that the guy who's standing next to you in the supermarket queue could be a serial killer. Not just somebody who is obviously evil."

He adds: "People like Eli Roth remember the first time they went to see a horror film and how much it shocked them, and they want to replicate that for today's audiences."

Hostel: Part II was passed by the British Board of Film Classification with no cuts.

Last week the BBFC refused a certificate for the video game Manhunt 2 for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying".

'Paying to be shocked'

I put this to Sue Clark, head of communications at the BBFC.

Vacancy: the censor warns of 'sustained terrorisation'
"There's a difference between passively watching a film which we have no control over and actively taking part in a game," she says.

"If a film gets rated 18 by the BBFC we are not usually likely to intervene except in certain circumstances. Those exceptions are likely to be in the areas where we think there's a risk of harm to individuals or, through their behaviour, to society."

She points out that horror films are a genre which people know and understand.

"They are not to everybody's taste and we make sure our consumer advice flags up information so that nobody can be mistaken in what they are buying into.

"People watch these films because they are paying to be shocked and horrified."

Slovakia angered by horror film
27 Feb 06 |  Entertainment
Censors ban 'brutal' video game
19 Jun 07 |  Leicestershire


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