Suggested Audio Candy:
 Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”
 HIRAX “Hellion Rising”
 Sky Wikluh “Balcan Sex God”
 Steelers Wheel “Stuck In The Middle With You”
 The Psychedelic Furs “Pretty in Pink”
When it comes time for us to inevitably meet our maker, I would imagine I’m not alone in stating my preference for things being swift and painless. None of us really want to suffer and, likewise, I think we’d all agree that it would be far better not to see our demises coming beforehand either. Like slaughterhouse pigs, just a swift whack to the back of our heads will do, and whatever happens afterwards is no longer of any great relevance as ignorance is bliss in such circumstances and undue suffering seems like far too bitter a pill to swallow. However, there are always a few sickos who have no intention of granting such swift release and the horror genre has no shortage of suchlike deviants.
I love a bit of excessive gore just as much as the next man, potentially more so. The grislier the better in my book and nothing saddens my soul more than off-screen kills or wasted opportunities to nauseate the audience. That said, it may surprise you to learn that I’m not necessarily a fan of drawn-out torture. Let’s not get it twisted, the moment in Lucio Fulci’s notorious nasty Zombi 2 where one hapless lass has her eye gouged out by a wayward plank in one painfully slow motion had me squealing with delight and provided this young splatter fan with freeze frame opportunities that I was never likely to pass up. But, as a self-confessed slasher whore, I grew used to death being granted in a manner that was as swift as it was merciless and this was ample for me to get my gruesome kicks.
So when James Wan’s Saw and Eli Roth’s Hostel surfaced in quick succession and kickstarted a whole new trend, my emotions were somewhat mixed. Soon to be branded as “torture porn”, the mirthfully mean-spirited output of the next few years didn’t particularly tickle my pickle if truth be known. I had immense admiration for the Saw franchise as it managed to churn out six sequels without a noticeable dip in quality, while both Hostel and its sequel are two films I would happily revisit at the drop of a bath towel. But many of the resulting knock-offs fell on deaf ears as far as I was concerned and the term “torture porn” is one I have never made secret my loathing for.
There is torture and there is porn and never the twain should meet right? I would argue resolutely that they don’t with regards to the kind of noughties exploitation that earned this misplaced mantle. However, it struck a particular chord with those crying out for something more extreme than what they had been made privy to previously and, for a handful of years, only zombie movies seemed more in vogue. Of course, it wasn’t all bad and films like Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector and The Collection and Simon Boyes & Adam Mason’s Broken have bubbled to broth’s surface somewhat pleasingly. Love it or loathe it, the sub-genre has seen its fair share of diamonds in the rough.
Thus, I have decided to take a closer look at all this pain and suffering although I won’t be drawing the line at recent output and will search for my inspiration right back to when “torture porn” was little more than an affectionate term for masturbating using a cheese grater. Any movie that lingers on its atrocities just a moment too long for comfort is fair game here and I refuse to make this an exercise in celebrating each of Jigsaw’s heinous traps in chronological order either. That’s not to say that the little fella won’t trundle his tricycle into the thick of things at some point but there is plentiful available torture that doesn’t involve playing his ill-fated games, no matter how ingenious they may be on occasion. Thus, I shall begin turning the screws way back in the seventies and where better place to begin than Texas?
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a decidedly torturous affair and, in Leatherface, provided us with the kind of tormentor that waking nightmares are made from. The moment that sticks with me most, other than Sally Hardesty’s exhausting cross-country jaunt through the foliage, is poor Pam’s plight as she is provided with a fresh place to hang out in. Behind that rickety sliding door is a decidedly ominous meat hook and, when Pam goes sniffing about places she really ought not to, Leatherface christens said hook with 100 lbs give or take of raw meat. The scene in question resonates particularly strongly given that actress Teri McMinn found the whole experience far less than comfortable and the sight of her dangling there surrounded by human surplus while she awaited a fate all too inevitable remained with me for some time afterwards.
As openers go, that one may seem a little obvious so allow me to bring us bang up-to-date for our next helping. This time I wish to bring to your attention Matt Farnsworth’s The Orphan Killer: Bound X Blood which is pretty much hot off the press as we speak. My reason for this is simple: the tortured soul in question is none other than yours truly and what better way than to call on a little first-hand experience. My character deserves every last punishment fitting of his crimes and, when this arrives, it is no less than thorough. After being left hanging in a meat locker for a few days and tenderized a little using studded gloves, Robert is dragged by his nostrils to the nearest steam pipe and given a damn good roasting as penance for his unsporting behavior.
However, a crispy face is not deemed sufficient discipline and his dual antagonists decide to take things a fair few steps further before granting his eventual release. After transporting his twitching carcass to a nearby work bench and laying him down far less than gently, they proceed to have a little further fun at his sole expense. This includes having the charred flesh peeled from his face and feasted upon, a filthy blade inserted into his abdomen and, when the pair eventually tire of his company, having his head pummeled with a sledge-hammer until the death rattles subsided. If there was one upside for Robert, then the bloody kiss planted on his groin by Baby Sister as closure was as close as he would come to happy days.
I can attest to this fitting the “torture” bracket as this scene was shot numerous times and from varying angles to deliver the requisite authenticity. Moreover, I received over a hundred slaps to the face, one set of bruised ribs, and a steam scald to my upper leg for my endeavors to do things au natural. Would I have changed a damned thing? Negative. All in the sake of art my dear friends, I’d do the same again in a heartbeat. However, as demises go, this one was certainly anything but fleeting and pretty much puts the T in Torture.
Meanwhile, the Japanese have never been backward going forward when it comes to human anguish and Takashi Miike’s 1999 film Audition provided audiences with a real bitch on heat with the gorgeous but unspeakably evil Asami Yamazaki. Dating can be a perilous pursuit at the best of times and, more often than not, ends in one party walking away feeling severely hard done by. For hopeless romantic widower Aoyama, this ceased being a concern when their date night concluded in the most ominous manner fathomable, leaving him sporting a bloody stump where his left foot used to be thanks to her unlicensed skills with a length of piano wire.
Not wishing to be deemed harsh, Asami injects him beforehand with an agent that paralyzes his whole body. However, while this works a treat at keeping him still throughout the operation, said toxin ensures that his nerves remain intact so that he doesn’t miss out on the experience. In addition to ending his bright career as a line dancer, she also provides Aoyama a dash of acupuncture for good measure, sticking him with needles in first his abdomen and then directly under his teary eyes. If you are looking for a good date movie, then Audition most definitely doesn’t fit the bill and will likely encourage you to remain single for life. Indeed, should internet dating websites use this scene as their marketing campaign, then the ever worsening population explosion would no doubt cease being an issue.
Two years later, Miike was at it again and Ichi the Killer somehow managed to push the envelope of depravity even further. While the grue was free-flowing throughout, one particular instance had audiences at a loss for words and gained the film its notorious reputation pretty much single-handedly. Our victim has to suffer the indignity of being suspended by multiple hooks, using any excess back fat to hoist him skyward while he agonizingly awaits the next phase of his punishment.
A saucepan of boiling water is then administered to his taut flesh, turning him into little more than a human wok and leaving him screaming like the proverbial banshee as the inevitable skin blisters start to take effect. I can think of few instances of torture quite so horrendous than this deeply dastardly doozy of degradation.
So where could we possibly go from here then? Where else than potentially the most controversial film ever committed to celluloid? If ever a movie was preceded by its reputation, then Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film would surely fit that particular bill. However, in the name of pubic decency and never again wishing to reenact its darker moments, I shall refrain from speaking of the elephant in the room and focus instead on one of its less psychologically scarring moments. Make no mistake, it still ain’t pretty and your brains may well still require a good scrubbing come the end of the following stanza. Don’t shoot the messenger, I promised torture and that is precisely what I shall provide. Buckle up as this next ride may be too bumpy for all but the most jaded Grueheads. You have been warned.
Our unwitting main protagonist, retired porn star Milos, is fed a cocktail of drugs that leave him sexually aroused, aggressive and suggestible. Then, wearing nothing more than an earpiece through which the tyrannical Vukmir barks his orders, he is unleashed on a naked woman handcuffed to a bed and commences to beat hapless quarry into submission, while having his way with her. With climax starting to loom, Milos is handed a machete and instructed to punish her further. Vukmir informs him that she is responsible for cheating on her husband, a Serbian war hero and, overwhelmed with furious anger, he brings the blade down on the back of her neck and carves off her top box. With rigor mortis now setting in, he continues to have sex with her twitching cadaver. I know right? That’s me practising inhuman restraint. If this leaves you sickened, then I would strongly advise giving A Serbian Film a particularly wide berth. However, say what you will about Spasojevic’s film, but it remains a masterpiece in execution.
After that delightful experience, I feel it necessary to deliver us to far more serene waters. Thus, our next example of torture comes from none other than Bob Clark’s hugely influential sex comedy Porky’s and involves a certain Paulie the Penis. When a group of excitable teenage boys sneak into the space adjacent to the girls’ locker room and make use of the “glory holes” to peep on their unsuspecting prey as they shower, it appears to be little more than harmless fun. Indeed it is until Tommy decides to take things one step beyond and slides his Johnson through the wall to tantalize the ladies further. However, when cold-hearted coach Miss Balbricker enters and cottons on to the boy’s extracurricular activities, poor Paulie is in for one helluva rough ride.
Grasping his member at the root, Balbricker then commences to tug for dear life, determined not to let this young rapscallion escape unpunished. I can think of few methods of torture quite as discomfiting than having your organ wrestled by 200 lbs of sheer determination and sexual frustration. Eventually, she surrenders her grip but not before scanning said tool for any incriminating evidence. Spotting a solitary mole on his girth, she scuttles off to the Dean to request a penile identity parade. Needless to say, this goes against school policy and Paulie The Penis lives to see another day. However, I would imagine that masturbation was off the cards for the foreseeable.
Of course it could have been a darned sight worse had Balbricker been replaced with embittered Amazonian natives. Umberto Lenzi’s infamous 1981 nasty Cannibal Ferox was also known under the alternative title Make Them Die Slowly and, if ever a cap fit, then this one certainly did. For poor Mike, his punishment for murdering one of the tribe’s own in cold blood is anything but humane and things don’t end quite well for his own equivalent of Paulie The Penis. The chief begins by carving off his member in full view of the baying tribe and masticating said meat while Mike contemplates his foolish actions further. However, this is not considered sufficient correction and the wound is then cauterised to ensure he doesn’t bleed out as they still have plans for him yet.
When Mike later attempts to escape the village, he has his right hand subtracted using a rather unsanitary machete and is led back to base camp for his final judgement. This time, the chief decides to take no chances and introduces his opposite number to a decidedly crude piece of apparatus that doubles up as a dining table. After securing Mike in place beneath the table, so as to leave the top of his cranium poking through the chief’s own “glory hole”, he proceeds to lop off the uppermost portion of Mike’s head case with the same blade and begin feasting on his brains, while his victim endures his last few agonizing breaths. Cannibal Ferox may not be quite as well-regarded as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust from two years previous but, in my opinion, it offers just as potent a warning against heading off into the Amazonian jungle.
Roth recently offered his own account of cannibalistic endeavor with The Green Inferno and one particularly unsavory moment remained lodged in my throat for days afterwards. I shall be vague in my recollection as many have not yet had the exclusive experience of Roth’s delectable dish first-hand but the scene in question effortlessly rivals any of the atrocities his Italian influencers decided to portray. While the victim here is not made to die quite as slowly, his demise is no less excruciating to observe.
His eyes are scooped out first and guzzled like lychees, before the chief grips his tongue and shears it off at its root, only to swallow it whole also. Next up are his limbs and each, in turn, is hacked off at the stump for later consumption. Then, with his gargling screams starting to reside, it is off with his head before holding the trophy aloft to the delight of the onlooking tribespeople. Dinner is then served, leaving any horrified remaining survivors far less than comfortable in their makeshift cage.
Roth knows precisely how to torment his audience and it wouldn’t feel right not to discuss what I believe to be his finest ever hour. Hostel Part II provided the kind of early bath that poor Lorna would much rather have not taken part in. The Slovaks are all for conserving water thus, when her tormentor disrobed and took her place in the bathtub beneath her dangling naked body, she decided to think outside of the box when filling it to capacity.
After teasing her prey with her scythe for sufficient enough time to moisten her haunch, she commenced to hack away at Lorna’s supple flesh and bathe in any resulting fluids. Then, with climax fast approaching, she reached down and grasped a more intimate weapon – a party-sized sickle. One final sickening slash of Lorna’s throat later and orgasm was achieved.
This particular kill is my all-time darling as it provides gratification on multiple levels. Firstly, it sprays the deep red coulis around with gay abandon. Secondly, it is fiercely erotic although admittedly not something to try at home. Most critically however, it is beautifully staged and shot, with flickering candles providing the warmth that makes us desire nothing more than to writhe around with our antagonist while she gets her demented kicks. The result is beyond magnanimous and, on a personal level, I’m not sure I’ll see this dispatch topped in my lifetime. If I do then, chances are, Roth will more than likely have his hand in it.
However, torture is not synonymous with horror as proved by Martin Scorsese with his 1995 insight into what really happens in Vegas, Casino. Nicky Santoro is perhaps the last wise guy on earth you would wish to trifle with and proved just how mean-spirited he could be when teaching a “lesson” to a thug who killed two of his associates. After securing McCarthy’s head in an industrial vice, he proceeded to tighten it until which time as the pressure became too great and his eye popped right out of its socket. Pint-sized Pesci was perfectly cast as the aggressor, having already provided us ample proof of his small man syndrome as murderous mobster Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas five years previous and Joey LaMotta in Raging Bull back in 1980, whereby he repeatedly slammed a guy’s head with a car door.
Scorsese clearly saw something in Pesci far more dubious than simply that bungling burglar from Home Alone. I would have paid good money for front row seats to see the kind of punishment he would have dished out to Kevin McCallister, had he got his hands on the smarmy little shit. Alas it was never to be and, this time, Pesci was the one tormented to within an inch of his sorry life. I guess what goes around, evidently comes back around which teaches us all that crime doesn’t pay after all.
How could I possibly forget Quentin Tarantino when speaking of torture? Reservoir Dogs had itself something of a doozy when it pits an unfortunate cop against Mr. Blonde in one of the most sadistic interrogations ever to reach the silver screen. Using Steelers Wheel’s catchy classic Stuck In The Middle With You to drown out any desperate pleas of submission, Mr. Blonde produces a straight razor and torments his prey until which point as his superiority is no longer in question. Then, in one vicious motion, he slices off the cop’s ear and continues to taunt him with it as he douses the poor man in petrol. On this occasion, justice is done just as he prepares to strike his match and his mortified victim is left bound to a chair to agonize further. The film became infamous for this brutal scene and Tarantino was no longer a stranger.
With Pulp Fiction he threw a fetish gear clad gimp into the mix just to spice things up some. Boxer Butch and his nemesis Marsellus make the mistake of airing their dirty laundry in public and, after taking their brawl to a pawn shop, find themselves bound and gagged in the sub-basement and about to suffer some good old-fashioned redneck justice. Marsellus draws the short straw and is dragged away to be anally intruded, while Butch is left to befriend the man-child gimp, much to his dissatisfaction. However, one well-placed headbutt later and he has freed himself from his shackles, leaving Butch with the dilemma of whether to flee the scene or exact his bitter retribution with a nearby weapon of choice. Opting for samurai sword, he heads into the next chamber and rescues his sworn enemy from the rednecks’ rough justice.
With the store owner cut down to size and his unruly associate emasculated by shotgun blast, the sparring men mend their bridges and Butch heads off into the sunset. The real torture is yet to come and Tarantino leaves this to our imagination as Marsellus pledges to “get medieval on his ass” and call some “pipe-hittin’ niggas” to assist in making this punk’s last few moments on earth particularly painful. Sometimes we don’t need things spelt out for us as we are under no illusion that this dude is a bad motherfucker and the repercussions will be anything but swift and merciful.
Wes Craven’s The Serpent and The Rainbow had me clutching my daddy spheres for dear life as Harvard anthropologist Dennis was left ruing his inquisitive nature after a busman’s holiday to Haiti took a turn for the decidedly ominous. Captured by mean-spirited commander Dargent Peytraud (a man with far too many teeth in his face to be trusted), Dennis finds himself strapped naked to a hot seat, while being offered a brisk and traumatic reminder of why he should never have gone snooping around in business that didn’t concern him. If you asked me for the worst brand of capital punishment imaginable, then having a rusted nail banged into my scrotum would be pretty close to the summit. After screaming from the very pit of his stomach as the hammer drops, I’m assured that Dennis would corroborate this viewpoint. On the plus side, at least he got to rest up afterwards, although, considering he shared his shallow grave with a bulbous arachnid, I’d say his Haiti vacation was strictly a one-time deal.
Whilst on the subject of cautionary tales, Sean Byrne’s widely respected 2009 film The Loved Ones provided a stark warning to anyone looking to turn down a prom invitation without first considering the ramifications of their snubbery. While Brent was polite with his rejection and had already agreed to attend the ball with his girlfriend, Lola didn’t take kindly to the knock-back and decided to take matters into her own hands. After taking the boy prisoner in her family home and torturing him much to the delight of her similarly unhinged father, she called upon her handy power drill to assist in encouraging he change his mind via unlicensed lobotomy.
Byrne cranked up the tension as the drill bit whirred ominously towards the boy’s cranium and, as metal and bone collided, achieved his desired effect masterfully. Had Andie been granted access to her father’s power tools back in 1986, then John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink would have been a far darker movie. Makes me relieved I was such a late developer.
You may remember that earlier I mentioned a little-known film by the name of Broken that arrived in the wake of Saw and Hostel. The combined might of directors Boyes and Mason yielded immensely satisfying results and their movie wasted absolutely no time in bringing its pain to the forefront. Awakening deep in the woods, dazed and confused and tied to a giant oak tree, Jennifer’s plight only worsened when she discovered that her only available means of escape was hidden within her own abdomen. While the razor blade in question would free her from her bindings, she would first be required to root around in her own intestines and locate it in order to stand a chance of overcoming her obstacle. Things would only get worse for our babe in the wood but this set the tone exquisitely for what was easily one of the better entries into the short-lived “torture porn” cycle.
I guess I can’t finish without giving Jigsaw a run-out, considering he has proved such a pivotal tormentor over the past decade. However, while any number of his ingenious traps are ripe for the picking, I have plumped for a well-worn classic as David Hackl’s fifth installment dusted off one such medieval contraption for its gloriously gruesome opening dispatch. For convicted murderer Seth, he must’ve thought his luck was in when his jail sentence was lifted on account of a technicality. Unfortunately for him, Jigsaw was feeling far less generous and thus, the pendulum trap presented a strictly lose-lose situation with no chance of eleventh hour reprieve.
Being the cantankerous swine that he is, Jigsaw led him to believe that his best efforts could reverse his fortunes at the expense of two crushed hands. With the swinging blade rapidly descending towards his midriff, Seth threw himself into the task with the requisite fervor, only to discover that the last laugh was always destined to be on him and watch on in abject horror as the pendulum ultimately reached its fleshy target. This being a Saw movie, no expense was spared in placing the audience front and center for each telling slice and, to Hackl’s eternal credit, he had our full undivided attention. Speaking of which, Seth learned a thing or two about division in the process. One of the better entries in the long-running saga, Saw V started with one helluva deep red flourish.
So that’s all folks. I could carry on until the screws tighten as there are plenty of other torturous delights that I haven’t yet touched upon but, alas, I have a 5.30 appointment at the dungeon and have been dying to try out my brand new guillotine for days now. Of course, a simple beheading would be far too easy and thus, I have a little tenderizing to do before the inevitable final chop. Thanks to our pleasant jaunt through the letter T, I have plenty of ideas at my disposal. Moreover, there’s a rusted nail in my toolkit just begging to be provided with a fresh home. Now if that doesn’t make your eyes water, then I’m evidently in the wrong business. It’s hammer time!