This is an excerpt from an essay about the history and cultural significance of slashers, “torture porn,” and other horror film subgenres.
I’m drawn to the extreme side of horror—unrated films, foreign films, and the king of kings, banned films. Yes, there are movies so gruesome, so twisted, that entire civilized countries reject their final forms. Ichi the Killer is banned in Norway, Malaysia, and Germany; Cannibal Holocaust boasts its 50+ country ban as a selling point; A Serbian Film has been banned in eight countries and was even censored in the United States by a record 19 minute cut.
I’ve seen these movies, and many others, uncensored in their entirety. I’ve downloaded them from the ends of the Internet, shipped them from overseas, tracked them down with a collector’s voracity. The gore is extreme, sickening at times. But these films are unusually original, too, and I like to think there’s a message behind each one.
Horror movie characters aren’t simple meat sacks ripe for slaughter. They’re stand-ins for the traits we hate (and sometimes live): greed, conceit, lust, stupidity, naïveté. In good horror, violence almost never exists simply for its own sake. Sometimes it can be just plain fun—a release of angst and frustration, or revenge fantasies harmlessly played out against fictional stereotypes. But oftentimes, with darker films, greater gruesomeness betrays a deeper message.
Ichi the Killer comments on our desensitization to violence, creating torture scenarios so ridiculous they induce laughter (or vomit). A Serbian Film brings up issues of censorship in Serbian art and cinema by including every politically incorrect act the director could fathom. Creatively, the ends justify the means.