In the wee hours of Monday morning, the Eli Roth’s History of Horror episode, “Slashers, Part 1”, premiered. Apparently, wanting to bookend their slashers marathon day, AMC premiered part two late Monday night.
Part one ended with a hint that Nightmare on Elm Street and torture porn films like Saw would be the main topic. True enough, part two picked up on a lull in the eighties the subgenre experienced thanks to audience fatigue and public outcry.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) brought the genre back, and anecdotes about and old clips of director Wes Craven colored the segment. He had gone out of his way to tap into primal fears for humans–Freddy’s claw is meant to resemble a cave bear’s giant paw–and biologically disconcerting elements, such as choosing color pallets that would be physically difficult for the eye to process.
Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in all of the movies but the attempted reboot of the series in 2010, talked about how seeing Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp’s youth and beauty while knowing they had whole careers ahead of him helped fuel his own performance. Jordan Peele even stepped in to joke that Freddy Krueger has his own appeal, because you know what you’re getting with him, and you identify with him more than the latest group of kids that you know he’s just going to kill.
Next viewers are taken to Candyman (1992), described by Candyman’s actor Tony Todd as, “a dark love story.” The horrors of slavery and racism led directly to this character, who needs someone only to say his name to appear. It is described in this episode as a film for white audiences, acting out fears of urban settings and what can come out of such places. One aspect of the movie that also troubled and still troubles audiences was the fact that Candyman isn’t a pure revenge story–Candyman isn’t just killing white people, he’s killing black people, who are the primary inhabitants of the area he haunts.
Author Joe Hill stepped in with a comment about all horror movies: “Every horror film is an exercise in extreme empathy–it’s about falling in love with characters and staying with them as they endure the worst.” Again, this works for all horror movies, but those of you have seen Candyman can probably agree that that movie is especially excruciating for its protagonist.
Then there’s a skip to Scream (1996), often lauded elsewhere as it is here as a postmodern horror movie. Its characters are well-versed in the genre. They know what to do and what not to do to stay alive. Of course, even in this, old expectations are flaunted. One big flaunt that was cited was that your final girl has to be virginal. The protagonist has sex and is not immediately murdered (in fact, she makes it to some sequels). The final scare is also flaunted in a way that is still deliciously shocking.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was honored next, because like Scream, it made the subgenre look intelligent. Actually, it did it in an even bigger way: it was nominated for five Oscars and had a star-studded cast. Like Psycho (1960), it was as Hollywood and mainstream as a slasher could be, even if the press and critics were scared to call it that and invite negative associations in.
Although the preview for “Slashers, Part 2” at the end of part one made it seem as though torture porn would dominate in part two, it actually has little comparative screen time. However, it does have its time. Eli Roth introduces the torture porn segment with 9/11, as he believes horror films are about dealing with the fear of death. 9/11 certainly sparked that fear, and later it is pointed out that the term “torture porn” was coined at the same time the US was indictment for actually torturing people post-9/11.
Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) were really the only torture porn films heavily discussed. Although the term was somewhat shied away from for Saw, Hostel was regarded as the first truly, totally, torture porn film.
Part two didn’t go much further than the early 2000s, but the films that it did focus on were given satisfying amounts of time. The trail from slashers to torture porn is made clear, and the brief inclusion of historical context adds a surprising but logical angle to the most extreme sub-subgenre. The time with the sub-subgenre feels brief compared to the time spent on pure slasher movies, but it is a newer addition to horror, and one that has experienced a lull in popularity as of late, so there simply isn’t as much to say right now.
Episode four of Eli Roth’s History of Horror, “The Demons Inside,” will air October 28 at midnight.