the secret censors of the mpaa.

I’ve recently been obsessing over the 1997 film Event Horizon, a sci-fi/horror flick described by its director as “The Shining in space.” For those who haven’t seen it, the basic premise is that the Event Horizon, a spaceship capable of “jumping” through space simply vanished and then reappeared seven years later; thus, a salvage crew, led by Laurence Fishburne and aided by engineer Sam Neill, are sent to rescue any surviving crew members as well as the Event Horizon. The ship, however, has come back unspeakably alive. The film unfolds slowly and then blossoms into a veritable Hellraiser homage, replete with a chaotic entity, extremely fleeting sadomasochistic imagery, and notions of pain, nothingness, and hell.

I often work best to the soothing sounds of tortured screaming, so I looped this film in the background while revising final papers and conference presentations last month. After the semester ended, I idly checked YouTube for extra footage and discovered that whole sequences had been deleted. Paul Andersen removed segments that actually helped the narrative make sense and restricted the gore to frames lasting 1-2 seconds each, in addition to radically trimming the orgiastic distress call video that motivates the salvage mission.

So then I looked at the original script. The changes made from script to screen were fairly radical. Images such as a son cannibalizing his still-breathing mother and violent, cannibalistic sex were omitted or heavily, heavily modified. A sex scene between the hallucinating Dr. Weir (Neill) and his dead wife Claire, during which he overcomes his loneliness and she tears out his eyes at climax, is also omitted. These scenes did not seem overly long or gratuitous, instead contributing to the development of a character on the brink of madness. Similar scenes made the cut in 1970s and 1980s horror films. So why this film, and why these scenes?

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Monster Culture, Torture Porn, “Senseless”

For 5-6 years, I’ve taught Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture” in my classroom in an essay progression focusing on horror film.  The unit catered both to my personal credo—that students leave my classroom able to read pop culture forms—and to my love of the horror genre.  It fascinates me to no end that the monsters in horror films allow us to assess the cultural and political climate of the time in which it was produced.  I am especially intrigued by recent shifts toward “torture porn,” the term coined by Eli Roth regarding Hostel.  In these films, great care is taken to depict, as realistically as possible, the inner workings of the human body and how easily it breaks down in catastrophe.

For instance, the Final Destination franchise gives us increasingly convoluted and grisly ways to die, starting with asphyxiation in a shower and progressing toward death by race car tire and escalator belt, each replete with viscera and still-twitching limbs.  The Saw franchise, quality-rated by the number of viewers who vomited or had to leave the theater, calls itself psychological horror; in reality it uses torture porn—in the form of mechanical traps reminescent of Rube Goldberg—as a justifiable means to an end.  Perhaps at the release of Saw I, the monstrous message was different, but later installments equated traps with pure justice: that is, an individual confronted with a death machine based on his crimes or flaws serves justice unto himself.  It’s the old “give him a taste of his own medicine” shtick, only exaggeratedly amplified.  The health insurance executive learns how horrible a cost-benefit approach to human life is; the fraudulent self-help guru is forced to undergo the trials he claims to have experienced.

And viewers have picked up on this.  

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