Many critics have a terror of going down in history like Bosley Crowther, as the relic who looked at a seminal moment in movie history (in Crowther's case, Bonnie and Clyde) and reached for the smelling salts. The Siren has no such anxiety. She wears her fuddy-duddiness with pride. Describe her taste as 1950s and she will be flattered. Call her Depression-era and she will buy you a drink.
The film of the moment is, god help us, Hostel Part II, and some excellent critics either love it or expect to. Michael Guillen and D.K. Holme loved it. Kim Morgan, Cinebeats and The Bleeding Tree are eager to see it. Dennis Cozzalio has posted a thoughtful consideration of the movie and what it means for the horror genre.
Still, the Siren examines her end of the bar for the other relics and finds some good company. Here is Filmbrain, a blogger the Siren unreservedly adores, and a man no one can accuse of having a low bloodshed threshold. James Wolcott looked at the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" imprimatur on the Hostel Part II posters and summed up the erstwhile wonder boy as "a pimp for geek sadism." Jeffrey Wells and David Poland could definitely use a double martini after sitting through the movie. The Siren believes she owes S.T. VanAirsdale a drink now, should she bump into him. And Damian Arlyn posted a most eloquent defense of his refusal to see Eli Roth's minimum opus. I didn't think I could add much to Damian's piece. Do read it, he does a splendid job. But for some reason--maybe it's those repulsive print ads I keep stumbling across, maybe it's this impromptu blogathon we seem to have going--I have to say my piece anyway.
The Siren won't be seeing Hostel or its sequel, or Saw and its spawn, or The Hills Have Eyes remake or Wolf Creek, or any of the antecedents like Cannibal Holocaust or I Spit on Your Grave, for that matter. First Amendment absolutist that she is, the Siren in no way argues for the banning of these movies, although when she reflects that Martin Scorsese had to spend many long days cutting down Goodfellas to avoid an NC-17, the irony just about asphyxiates her.
When the Grand Guignol shut down in Paris in 1962, its final director remarked, "We could never equal Buchenwald." The likes of Eli Roth and Greg McLean can't equal the Iraq war, but that hasn't stopped people from flocking. Well, the Siren requires no elaboration on the "why" behind the grosses for Hostel or its siblings. Our time has no need for catharsis or satiation that plausibly can be called unique. Read William Makepeace Thackeray's description of the crowd at a London hanging in 1840, and you will have all you ever need to know about what draws us to the most brutal side of horror. It is as fundamental a human taste as any other.
And the Siren doesn't think having that taste says much about a person. Her longtime roommate in the 1980s adored slasher movies. This was a man who never saw a baby he didn't want to cootchy-coo at, apologized to his cat when he moved it off the couch and wouldn't eat in a restaurant on Thanksgiving because he felt sorry for the waiters. He's the reason the Siren saw a long list of slasher flicks in the Nightmare-Freddie-Jason-Chucky-Hellraiser era, until she finally gave up trying to see the point of them and started retreating to her room with a book.
Most of us have a limited amount of viewing time relative to what we like to call "real life." Netflix just sent me L'Armée des Ombres, and I have not watched it yet. Anyone want to tell me that Hostel Part II is worth my time as much as that one? Is there a single performance in the latest round of jolly little splatterfests that can withstand comparison with one in Jean-Pierre Melville's movie? How about the dialogue, the camerawork, the editing, the sound, the art direction, the goddamn costumes even? Is there "social commentary" in any of the gorefests that could sustain an intelligent discussion for more than ten minutes?
You can argue that "torture porn" movies entertain. Rock on. So do a lot of things. Say that they are really about survival; the Siren does not buy that one, but you can argue it. You can point out that some of the techniques make their way into more mainstream fare. Fair enough. Dickens was influenced by the Newgate Calendar. That doesn't make Dick Turpin into Oliver Twist.
Praising the most gore-splattered subset of horror becomes supportable only by drawing in movies that really don't fit, such as the original Halloween or the wildly overrated Psycho, both of which achieve their effects far more through suggestion than through explicit violence. You could draw in John Ford--this John Ford--or John Webster , but there is, shall we say, a certain difference in script quality. The only other way to argue for these movies as anything other than disposable crap is to compare them with other blood-soaked horror films (comparing them with something like Val Lewton only exposes their limitations further). Hostel Part II may look great judged by the standards of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Is it--or any other torture porn flick--great relative to Melville?
P.S. Guess I have my answer. Ian Pugh, of the very good site filmfreakcentral, compares Hostel Part II to Bunuel. Scoot over, Bosley. The Siren owes you a drink.