00′s Retrospect: 2005, the Birth of So-called ‘Torture Porn’

Y2K, 9/11, war and a a horrid recession, a major escape we had this decade was in the form of film, notorious for thriving during National crisis. Leading up to New Year’s Eve where we’ll ring in 2010, Bloody Disgusting will be looking back at the entire decade year by year through the eyes of various staff writers. Check back each day for a profound reflection from Ryan Daley, David Harley, Tex, BC and yours truly. Inside you’ll find Tex Massacre’s personal look back at the year 2005, the birth of so-called “torture porn”! Please share your memories for each year below, there are so many stories to be told!

’00 | ’01 | ’02 | ’03 | ’04 | ’05 | ’06 | ’07 | ’08 | ’09

More Retrospects:
-Top 20 Films of the Decade: 21-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1
-Dead on Arrival: Ten Horror Duds of the Last Decade

2005

It’ll probably seem strange to you that I’ve decided to start this cinematic year 10-months in, but you see, October 2005 holds a special place in my black heart, since it’s the month that I joined the staff of Bloody-Disgusting.

It was unceremonious to be sure. I had been freelancing for a few years after my steady job as Film Editor for the Florida monthly culture rag, The Fritz had closed up shop in the summer of 2000. It was about a year after that that I had decided that I would stop covering “all movies” and just focus my attention on the genre that I had loved for decades (Literally decades, and I started watching my first horror films and Hitchcock movies with my Mom back in the early 80′s). I was searching for some good horror news, when I happened upon Bloody-Disgusting.com. I, like so many of you, sent Mr. Disgusting an e-mail and “laundry listed” my qualifications in hopes of a quickie writing gig. When Brad [Miska] responded, he didn’t ask for some past writing sample (of which I had hundreds)…no…he told me to go see the remake of John Carpenter’s The Fog that night and give him 500 words. It was Friday, October 14, 2005–the day I learned that Mr. Disgusting often sends other people out to write up shitty movies he doesn’t want to see!

By Monday morning I had the job…and what a time to start, we were less than 2 weeks away from what was undoubtedly the most anticipated event of the year for horror fans…myself included. Showtime was about to unleash “Masters of Horror” and bring the horror anthology back to the mainstream masses…or at least the ones that had cable.

“Masters of Horror” may have turned out to be a failed experiment at bringing bloody, visceral, horror to the fans by promising a collection of creepy shorts either written by or helmed by an assortment of the genre’s best and brightest. From classic creepers like Clive Barker, Dario Argento, George Romero, Tobe Hooper and Don Coscarelli to promising upstarts like Lucky McKee. The first season of Masters of Horror really offered only two major moments of happy horrordom. The first came of John Carpenter’s entry “Cigarette Burns” which was then and still remains the single best episode of the series that ever aired. The second was Showtime’s controversial decision to not air the episode “Imprint”, directed by cult Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike. That decision, lead to something of a revelation for horror fans that hadn’t already heard of the macabre master. And…it brings us to the beginning of the year.

On a cold day in January 2005, Park City, Utah was the scene for the unveiling of the latest Asian Import, the anthology series Three…Extremes. A sequel to the previous entry that was simply titled Three (later released in the U.S. as Three…Extremes 2) this collection of terror was brought to us by the latest Asian horror invaders. Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike and Park Chan-wook. For those of you who hadn’t seen Miike’s 1999 film Audition (which made it’s DVD release here in the states in May 2002) Masters of Horror would send most of you rushing about to find more material by this now “banned” filmmaker. For many, the first film they found after Audition was Three…Extremes and Miike’s surrealistic entry “Box”. But, when the gorehounds went looking for Miike, they discovered what else audiences learned at Sundance 2005. Fellow “Extremist” Park Chan-wook was “that guy” who made Oldboy!

Oldboy also made it’s US Theatrical debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Oldboy already had a buzz about it, when the film set-down on U.S. soil. Controversy surrounded this bloody orgy of revenge. In May of 2004 the Cannes Film Festival jury lead by Quentin Tarantino awarded second place (the Grand Prix) to this ultraviolent and stylized Korean import, amid some questions and concerns that Jury President Tarantino wanted to give an award to something with a lot of blood in it. With it’s Park City premiere and the subsequent DVD release on August 23, 2005, horror fans got the message, and began to take notice that all Eastern cinema wasn’t just the realm of blue-hued, raven-haired ghosts with grudges and killer videotapes. That sometimes these horror films had blood. Lots of blood. And speaking of blood…

…Oh yes, there will be blood…

…and on October 28, 2005 blood changed the face of horror forever. Like Oldboy, you might look back and say those seeds were planted in 2004. You might say the second that Tobin Bell’s gore-soaked corpse climbed off the cruddy tile bathroom floor, sauntering past his victims and slamming the steel door of Saw shut, was the start. But the sequel, Saw II, heralded a whole new era in Grand Guignol gore . Shot for only 4 million dollars by first-time feature director Darren Lynn Bousman, Saw II took Halloween by storm opening the 3 day weekend with a stagger 31.7 million dollars and besting the original’s opening gross by an astounding 73%. Within a week, Saw II had surpassed the 55 million dollar gross of the original film before winding out it’s run as the top grossing horror film of 2005 with over 87 million dollars. With another 60 million in foreign sales, Saw II‘s near $150,000,000 worldwide box office was the harbinger for 4 more years of sequels and dozens of wannabe bloodbaths. And with the January 2006 release of Eli Roth’s Hostel, Saw II and it’s 2005 brethren The Devil’s Rejects and Wolf Creek gave New York Magazine critic David Edelstein the fuel he needed to coin the phrase of the decade…Torture Porn was born.

But 2005 gave us more than tractor trailers liquidizing pedestrians in the middle of god-forsaken streets, or Outback psycho’s terrorizing teens in the desert wilderness of Australia, it also gave us Emily Rose, and introduced the world to it’s star Jennifer Carpenter. The Exorcism of Emily Rose was a PG-13 flick, incredible derivative of the 70′s Exorcism films, that was also hampered by it’s “Law & Order” court proceedings. But, that revelator performance by Jennifer Carpenter helped catapult the film to 75 million in domestic receipts. And the one-two punch of this September release and October’s Saw II gave horror fans (and studio executives) reason to sit up and take notice. With Wes Craven’s Red Eye ($57,867,903), The Ring Two (75,888,270) and Platinum Dunes second box office win; The Amityville Horror ($64,858,000), horror was no longer the red-headed step child strapped in the backseat of the industry but a force that was climbing into the driver’s seat and getting read to stomp on the gas of the film industry once again.

2005 also stands as another important year for undying horror fans. After 20-years away from the sub-genre he virtually created and 5-years since the release of his last film, legendary filmmaker George A. Romero got back into the zombie game. Land of the Dead might not have been a box office bonanza (raking in about 20 million) but after decades of promising films, rumored “Twilight of the Dead” and “Diamond Dead” that never surfaced, Land of the Dead was about Romero getting back to Romero-world and using his zombies to combat some socio-political issue. This time, Romero took that Dawn of the Dead consumerism skewer and stabbed it straight through the political heart of the mid-2000′s. Casting a system where the rich have it all and the poor have nothing, the elite-class have moved into skyscrapers and the rest live in utter chaos on the city streets, Romero lost a bit of his punch in lamenting-excess by delivering an epic zombie film, choc’ful’o CGI and a “cast of thousands”. In some ways it felt disingenuous to have Romero deriding the rich while directing an estimated $15,000,000 zombie movie for Universal Studios. It’s hard to say what kept the hardcore zombie lovers away, maybe the film was too political for them. One thing is for sure, for me the films most memorable scene features a cameo by visual effects master (and former creator of the brilliant FX work in Dawn and Day of the Dead) Tom Savini, killed in a hail of CGI blood-spatter. Purists like myself can’t mistake the irony here–and the rampant use of computer generated imagery in Land of the Dead is a sad reminder that the great days of in-camera gore gags have long since past.

Beside, Land of the Dead, Summer 2005 saw a slew of other horror films arrive in theaters, chief amongst them the Kate Hudson vehicle The Skeleton Key ($47,806,295), the Jennifer Conolly J-horror remake Dark Water ($25,473,093), and the lesser film’s The Cave ($14,888,028) and Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist ($236,901)–a film that limped its way into 110 theaters after begin wrenched away from it’s director Paul Schrader and then re-cast, re-shot and released in 2004 by Director Renny Harlin as Exorcist: The Beginning. Still despite that string of rather disappointing films, Summer 2005 is really memorable for two Lionsgate releases.

A sort of spiritual sequel to his 2003 underground hit House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects was rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie’s full unfiltered love letter to all that made the Grindhouse cinema of the 1970′s great. It was sleazy, sexy and sanguinary all at the same time. And thus far, it’s turned out to be the pinnacle of his career.

The other film that graced the multiplexes that summer–if you managed to get to one of the surprisingly large number of theaters that were showing it (1,323 to be exact)–was the French import High Tension (and judging by the $3.6 million dollar box office not many of your did). That film, despite derision by some critics and fans for it’s “twist” ending was really the first in the French New Wave of horror cinema to land on our shores, paving the way for later sticky-thrillers like Martyrs, Sheitan, Frontier(s) and Inside!

Everything wasn’t all rosy red and splatteriffic at the movies in 2005 as the appalling bad Boogeyman raked in some big bucks ($46,363,118) and you all dropped another 32 million to “see Paris die” in Dark Castle’s over-budgeted mess House of Wax. Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven proved lightning hardly strikes twice (or maybe some joke about “once in a blue moon”) with their failed Werewolf collaboration Cursed ($19,294,901). And let’s not forget The Fog, the film the harbinger of my arrival at Bloody-Disgusting. It’s still one of the worst movies I watched in 2005 and I owe Brad for that.

But all was not lost, if you kept your eyes peeled on the fringe of the cinema. And, waiting in the wings with peripheral releases in 2005 were two filmmakers of note. Ti West’s The Roost opened on October 21st and pulled in $5,350 bucks and Brad Anderson made his mark on an emaciated Christian Bale when The Machinist arrived on DVD in June. Asian Horror got even more exposure with the March DVD release of A Tale of Two Sisters and the November & December limited theatrical releases of Pulse (5 screens for $51,420) and Marebito (3 screens for $13,983 in receipts).

So it might not be totally fair to call 2005 the year of Jigsaw considering it stands as the year many horror fans can count as the arrival of Miike, Park, Anderson, West and the French’s own brand of blood and guts. It returned us to Romero who would take on the dead 2 more times this decade, gave Dario Argento some much needed exposure (through Masters of Horror) and ultimately got the Three Mother’s Trilogy wrapped up. I guess 2005 was more of an introductory year for horror fans, especially for those that weren’t actively combing the fringes looking for the next big thing.. Revisiting the old and bringing in the new. It was certainly an introductory year for me to all of you. So, I’m pretty happy about that….although I’m obviously still bitter about The Fog!