Category Archives: penguins

#3: Penguins and Torture – Misguided escapism and the fall of true horror.

A reader sent Fangoria (a horror movie magazine) this letter discussing Grindhouse’s economic fallout and how movies today don’t even skim the waters of reality:

…To the shock of both film critics and genre fans, Grindhouse had a disappointing opening weekend at the box office.  When something like this is beaten out by an Ice Cube family comedy, you know we’re in trouble!  Does anyone have any answers?  Personally, I believe timing was a major factor; an Easter weekend release was not very smart!  But there’s something more being said here.  Horror fans have been hungry for this sort of film for eons, and to finally have it brought to major theatres—well that’s definetly the icing on the cake!  Or is it?

As I was watching Grindhouse, a couple of things occured to me.  While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, especially during Robert Rodriguez’s Lucio Fulci-esque Planet Terror, I found myself thinking, ‘What’s the point?’  If I want to see a Lucio Fulci film, why don’t I just watch one?  Maybe I was hoping that sharing something like this with the general public might enhance the viewing experience, or perhaps grindhouse movies could possibly go mainstream!  But here’s the real problem:  We’re all sick and tired of remakes and homages, whether we’re willing or ready to admit it.

We’re living in a time of war, public beheadings, hostages, terror, and potential Iranian nuclear doom.  You’d think the horro genre would have something to say about all this—not in a direct/obvious way, but in a subconscious manner, the way horror is supposed to work!  We all remember the fright films of the Vietnam era—those are classics now!  But unfortunately, this era is almost completely forgotten.  Will we really want to watch the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (the film that started the craze) 10 years from now when the original is still far superior?  This reveals a lot about our generation.  We’ve got nothing to say, even living in these extreme times!  This could have easily been an era of genre classics, but instead we’ve released the creative license to fanboys and not artists.

–Tarik Polansky

While important things are going on both in America and the world (a civil war in Iraq, global warming, and an upcoming presidential election here in the states) my generation in particular has chosen to ignore such issues in favor of living their own makeshift realities.  …These realities consist of computer generated talking animals, and people being tortured in variously horrifying ways.  I cannot quite understand why so many thought Saw and Hostel were such great movies.  Alternatively, I don’t know why penguins were suddenly catapulted as one of the most loved animals in the US.  One thing I DO know, is that these films continue to be made purely for profit.

I’m not going to play stupid.  Of COURSE money dictates what films are going to be made.  Companies want movies that will attract an audience—not progress art.  But I have to admit, I wish being innovative and intelligent was all it took to get people interested.  Back in the 60’s and 70’s you got all manners of movies appearing on screen, addressing directly (or indirectly) the problems of society.  Nowadays, writers and directors are afraid to comment and point out various issues due to fear of ostracization both by critics and audiences alike.  It’s “too depressing” or “too bothersome” to sit and hear what it’s really like outside of our own comfort zones.

So why do we like penguins and torture films?

The “March of the Penguins” had to be the least fascinating accumulation of penguin documentation known to the history of man.  Morgan Freeman is a good actor.  I loved him in “10 items or Less”, “Batman Begins”, and “Unleashed”.  …But he should NEVER narrate another film so long as he lives.  Even worse than “March of the Penguins” was “Farce of the Penguins”, done by the unwitty half-wit Bob Saget–one of the most ABYSMAL comedians to ever hit television screens since sitcoms went down the ol’ shitter. 

And riding on the coat tails of the penguin tornado came “Happy Feet” the ‘almost all right’ film about an outcast heretic known as Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) who just can’t stop his sinful feet from doing the tap dance of catastrophe.  The movie would’ve been all right if they had put in more dancing numbers, more of an ACTUAL antagonist, and even less environmental BS (or atleast pull it off more gracefully, like Ferngully).  The ending was definetly “WTF” worthy.  It was a rushed, half-assed ending, constructed purely to excuse the pseudo-musical that preceded it.  I was left unsatisfied and disappointed when I left the theatre that night.

When the dancing penguins cleared from my head, I came to hear about “Surf’s Up”, yet another penguin film, but this time dealing with surfing culture and your general beach shenanigans.  Lulled by the charm of animated-talking-animal films, my friends have been tempted to go see it.  I’ll admit, so am I, but as I stop to consider another popular film trend, I begin to shudder—deeply unnerved.

On the more perverse side, we see our head-humping hotshot Eli Roth slap together yet another reel of gore-porn–spiced, seasoned, and smelling slightly less fresher than Preston Lacy’s ass.  My disappointment with the first Hostel movie was its failure to paint out well-rounded characters, its disturbing ability to pulsate male homophobia, and it’s complete lack of imagination.  Nothing about what I was seeing was terribly original.  Just very bloody and very sadistic.  I probably would’ve thought the movie better (and scarier) if I had never even seen it for heaven’s sakes!  I recall sitting in the theatre and feeling nauseous–like I was getting on a terrifying roller coaster ride.  But then the movie started, and after the first ten sets of boobs flashed across the screen, I realized I was in for 94 minutes of a different kind of torture…

From Hostel 2, I’ve heard tell that it really is just a rehash from the first—only with girls.  The women (the ‘heroines’) are your typical stereotypes—rich sluts—fixed with such drab and colorless lines that one can’t help but wonder if they bought all their lackluster sayings from an Ed Wood vending machine.  The ever so critical Rotten Tomatoes racked up an average rating of 4.6/10  Now it may seem unfair to shoot down a film I haven’t even seen…but I’m coming from both an artistic and moral point of view when I say:  I REFUSE to watch Hostel 2.  Why?

Because Eli Roth is a jerk. Period.  He doesn’t deserve to be called the ‘leading man of horror’.  He’s an artistic nightmare (if you’ll excuse my pun,) and he couldn’t construct a genuinely frightening film if a serial killer sat on his head.  People mistake gore for horror.  Gore is not horror.  I repeat:  GORE IS NOT HORROR.  Films like:  Saw (one big horror rip off), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the remake), and The Hills Have Eyes (the remake) do not deserve to be stuck into the horror genre.  In fact this dives headlong into another topic I wanted to address before I make my final point.

Movies today are not progressing.  America has become caught up in a trend of remakes (especially in horror) and doesn’t seem to want to make anything new.  And it’s not just in movies, either.  Everywhere I look I see regurgitated fashion, hear musical copycats, and feel cultural regression.  Our society, our escapist society, does not wish to acknowledge the problems of the world, the decisions that need to be made, the things needed to be created.  We remember the past and we’re stuck in it.  We create our fantasies and we drown in them.  We close shut our minds and focus only on the pretty and horrific things that send sugar-razored chills up and down our spines.  And there is nothing more demented than what our fixations have become.

Penguins and torture.

Innocence and evil.

Joy and violence.

I want people to sit and wonder why so many others (perhaps even themselves) like watching sadistic films—NOT horror films, just SADISTIC films—films that take away the element of fear and leave only an adrenaline rush.  There is no fear when watching Hostel.  You know what is going to happen.  These wannabe horror films take viewers away from the position of the victim, thus taking away all elements of REAL horror.  By PORTRAYING violent deaths—closing in on it, feeding on the energy, drawing it out—the audience no longer view things from the eyes of victims, instead, they see things from the eyes of the killer.  The knife is in their hand and they are now feeling empowered.

Surf's Up

But don’t forget the penguins!

The lovable fluffy things that dance on the other side of the spectrum—never quite teaching us anything about discrimination, race, religion, or hell, even the environment—instead simply giving us a reason to smile.  And what’s wrong with smiling?  What’s wrong with kids feeling good and parents feeling good with them?  What’s wrong with being politically correct and portraying idealistic ideas?

It’s wrong because the world is not this way.  I’m not saying to show the kids murder, show the kids political backstabbing, or terrorist attacks.  But the sugar coated PC-ness that has infested children’s entertainment makes life seem hollow and 2D.  Instilling awareness and tolerance in children early is a good thing.  Putting blinders on them, just so that they can be warped by movies like Hostel later in life, isn’t.

My best friend’s brother (who in all fairness is yet another friend) wrote a rant about some comments made by Eli Roth to a fan in Fangoria.  Now I’m copying and pasting this because I feel that this guy (who also happens to be the one nicknamed Spaz in my post on FPS games) puts down in words what many horror fans WISH to say.  Originally posted in a place none would see it, I now bring it to you in a spot where more are inclined to read it. (because it deserves to be read)

For a time there was a group I frequented of hardcore malcontent Horror people called The Abominable Apothecary. I use the past tense because we all stopped going when it became apparant that the only thing we had to look forward to were remakes, uninspired sequels, and watered-down Hollywood shit. You should have heard them go on about Saw.

Contrary to popular belief I’m not a fan of senseless violence. When not based in plot or character with a fair degree of justification I feel cheapened. Meaning somewhere some hack has just written a story that another person thought was good enough to invest millions into to perpetuate a cycle of stupidity.
When it comes to story you can believe a great many ridiculous things but when it comes to human nature it is one thing you can never try bullshitting to an audience. It’s because of this every recent Horror movie I’ve seen with an audience has nothing but laughter and applause for the onscreen violence. Who cares about character when everyone’s stupid? During Final Destination 3 a baked kid in front of me commented to his group about the camera work, “Holy shit, a low shot! It’s all dramatic now!”

Then again there’s always something like Ross Campbell’s manga The Abandoned with amazingly real and empathetic characters… In A Zombie Story! That’s right, your run of the mill roving ghouls, but with awesome characters. What does it say when the only Horror films made have great monsters, the only Horror stories written have great characters, and both have absolutely nothing else?

I’d like to blame political correctness but I know that’s not entirely true.

A recent viewing of the film Hard Candy makes me wonder why it’s okay for a psychotic teenager to torture a pedophile but when the tables turn it’s not okay to have her hurt in turn. Suddenly the title has changed to “Sympathy For Mr. Pedophile” and a film nobody wants to see.

The writer & director of fledgling film Last Stop ( had this to say about it’s troubles. “Last Stop is pretty damn dark, there are two scenes with violence towards children that have put some fear in those who would finance it.”

Then again there’s always those douchebags that use it as a stepping stone to justify their shitty films. In Fangoria magazine there was this recent query about Hostel:

“I went to a screening of Hostel at the Toronto Film Festival and Eli Roth was there to introduce it. All in all the movie isn’t too exciting; it’s gory and blood-filled which should please many. My main issue is with the blatant and overt heterosexism and homophobia that permeates the film. The characters continuously refer to each other as “fag” or “you’re gay” and everyone laughs and everything is jolly. But not for me and not for a lot of queer rights supporters.
The most appalling display of homophobia occurs when the three main characters (all heterosexual males) are on a train. A man joins their little group and places his hand on one guy’s leg. The guy proceeds to freak out and orders the man to get lost and he willingly obliges. Later in the film the guy bumps into this “dirty disgusting homosexual” and decides to make amends. He apologizes for his rude reaction and proceeds to have a heart-to-heart conversation over a drink he buys the gentleman. His friends of course call him a “fag” for having done this. Later in the film it turns out that this “sick homosexual” will become this guy’s killer. The lesson learned? “No matter how nice they seem, never be nice to a homosexual, because in the end they’ll get you!”
I understand that this is just a horror film and that it probably won’t impact much of society, but as long as movies like this continue to target an audience of teen to late-twenty heterosexual males (where the majority of homophobia and heterosexism prevails) issues of anti-gay prejudice will never be satiated. I had the perfect opportunity after the film to question Eli Roth about this in front of the entire theater but I chickened out (mainly because he was receiving nothing but praise and my comment would definitely have put me in the minority) and I have regretted it ever since.
I have been highly disturbed by this since I saw Hostel and it’s something I felt I needed to address. I may have missed an opportunity during the festival but I’m trying to make up for it now.”

Usually people don’t respond to the letters but Eli Roth thought it better to attack the author: 

“Letters like this one reflect a disturbing trend happening in cinema today: political correctness. This person is clearly out of touch with how young people in America speak. If you go to any high school or college campus kids use the word “gay” to describe something that is stupid or idiotic. I am trying to write characters who are real and speak the way young American people actually talk to each other. When someone is acting like a pussy they call that person a “fag.” It does not mean that the person using it is homophobic or is saying that someone afraid to do something is homosexual. It’s interesting to note that this reader found no offense at burning a girl’s face off with a blowtorch and then cutting her eye out, but was seriously disturbed by the words “gay” and “fag.”
I remember when Basic Instinct came out some activists were protesting because they were afraid that people would think that all bisexuals were murderers. Does this person honestly believe that this movie will make people think that homosexuals are killers? Come on. Grow up. Get over yourself. When I was in college a student held a seminar about “recovered homosexuals.” He invited six “recovered homosexuals” to talk about how religion cured them as if they had some disease like alcoholism. About six hundred angry people attended the seminar, many of them gay, and the whole room watched in amazement as these people on stage talked about using Jesus to choose “the right path” and how they left behind a life of “homosinuality.” This was an event I witnessed with my own eyes and I used it as a basis for a character who acts out his repression through torture instead of religion.
Is this person saying I don’t have the right to write what I’ve seen into my scripts? Should we all just give up and make movies with characters so politically correct that they don’t offend anybody? Who wants their horror films safe? If you want safe movies that are politically correct why are you reading this magazine? Why not spend your time fighting politicians who try to outlaw homosexuality instead of filmmakers who are reflecting the world they see around them?
However Hostel clearly stirred something in this reader and sparked a discussion which for a filmmaker is all you can ask for.”

Just what we need, some NYU brat riding the coattails of famous directors and shooting his mouth off to the people that took the time to see his movie. Fuck Eli Roth!

Now we’ve got a new an unneeded subgenre of Horror, “the torture movie”. Nobody asked for it, nobody wants it, and this is why we’re watching some prick getting his fingers cut off and hearing someone behind us respond, “That’s what you get faggot!”

All these things are the reason why the hardcore fans I know stay in the heydays of Horror when they still had great characters and monsters, a unique plot, and were genuinely scary. Relegated into a cookie-cutter purgatory I too share their cynicism but hope and work toward a better future.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think for a time Horror deserves a rest.


For more Eli Roth bashing, visit this site. I like bashing Eli Roth. He stands for just about everything that’s wrong with the movie industry (and probably America, too.)  I guess this post became something of how much I hate him and these torture films.  The penguins are bareable compared to seeing someone’s achilles tendon sliced through.

Well, my rant is through.  Not as broad as I would’ve liked it, but the recent release of “Hostel 2” turned my eyes red…the penguin movie, “Surf’s Up”, also has me feeling guilty for wanting to see it.  I feel like a marketing victim.

Anways, next post shall be on video game music and why it’s so damn cool.