For Moviegoers, Torture Porn Has Become Just Plain Torture

Tanking 'Captivity' a Sign Ultra-Gory Flicks -- and Their Ad Pushes -- Are Played Out

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NEW YORK -- Is torture porn finally dead? The poor box-office performance of the unofficial genre's most-hyped summer films would certainly suggest the final nail has been driven into one seriously bloody coffin.

Could the measly box office 'Captivity' eked out be a sign that the current torture craze has run its course?


First, June's "Hostel II," the sequel to Eli Roth's surprise $47 million-grossing hit, made a disappointing $17.5 million in its four weeks of release. Now "Captivity," the controversial Roland Joffe-directed torture flick whose racy L.A. billboards were banned in May, eked out a measly $1.8 million over the weekend, enough to rank it as the 12th highest-grossing film.

Overkill
The combined failure of those two movies was enough for Courtney Solomon, president of Lions Gate's Afterdark Films (which released "Captivity"), to admit to CNN: "It's overkill. I think audiences have said, 'I've had enough.' It's as simple as that."

Just three years ago, torture porn was the little horror spinoff that could, after "Saw" did $55 million in the fall of 2004, putting the "gross" in box-office grosses with scenes of leg amputation and gruesome maneuvers resulting from key swallowing. As with any emerging film trend sparked by the success of one flick, Hollywood quickly greenlit the torture craze into oblivion, churning out lame copycats ("Turistas," "Dead Silence"), reviving old franchises ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "The Hills Have Eyes") and squeezing as many sequels out of the original hit as possible ("Saw IV" is coming in October).

At its peak, the success of torture porn was chalked up to the public responding to the metaphors for Abu Ghraib and America's tolerance of other cultures. So where's the metaphor in a nude Bijou Phillips holding her own severed head, as she was for "Hostel II"? The marketing for movies like "Hostel II" and "Captivity" created so much negative buzz prior to the respective films' release dates it essentially cannibalized the product it was intended to promote.

Marketing hubbub
"Captivity" even had three different release dates throughout its various campaigns, which could only add to horror fans' confusion as to whether the movie was actually coming out. And after all the hubbub over the L.A. billboards, which featured lurid shots of star Elisha Cuthbert captured, tortured and dead next to words such as "CONFINEMENT" and "TERMINATION," AfterDark eventually settled on a close-up of a crying Cuthbert to market the movie to the less-squeamish public.

As torture porn is on its way out as a trend, horror as a genre has fallen on hard times as well this year. "Grindhouse," the heavily hyped Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino double feature from Weinstein Co., underperformed to even the most modest of expectations, grossing $25 million on a $53 million budget after extensive TV and print campaigns hyping its stars and directors. Spring thrillers such as "The Reaping" and "Vacancy" also underwhelmed despite heavy pushes from their respective studios.

So where will the next horror hit emerge? Hollywood's still not sure what to make of J.J. Abrams' mysterious trailer for "Cloverfield," but its huge viral success is one a studio marketer could learn from. Hard to believe it's been eight years, but have we already forgotten what happened with "The Blair Witch Project"? Start rubbing those twigs together, Hollywood, and maybe you'll spark the fire that has audiences turning out en mass to see your next killer movie again.
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