Remember Torture Porn? Torture Porn was the goofy nickname some folks gave to the brutal wave of horror flicks that came out under the distinguished tenure of George W. Bush - we turned on the news and saw our troops treating prisoners of war like dogs and that poison seeped into our entertainment. I couldn't get to Dick Cheney, but I sure could watch a drug addict fall into a pit of hypodermic needles. Anyway I thought of Torture Porn this week when I turned on Brawl in Cell Block 99 specifically because I had heard that it was a brutal violent movie and since I was feeling angry and helpless I thought watching somebody get their head stomped on might help. (Spoiler alert: It both did and it didn't.)
I haven't really been able to watch Horror all that much since the election, at least nothing of the hyper-violent sort - I've wanted escapism and happy distractions, the fluffy little clouds of the Italian Countryside for instance. But this week, out of nowhere, I've felt a swivel. As mentioned this morning I was up for celebrating Valentine's Day last evening with a re-watch of the holiday-themed My Bloody Valentine. And over the weekend, out of nowhere, I thought to myself, "Self, let's watch Vince Vaughn kick some teeth."
I note this as a change of heart specifically because I had tried to watch Brawl in Cell Block 99 just about four weeks ago and I didn't have it in me. Vince Vaughn, man. Ugh. You know how that is. (And it doesn't help that director S. Craig Zahler's next movie will star Vaughn and Mel fucking Gibson, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.) Anyway I looked at the poster for Bone Tomahawk - Zahler's former film, which I adore - that hangs over my bed and I thought to myself... well, I just said a second ago. My Self listened.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is often more of a detached video-game than Bone Tomahawk was, and it has a cast I'm far less inclined towards liking than that former film did too - there's nobody here giving 1/10th of the performance that Richard Jenkins gave in the former. But there's a satisfying ridiculousness here - bone crunches heard from outer space, Don Johnson leading a team of underground Cobra-Commanders, and Udo Keir showing up to speechify about psychotic abortionists for god's sake.
And there's a... moral release, I suppose is the best way to put it, to watching something so unrepentantly bad for you as a movie like this. It lets us lean into our worst instincts, our most foul nature, but just in movie form. I argued for the rightness of that aspect of movie-going when Torture Porn was around, and I maintain still today that it's a healthy habit to indulge in. Now and then, anyway. We are not all sunshine and lollipops - ignoring the ugliness and brutality batting around inside of our brains is only gonna make it angrier. Some days are for Gene Kelly dancing with an animated mouse, and some days are for a face getting scraped off under a boot. Just catch me on the right one!
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