For decades people have been decrying the end of civilization and the jading effects of entertainment. Horror films have always loomed large in the eyes of these social critics.
Roger Ebert lamented that the original The Hitcher was a film that preached nihilism and wrote an elegant review criticizing the film as completely devoid of any moral value. He gave the film zero stars, a rating he once reserved for films he thought were morally repugnant.
Joe Bob Briggs has written a wonderful book which discusses the effect that Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the true "Saw," has had on popular culture and its filmic legacy. Briggs analysis is less fear-monger, and more fan, but he highlights many of the criticisms laid out against "shock value" horror.
In 2006, David Edelstein referred to Eli Roth's Hostel as "torture porn," a label that has been retroactively applied to other splatter-based horror films.
But like when Pauline Kael used the word fascist to describe Sam Peckinpah's The Straw Dogs, a use that trivialized the horror of the consequences of actual fascism by broadening the word beyond usefulness, it appears that critics are now expanding the use of the term "torture porn" to the point of making it meaningless.
I will be the first to agree with a critic who says that a film representing the torture of women for the supposed enjoyment of an audiences is misogynistic and likely debases the audience viewing it. But when one applies the pejorative term "torture porn," with all its baggage (as Reuters did today}, to a film like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later the term has lost all useful critical meaning.
Calling the bi frication of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in The Hitcher excessive and immoral is one thing, though it should be noted that the bi frication by Semi takes place off screen. Calling 28 Days Later, a film which stresses the centrality of FAMILY and compassion to the continuation of society, "torture porn" is quite another thing.
The first, I consider worth discussing. Is there any "moral" value to a film like The Hitcher or Hostel? Does Wolf Creek teach us anything other than we need to kill any random stranger who stops by our campfire at Ayer's Rock? Those things I am willing to discuss, and even concede a lot to critics. But to criticize Danny Boyle's film in the same way is so stupid as to be beneath consideration.
Let's have some specificity in our criticism please, otherwise it is useless to those to whom it is supposed to be useful.