Stephen King on the artistic merits of torture porn.
‘Sure it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable.’

kingcolumnThe politics of horror
The name of writer Stephen King is pretty much synonymous with horror. While he has also written stories that formed the basis for such films as “The Green Mile,” “Stand By Me” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” his fame and acclaim rest most firmly on “The Shining,” “Carrie,” “The Dead Zone” and countless other spooky, macabre tales.

The new film “1408” based on a short story by King, follows John Cusack as a non-believer slumming-it as a writer of ghost tales — the author denies any similarities — who finds himself in a hotel room dominated by a genuine, otherworldly evil force. Other upcoming King adaptations include “The Mist,” to be directed by Frank Darabont, and “Cell,” which currently has controversial director Eli Roth attached to direct. King recently got on the phone to talk about, among other thing, the current state of horror, including the recent wave of “torture porn” films, the moral responsibilities of the artist and what makes a good Stephen King movie.

On “Torture Porn”
I go to see the films because I like them, I like to be scared anyway. And I think you have a tendency to see things come in waves. If one thing is successful others follow in its wake. And the thing is, “Hostel 2” is actually a better picture in every way. It’s very clever and Eli Roth is a tremendous talent, and has a tremendous eye as a director. The material makes a lot of people uneasy, it makes me uneasy.

There’s another side of that too. The gore obscures, particularly in the minds of critics, some of the reasons why those movies are successful. The gore in movies like “Last House on The Left” was so new that it kind of slapped audiences in the face, “I can’t believe I saw that, let’s go see it again!’ Like driving past an accident. But people get desensitized to that in a hurry and you cease to get involved on a level where there are characters. It’s like watching people in a shooting gallery being knocked over one by one. You can’t go for gore for the sake of gore in movies anymore.

Is there such a thing as going too far?
Sure. I’m very uneasy about this film coming out with Elisha Cuthbert, “Captivity.” There’s an exploitation film about Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, and I don’t want to see it. It makes me feel creepy just to think about it. It’s almost like exploiting murder for the sake of murder. I understand “torture porn.” It’s a good phrase. But I would argue with you, there’s a fine line there, its redeeming social merit but its more than that, it’s an artistic thing too. There’s something going on in “Hostel 2” that isn’t torture porn, there’s really something going on there that’s interesting on an artistic basis. Sure it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable.

Where’s the line?
It’s really hard to define, and I’m not trying to dodge the question at all, I’m just saying it varies from case to case. I guess I would say the line, although it’s hard to generalize – and if you do generalize you’re really in danger of going down the road of censorship and that’s a bad thing – but if you’ve got a movie where some girl gets cut in half, like in “Hostel 2,” here’s the thing, we don’t want that to happen to her. We get to understand a little bit about who she is, the character is pretty well drawn, she’s lonely, she doesn’t really know how to make friends and somebody’s nice to her and she ends up in that situation and is going to be killed by somebody who’s paid to do it. But we don’t want it to happen. And if you put us in the situation, here’s a chick in a slasher movie and we know she’s going to get carved up and that’s what we came to see, well, that puts you in the same position as some psycho out there cruising the interstates of America looking for road kill And that to my mind if immoral.

I’m not very interested in the dark side, in a sense. What I’m really interested in is how people deal with the dark side. What drives someone to kidnap a little girl and what he actually did to her when he had her, those things don’t interest me. What interests me is how we deal with the fact that there are monsters like that in our lives. And I think that’s one of the real jobs, one of the moral responsibilities that fiction has, whether its books, whether its movies, it to explore that kind of thing. You see that in “Hostel 2,” authentically chilling moments that redeem, lift it out of a genre I don’t really want to get into and I don’t want to support.

On what makes a good Stephen King Movie
I like character. I think the best thing that happens to my stuff is when somebody will look past the horror label. If the filmmakers labels it in their mind and says, “I’m making a horror movie,” that’s a bad thing. I also don’t have much respect for directors who say, “oh no, this is not a horror movie.” I feel like in “1408,” you’re supposed to go in there and you’re supposed to sweat. I thought it was terrifying. It works on that level and it should. The primary consideration going into something like that, and I never think “I want to horrify the reader” I think I want to assault him and take his attention and make him forget what’s going on in the outside would. That’s what entertainment is supposed to do.

And a bad Stephen King movie?
I don’t like movies that are cold. I don’t like movies that approach it like an exercise. A movie, for instance, where say Jack Nicholson and his wife are trapped in a hotel and you don’t feel any love between them, you don’t feel any caring, it just becomes sort of an exercise. And that bothers me. I think things should be hot, they should be involving, and you should feel a real sense of love and caring for the characters and want them to get out of there. It goes back to the slasher porn thing, I don’t want to go to a movie and root for the people to die. I want to go to a movie and root for them to live. I want to root for John Cusack to get out of that room alive. I want him to find a way out.

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