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Review: Extreme Cinema

 Wloszczyna, S. (26 October, 2004). “Extreme Cinema Returns With a Vengeance,” USA Today


Hollywood producers are clueing in to what is at first a surprising need among viewers: the emotional release films with graphic violence and gratuitous sex can provide. Apparently fear and shock are comforting.

Horror films have made a comeback, to the tune of handsome profits. In 2003 the R-rated remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre pulled in $80 million at the box office. This year’s thriller, Saw, hopes to do the same or better with a plot involving a woman who must find a way to unlock a large metallic trap before her face explodes. The film’s director, James Wan, may speak for its viewers when he says: “I definitely love to be scared. It draws the primal side out of you.” Screenwriter Leigh Whannell goes even further: “Humans are still violent animals, and you need to get that out. The killer has done a lot of the work for you by exorcising your subconscious for a while.” Even Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ, is said to play on this need.

With the rise of Internet-based films and shows competing with box office sales, producers have also set their cameras on more explicit sex, pressing R-ratings to new erotic limits. And even the once dreaded NC-17 rating is now viable, freeing directors up for more ghoul, sex, and overall shock. Producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) believes that art forms, “in order to have an impact, have to shock you or take you further. Movies are about images, and when they work, they disengage you from thinking and cause an extreme emotional experience.”

But some critics are less enthusiastic. Joanne Cantor, author of Teddy’s TV Troubles, agrees that sometimes the resolution offered by movies can be comforting, but points out that most research “shows that people feel even more frightened after a scary movie.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1.      Do you find violent films appealing? If so, why?
2.      Do teenagers you know frequent such films?
3.      Are films such as these indeed useful in providing an emotional outlet?
4.      What kind of effects from such films have you observed in people you know?


The potential for narratives to bring about a purgation of the emotions is a phenomenon observed since even Aristotle. But Hollywood producers are now claiming this a defense of what might otherwise be called offensive material. When movies claim to be offering viewers what they want, and thereby doing them a service, one wonders if the producers doth protest too much.   

Christopher S. Yates
© 2018 CYS

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