Hey, I've got a couple more things to say, especially after seeing Last House on the Left (Craven, 1972) last night.
I have Brandon's and Jeff's posts in my head, so I'm trying to sort my thoughts. They won't come out neatly, I don't think.
We do seem to talk about this a lot. I think that each time, we're saying something a least a little new, or we wouldn't keep talking about it. We're not the "you're wrong, no, you're wrong" sort, and more sensitive to nuances. So, let John be bored, and let him wait until we talk about something he's more interested in.
First, I really appreciate you tackling this discussion, Jeff. I feel like I'm seeing you on a different side than usual, and find myself changing my estimation of you and your ability to appreciate horror. I admire your willingness to try to find anything redeeming at all about a film like Martyrs.
Secondly, I don't see anyone taking me to task for my statement, but I still want to clarify. I guess I do believe that there is a line that a director shouldn't cross (even before the one that allows harming people and animals), but I couldn't tell you where that is. I can tell you where it is for me, but I have no way of knowing from a societal standpoint, where my line is relative to anyone else's. I suppose when I speak of a director respecting the distance between fantasy and reality, I mean perhaps simply respecting that there must be a distance or it's no longer entertainment. So then he must come up with his own conclusions as to what represents that distance, and we must decide whether or not our limits are compatible with his. But when a director disregards the notion altogether, then I think that he is moving from the realm of art to something else. I'm not going to get into a discussion of what is art and what isn't, but I think at least some people would agree that for art to be considered such, there must be a separation between the artist and the audience. Otherwise, anything can be art (some would say that it is, but I think that notion is silly). I need to be able to respond to art, and I can't do that when I'm closing my eyes and plugging my ears. I don't even think a work of art--like a horror film--needs to be saying anything profound. The thing is, when that gap is removed, I'm experiencing a thing rather than observing it. It's one thing when it's giant robots beating the hell out of each other and I feel like I'm right there. It's completely different when it's one human being torturing another. I don't want to be right there.
That's why I like the quick deaths of movies like the Jason films, or Final Destinations, or anything like that. Crack, snap, you're dead. On to the next one. Roller coaster ride. Roller coasters are fun because they last a couple of minutes. Leave there for a half hour and now I want to throw up.
The only time I appreciate a film pushing the envelope is when it's doing something new, or at least something that hasn't been done in awhile. There's an element of exploration, innovation, creativity, etc. If it goes too far, you might not know it until it's been in theaters for a little while. It's why I make an allowance for Hostel, but not, say, Captivity. One's breaking new ground, or breaking up fallow ground, the other is just sowing its seed in that ground (the kind Brandon referred to in his last post, not the kind you're probably thinking of). It's why I make an allowance for I Spit On Your Grave, and Last House on the Left (1972). As I mentioned in a FB comment, I was surprised to see Craven letting his film be what it was, but acknowledging that he explored some territory in LHOTL that he didn't need to revisit. I totally respect that.
For the record, the most harrowing part of LHOTL for me was when Krug made Phyllis piss herself. And then finding out later that the actress really did piss herself for the scene. Talk about blurring the line. I also found the inclusion of a woman among the aggresors interesting. We got screen time with them when they weren't committing crimes to see them as more than monsters. It reminded me of Zombie's Corpses/Rejects gang. I found the silences in between aggressive acts interesting, like we're watching the their humanity slip away from them, bit by bit. Craven left a good half hour for the parents' revenge scene, too, so the film raises all kinds of questions not just about the torture and rape of two young women, but the length the parents go to avenge themselves. Revenge in films often happens towards the end, and we don't get time to process it. Here, we get to think about what they're doing and why we're enjoying that so much more than we enjoyed the violence against the young women. Which leads me to another potentially disturbing thought. When I was watching ISOYG, I had to turn away for some of the rougher parts (I mean, they just dragged on and on). But when it was the woman's turn to exact revenge, I swear I rewound and rewatched several of those scenes and tried not to pay attention to how much I relished them. It's a testament to the effectiveness of what came before that I wanted to see those young men die. But then....we also saw them not being monsters, especially the developmentally disabled young man. It was honestly a very confusing film to know what to do with emotionally.
Anyway, did you know that Craven was inspired to make Last House on the Left by Virgin Spring? Yeah, the Bergman one.
Hope you could make sense of this.