The flurry of recent press both praising and decrying a new movement in horror filmmaking, dubbed, with tongue planted firmly in butt-cheek, the “Splat-Pack,” shows a determination to justify a cultural black hole. The need to align epochs of genres, especially horror, with sociopolitical realities has always made for neatly encapsulated criticism and terrific sound bites, but this sort of assessment works better in retrospect. Those who make up this contingent of new filmmakers are from such disparate backgrounds and sensibilities, nationally and otherwise, that to group them together as some kind of coalition comes across as desperate at best, disingenuous at worst. The truth is that the need to place instantaneous social readings on this new wave of horror willfully ignores the pathetic opportunism behind some of the films, as well as the savvy genre reclamation of others. Those influential Seventies horror films, from the dingy cult basement specials of Wes Craven to the multiplex delights of John Carpenter, were for the most part recouped decades later as trenchant post-Vietnam meditations on social disillusionment as a way of putting a neat bow atop a tumultuous past.
This is not to propose that there is no commentary or merit in any of these recent horror films, or that political metaphor isn’t detectable. The problem is that these filmmakers justify their lack of imagination on philosophical grounds. The grotesquely self-mythologizing Eli Roth has evidently bought into the hype for some time now, as he’s been digging a grave for himself with his own words since the 2006 release of Hostel, which so titillated mainstream audiences with its cut-and-dry scenarios of young people tied up and mutilated for sport that it brought the term “torture porn” into the public discourse. Now with the release of Hostel Part Two, one must ask: was the reputation of this effortless self-promoter (he’s a Tarantino without the intimidating sense of editing or composition) really based on one well timed—read: politically opportunistic—slasher flick and his two-minute Grindhouse gag reel?