'Part of my soul did die when making this film': Gothic Corporeality, Extreme Cinema and Hardcore Horror in the Twenty-First Century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


As Gothic scholar Xavier Aldana-Reyes argues, ‘torture porn deals openly with the mutilation and annihilation of the human body’ but does so in a way that is ‘inherently Gothic’. As such, ‘the Gothic is somatic and corporeal’ (2014). This chapter aims to chart the development of Hardcore Horror cinema from the turn of the century, specifically the symbolic and physically violent mutilation and annihilation of the cinematic body on screen, as a contemporary manifestation of the Gothic. However, the semantics of a term like somatic would suggest that there is a separation between embodied trauma and psychological ramifications (factors that remain central to the ordeal logic of torture). As a point of departure, Hardcore Horror becomes a way of reconciling the somatic and corporeal representation of violent torture with the performative, embodied and psychological experiences of those involved in such films. An examination of Hardcore Horror cinema, as a form of extreme performance art, therefore allows for a nuanced analysis of these tensions.

Although not necessarily as ubiquitous as the cycles of torture porn from 2003 onward, hardcore horror in its contemporary state is in fact framed in the same discourse that surrounds that other, perhaps more 'legitimate' and visible example of horror cinema. Hardcore horror, like it's name suggests, places the films associated with such a moniker at the boundaries of violent representation and also explicit depictions of transgressive sex and bodily abjection. It is hard to move beyond the implications that the prefix 'hardcore' suggests, as a great slew of these films focus on what Steve Jones has noted as 'abduction and torture motifs' which are distinguished from examples of torture porn through 'a combination of verite, first person camerawork and humiliation themes' (2013).

Although that is not to say that torture porn narratives don’t focus on this ordeal logic themselves, it is the formal differences permeating examples of Hardcore Horror that are of concern (in addition to the inclusion of thematic taboos and instances of physical mutilation and self-harm). In this respect, the films discussed in this chapter (Begotten, Scrapbook, and The Bunny Game specifically) test the boundaries between ‘extreme pornography’ and ‘torture porn’, and it is this transgressive confluence of ordeal logic and explicit, genuine violence that has presented significant problems when Hardcore Horror has faced official censure.

The Bunny Game (Adam Rehmeier, 2011) will be discussed as a principal case study as it is a film that remains largely absent from contemporary scholarship and yet expertly confuses and conflates the distinctions between both real violence and sexual contact as ‘performance’ and aesthetic violence in the contexts of a fictional narrative. As this chapter aims to reconcile the corporeal and somatic aspects of the Gothic with the visceral psychological horror that permeates the ordeal narrative of Hardcore Horror, The Bunny Game is an apt film that represents monstrosity, extreme violence and transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGothic Film
Subtitle of host publicationAn Edinburgh Companion
EditorsRichard J. Hand, Jay McRoy
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781474448062
ISBN (Print)978147448048
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2020

Publication series

NameEdinburgh Companions to the Gothic


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