Welcome back to Horrorhead, a column all about the connections between horror and scifi. On Battlestar Galactica, there's an ongoing theme of torture: humans gang-rape an imprisoned Cylon; the Cylons beat a man so badly he loses his eye (not to mention all the humans they kill outright); and there's even a little human-on-Cylon washboarding early in the series. These are not scenes that take place entirely offscreen. We see beatings; we see the bloody, freaked-out face of Six the Cylon after she's been raped so many times she can't stand up and has lost the will to eat. The question is, do we need to see these scenes? Would this series be as powerful without them? And by extension, would any torture-laced scifi flick like The Hills Have Eyes or Cube be as enticing if it lost the mutilations or the razor net that falls from the ceiling and reduces living humans to little cubes of flesh? (Spoilers ahead.)
The answer is obviously complicated. For some people, torture puts any story beyond the pale: a couple of weeks ago, scifi writer Karen Joy Fowler told me in an interview that she refuses to watch Battlestar Galactica because there's too much torture in it. But millions of movie fans have turned near-future flick Hostel, about an imaginary Eastern European country that houses a torture-entertainment center for the rich, into a cult hit and franchise. And the TV series 24, which is also a near-future dystopia, also has millions of drooling fans who don't seem to mind that superspy Jack, our main character, is constantly torturing people with everything from ugly lamps to fists.