DVD Review: Into The Lion’s Den (2011)
Review by Tristan Bishop
Caution: some spoilers ahead.
I think I’ll be upsetting no-one, save possibly the future producers of Hostel 4, when I say that torture porn as a dominant horror genre is on the way out. The first Saw film was 8 years ago, and what will doubtless be forever considered the artistic pinnacle of the form, Martyrs, was four years after that. Since then we’ve been subjected to an endless stream of increasingly boring tales where people are tied to chairs and have various nasty things done to their bodies with garden tools and kitchen implements. Save the occasional gem like The Loved Ones, it’s been an ever-decreasing spiral, leaving us fans feeling like we are the ones being tied to our chairs and tortured, albeit with boredom and over-familiarity rather than sharp blades – a slower and more painful fate entirely.
Which brings us to Into The Lion’s Den. A film which sets itself apart from the Saw/Hostel crowd by one thing: sexual orientation. That’s right folks, this is gay torture porn. A sub-subgenre I had previously not stumbled across (although I have seen a few other gay genre pieces, from slashers to the utterly bizarre 70’s biker film The Pink Angels). So far so good – we have novelty appeal at least, but is the film itself much cop?
We start with three friends on a road trip, but these are no teens in search of kicks, but three gay men in their mid-30s, heading to New York to live it up. Johnny is the ringleader – outspoken, voracious in his appetites and a little bit of a loose cannon (an early scene shows him seducing a gas-station attendant before stealing his trousers and driving off without paying!); Mikey, who is altogether more insular, getting over a long term relationship and (it turns out) getting over the news that he is now HIV positive; and their friend Ted, a sheltered black guy who it seems has only recently come out and is determined to get some ‘life experience’ out of the trip.
So far so good – But Johnny is stalling for time before they get to NYC and they end up having to stay the night in a cheap hotel in a redneck town. Johnny convinces the others to go out and take in the nightlife – but it turns out he has hidden intentions, as he has been communicating with a man over a ‘Grindr’-styled phone app called, rather bluntly ‘Bender’. He leads them to a bar called The Lion’s Den where they stick out like the proverbial sore thumbs (not helped by Johnny’s tight T-shirt with the words ‘blowjobs happen’ emblazoned upon it), get into a fight over a case of mistaken identity, and go to leave. However, Johnny decides to stay, get drunk and await his potential conquest…
Of course this is a big mistake, as it turns out the barman and his wife are the ones who lured him there. Theirs is a special relationship indeed, as they love each other, but he is gay, and so in order to keep their marriage alive they kidnap, drug, rape and torture men, before feeding them a drug cocktail so strong it wipes their memories entirely. Of course, Johnny’s friends go looking for him, and walk straight back into a trap…
The basic plot is simple as they come, and something we’ve seen a million times before, but this film is interesting primarily due to the characters themselves. We’re so used to seeing annoying teens in our horror films that to suddenly be confronted with characters who are not only more ‘mature’ (at least in age terms) but also have interesting problems and interactions with each other, that it seems like a genuine and welcome blast of fresh air. Johnny is having trouble coming to terms with the fact that he is ‘an ageing party boy’, Mikey is dealing with a broken heart and the onset of a life-threatening condition, and Ted still seems to be taking tentative first steps into his new lifestyle. We actually care about these characters – yes, over half the film is taking up with characterisation and scene-setting, but in this instance it just works, helped by a decent script which avoids too much cliché, and fine performances from all three of the friends (especially Mikey, who is very likeable).
Once the actual horror film gets going things are maybe less successful, as the husband and wife team, whilst OK, don’t have the acting chops of the main trio. What is interesting to me about these sequences is that you don’t see much male rape on film – let only male rape by a woman. These sequences don’t perhaps have the shock value that you might expect – Johnny mostly laughs throughout his ordeal, which angers the couple so much that they end up accidentally killing him, for instance, but they are also not shot in a way conducive to titillation (in stark contrast to the aforementioned gas station scene, which features an almost-hardcore blowjob).
Unfortunately the film is further let down by a REALLY poor and slushy ending which seems shipped in from a gay romance, and left me rather scratching my head, so unfortunately I can’t recommend Into The Lion’s Den as a decent horror film, but it IS interesting and kept my attention and respect up to that point, so if you’re in the mood for something a little different, you could do worse.
Into The Lion’s Den is out now on Region 2 DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures.