Panelists all agreed that the real-life violence seen on the evening news was more disturbing than fictional films, and that the current political and social landscape produced anxiety that is reflected in the popularity of extreme films.
John Carpenter, legendary director of films including Halloween, said the horror film business was cyclical. 'There's nothing brand new about any of this stuff [in current films], in the 1970s and 1980s we had more extreme stuff. We're just recycling that now.'
He continued: 'Films like Saw and Hostel and Audition come out of where the culture is now. We live in a fearsome world right now and that causes a lot of anxiety. [The horror boom] will go away when the culture changes again.'
Peter Block, president of acquisitions and co-productions for Lionsgate, which has backed the Saw and Hostel franchises, noted that his company had long been a supporter of horror films but that the bigger studios had jumped on them because of box-office success. 'There's a glut of horror films, and the studios won't always see a return on their investment, so they'll move on to something else,' he predicted.
James Steyer, CEO and founder of media watchdog Common Sense, said that he had no problem about artists like Carpenter making violent films, only a problem when the industry inappropriately markets those films to children. He noted that Common Sense often had bigger issues with children and violent video games, not just films.
'There is a commercial imperative to put violent stuff in front of young audiences,' Steyer said. 'We don't want censorship, our primary issue is marketing and sales.'
Earlier this week, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made the somewhat surprising move of asking Congress to look into regulating violent content on television. Despite that move, Steyer doesn't think the government will want to regulate violent film content. 'Legislation is very unlikely to happen for both political and constitutional reasons,' he said.
All three men said that copy-cat behaviour related to violent films was not the most important issue, affecting on a tiny fraction of the population who are already mentally disturbed 'People were speculating if the Virginia Tech shooter modeled himself after a film,' Block noted. 'If it wasn't that film it would have been a different film or a book.'
Steyer added: 'The de-sensitisation to violence is a much bigger issue. That's not just films, that's news, that's about this country's leadership and issues like gun control as well. We're subjected to repeated exposure to violent behaviour.'
Carpenter but it more matter-of-factly: 'Real life causes this shit (violence in society), fake life in movies doesn't cause it.'