While there have been no shortage of attack ads in recent months in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race, it has been lacking in one major area: moral outrage.
That ended Monday afternoon, when the Chris Christie-led Republican Governor’s Association -- which has already donated well north of $5 million to Gov. Tom Corbett’s reelection campaign -- began circulating a story from Buzzfeed.com pointing out that an actor featured in a recent Wolf campaign commercial starred in an alleged “Torture Porn” film called Breeding Farm.
According to a release from the RGA, “The Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, prominently featured an actor in his new TV ad who has starred in torture porn. As the below BuzzFeed story points out, Alan Benyak, who appeared in Tom Wolf’s new television ad, appeared in a disgusting torture porn film that featured women being bought and sold, kidnapped, brutally exploited, raped and murdered. Tom Wolf wants to be governor, but this is a clear example of his terrible judgment. If Tom Wolf doesn’t know who he is featuring in his ads ..., how can voters trust him to make the right decisions for Pennsylvania? Tom Wolf owes an apology to every Pennsylvanian immediately for this incredibly offensive and poor judgment.”
The story was picked up by major news outlets across the state; the Wolf camp offered a mea culpa and began chopping the actor, Alan Benyak, and his very brief scene from the commercial. "We were unaware of Mr. Benyak's involvement in the film, and we are making changes to the ad now," Wolf spokesman Mark Nicastre told the Philadelphia Daily News.
If the RGA’s intention was to get Tom Wolf’s name to show up in search engines tied to the word "porn," the mission was accomplished.
Buzzfeed called the movie a "twisted porn film" and Politics Pa picked up the story with the headline: “Wolf Includes Pornographic Actor in Campaign Ad.”
But while Breeding Farm may be a lot of things, it may not be "pornographic" in the sense that people think. "Torture porn," says local filmmaker and author Mike Watt, is a term designed to “denigrate a specific genre of horror film.”
“I haven’t seen this film, but just by looking at the trailer it’s no better or worse than other movies I’ve seen in this genre,” Watt says. "Torture Porn is a phrase that doesn’t mean a thing to someone outside of the industry. Most people are dropping the first word and just calling it porn. That’s just not what this is.”
Watt, a local filmmaker who has made several horror movies for his production company, Happy Cloud Productions, has also long studied and written about films that have largely gone unseen by the public. His essays on these films have appeared on his blog and in a recently-released book, both called Movie Outlaw.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the Republicans are throwing this word around — it’s PR gold for them — but it just seems kind of desperate," says Watt.
“They purposely attached this word 'torture porn' to this story because they were looking for a negative catch phrase to play to the voters. It’s not porn. It’s misogynistic, it looks a little trashy and exploitative but it’s no better or worse than any other film in the genre.”
“It just seems like an angry attack on this actor rather than going after Tom Wolf on the issues."
Benyak, a Charleroi attorney and former candidate for Common Pleas Court Judge, was certainly attacked. As Buzzfeed describes it, the film "features Benyak torturing a half-naked woman, buying a woman, force-feeding a woman, engaging in cannibalism, and inspecting a woman as if she is livestock.” Tuesday’s Tribune-Review featured the headline: “Wolf campaign pulls ad with Charleroi attorney who starred in torture film.”
Although can a movie be labeled a torture film, if no actual torture takes place? Isn’t that kind of like labeling Pittsburgh- filmed Silence of the Lambs a snuff film?
Benyak told the Trib's Salena Zito: “Unfortunately, I have become political fodder in a game of high-stakes politics due to a small role I played in a low-budget film as a favor to a friend struggling to fulfill his own dreams. I'm a veteran, a small business owner, and I'm active in my community. If helping friends in need is what I'm charged with, then I am guilty, and I won't apologize for it.”
The friend Benyak refers to is the film’s co-writer and director, Cody Knotts. Knotts himself ran twice for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Republican.
“This whole thing appears to be a deliberate misappropriation of the genre and, to be honest, it’s pretty annoying,” says Watt. "I often do Industrial films, commercials and PSAs and I often use the same actors that I use in my horror movies. Does that means my movies are now political because the actors have done different roles?”
And if Republicans don't like the movie, they can of course justclose their eyes.