Having A Ball: the fortunes of the ball gag in mainstream cinema

Because yesterday I was totally watching a trailer for The Ledge, which is a mainstream, respectable Hollywood movie and everything (we know it's respectable; it stars Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard, and is described as 'a battle of philosophies' on IMDB) and is about somebody threatening to jump off've a building and somebody else trying to talk him out of jumping off've the building. This, coincidentally, is how Terrence Howard took the news of his sacking from Iron Man 2. I think it was a guilt-stricken Don Cheadle who talked him down.

Any the how, I was watching the trailer, and for some reason I was watching it in Russian* (it being Russian is actually highly important) and I was pondering Terrence Howard, doing his crying face again. And then this happened:

Which used to be something you'd never see outside of, ahem, specialist material and the odd horror movie. Nowadays, the ball gag is everywhere; from crappy horror movies to crappy Liv Tyler movies to crappy Kevin Smith movies (and comics. Batman ends up on the receiving end in Smith's The Widening Gyre. Which is just bollocks. Frank Miller's goddamn Batman wouldn't have put up with that shit). Watching The Ledge trailer, it occurred to me that the humble ball is no longer just the preserve of crappy horror movies and dodgy (possibly illegal) pornography. Last year's Disappearance Of Alice Creed used the ball to great effect. Even the otherwise repulsive Rihanna featured the gag in the video for her single S&M (insert joke about how I wish she'd just shut up and wear it instead). Bravo, it's surprising to see something like that on daytime TV. That said, S&M depicts the kinky life as all whips and chains and a bit of a freakshow, so it ultimately does no favours. To anyone. Least of all music.

Outside of Betty Page videos, it was Pulp Fiction what started it all. With Ving Rhames, Bruce Willis and a gimp, it's a remarkable scene. It takes Pulp Fiction in directions anew, and would be endlessly ripped off and homaged for years to come. It catapulted the ball gag into the mainstream (for want of a better word. I hesitate to call Pulp Fiction's Indie crime thriller properly mainstream). Still, Pulp Fiction spoofs aside, all was quiet for the ball gag for a good few years. Sure, it popped up in the likes of The Simpsons (!) and the occasional horror flick (namely shit like Candyman 3), but Hollywood wasn't too sure what to do with it just yet.

And then torture got big. Not one but two Hostels treated their protagonists to the ball, as did countless other trashy gore flicks. The ball gag is an easy way to depict extremism and sexualise a movie without so much as whipping a cock out. Is it any wonder the enraged Mary Whitehouses of the world started bandying about the word 'torture porn' when every Tom, Dick and Harry was using such an overtly pornographic bit of kit as a prop? For the most part though, any horror movie which utilises the ball gag isn't a very good one anyway. When I see a badguy start breaking out the balls, I cringe. And then pop one off the wrist.

"Oh I see. So when you asked if I wanted to do another Bond film..."

Years of unimaginative horror toss followed. Then Alice Creed came out, and it was kinda like watching Pulp Fiction again. Alice Creed is an intelligent, thrilling movie and the presence of the ball works to show just how prepared her captors were. It takes a lot of effort to find and purchase a ball gag. Not that I would know that. Used in such a context, the object is desexualised. It's an implement used to silence the poor girl and not - as most everywhere else - a sign of Kinky Time.

I'm not sure how it'll work in The Ledge. I mean, is it something one of the characters just happened to have lying around, or is Liv's kidnap that pre-meditated? I suppose this is why it remains fairly underutilized. Everyone has a roll of duct tape or a scarf or a potato** hanging around. Which is a shame, because balls make me laugh. I've given crappy horror movies a hard time in this essay, but I was just (wait for it) busting their balls. I like plenty of humour in my horror, and for some reason, I find the ball gag inherently comic.

Ha, you look like an idiot and now you're going to die.

I mean, Liv Tyler has a pretty silly face under normal circumstances. The ball accentuates that. It makes its victim look and sound silly and highlights not only the ridiculousness of most horror but also communicates a sense of utter powerlessness. Plus there's drooling and drooling is funny. It's just a shame that Liv's gone with boring-ass black in The Ledge. I think a nice red would have complemented her silly face beautifully (if you want to swap instances of the word 'silly' for 'hot', that's fine. I like Liv Tyler's silly face). Whatever else The Ledge is, I'm sure it will in no way be worthy of a post as long as this one. Whatever, (wait again) I had a ball.

* The shot in question only appears on the Russian trailer. Kinky bastards.
** Yes, a potato, ala Dennis Rodman's Simon Sez.


  1. I can see that you put a lot of thought into this post. Not sure if that's impressive, or frightening, considering the subject matter.

    Regardless, I wanted to let you know that I included a link to this article in the latest "issue" of Spatter Analysis.

    Check it out!


  2. OHHHH,.. I'm sure to watch this out..I'm also an avid fan of a suspense movies and with your trailer story i guess this was really really good..And i think Ball gags did highlighted on the story well.

    Best regards,

  3. Correction:

    Use of ballgag between consenting adults≠perversion.

    Use of ballgag on terrified victim=perversion.

    1. Well gee, I knew that.

      To be fair to me though, I was being flippant, so the point is a little moot.


    2. You did not give that impression when you framed the use of ball gags as a general perversion. If you were indeed being flippant about your thoughts, than I can agree your point is moot.

  4. I like ball gags.