Sunday, 27 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #36: Gore, what is it good for?

Now before I get pummelled by rampaging hordes of Al Gore fans, this post is not about Global Warming, or, judging from the weather outside my meagre garret, the lack thereof.


This about gore with a small 'g' I'm talking about the awful gross squishy bits of blood and mutilated organs used in horror films to make the audience go "eeeewwwww."

But at the heart of this piece lies a question.

Is gore even shocking anymore in the age of CSI?

First, lets start, as usual, with a little history. Now if you've read my post on shock in films, then you know all about the Hayes Code, so I won't repeat myself.

Europe didn't have the Hayes Code, so their films were slightly freer to look at darker themes, and when you get dark, you often get violent, and when you get violent, blood is gonna spill.

Hollywood dipped its toe into the pool of blood with films like Psycho, and stuck its foot in with Night of the Living Dead (both films, according to legend, used chocolate syrup for blood) and got up to their ankles with Jaws and The Excorcist, but the Europeans by then were taking full belly flops.

Most of these Euro-horror films were little more than schlock using blood, guts, and boobies to cover up a severe lack of coherent plotting and directorial talent. But a few roses of artists grew in this pot of fertilizer like Mario Bava and Dario Argento who brought a unique visual style to the bloody horror genre. Dario Argento's giallo and horror films like Deep Red revelled in new levels, or depths, of blood and sadism.

Argento went to America to produce George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which revived the American zombie sub-genre and brought new levels of gore to American audiences as grey-faced cannibalistic ghouls munched down on the living in what was considered graphic detail for the time.

Soon gore and horror became a pair of pickled foetal siamese twins found in a
side-show jar. Gross, tacky, but having enough interest to compel folks to shell out their two-bits a gander.

At around the same time saw the rise of the "slasher" horror genre where various masked maniacs sliced, diced, and occasionally sawed nubile teenagers.

Now the first modern "slashers" like John Carpenter's Halloween, and Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, despite their horrifying subject matter, were not particularly bloody. At least not on screen, preferring to let the audience's imagination fill in the blanks, to a more cost-wise, and disturbing effect.

However, their imitators, and they were legion, didn't have that much fait
h in the audience's imagination and bombarded the screen with constant decapitations, dismemberments, disembowelments, and rivers, and rivers of blood.

This trend dominated the horror market well through the 80s and 90s, as horror became more and more disreputable as a genre, with more and more horror films being condemned to straight to video oblivion.

There were occasional burst back into the mainstream, like the Scream movies (which were tongue in cheek parodies), and the indie film The Blair Witch Project, but most horror films were forgotten,
drowning in their own fake blood.

Then along came CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. To those readers who spend their lives in caves in remotest Borneo, CSI is a TV crime-drama centring on forensics experts, and is a huge hit, with two successful spin-offs.

The show was the closest thing to a Dario Argento or Mario Bava style giallo that American television has yet seen, with its hyper stylish cinematography, editing, production design, and its highly detailed and explicit presentation of the remains of gruesome violence.

Having dismembered bodies, and chopped up organs on 3 times a week in prime-time, and several times a day in syndication did a lot to take the shock out of blood and guts.

In fact Dario Argento's recent giallo Il Cartaio (The Card Player) struck this viewer as a slightly souped up episode of CSI: Italy.

So horror began to shift into two paths.

There was the J-horror craze, which was a mix of psychology and the supernatural, inspired by the horror films of Japan, but when it came to gore you had to see the fad most folks call "torture porn."

Torture porn started out with the film Saw, which shocked and surprised people with its sadistic twist on the slasher genre. But it spawned legions of imitators, whose only creative input into the genre was to up the ante on the sadism.

These films quickly slipped into self-parody with their super-intelligent serial killers using seemingly god-like powers and unlimited resources to play sadistic games with their victims before killing them, and always managing to escape, or recruit an heir in the end to keep the sequels coming.

Now it looks like the torture porn fad is fading, and the performance of the J-horror films at the American box-office have been uneven at best. So what's next for the genre now that blood and guts have become banal?

Boris Karloff, the horror film legend, preferred to call his films "Terror Films" because he thought the term horror contained what he considered an unseemly element of disgust when what he wanted was pure fear.

Maybe we should think of a new 'terror' genre?

What do you think? Is gore boring?


  1. What do you think? Is gore boring?

    My mom's a nurse and my dad's an EMT so for me, yes, gore is boring because I'd seen that and worse in the books that decorated our house. (if you really want to get sick, look at skin diseases) Signs scared me worse than the Reanimator. It's always scarier to toy with the audience's imagination and to use the unexplained (though as you pointed out with gore, a lot of movies like to use "the unexplained" to cover up poor writing).

  2. John Carpenter experimented with this in the little regarded but genius film "Vampires."

    In that the film there are "horror" vampires, but the truly scary creature is the lead played by James Woods with intensity. Wood's character, the vampire hunter, will do anything to kill the vampires. Becoming an anti-Vampire as scary in his own way as the monster.

  3. Herschell Gordon Lewis' movies predated most of the gore/nudity euro-schlock, and arguably influenced much of it. I'm sure that I could name some other American examples if I was more into the drive-in/grindhouse scene.

  4. I forgot to add, I think gore (or at least gore for gore's sake) is boring. It's not that I don't watch or enjoy gory movies, but I can't think of a movie that I've enjoyed mainly for gore. Gore (like sex and nudity) is often used to cover up bad filmmaking. It's telling that Halloween contained very little gore, but most of its legions of sub-standard copies resorted to buckets of the stuff.

  5. Jic-

    I left Herschell Gordon Lewis out because he was pretty far out of the mainstream, even more so than Romero's first Dead movie. And I'm not sure how much Lewis' film influenced Europe considering they barely played in the USA before the rise of home video and he went back into advertising.

    Plus, Bloodfeast was soooo bad, I burned it from my mind.

  6. Blood Feast grossed $4M, a lot for the early '60s, especially when mainstream movie theaters couldn't touch it. He made 29 more movies before he retired from filmmaking in 1972. It doesn't sound like he was so usuccessful.

  7. I never read that stat before.

    I saw Bloodfeast when I was kid and we rented a VCR and some movies from our towns first video store.

    We didn't rent the movie, it was left in the VCR by the last renter, but we watched it anyway, and I find it hard to believe that a film that awfully made grossed $4M in the 1960s.

    But I'm not a gorehound expert on Lewis and his movies.

  8. I'm not an expert either. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've never seen one of his movies. My sources for the $4M were:

    1) The IMDb page for Blood Feast
    2) This article -