A History of Horror #5: Splatter

This year Zentsuji Middle School number 4's Class E was chosen from among 43,000 Ninth grade classes. This year's game, said to be more blistering than the last - - Oh look there! There she is! The winner's a girl! Surviving a fierce battle that raged two days, seven hours, and 43 minutes - the winner is a girl! Look, she's smiling! Smiling! The girl definitely just smiled!

Depictions of heavy violence in entertainment have been around since the medium could exist. In today's society, it's not uncommon to turn on the television and see images that shock or disturb you. Violence in particular goes unpunished in a lot of cases. While sexual imagery may be heavily censored, blood and guts rarely get the same treatment. Series such as The Walking Dead and Heroes have famously featured heavy violence but not a single bare nipple. NBC's Hannibal TV series received both praise and controversy for its depiction of graphic violence. The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff wrote that the series "restores the seriousness of purpose to a genre long in need of it.... Hannibal is interested in death and murder as a means to glance sidelong at some of life’s largest questions."

In news media and reality television, violence tends to be more censored. Due to the authenticity of it, showing people dying or being seriously injured often comes with a n advisory warning beforehand. The risk is that some people may be triggered by seeing real-life violence if they've experienced something similarly traumatic. The same effect can occur in films.

Even in action films, violence feels so censored. Every summer blockbuster is adverse to showing blood. This is due to the studio wanting to secure a lower age rating for the movie, hence more people will be expected to watch it. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this (action movies can have little graphic images and still be entertaining), it really impresses me when I see something that isn't afraid to accept a higher rating in order to depict more shocking scenes. In action and horror, this genre is known as Splatter.

Film critic Michael Arnzen describes splatter films as "self-consciously revelling in the special effects of gore as an artform." The term "splatter cinema" was coined by George A. Romero for his 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. The film has some very famous violent scenes, such as a zombie having the top of its head cut off by rotating helicopter blades, a zombie that dies with a screwdriver through the side of its head, and a man that has his guts torn out by a horde of zombies. Violence in cinema had been around long before this; the 1916 film Intolerance features two onscreen decapitations, and a scene in which a spear is slowly driven through a soldier's naked abdomen as blood wells from the wound. Although initially a commercial failure, the film has since been cemented as the first splatter film.

Gory violence didn't see much popularity in films until the late 1950s. Hammer Film Productions first experimented in horror with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958), which depicted heavier violent versions of their respective characters. Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku (1960) featured scenes of flaying and dismemberment, and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) introduced many groundbreaking images and motifs that would be used in splatter films for years to come. Herschell Gordon Lewis directed Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965), which were all detrimental in maintaining a niche rarely seen in mainstream cinema; scenes of visceral gore. In the next few decades, gore in horror movies would become more commonplace and the splatter genre became exploitative in order to sell tickets.

While the genre took off well in several European countries, reception to the genre was met with controversy in the United States and United Kingdom. I Spit on Your Grave (1978) was banned in countries such as Ireland and Canada, with heavily censored versions appearing in the US, U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Film critic Roger Ebert sought to revise censorship laws as well as banning commercially available splatter films. Member of Parliament Graham Bright sponsored the Video Recordings Act, a system of censorship and certification for home video in the U.K., which ultimately led to many splatter films being banned in the country for many years.

Splatter became more of a gimmick in the next few years. Horror directors considered the overuse of special effects for gore purposes to be cheap or comedic. Physical comedy that involves violence and dismemberment came to be known as "splatstick", and was heavily used by Peter Jackson for his films Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992). A resurgence of splatter films occurred in the early 2000s, which then became known as "torture porn" due to their exploitive nature. With the release of films like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005), it felt like the films in these series kept trying to outdo each other in how violent and outrageous they could be. Most films of this genre often prove to be a financial success with low ratings, particular popular among teenagers.

One of the best films to come from this genre rebirth is Battle Royale (2000), a Japanese action-horror about a class of teenagers who are kidnapped and forced to kill each other. I think this film is the perfect embodiment of the splatter genre. It received its own amount of controversy, including accusations of it influencing school shootings in America, but on the other hand it managed to include scenes of graphic violence, horror and shocking imagery while also catering to the dramatic side. It was a splatter film for the modern age that didn't include forgettable characters and senseless bloodshed. Everything felt like it had its place, and the characters were some of the most iconic in J-Horror cinema.

At the close of the decade, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) and A Serbian Film (2010) once again gained the attention of the press for their graphic depictions of violence and other taboo subjects. Both were censored in the U.K. In recent years, the genre has seen a bigger presence on the direct-to-DVD platform. This way there's less negative attention brought to it as a result of the lower-profile release, with such examples as Hostel: Part III (2011) and Would You Rather (2012). This is leading to a gradual fade-out of the genre. Journalist Brooks Barnes proposes that splatter will die out within a few years if a high-profile genre movie cannot be produced.

That wraps up my first History of Horror series. Hopefully it will return next October with some new genres for me to painlessly discuss. Have a happy Halloween!

1 comment:

  1. Ugh I hated The Human Centipede! Great post, and thanks for introducing me to some movies I missed! Great post


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