The splatter film, or gore film is a sub-genre of horror cinema that deliberately focuses on graphic portrayals of gore, blood, torture and graphic violence. These films, through the use of special effects and excessive blood and guts, tend to display an overt interest in the vulnerability of the human body and its mutilation. The term "splatter cinema" was coined, ironically, by George A. Romero to describe his film ‘Dawn of the Dead’, although, the original ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is generally considered to hold higher aspirations, such as social commentary, than to be simply exploitative for its own sake. These movies are not to be confused with “slasher” movies such as ‘Halloween’ (1978) or ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984), which do use blood, but only to advance in the telling of the main story, which usually has a strong plot and character development.
The combination of graphic violence and sexually suggestive imagery in some films has been labeled "torture porn" or "gorno" (a portmanteau of "gore" and "porno"). By contrast, in films such as ‘Braindead’ or ‘The Evil Dead’, the gore is sometimes so excessive that it becomes a comedic device, which then takes it into another sub-genre, and one which I feel is acceptable because it serves a purpose. A horror movie primarily serves to scare or horrify, to haunt someone long after they’ve watched it, or terrify them while they are watching it. Comedic splatter such as ‘The Evil Dead’ serve the purpose of making the audience laugh as well as telling a solid story; but what is the point of splatter or gorno movies anymore?
Splatter or gorno movies, due to their willingness to portray images society might consider shocking, were at first considered an acceptable part of the movie genre. Movies such as ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ or the original ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ served a purpose. Movie goers were shocked and grossed out by these movies, but in recent years, sadly, we are mostly seeing gore for gores sake. Generations are past de-sensitized, after watching probably every possible disgusting thing happen to the human body possible. So do splatter/gorno movies really still serve any purpose at all, other than to gross the audience out and put them off their food?
In the 2000s, there has been a resurgence of films influenced by the splatter genre that depict nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism, sometimes labeled "torture porn" by critics, and with good reason in some cases. The Eli Roth film, ‘Hostel’, was the first to be called "torture porn" by critic David Edelstein in January 2006, but the classification has been applied to ‘Saw’ and its sequels. Although, ‘Saw’ and ‘Hostel’ do use torture as a theme in the films, it is not simply what the movies’ are about, and both films have a strong storyline also.
However, films such as ‘The Devil's Rejects’ (2005), ‘Wolf Creek’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning’ are simply grotesque and seem quite pointless in many ways.
Take for instance ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The beginning’, which was sold to audiences as a prequel movie telling us how the character, Leatherface, from the ‘Chainsaw Massacre’ re-make, and franchise, came to be. While watching the movie though, this is a very thin and poor sub-plot that serves to something much more dull. The main story revolves around four stereotypically, attractive twenty something’s; two brothers, Eric and Dean, and their girlfriends Chrissie and Bailey.
The four characters are barely introduced before three of them are captured by the “Chainsaw crew”, a family of stereotypically unattractive, insane cannibals, who delight in torturing their victims. That seems to be the main purpose of this movie and most torture films, they always have “attractive” young people being tortured and cut up by “unattractive, or disfigured” villains. The movies seem to be a revenge against beauty or attractiveness as viewed by society. In this movie we have to watch three of the hotties being tortured for most of the film, beaten, tied up, faces cut off, limbs cut off, legs caught in animal traps – and for what??? The film serves little, or no purpose in storytelling, or character development. It doesn’t insight fear, just the gag reflex. In my opinion, this is not horror; it doesn’t scare or leave you scared to turn the light off, and the film ends with none of the “heroes” escaping or being rescued.
What is even more disturbing about torture films, is that while watching them in the cinema, people seem to take great delight in laughing or cheering when an innocent character is mutilated or murdered. This again is speeding away from what horror stands for. We, as an audience aren’t supposed to be rooting for the villains, we’re supposed to want the hero character/s to overcome the evil and survive the horror (of course there are exceptions.)
Horror movies, at one time were criticized for serving the audience with a happy ending too often, but now it seems, we are being shown the unhappy ending over and over, with evil triumphing over good. These movies seem to be saying that the young and beautiful should be punished, but not by just death, but first with obverse use of torture. True horror films are becoming a rarity, and classic horror movies are being re-made so often now that the original horror films are being confused. For instance; ‘Halloween’ is having the franchises name' tainted by ‘Rob Zombies’ Halloween’; because although the original showed violence, it was mostly hidden and kept in the shadows. The unnecessary re-make contained graphic violence and nudity, almost entirely aimed at young women. When a man was murdered, it was swift, but when the female characters were murdered it was drawn out and painful, most of the time involving the girls’ to be topless.
Hollywood seems to think that nudity, sex, and extreme violence and gore makes a good horror movie, but it doesn’t. It just makes ‘fast food cinema’, something you can watch but is tasteless and leaves you wanting something better, most of the time, forgetting you’ve seen the film at all, let alone having it haunt you for hours afterwards. It simply blurs into a mix of poor re-makes and gross outs.
Horror author Stephen King defended 'Hostel: Part II' and "torture porn" stating, "sure it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable.” Influential director George A. Romero stated, "I don’t get the torture porn films", "they're lacking metaphor." At one time these movies served to make the viewer uncomfortable, and some argue that art should do that, but these days, the torture porn movies are more boring than uncomfortable. After watching so many severed limbs, it’s hard to be shocked by another one flying across the screen. Horror needs to go back to the core, something Japanese horror seems to be doing more successfully than Hollywood in recent years.