Splatter films have been around for along time now, with movies such as ‘I spit on our grave’, Cannibal Holocaust’ and ‘Last House on the Left’, the difference now though, is, these movies were either underground or banned, what we are seeing in the ‘naughties’ is ‘splatter movies’ being released by large companies theatrically. These are not to be mistaken for ‘slasher movies’, such as ‘Halloween’, which are very different, because ‘slasher movies’ may contain some gore, but it’s not over the top and doesn’t drive the storyline.
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 also referred to as ‘gorno’ (a portmanteau of ‘gore’ and ‘porno’).
The Eli Roth film, Hostel (2005), was the first to be called ‘torture porn’ by critic David Edelstein in January 2006, but the classification has been applied to Saw (2004) and its sequels, The Devil's Rejects (2005) and Wolf Creek (2005). The major difference’s between this group of films and earlier splatter films is that they are often mainstream Hollywood films that receive a world wide theatrical release and have comparatively high production budgets.
‘Splatter movies’ are a dodgy subject matter, where I feel some films are unjustly put into the category because they offer more depth, and the gore is essential to the plot, such as the original ‘Saw’. I also find it worrying that films which were once banned and found to be shocking by the general public are now being shown on T.V. After all, what has changed in society for us to not be shocked any longer by these movies?
Many films in the genre have received criticism. Billboards and posters used in the marketing of Hostel: Part II and Captivity (2007) drew criticism for their graphic imagery, causing them to be taken down in many locations. Director Eli Roth has claimed that the use of the term ‘torture porn’ by critics, "genuinely says more about the critic's limited understanding of what horror movies can do than about the film itself’, and that ‘they're out of touch.’ 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 has stated, "I don’t get the torture porn films", "they're lacking metaphor."
I agree with Romero, when looking at a true ‘Splatter/torture film’ such as ‘Hostel’ or ‘Last House on the Left’ (which, everybody sigh, is being re-made). I think the entire point of horror is lost in these movies, we’re not being scared, we’re just being grossed out, or made to feel like a psycho after watching the film, for watching the film. If I wanted to watch an autopsy, I’d go to the morgue. Sure, some of these movies are so gross, they spill over into comedy, such as the movie ‘Brain dead’, but sometimes it’s gore for gore’s sake. Sure, you have some brain dead horror fans who just want to see the next victim be butchered in some sadistic manner, but there are still a lot of horror fans who want characterisation, plot-line and tension.
Most worrying is the ‘torture porn’ excepted in horror more and more lately, with far too many movies having the protagonist/s fight all the way through the movie, only to be murdered at the end. This might be realistic, and sometimes necessary, but it’s become so common, it’s more of a shock when the protagonist actually survives. And how far can these body mutilations go? Surely we’ve seen every horrible and grotesque way to kill someone there is? Isn't it getting boring?
Take for instance ‘The Last House on the Left’, which shows two innocent teenage girls kidnapped, beaten, raped, humiliated and finally murdered. It plays out like a snuff movie, with its redeeming factor being the revenge element that one of the girl’s parents’ take. The movie split opinion with critics, unsure whether the film was a bold artistic statement or exploitative trash, or some combination of the two. However, people flocked to see the film and, along with films such as ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’, it is credited with bringing a new sense of realistic violence to the modern horror film genre. I’m not saying the film is terrible for what it portrays, but since we’ve seen this movie already, in the seventies, why is there a need to re-make it? Other than monetary gain from Hollywood, the only thing it has to offer, is to show even more explicit and upsetting scenes to an already jaded audience who knows what’s coming.
Splatter films, according to film critic Michael Arnzen, "self-consciously revel in the special effects of gore as an art form. “Where typical horror films deal with fear of the unknown, the supernatural, the dark, and so on, the impetus for fear in a splatter film comes from physical destruction of the body. There is also an emphasis on visuals, style and technique, including hyperactive camerawork. Where most horror films have a tendency to re-establish the social and moral order with good triumphing over evil, splatter films thrive on a lack of plot and order. The spectacle of violence replaces any pretensions to narrative structure, because gore is the only part of the film that is reliably consistent." These films also feature fragmented narratives and direction, including "manic montages full of subject camera movement...cross-cuttings from hunted to hunter, and ominous juxtapositions and contrasts." As a result, not only are the characters fragmented, so is the audience.