Once upon a time in the chop-socky grindhouse days of yore, gore with all of its crimson spewing and maggot chewing was the sole stock in horror designed to shock and awe theatre goers. But now sadly gore is as ubiquitous as SCREAM QUEENS.
Think I’m joking – I’m not.
Back in the 1950s Hammer Films reinvigorated the horror genre by shooting in color. Not only did Dracula and Frankenstein’s victims scream bloody horror – they showed the crimson tide in “Beast Man Color”. The severed limbs and stomach churning grotesqueries barely hinted at in the Universal classics spewed from screens worldwide. Before long schlock-ploitation filmmakers, refugees from the adult movie scene, filled drive-ins with red tempera paint blood, offering bags to vomit in. The grindhouse was alive with the scent of nausea.
While Hitchcock created the illusion of gore in PSYCHO’s famous shower scene, the less talented made a quick stop to the butcher shop for the real thing to fill chum buckets with minimal cinematic effect. THE EXORCIST pushed the envelope further by their vomit spewing Regan which, through the power of suggestion, had audiences puking in the aisles as well. The 1980s VCR and splatter film revolution took extreme gore from the giallo-laced artistry of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulchi and made it available to teens looking for a quick Saturday night thrill. Audiences exiting a theatrical premiere of SLAUGHTERHOUSE in the ’80s told TV news that “the gore was good.” (Also a damn good film, by the way).
Horror is meant to shock the audiences and gore its greatest asset to deliver the so-called goods.
But now, gore is everywhere. Cable TV which pushed ratings with nudity, soon added horrific gore to the mix as THE WALKING DEAD spawned an overflow of chunky, fleshy guts festooned across 60 inch TV screens. Popularity bred imitation and now I can’t turn the dial without seeing an autopsy. The victims are no longer hidden off camera shown beneath the sheet but murdered burn victims (with crispy well-done SFX makeup) are on fully display in full HD realization.
With TV cop shows regularly exhibiting extremely gory effects in autopsies and crime scene depictions, movie gore no longer packs the punch it once did. Now the blood is computer-generated, every glistening drop rotating in a 360 degree shot as limbs and heads go flying. TV’s GOTHAM – surely the most bat-shit crazy of any non-cable show- had the proto Joker/Jerome have his face sliced off, stolen back and then reattached with a staple gun. In a climatic fight with “someday-he’ll be a Batman soon” young Bruce Wayne, Jerome’s stapled-on face came flying off, blood trails following, as it spun through the air with the greatest of ease before resting in a muddy puddle. Awesome. And at 8 PM Eastern.
But if you’re getting your gore fix on CBS’ CRIMINAL MINDS, where does that leave the horror film? A nightly dose of uber-extremis sanguis leaves us unaffected to any shock value the gore may have once had. With bloody guts and still-beating hearts to be seen everywhere pushing the boundaries waaaaay beyond Fulchi’s intestine spewing carnage, where does the gory horror genre go from here?
Perhaps, back to the beginning – with the effect teased, the “did you see or didn’t you see it” having a deeper, more profound psychological effect on the audience’s subconscious dread of the unknown – the shapeless form moving in the dark, illuminated suddenly to reveal the horror within.