Although I may not be one of them, for many, the words "horror" and "gore" are just about synonymous. Let's face it--for many of us, it's why we got into the genre in the first place. There's nothing like some blood and guts to grab your attention, that's for sure; and ever since the demise of the Hays Code some 40+ years ago, horror fans have been treated to some of the most unthinkably grisly imagery imaginable.
This week in The Lucky 13, in conjunction with Brutal as Hell, we take a special look at our favorite splatter flicks--the movies that set the gorehound in us baying for more...
B-Sol on Dead Alive
The early '90s was a heady time for direct-to-VHS horror, with mom-and-pop video store new release racks filled to the brim with disposable frights, packaged in garish cardboard boxes. I can honestly say I might never have discovered Peter Jackson's Dead Alive back in 1992, had it not been for that striking box cover art, still among the most memorable I've ever seen. Of course, once I got the tape home, I quickly discovered that this movie was more than just a flashy cover. As I soaked in the cornucopia of deliciously over-the-top gore and literally laugh-out-loud humor, I found myself asking the question, how have I not heard of this movie??
The best way to describe it based on that first impression would be to say that if Monty Python had ever made a horror movie, this would be it. Off the top of my head, I'd have to call it the goriest flick ever made, and yet the gore is so outrageous that the movie somehow successfully remains a comedy right up to the end. The violence, as insanely graphic/imaginative as it is, is also firmly in the realm of the cartoonish. And quite frankly, I was eating up every erupting pustule, flesh-stripped skull and glistening digestive tract with a spoon.
Dead Alive is overflowing with more classic horror gags than you can shake a severed arm at. Who can forget the infamous graveyard priest vs. zombie kung fu melee? Or Baby Selwyn on the rampage in the park? And let's not forget, Jackson gave us zombie sex back when the guy who made Dance of the Dead was still begging his mommy to buy him Count Chocula at the supermarket. And just when you think the movie has gone completely insane, it takes you bravely into a whole new level of madcap insanity. Cap it all off with what has to be described as the single most bizarre, Freudian climax in movie history, and you have a film that fairly crackles with creative energy, showing the passion of its makers on the screen for all to see. I instantly fell in love with it, and made it the official movie I would use to completely freak out any of my friends who weren't used to horror movies.
From Beyond Depraved's Joe Monster on Aftermath
In this day and age of the horror film, gore seems to be used as more of a positive accommodation, a way to draw the bloodthirsty pre-teens into the theater seats. You can probably spot at least five DVDs at your local retail store that advertise the fact that they’re “COMPLETE AND UNCUT—ALL EXTREME SCENES INTACT!” or something along those lines. I can’t help but find this funny. Instead of shocking and repelling viewers, the gore in horror films is used as a marketing ploy to bring in more customers. One may ask “Is gore ever used to disturb audiences anymore in a horror film?” If you ever had the (dis?)pleasure of viewing Aftermath, you would be completely assured of gore’s damaging power.
Aftermath shows what happens behind the closed doors of an autopsy room when no one is looking. A demented medical examiner (portrayed with brilliance by Pep Tosar) lives out his twisted fantasies with a female victim of a car accident. He lovingly caresses her stiff skin with his gloved hands and gleefully cuts her clothes off. The imagination can fill in the gaps of what comes next. But that’s one of the factors that makes this film so brutal; it doesn’t let your imagination take over. Everything is played out with absolute clinical precision and detail. The camera never flinches as it depicts the horrid defilement of the corpse. It’s all carried out in such a mundane way that you begin to feel as if what you’re watching is completely normal. Tosar goes about setting up his camera, removing his pants, and applying lubricant to his gloves in a way that makes you realize that this isn’t the first of the character’s after-dark routines.
As for the red stuff, it is all too plentiful in this film. Within the span of 30 minutes, Aftermath packs in more gruesome set pieces than some of the “extreme” PG-13 flicks of today have in their entire running time. The very first thing we’re exposed to is the squashed carcass of a dog on a street. It only gets worse from there. Dissections of cadavers are performed with medical accuracy as skulls are ripped open with pliers and slimy organs are shoved inside ribcages. The examiner’s handling of his midnight partner is no better, especially seen in a squirm-inducing moment when he savagely uses a knife to penetrate the corpse. This isn’t delicate material, and director Nacho Cerda doesn’t spare us one agonizing moment.
But despite all the grue and viscera that assaults our eyes during the film, there’s an underlying feeling of beauty that permeates through the bloodsoaked images. The operatic score that accompanies the ghastly proceedings adds to the transcendental sensation. What we are exposed to may be horrible, but Cerda masters his use of stark, clear images and sound to create a work of art. In this way the audience begins to have conflicting feelings over the film. Is it a piece of beauty or nothing more than schlocky trash? In some ways it’s both, and can only be characterized as being beautifully disgusting. This is definitely the movie horror fans should watch if they’re looking for something to challenge both their stomachs and their minds.
365 Movie Reviews' Spencer Churchill on Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood
The title alone arouses curiosity, and all that are willing to look will find the darker side of gore in the Guinea Pig films. Out of the series of seven doses of shock treatment, the second installment, Flower of Flesh and Blood, always captivated my attention. Flower of Flesh and Blood is dark and confrontational in an almost Mondo-esque way, with a pseudo-documentary approach. The foundation that the film is based on is that writer and director Hideshi Hino was contacted by a crazed fan, and sent a snuff film.
The film itself is not a full length feature, clocking in at a little over forty minutes, but is nevertheless very disturbing. The thing that stands out the most for me is the artistry behind the special effects. Since the vast majority of the film is set in the dingy, torture dungeon, I could not help becoming fascinated with the sheer brutal realness of the effects. If you find yourself becoming equally fascinated with the special effects, I highly recommend you look into the added "Making of" DVD that eventually proved their innocence against claims of snuff.
In my opinion, to an American viewer, this film contains a particularly horrifying element, namely the element of unfamiliarity. I have no idea how the Japanese people handle crimes or violence in general, so there is a great sense of unfamiliarity that haunts me the most. It is this added sense of fear that really puts this film above all other gore films in my book. Those who can stomach the visceral gauntlet that is Flower of Flesh and Blood will find that it is certainly worth its notoriety.
Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Story of Ricky
There are gory movies and then there is The Story of Ricky. In 1988, T.F. Mou's World WarII atrocity flick, The Men Behind The Sun, required the Hong Kong film industry to add a new category to its rating system. The hardest rating a movie could get at the time was Category IIB, which was a pretty hard R, but Men Behind The Sun was so incredibly hardcore that it required a new rating entirely. Category III came along and opened the door for producers to go off the reservation and come up with some of the most taboo-shattering movies the world has ever seen. Rapists and cannibals seemed to be the order of the day (and a healthy portion of explicit sex comedies) but in 1991, The Story of Ricky was released, adapted from a Japanese manga, and they added movies about guys punching people so hard their heads explode to that list.
Ricky is a prisoner in a near-future dystopia where the prisons have been privatized. He's in for killing the drug dealer responsible for the death of his girlfriend. The prison population lives in fear of the Warden's Gang of Four, four super powered criminals who eviscerate anyone who so much as look at them funny. As luck would have it, Ricky is also a super powered martial artist, and he's going to stand up to the Gang of Four and the evil Warden... mostly by punching holes in everyone.
The Story of Ricky isn't really a horror movie, but it has blood and guts out the wazoo. It's a stone-cold serious story about a guy in a corrupt prison setting and everything about it is played straight. The moment Ricky starts uppercutting people's jaws off, however, the movie takes a sharp left turn on its way to crazy town. The entire movie, start to finish, is a blur of bloody violence and the overall tone is akin to a Kool-Aid sugar rush. Talking about the violent highlights of the movie makes you sound crazy, or as though you're making it all up as you go along. Ricky punches a fat guy in one side of the stomach and his fist erupts through his stomach lining, resulting a flood of gore as everything falls out. Another scene involved Ricky being strangled by the intestines of a Gang of Four member who had just cut them out on his own. Tops of heads erupt from being hit, brains fall out, Ricky ties his own severed tendons back together with one hand and his teeth! Ricky punches a guy in the face so hard that the movie, in a tribute to Sonny Chiba's The Street Fighter, cuts to X-ray vision so we can see the skull cave under the force. Every gory and outrageous scene tops the last and the film's conclusion inspires peals of hysterical laughter when the Warden finally Hulks out and fights Ricky.
Not too put to fine a point on it, but I'm glad I live in a world where The Story of Ricky exists.
Fandomania's Paige MacGregor on Eden Lake
I can’t say that I chose to watch Eden Lake the first time because I’m a fan of the director or because the plot piqued my interest. In fact, I’d never heard of James Watkins and I decided to watch Eden Lake before I even read a plot synopsis. I can’t even credit my burgeoning interest in the academic side of the horror genre for turning me on to Eden Lake. The reason that I was so determined to watch this movie is both simple and embarrassing, and can be summed up in two words: Michael Fassbender. Little did I know how gruesome and disturbing my latest foray into the world of one of my favorite new actors would prove to be—nor did I expect that I was about to discover what has become one of my favorite horror films—when I popped the movie into my DVD player. In fact, by the end of the film’s 91-minute run-time I positively despised Eden Lake. It was only later, after reflecting on the profound effect the film had on me, that I realized how brilliant Eden Lake really is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Although the violence and gore featured in Eden Lake initially turned me off, it is that very gory violence that made such a lasting impression on me and later made me realize how well crafted this movie is. It’s true that films like Eli Roth’s Hostel and Hostel II are exceedingly gory and arguably highlight violence for the sake of violence (although yes, an argument can be made that there is purpose behind the violence in those films—but that’s a conversation for another time), but many films of that nature lack a certain degree of authenticity, which Eden Lake possesses. The brutal depravity displayed by the adolescent antagonists in the film is both horrifying and at the same time disturbingly realistic, a fact that contributes to the polarizing nature of the film.
The horror genre has a long history of exploring the concept of children as dangerous or frightening, and Eden Lake takes this notion to a whole new level. Inevitably some viewers will dismiss the actions of the youths in Eden Lake as unrealistic, but in my opinion nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, antisocial personality disorder (the clinical terminology for sociopaths) is diagnosed in individuals over the age of 18 based in large part due to their actions in childhood and early adolescence. In other words, just because viewers might not want to believe that kids are capable of willfully and purposefully slicing and dicing someone like Steve doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t happen—and it does so much more frequently than you might think, too.
As a person with a profound interest in both psychology and film, Eden Lake satisfies my interests on multiple levels. Not only is the film entertaining for viewers looking for nothing more than some gore and a good, suspenseful chase, but it will also speak to individuals on an intellectual basis—if they’re open to it, that is. Aside from its previously mentioned characteristics, Eden Lake is an excellent example of the unspoken preoccupation with the penetration and mutilation of the human body so inherent in the horror movie genre, especially in the gore subcategory that we’re examining this week. When you consider what gory horror movies like Eden Lake would be without violent, gruesome, or brutal penetration of the human body, whether with a machete à la Jason Voorhees, an axe, or a utility knife like that used by Brett and his followers in Eden Lake, the only conclusion is that the sub-genre would cease to exist altogether.
In summary, Eden Lake might not be the goriest of gory horror movies, but it succeeds in hitting several of my hot buttons, and therefore earned its place as my favorite gory horror film—and after only one viewing, too! I highly recommend that every horror fan check it out.
Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.
Week 1: Grindhouse & Exploitation
Week 2: Creature Features & Monster Movies
Week 3: Demons, Witches & The Devil
Join us next week, when we'll be yucking it up with our favorite horror comedies!