Monday, January 14, 2008

Gore Flicks

Wendy discusses a topic near and dear to my heart.

Over the last few years, writers and directors have forgotten the difference between horror and gore. Too many have decided that, since horror movies can include gore, gore flicks are automatically considered horror movies.


You can make me nauseous, that doesn't mean I'm scared. Fear and the urge to vomit, though sometimes connected, are different reactions.

Let's discuss the genre.

From Wikipedia: Horror films are films of the horror genre that are designed to elicit fright, fear, terror, or horror from viewers.

Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary - Cite This Source - Share This

Main Entry: hor·ror
Pronunciation: 'hor-&r, 'här-
Function: noun
: painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law - Cite This Source - Share This

Main Entry: ter·ror
Function: noun
: an intense fear of physical injury or death ; also : the infliction of such fear

Now, these words have slightly different meanings when pertaining to horror films.

Also from Wikipedia:
The distinction between Horror and terror is a standard literary and psychological concept applied especially to Gothic literature and film (Radcliffe 1826; Varma 1966; Crawford 1986: 101-3; Bruhm 1994: 37; Wright 2007: 35-56). Horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced. It is the feeling one gets after coming to an awful realization or experiencing a hideous revelation. By contrast, terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. In other words, horror is more related to being shocked or scared (being horrified), while terror is more related to being anxious or fearful (being terrified) (Varma 1966). Horror has also been defined as a combination of terror and revulsion.

Simply put, horror is fear brought on after an act, terror is the fear brought on by the anticipation of an act. This is important.

To break it down to its simplest level: Horror movies are scary.

Gore Flicks
From Wikipedia:
A splatter film or gore film is a type of horror film that deliberately focuses on graphic portrayals of gore 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 the theatricality of its mutilation.

More importantly:
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. Arnzen argues that "the spectacle of violence replaces any pretentions to narrative structure, because gore is the only part of the film that is reliably consistent."

Simply put: Gore films aren't scary, they are gory. They don't attempt to create a state of fear through any kind of literary device, they only attempt to create fear by the depiction of "physical destruction of the body". There is no terror. There is nothing engaging the audience. There is no "edge of the seat" anticipation that makes horror movies so memorable. There is no clutching the husband/boyfriend/protector that makes horror movies so much fun. There are no startles.

You can get the same level of horror(the fear and disgust after an act) from a medical documentary.

Fear is the central component to making a horror movie work. Our current world is wrapped in bubble wrap and safety warnings. A good horror movie is a chance to get away from the playground monitors and padded boxes of modern life, without actually risking life and limb. We want a chance to be scared. I like going into a movie, spending two hours on the edge of my seat with my wife clutching my arm, and leaving exhausted. It's fun.

I don't like going to a movie, hoping for the above, and getting nothing but spraying blood and guts, with no plot. If you can't generate the terror(anticipatory fear), you need a new writer. Horror movies need a plot, but it doesn't have to be deep. They need foreshadowing, scary music, and startles. If that can't be accomplished, Mr. Director, you are in the wrong field.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind gore, as long as it is essential to the movie. Nightmare on Elm Street wouldn't have been the same without the blood, but it was the startles and anticipatory fear that made the series work. Gore has become the crutch for directors and writers who aren't capable of creating real fear. I force myself through gore flicks, hoping for a solid, well-developed startle, or a few seconds of terror. I am repeatedly disappointed.

Kids and Horror Movies
I don't spend a lot of time shielding my children from anything. I have watched horror movies with my son, when he was six years old. We started very tame, and progressed to what he can handle. I made damn sure that he knew the difference between reality and imagination before we started.

That said, he is not allowed to watch a movie with excessive gore or nudity, though some of each is acceptable. Movies beyond his age-rating have to be Good vs. Evil, with the forces of Good triumphant. No exceptions. This has instilled in him a desire to be a hero. He wants to help, he wants to save. He wants to be a "good guy" when he grows up. That was my goal from the start. He sees the occasional zombie, and he sees the good guys destroy the zombie. He sees people scared for their lives, but fighting and winning against all odds, and he learns to never give up. He knows that there are things worth dying for, and honor and glory are not obsolete. He knows that bravery doesn't mean you're not scared, and heroism happens in the face of fear. He knows that fear can be overcome. That's not a bad thing, even if other parents disapprove of my son watching R rated movies at 8 years old.

Replacing horror movies with gore movies is slowly but surely removing that from his childhood, and my adulthood. I'm not happy about either case. Fortunately, there is almost a century of horror movies available, and other genres with the same "Hero" style of plot.

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