A splatter film is a subgenre of horror film that deliberately focuses on graphic portrayals of gore and graphic violence. These films, usually through the use of special effects, display a fascination with the vulnerability of the human body and the theatricality of its mutilation. The term "splatter cinema" was coined by George A. Romero to describe his film Dawn of the Dead, though Dawn of the Dead is generally considered by critics to have higher aspirations, such as social commentary, than to be simply exploitative for its own sake.
During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the use of graphic violence in cinema has been labeled "torture porn" or "gorno" (a portmanteau of "gore" and "porno"). By contrast, films such as Braindead, Evil Dead II and to some extent Dawn of the Dead, all of which feature over-the-top gore, can be construed as comedic, and fall into the category of splatstick.
Splatter films, according to film critic Michael Arnzen, "self-consciously revel in the special effects of gore as an artform." Where typical horror films deal with such fears as that of the unknown, the supernatural and the dark, the impetus for fear in a splatter film comes from physical destruction of the body and the pain accompanying it. 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 order. Arnzen argues that "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 often feature fragmented narratives and direction, including "manic montages full of subject camera movement...cross-cuttings from hunted to hunter, and ominous juxtapositions and contrasts."
The splatter film has its aesthetic roots in French Grand Guignol theatre, which endeavored to stage realistic scenes of blood and carnage for its patrons. In 1908, Grand Guignol made its first appearance in England, although the gore was downplayed in favor of a more Gothic tone, owing to the greater censorship of the arts in Great Britain.
The first appearance of gore—the realistic mutilation of the human body—in cinema can be traced to D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), which features numerous Guignol-esque touches, including two onscreen decapitations, and a scene in which a spear is slowly driven through a soldier's naked abdomen as blood wells from the wound. Several of Griffith's subsequent films, and those of his contemporary Cecil B. DeMille, featured similarly realistic carnage.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the public was reintroduced to splatter themes and motifs by groundbreaking films such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and the output of Hammer Film Productions (an artistic outgrowth of the English Grand Guignol style) such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958). Perhaps the most explicitly violent film of this era was Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku (1960), which included numerous scenes of flaying and dismemberment in its depiction of the Buddhist underworld Naraka.
Splatter came into its own as a distinct subgenre of horror in the early 1960s with the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis in the United States. Eager to maintain a profitable niche, Lewis turned to something that mainstream cinema still rarely featured: scenes of visceral, explicit gore. In 1963, he directed Blood Feast, widely considered the first splatter film. In the 15 years following its release, Blood Feast took in an estimated $7 million. It was made for an estimated $24,500. Blood Feast was followed by two more gore films by Herschell Gordon Lewis, Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965).
The popularity of the splatter film in the 1970s was met with strong reactions in the US and the U.K.; Roger Ebert in the U.S. and Member of Parliament Graham Bright in the U.K. led the charge to censor splatter films on home video with the film critic going after I Spit on Your Grave while the politician sponsored the Video Recordings Act, a system of censorship and certification for home video in the U.K. This resulted in the outright banning of many splatter films, which were deemed "video nasties" in the British press.
Some splatter directors have gone on to produce mainstream hits. Peter Jackson started his career in New Zealand by directing the splatter movies Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992). These films featured such over-the-top gore that it became a comedic device. These comedic gore films have been dubbed "splatstick", defined as physical comedy that involves dismemberment. Splatstick seems to be more common in Japan, with the examples of Robogeisha, Tokyo Gore Police, and Machine Girl.
Splatter films have pioneered techniques used in other genres. For example, the popular 1999 film The Blair Witch Project is similar to the 1980 film Cannibal Holocaust. The story in Cannibal Holocaust is told through footage from a group of people making a documentary about a portion of the Amazon which is said to be populated by cannibals. Although the Blair Witch directors had not seen Cannibal Holocaust at the time of filming, this "mockumentary" format was later used in their film.
In the 2000s – particularly 2003–2009 – a body of films was produced that combined elements of the splatter and slasher film genres. The films were dubbed "torture porn" by critics and detractors, most notably by David Edelstein, who is thought to have coined the term. Like their splatter forerunners, torture porn films reputedly emphasize depictions of violence, gore, nudity, torture, mutilation and sadism. Also like splatter films, the extent to which torture porn lives up to its sensational reputation has been disputed.
Filmmaker Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), released in January 2006, was the first to be called torture porn by critic Edelstein, but the classification has since been applied to Saw and its sequels (though its creators disagree with the classification), The Devil's Rejects (2005), Wolf Creek (2005), and the earlier films Baise-moi (2000) and Ichi the Killer (2001). A difference between this group of films and earlier splatter films is that they are often mainstream Hollywood films that receive a wide release and have comparatively high production values.
The torture porn subgenre has proven to be very profitable: Saw, made for $1.2 million, grossed over $100 million worldwide, while Hostel, which cost less than $5 million to produce, grossed over $80 million. Lionsgate, the studio behind the films, made considerable gains in its stock price from the box office showing. The financial success led the way for the release of similar films: Turistas in 2006, Hostel: Part II, Borderland, and Captivity, starring Elisha Cuthbert and Pruitt Taylor Vince, in 2007. Indeed, in 2009 the Saw series became the most profitable horror film franchise of all time, prompting the release of The Collector starring Josh Stewart and Juan Fernández within that year. Despite these financial successes, torture porn is perceived as a pejorative label by many press critics, filmmakers, and fans. "Torture porn’s" pejorative connotations were anchored by high-profile salacious advertising campaigns; billboards and posters used in the marketing of Hostel: Part II and Captivity drew criticism for their graphic imagery, causing them to be taken down in many locations. Director Eli Roth sought to defend the subgenre, claiming that critics’ uses of torture porn "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 stated, "I don't get the torture porn films [...] they're lacking metaphor."
The success of torture porn, and its boom during the mid to late 2000s, led to a crossover into genres other than horror. This became evident with the release of many crime thrillers, particularly the 2007 film I Know Who Killed Me starring Lindsay Lohan, and the 2008 film Untraceable, starring Diane Lane and Billy Burke. The British film WΔZ, starring Stellan Skarsgård and Selma Blair, and its US counterpart Scar, starring Angela Bettis and Ben Cotton, continued to facilitate this hybrid form of torture porn, which was also, to a lesser degree, evident in films such as Rendition (2007) starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Law Abiding Citizen (2009), and Unthinkable (2010) starring Samuel L. Jackson.
In the mid-2000s, the splatter film was given a major boost within the horror industry by a new wave of French films—commonly referred to as the New French Extremity—which became internationally known for their extremely brutal nature: Martyrs (2008), directed by Pascal Laugier, Frontier(s) (2007), directed by Xavier Gens, and Inside (2007), directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury. Rapper Eminem explored the genre in his music video for the single "3 a.m." that year. Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's Antichrist, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, was labeled torture porn by critics when it premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival due to scenes of extreme violence, graphic sex, and genital self-mutilation.
By 2009, the box office draw of torture porn films had mostly been replaced in the U.S. by the profitable trend of remaking or rebooting earlier horror films from decades past with the modernization of films such as Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Amityville Horror (2005), House of Wax (2005), Black Christmas (2006), Halloween (2007), My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), Friday the 13th (2009), The Wolfman (2010), The Crazies (2010), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). A number of these remakes, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006) (and its sequel in 2007), Funny Games (2008), The Last House on the Left (2009), and I Spit on Your Grave (2010) were referred to as torture porn in press reviews.
At the close of the decade, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) and A Serbian Film (2010) were among the most notable torture porn releases; although not as financially successful as Saw or Hostel, A Serbian Film and The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) gained attention in the press for their graphic depictions of forced fecal consumption and necrophilia, and both films were censored in order to attain release in the U.K. Other torture porn films such as Grotesque and The Bunny Game were banned outright by the BBFC.
Subsequently, torture porn has increasingly become a DVD-oriented subgenre. For example, Hostel: Part III (2011) was released direct to DVD, unlike the previous films in the series. The film received less negative attention in the press as a result of its lower-profile release. Other recent torture porn films include Would You Rather (2012), Shiver (2012), and The Collection (2012). As fewer and fewer high-profile cinematic torture porn films are being released, however, the subgenre is slowly dying out, as many journalists have proposed.
The genre elements were also used in episodes of many popular American television shows, including Fox's 24, CBS's Criminal Minds, Showtime's Dexter, The CW's Supernatural, NBC's Blindspot and FX's American Horror Story.
Some scholars have published analyses of torture porn films. For example, a book chronicling the torture porn phenomenon and the surrounding controversy – Steve Jones' Torture Porn: Popular Horror after Saw – was published in 2013.
Blood Feast is a 1963 American horror splatter film composed, shot and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis and starring Mal Arnold, William Arnold, Connie Mason and Lyn Bolton. The plot focuses on a psychopathic food caterer named Fuad Ramses (Arnold) who kills women so that he can include their body parts in his meals and perform sacrifices to his "Egyptian goddess" Ishtar. It is considered the first splatter film, and is notable for its groundbreaking depictions of on-screen gore. It was highly successful, grossing $4 million against its minuscule $24,500 budget. The film was followed by a belated sequel, Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, in 2002.Blood Sucking Freaks
Blood Sucking Freaks is a 1976 exploitation-splatter film. Shot under the title Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins, it was retitled The Incredible Torture Show during its original theatrical run.Film distributor Troma Entertainment retitled the film Blood Sucking Freaks (sometimes spelled Bloodsucking Freaks) upon their acquisition of it.Bloody Bloody Bible Camp
Bloody Bloody Bible Camp is a 2012 American horror-comedy/splatter film. The film was directed by Vito Trabucco and produced by Reggie Bannister, who stars as Father Richard Cummings. The film also features Tim Sullivan as a transvestite nun and porn legend Ron Jeremy as Jesus.Color Me Blood Red
Color Me Blood Red is a 1965 splatter film written and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis about a psychotic painter who murders civilians and uses their blood as red paint. It is the third part of what the director's fans have dubbed "The Blood Trilogy", including Blood Feast (1963) and Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964).Devil Hunter (film)
Devil Hunter (also known as The Man Hunter, Mandingo Manhunter, Jungfrau unter Kannibalen and Sexo Caníbal) is a 1980 splatter film directed by Jesús Franco under the pseudonym "Clifford Brown" and written by Franco and Julián Esteban (under the pseudonym Julius Valery). It was shot back-to-back with Franco's Mondo Cannibale (also 1980). It is one of the infamous "video nasties" that was banned in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.
Lina Romay co-directed this film, while Franco's first wife Nicole Guettard edited it. This shows that Franco was still with Guettard as late as 1980 (eventually they broke up and she was replaced in Franco's life by Romay). Pierre Chevalier was the art director on this film.Doghouse (film)
Doghouse is a 2009 British slapstick comedy horror splatter film. A group of male friends travel to a remote village in England for a 'boys' weekend'. Upon their arrival, they find out that all the women in the town have been transformed into ravenous man-eaters — literally.Emanuelle's Revenge
Emanuelle's Revenge (Italian: Emanuelle e Françoise le sorelline, lit. 'Emanuelle and Francene, the Sisters') is an Italian film directed by Joe D'Amato. Unlike the French Emmanuelle series, this entry has been described as being closer to a sex-themed giallo, or as a combination of several genres: the rape and revenge film, the splatter film, the erotic film and the thriller.
The film was written by Bruno Mattei and D'Amato.Helldriver
Helldriver (Japanese: ヘルドライバー, Hepburn: Herudoraibā) is a 2010 Japanese splatter film directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura. It stars Yumiko Hara and Eihi Shiina, and was written by Nishimura and Daichi Nagisa.Horrorcore
Horrorcore is a subgenre of hip hop music based on horror-themed and often darkly transgressive lyrical content and imagery. Its origins derived from certain hardcore hip hop and gangsta rap artists, such as the Geto Boys, which began to incorporate supernatural, occult, or psychological horror themes into their lyrics and, unlike most hardcore and gangsta rap artists, often pushed the violent content and imagery in its lyrics beyond the realm of realistic urban violence to the point where the violent lyrics became gruesome, ghoulish, unsettling, or slasher film- or splatter film-esque. While exaggerated violence and the supernatural are common in horrorcore, the genre also frequently presents more realistic yet still disturbing portrayals of mental illness and drug abuse. The term "horrorcore" was popularized by openly horror-influenced hip hop groups such as Flatlinerz and Gravediggaz.Ichi the Killer (film)
Ichi the Killer (殺し屋１, Koroshiya Ichi) is a 2001 Japanese action crime splatter film directed by Takashi Miike, written by Sakichi Sato, based on Hideo Yamamoto's manga series of the same name, and starring Tadanobu Asano and Nao Omori. Omori portrays the title character, a psychologically damaged man who is manipulated into assaulting or killing rival faction members of feuding yakuza gangs while being pursued by a sadomasochistic enforcer (Asano).
The film is notorious amongst moviegoers, has raised widespread controversy, and is banned outright in several countries due to its high-impact violence and graphic depictions of cruelty.Meatball Machine
Meatball Machine (ミートボールマシン, Mītobōru mashin) is a 2005 Japanese science fiction splatter film directed by Yūdai Yamaguchi and Jun'ichi Yamamoto based on a film by Yamamoto from 1999. Special effects and makeup effects were by Yoshihiro Nishimura.Nikos the Impaler
Nikos the Impaler is a 2003 b-grade splatter film directed by and starring German arteur Andreas Schnaas. It follows a reincarnated Romanian barbarian (Schnaas) as he wreaks havoc on modern day New York City. It was released in some territories as Violent Shit 4.Red Tears
Red Tears (紅涙) is a 2011 Japanese splatter film directed and co-written by Takanori Tsujimoto. The film stars Natsuki Kato, Yuma Ishigaki and Yasuaki Kurata. It involves two detectives who hunt down a serial killer. The film was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2011.The Gore Gore Girls
The Gore Gore Girls is a 1972 comedy horror splatter film directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis. It was his final film for the next 30 years until 2002’s Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat.The Uh-Oh! Show
The Uh-Oh! Show is a 2009 comedy horror splatter film, written and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis. The film revolves around a game show, The Uh-Oh! Show, where contestants play to win lots of money by answering trivia questions, but appear to be dismembered for every wrong answer. Jill Porter (Nevada Caldwel), a reporter, suspects the gruesome attacks might not be fake.The Wizard of Gore
The Wizard of Gore is a 1970 American splatter film written by Allen Kahn, directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, and starring Ray Sager, Judy Cler, and Wayne Ratay.
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