Talk to a lot of people nowadays and they’ll tell you that a horror film isn’t worth the time or effort to be seen unless it has some “great gore” or “brutal kills”. Since I refuse to support Rob Zombie (who says liberals don’t have any principles?), I’ve had to read a lot of reviews in order to get a sense of what H2 is all about. Quite a few people have said that it’s crap…but at least it’s got angry bloody deaths! The new Final Destination movie, I would argue, exists only to show death scenes (when it decides to, some of the deaths aren’t even shown). There is no character development and no plot. It moves forward only to give the audience “what they want”: death upon death. The Saw sequels are no different.
I’ve been thinking about this issue of violence and horror for a few weeks now. It’s crossed my mind for a few months prior to that but it really started to crystallize for me during a recent discussion about Outpost Doom. A couple weekends back, Jeff, Deejay, Spooky, and myself watched the rough cut of OD. The goal was to find scenes that could be trimmed and get general feedback on possible improvements. Our friend and actor Jeremy was there to give an outside perspective. He believed there wasn’t enough blood and gore to keep the film interesting. That it was a lot of talking and that the “whodunnit” that is the central pillar of the film was something nobody would care about. So we all had, not really a debate, but a discussion on whether or not it would be a smart move to “punch up” Outpost Doom with more blood and guts. There are multiple places in the film where we could do a sort of flashback sequence showing stuff that happened during a few of the stories that the character tell. Long story short: some of us felt the film should stand as it is, others that it should appeal more to what horror fans “expect”. Jeff made a general analogy that I thought was good. Do you go with Death Proof or Planet Terror? In DP, the violence is sporadic and not the main focus, whereas PT it’s all action and violence all the time. Granted, I’m in no way saying OD is in the same galaxy as DP, but the general idea is that Outpost Doom is far more Death Proof (in that it has lots of dialogue, sporadic violence, etc.) than it is Planet Terror. We made no definitive decision that weekend on what direction we would go, but as the director, it’s my responsibility to decide: and I’ve decided “No” on the extra violence.
Maybe I’m getting old and times are changing, but more and more I’ve grown to despise films and filmmakers who make the actual act of violence the central focus of their films. I’m not innocent in that. When we made The Grand Horror, that was the entire point. Sure, I felt I had the potential for a good story but we weren’t focused on telling that story. We just wanted to kill everybody as quickly as possible (or as slowly, it turns out). A large part of that had to do with the fact that we instantly decided to make a movie in a month and not a lot of planning went into anything. And of course, we had no idea what the fuck we were doing. Outpost Doom was different. I honestly put a lot of time into the script. I tried to make sure there were no loose ends. I tried to make sure that everything would “make sense” when someone went back to think about it. I sort of view Outpost Doom as my first real movie. Not that I don’t hold a special place in my heart for TGH, I’ll love that piece of shit until I die, just that OD is the first thing I’ve done that my “vision” has sort of been applied; where I’ve been allowed to do a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do. And because of this, as I was writing the script, I naturally drew upon my influences and the filmmakers that I most admire. People like Terence Fisher, Val Lewton, and James Whale. Even non-horror figures like Yasujiro Ozu (whose unique low angel-static camera style was in the back of my mind). The consequence to these influences was that violence is not the central pillar of the film. Story is.
I should state up front that I’m not someone advocating that violence in horror films be abolished, or anything. I enjoy a good death just as much as the next horror fan. But not when the act itself is the be all end all. Some of my favorite horror films of all time include The Thing, The Fly, and Re-Animator. All of these films are graphically violent in their own ways but never at the expense of the story. Rather, the violence works precisely because it feels natural. As a natural progression of the story, and thus a strong supporting element. It doesn’t feel as if the filmmaker said “Damn, this movie is getting a little slow, let’s throw in somebody getting their arms bitten off”. I like those movies, no doubt about it. But as I’ve gotten older and seen and studied more films, I’ve come to the realization that there is no talent in simply killing people or throwing as much T&A on screen as you can…if that’s your focus. To me, a film like Hostel is an example of a movie that is FX driven, not story driven. You don’t really care about anything in the film other than waiting to see the next torturous death sequence. To me there really is no difference between Hostel and any of the Guinea Pig entries other than making it Hollywood friendly with lots of pointless filler. With both films, your end game is the same: you just want to see somebody die. I don’t want to see Jeff Goldblum die in The Fly. I don’t want to see any of the castmembers in The Thing die. And I think that is the fundamental key to any good horror film and one that’s been lost on a new generation of horror filmmakers: You want to root for the characters to live.
That’s not to say that there can’t be a character or two that you want to die and that’s not to say that you can’t have some graphic violence. What I’m saying is that the majority of the characters in the film have to be strong enough that, on some level, you feel bad when they get offed. Steve and I were mentioning this when talking about Inglourious Basterds. The Basterds themselves weren’t especially “deep” an yet they were written in such a way that you were like “Dammit, Hugo just died?! That sucks, dude!”. On a basic, fundamental level, humans do not prefer to see other humans murdered and tortured. There are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of us would not be okay if we saw a stranger being raped and tortured in front of us. There is something inherently wrong with that. So when I see films that cater to nothing but violence I think: “This is fucking stupid”. Now we horror fans pride ourselves on being able to sit through the most atrocious brutality and violence our genre can offer. It’s a badge of honor to say you’ve sat through Slaughtered Vomit Dolls while eating a pizza. But this mentality that horror films need, or are almost culurally required, to have violent death scenes in order for them to be taken seriously is a cancer eating away at our genre. It’s already defined for many what our genre is and left unchecked it’ll be a long ass time before we see it go into remission. It even extends to the debate in recent years of so many horror fans dismissing a film that isn’t rated R (Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell the most recent example). This trend of an “If it ain’t violent, I’m not seeing it” attitude is, simply, disgusting to me. People forget that violence for violence’s sake was done 45 years ago. His name was Hercshell Gordon Lewis. And there is a reason nobody considers him a good filmmaker. Because anyone with a functioning brain can realize that his films are nothing but FX reels, nothing more.
Where was I going with this? I’ve probably rambled on too long. Sorry if I meandered and this doesn’t make sense. I guess my ultimate point is that I’m a horror fan that doesn’t give a shit about violent deaths and are, in fact, tired of them. I feel like I’m in a minority with no voice, so I’m speaking up. There is a great 60+ years of horror cinema that was not dominated by the need to graphically show eyes being gauged out, limbs being dismembered, or genitalia being mutilated. To me, when I see this kind of junk in my horror films, I feel that the filmmaker is just incredibly immature and catering to the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t take talent to do that. True horror artistry is in being able to frighten and unsettle without having to toss gore or tits at me. It feels as if too many horror filmmakers nowadays are slaves to their idealic memories of the 70’s and 80’s. They remember some awesome machete to the face, grew up in a horror press that fetishized fx artists, and were ingrained with the notion that all characters have to be one-dimensional stereotypes. Fuck that. This is the 21st century. I’m ready for filmmakers to stop making movies as if they were immature 12 year olds who just found their dad’s porno stash. It’s time to get back to story driven horror. Not saying you can’t have a cool death, just saying that I better give a shit about the person dying.
How does this relate to Outpost Doom? I realize now that I wrote the script the way I did for a reason. I’m not going to add any more blood and guts to my movie. I’m proud of the script I wrote and the performances that everybody gave. The film will live or die on the merits that I wanted for it, not the merits that we think other people will want of it. If people think the characters suck and that nothing works in the film, so be it. At least I will have tried. Do I hope people enjoy it? Sure. Will I give a shit if they fall asleep or think it’s boring? Nope. Because I made the kind of film that I like and wish I could see more of. And that’s not gonna be compromised because of the pressure or necessity of the moment. And if it doesn’t work, well, there’s always the next film. Practice makes perfect 🙂
Outpost Doom. A relatively non-violent horror film coming to a theatre soon. And proud of it 🙂