I’m tired of violence in horror films


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?ย  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 ofย  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.ย  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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Outpost Doom. A relatively non-violent horror film coming to a theatre soon. And proud of it ๐Ÿ™‚



44 Responses

  1. I agree for the most part. It’s always seemed to me that blood and gore is right up there with sex and nudity – something that’s thrown in to generate interest by a film maker without the talent to do so without. There are plenty of wonderful (and downright scary) horror films with no gore.

    It does seem like an added bonus sometimes though. Like if a horror movie is genuinely creepy, intelligent, AND has some wicked gore, it’s a plus. Although on the other hand, I often find myself describing a violent movie as “yeah it was gory, but… otherwise it was pretty shit.”

    I guess it can be compared to the slow/fast zombie debate too. A talented film maker can make slow zombies scary, and if s/he can’t, they put in fast zoms instead.

  2. Pre-emptive rebuttal for when people see OD and complain about it “not delivering?” Nah, I’m funnin’ ya. I agree to a large extent. Like my recent review of Grotesque, throughout the entire runtime you’re sort of wondering, “What’s the point here?” Now, I do like Hostel and the Saw movies. Saw may have crossed over into nonsense at this point, but there is an attempt at a story there, however nonsensical. That’s something of a tangent, though. I get your basic point and I agree.

  3. I liked the story in the first 3 saw films. And i think hostle is just stupid fun.

    Planet terror is much more awesome then death proof btw.

  4. I agree with you MaT. The violence doesn’t mean anything without caring about the characters it’s happening to.

    And FYI, I’m a Death Proof guy.

  5. See, I like Death Proof and Planet Terror equally – for different reasons ๐Ÿ™‚ Although I prefer the shortened version of DP (from Grindhouse) to the extended cut. Not a huge difference between the two versions of PT. And I liked Grindhouse as a whole better than PT and DP on their own.

  6. I feel you, but the question is does the gore shot add something to the experience? If tonally the film is like Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive I say go for it. If its the “hacking scene” in 28 Days Later it shocks. A well-placed gory shot can work wonders (see TX Chainsaw Massacre and how it revolutionized the horror movie), but many times it is used to only ill effect. My $$ is still on Pirahna 3-D though.

  7. There is barely any blood in the original TCM. Same with the original Halloween. Same with Psycho (you never actually see the violence in the shower scene). The list goes on and on.

    And again, not saying that you can’t have a bloody film or have gory kills, just saying that it’s tired and played out. If filmmakers don’t move forward it’s just gonna be the same shit over and over again. At least take a break for 5-10 years. You don’t always have to drink from the same well.

  8. I have nothing against loads of blood ‘n’ guts, but I’m long past the point where that’s enough to carry a movie. Sure, we all enjoy a good trashy gorefest where a bunch of cardboard characters get bloodily knocked off one by one in various inventive ways, but how many times can you see that same movie before you start to want something a little more interesting? If I’m in the mood for a movie like that, there are literally hundreds of them already out there. If a new movie doesn’t have something to distinguish it beyond the blood, why should I bother watching it? And when a movie is advertised as a bloodbath, I have to wonder if that’s because there’s nothing else to say about it.

    I’m very glad to hear you value your movie enough not to try to shoehorn extra gore into it. I’ll definitely be getting myself a copy when it’s released, and even if it’s not great, at least I’ll know you gave a shit about it, and I’d much rather watch a sincere effort than a half-assed gorefest.

  9. Please this fucker thinks because he went to film school he know how to film a great horror movie.(blood or no guts it still wont be at the movies or blockbuster or a torrent .The grand tampon still not on a torrent

  10. I guess I could set up a torrent tracker if we wanted, lol ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love gore, I will watch movies simply for gore once in a while. I have a morbid curiosity that leads me to check out things like August Underground, etc. However, when I’m thinking about the movies that I feel are truly great, the stuff that I come back to over and over, gore might be part of it but it’s never solely because of gore.

    For example, I’d watch Re-Animator in an edited-for-TV format because the story and the performances are so much fun. Jeffrey Combs’ performance makes that movie. The gore, while phenomenal, is not as important as the story and the characters.

  11. Kid Chaos translation: “Support Rob Zombie and Eli Roth by stealing their work off torrents!”

    And I’ve never been to film school ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Don’t get us wrong, Borp – maybe we’re cutting a fine point. I’m certainly not saying I don’t like gore; I love gore! (I like Hostel 1 & 2 as well, for what it’s worth)

    We’re just saying there has to be a little more to hang your hat on than only gore. For example, I recently went to The Collector and the best thing I can say about it is that it was pretty gory. Ultimately, though, it had an unsatisfying story and that really knocks it down a couple pegs.

  13. Alright, then i get what you’re saying. Sorry about the missunderstanding. I guess sometimes it shows that english isen’t my first lauguage.

  14. My main point is that horror filmmakers and fans have become far too obsessed with the act of death itself at the expense of what really makes a horror movie good in the first place.

    It’s watering down the genre

  15. I get that but then i think of stuff like my bloody valentine that i really enjoyed. The reason beeing that it was super crazy with gore flying all over the place.

  16. MaT, I will also love that piece of shit until I die. Same goes for Dormstalker, even if it only amounts to a few drafts and lovely memories of good times with friends.

    On another note, can we PLEASE make a movie called The Grand Tampon? Please?

  17. I agree and I disagree. I think a lot of the gory movies like Saw, like Hostel, and like Final Destination are there for fun. I don’t think anyone walks into a movie like that expecting The Shining or Halloween. I do get upset when someone like RZ comes around and ruins Halloween claiming it’s a deep look at a psychopath, because that’s pretentious. In the end, I think it’s two different brands of film making, and it’s not like you can’t have one without the other. I think even with these fun bloody horror flicks that eventually the good stuff will rise to the top. Just more people need to make good stuff, which is really the problem that I see.

  18. I’ve still got that Dormstalker script laying around somewhere….

    Now that we are possibly going to start making short films, I might have to dust that off and see what we have going on ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. MaT, the way I read that, no matter how much you write to the contrary, you’ve accomplished putting Outpost Doom up against all gory horror films (at least whatever’s new).

    I’m going to try not to criticize too much and say it’s a non-issue. There are a lot of horror fans that love watching gory violence. It’s their main focus over all. Whether that’s right or not is a matter of debate that probably doesn’t have much to do with your movie.

    Personally, I’m more concerned over whether or not Outpost Doom is going to be any good. Gore or no gore, I’ll judge for myself.

    So, I’m not tired of violence in horror films. It’s only that violence is not required in order for me to appreciate them. It usually doesn’t hurt though.

  20. Thanks for all the comments, guys! I can’t speak for Mat, but the way I feel is: Gore is great, I love it when it’s done well (and even when it’s done poorly, i.e. Troma) but if a movie is focused solely on being an exhibition of brutal violence, without some sort of interesting story to carry it along, then that’s probably a pretty boring film.

    Examples: Martyrs – I loved this movie! It’s got a lot of brutal violence but it’s also got a very interesting story. One of my favorites of the year. On the other hand, Grotesque – basically just a dude torturing a couple of people. Has gore, yes, but it’s just boring because there’s nothing underneath the gore/torture scenes.

  21. I will step up top the plate for MaT’s team on this one. Any good movie, first and foremost, tells a good story. Violence, blood and gore is but an ingredient that some directors know how to use to spice up the story to full effect.

    Now, different directors attempt to make different dishes but you can always tell who the master chef is because they know just the right amount of spice and sugar to add. Where as Eli Roth just throws blood and gore in to the cauldron and ends up with a bland dish, Peter Jackson can throw even more blood and gore into a film but knows how to also add a little sugar and meat to the pot.

    Blood and Gore does not a good horror movie make. In fact, I just watched The Haunting on TMC and there is not a single drop of blood, but it is one of the greatest horror films of all time.

  22. Syko: It’s a $500 budget horror film, it ain’t gonna be “good” in the sense that most people judge criteria wise ๐Ÿ™‚

    Personally, I couldn’t care less if everybody hates it, because in the end, I like it and that’s all that matters.

    I’m just pointing out that I made the conscious decision early on in the scriptwriting process that this would not be a film that focused on splatter. Now personally, most horror fans can sit through low-budget dreck as long as there are getting blood, guts, and tits thrown at them. And in fact, most low budget films trade in that because that’s all they have to offer. Outpost Doom is a different beast.

    Now you may absolutely hate the film, think the story sucks, the acting is atrocious, and nothing works when you see it…but I think it’s a different kind of animal, and one that many low-budget horror fans, frankly, might not have the patience for or the interest in investing their time.

    But I’m not going to add blood and gore just because it’s the in thing to do or because some people feel that stuff is necessary in a horror film. I’m not interested in that.

    I like my movie and I’m not going to lose any sleep if it gets savaged by internet critics. Whether or not someone I don’t know likes it doesn’t really mean much in the end. Pleasing the masses is just icing on the cake.

  23. “Personally, I couldnโ€™t care less if everybody hates it”

    Now, come on, that’s not entirely true. You hope that people will like it – otherwise we wouldn’t hassle with releasing it!

  24. A video store needs to have a curtained-off porn section to be legit.

    Not that I’d ever go in there myself, of course – I just like to know it’s there.

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  26. In response to the above, I have to say I agree. I am so very sick and tired of films that contain loads of totally unnessary violence and nudity, unfortunatley it always seems to be some male director with a load of naked female bits on show. It has totally become ridiculess, along with the excessive amount of guts and gore and just needless gratuity. I mean I understand the need for violence in films but we can get the point of what’s happening without the most horrendous, excessively violent gorey scenes being put up in front of us. It’s actually sad because people are becoming more and more de-sensitised by the violence, etc. and it’s just becoming normalised. Due to this, filmmakers seem to need to go a step further each time to make their film stand out even more, I mean films like Saw are just horrible. I feel like I’m in the minority and it’s me that’s wrong, I’m expected to just comply, just follow suit like a sheep and go with it, though I’m sick shit of all the gorey crap at this stage. Now there’s a rant for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

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