Monday, September 28, 2015

The Difference Between Horror and Gore Movies.

This past weekend, Eli Roth's latest slaughter-fest The Green Inferno opened in theaters nationwide. It grossed approximately $3.5 million dollars via 1,540 theaters. Lauded as one of Roth's most gruesome and visually disturbing films yet, The Green Inferno is a brutal cannibalism movie from start to finish. To summarize without spoiling the plot, a group of college students become trapped in the rain forest with a tribe of man-eating cannibals. Extreme acts of graphic mutilation, violence and death ensue. Therein exists the problem with this film, along with other works under Roth's belt (Hostel, Cabin Fever). Many are quick to label such graphic, gory movies as horror. Honestly... they couldn't be any farther from the truth.

Gore is not the same thing as horror. It's in a class all to itself.

When I think of horror movies, I can't help but be reminded of the classics -- Dracula, The Wolfman, and Night of the Living Dead for example. These films and others like them reflect what a horror film should be. Atmosphere and mood are extremely important, as is the element of suspense. A horror film magnetically draws the viewer into its narrative. Ultimately, the hardest misconception to break is that horror movies are required to frighten the viewer. This simply isn't true. The spectacle of the horror film exists to present an alternative reality, one with fantastical components that break from the ordinary. The viewer can temporarily step away from reality and rendezvous with a monster or a ghost. Maybe this new reality has more familiar elements like a serial killer on the loose, but highlights an increased air of suspense. Horror movies make the viewer want to watch because they feature stories far removed from boring, everyday life. The characters within them run through a gamut of emotions -- fear, paranoia, sadness and even laughter. Ultimately, we know that the horror film is not real. It's a fantasy that we can revisit whenever we want -- a proverbial vacation into a world of the unknown.

Gore movies don't possess en masse any of the classic elements of horror. They're about one thing and one thing only: shocking the viewer with as many brutal scenes of death, dismemberment, exploding guts, flesh-eating, ripped viscera and corpse mutilation as virtually possible. A gore film wants your stomach to hurt; it wants you to vomit. The gross-out factor is top priority. The more disgusting and absolutely repulsive the final product, the better. In fact, a gore film wants to be so abominable that you may stop believing it's a fantasy.

This isn't going to end well.

This isn't to say that a horror film may not have a gory scene in it. Many great horror movies have gory elements dropped here or there throughout their story. Take John Carpenter's The Thing for example. There are numerous moments where the villainous creature in the film enacts grisly violence against the characters trapped with it. There's one large difference, though. The film itself uses the element of gore much like a spice in a recipe. Just a dash of gore is sprinkled sporadically to intensify the suspense. The viewer readily understands how much danger the characters are in without being completely sickened. Even over-the-top slasher movies like the Friday the 13th series or the A Nightmare on Elm Street series can still be considered horror films. Though they may use gore as a part of their presentation, the element serves as a means of imbuing danger or comedy. I'd even like to cite an example where horror, gore and humor come together to form a perfect storm of black comedy -- Peter Jackson's Braindead. There are some especially violent scenes in that film with blood and guts flying everywhere, but they're all played for laughs in a non-serious way. Alternatively, a gore movie is like a recipe with a whole lot of only one ingredient -- severe physical violence.

Do I think gore movies should be banned? Not at all. I believe in free speech and am totally against censorship. If you want to make movies where people are torn apart and disemboweled, well then wonderful. You're well within your rights to commit such vile brutality to film. I might not like or appreciate gory movies, but they have every right to be produced.

When it comes to the fans of such violent, stomach-churning films, I can't help but wonder. Why would anyone want to watch people being viciously torn to pieces? There's little merit in witnessing a person die in a grisly manner, real or otherwise. Does seeing a person's eyes being ripped from their head and eaten bring you pleasure? Does watching a person's entrails being clawed out of their abdomen and consumed by rampaging savages generate happiness? If you can answer yes, then I can only find myself arriving at the next logical conclusion... is the mutilation and evisceration of the human form something you enjoy? If so, are you living vicariously through the traumatic violence on screen? I would certainly hope not, but I am left to ponder the altogether stunning alternative.

Let me be clear -- I don't want to pick on Eli Roth. Technically, he's a fine filmmaker with a knack for knowing how to piece a memorable movie together. Certainly, there are other producers and directors that have crafted just as disturbing gore features, if not more so. Some examples that immediately come to my mind are Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper and Hideshi Hino's Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh & Blood. Yet, I can't be any clearer in my motivations for writing this article. Let's provide a proper distinction between a horror film and a gore film.

Gore doth not a horror movie make.

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