Happy Halloween! For the rest of today we'll be celebrating one of our favorite holidays by posting the sorts of things that make sense for this gloriously spook-ified day. Some new, some old, but all of it worth checking out.
Note: This post was originally published on April 4, 2013.
If you've heard anything about the Evil Dead remake, you've probably heard that it's violent. Uncomfortably, brutally violent. "Causing people to flee the theater and pass out in their seats" violent. You've also heard from a fair share of critics and audiences that it's a legitimately good movie that amounts to more than the sum of its (severed) parts.
Violence in horror cinema has often been accused of being a symptom of trashy filmmaking. Hundreds of horror movies over the years have used violence and gore as a crutch, relying on audiences to wait through wooden acting and poor plotting just to get to that next great kill. While horror-movie violence by itself can be terrific (why else do we suffer through the otherwise awful Friday the 13th series?), sometimes you need a gory movie that is actually, you know, a real movie.
In honor of the new Evil Dead, here are some of the best and goriest horror movies ever made, films that manage to be about more than their copious amounts of spilled blood.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Although there were certainly violent horror movies before Dawn of the Dead, George Romero's zombie classic feels like a watershed moment in cinematic gore. It proudly announces its intent with an exploding head in the first 10 minutes and never lets up from there, delivering ripped throats, arms pulled out of their sockets and guts ripped from bellies for the next two hours, testing any audience's stomach. However, all of this violence is simply a distraction, keeping you from realizing that you're watching a whip-smart and blackly funny satire of American consumerism until it's already sunk under your skin. That Dawn of the Dead can do that while being a tight postapocalyptic survival epic is what makes it a classic. And you know what? Zack Snyder's ultraviolent 2004 remake is pretty great, too.
Lucio Fulci's Zombie rides a very fine line. On one hand, it really is the kind of junk mentioned in the introduction to this list, but on the other hand, it's damn fine junk. Simply put, it's the cream of the crop of gory, Italian trash cinema. It's the best of the bottom of the barrel. Everyone who's seen it remembers the iconic shark-vs.-zombie fight scene… mainly because they've mentally blocked the scene with the long sliver of wood and the eyeball. Zombie is a film built around its gory set pieces, but the tissue connecting them has the decency to be weird and hazy and strangely hypnotic, which feels mostly accidental since this was a rushed, low-budget production where everyone spoke different languages. There's no denying the eccentric power of this genuinely odd and grotesque movie.
The Thing (1982)
There's no use avoiding the inevitable: John Carpenter's The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. The fact that it's also ridiculously violent is an afterthought. What's unique about the gore in The Thing is that everything about it feels like it's in direct service of the story -- there is not one death or effect that feels like it was put in there strictly for shock value. In order to sell the otherworldliness of the shape-shifting creature threatening the crew of an Antarctic research station and the totally unique danger it poses to the world, the violence has to be extreme. It has to represent something that has never been seen before on the planet. That means some of the cleverest and sickening gore effects ever put on film but every single one of them feels like it has a place in the story.
The Fly (1986)
As great as the movies on this list may be, most of them use violence as a sudden and shocking moment, a quick death for a character we may have found interesting but didn't necessarily love. What if that violence was a slow escalation, occurring to one character over the course of an entire film? And what if that character was someone we truly loved and wanted to see saved or at least put out of his misery? Many have already observed that David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly feels like a metaphor for watching a loved one struggle with a painful and longterm illness, but that doesn't diminish the impact of watching Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Seth Brundle slowly sicken and transform into a monster after a failed experiment melds his DNA with that of a housefly. There are only a handful of "cool" gory moments in The Fly -- the rest are deliberately low-key and unpleasant, made all the more effective by the best performance of Goldblum's career. This is a sci-fi horror movie that uses its extreme violence for a specific and heartbreaking purpose… in other words, it's a rare gem of the genre.
The Hellraiser series has lost a great deal of its luster over the years thanks to numerous sequels with epically diminishing returns (They went to space! To Space!). However, to watch the first film is to remember what an incredible (and incredibly gruesome) start this series had. While later films would cast the demonic cenobites as the primary villains, Hellraiser is all about Frank (Sean Chapman), who makes a hellish pact and pays some brutal consequences. Although it all leads to a nasty and nightmarish climax that is full of all kinds of flesh tearing, Hellraiser defines itself as a great movie in its first half, where writer-director Clive Barker (who would never make a movie half this good again) demonstrates a startling command of tone, gradually working up from subtle dread to genuine terror. Hellraiser feels like it's a violent movie because it has to be… it's the only possible direction to go after the mental and emotional sickness of the first half.
Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)
Whether you prefer to call it by its original title or its American title, Peter Jackson's Braindead (or Dead Alive) uses extreme gore as an extension to a genre that's all about violence: slapstick comedy. After all, people dropping anvils on each other's heads isn't that dissimilar from a man strapping a lawnmower to his chest and charging into a crowd of zombies. Much like Sam Raimi, Jackson spent his early career making sick little horror movies before moving into the ranks of the Hollywood elite and Braindead feels like the culmination of his early career, his definitive statement on gore as comedy (you should also check out the cheaper and weirder Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles). Braindead is no masterpiece, but it's a wonderful experiment in morbid comedy, a live-action Looney Tunes movie where people don't shake off every seemingly mortal injury.
For its first 45 minutes or so, Takashi Miike's Audition is an offbeat romantic comedy about a man who, with some help from a friend, stages fake auditions to help him find a wife. And then things get weird. And then they get weirder. And then they conclude with a sequence that gets irreversibly burnt into the brains of everyone who watches it. Like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Audition is a cruel, practical joke of a film, luring you in with one story before turning the tables and sending you into a nightmare. Unlike Hitchcock, Miike can get away with some of the most unpleasant violence you'll ever see in a movie, completing the film's genre shift in the most startling way possible. Audition may not be a lot of fun in the traditional sense, but it's certainly unforgettable.
It's one of the simplest scenarios in all of horror cinema: someone is in your house and means you harm. The terrifying beauty of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's Inside is that the reason for this particular home invasion is more horrible than you can possibly imagine. It's scary enough to be living alone and nine months pregnant, but when you have a scissors-wielding maniac stalking you around your home, well… things get bad. And then they get worse. And everyone who can possibly help you gets caught in the crossfire. There is no grand thematic point to Inside -- at a lean 75 minutes, this is a horror movie that's all business. However, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more tense, beautifully shot and brutally effective example of horror filmmaking in the past decade. Simply put, it doesn't need to reach for the stars because it's so damn good at wallowing in this nasty and brutish world. It's also probably the single most violent movie on this list.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
How often do you get to see a genuinely epic horror movie? At two-and-a-half hours, Jee-woon Kim's I Saw the Devil is an exhausting, exhilarating and ultimately heartbreaking exploration of vengeance that manages the seemingly impossible task of blending genuinely sickening depictions of violence with violence that makes you want to fist pump and cheer (often in the same scene). Sure, we cringe when Min-sik Choi's serial killer goes about his business, but we cheer whenever Byung-hun Lee's vengeful government agent enacts another part of his audacious revenge scheme. A cat-and-mouse movie where the cat and the mouse are constantly switching places, I Saw the Devil asks you to question the nature of the violence that you're seeing. Why is the violence perpetuated by the hero cool and the violence perpetuated by the villain noxious? When does one become the other? It's especially challenging by the climax, where the final lingering moral lines are crossed… and then stamped on repeatedly.
A Serbian Film (2010)
The reputation of A Serbian Film precedes it. It feels like this generation's forbidden fruit, the kind of movie that's difficult to track down in its uncut state and is talked about in hushed whispers by those who have seen it. Many movie fans have heard about a scene or two and have sworn off ever seeing it. However, unlike other infamously nasty movies like Cannibal Holocaust, there is more going on in A Serbian Film beyond its gruesome violence. Director Srdjan Spasojevic is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, but he makes up for the bluntness of his message by ensuring that the content on-screen is always bigger, nastier and messier than anything you could possible imagine. What appears to be the story of a semiretired porn star getting involved in an unseemly production with catastrophic consequences turns into a metaphor for life in Serbia (hence the title). The message is always clear, but Spasojevic ensures that you'll never forget it by attaching it to such extreme imagery.
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: