Gore vs Psychological Horror

With the outcry caused by the season premier of The Walking Dead I have decided to open this topic up for debate. Which is more effective? Gore or psychological horror? I want to say this from the start and be clear about all of this…really no matter what our arguments are for either one in the end it is up to personal taste. There will be no clear cut winner or loser here. Each of us have our own personal tastes. Some of us like gore. Some of us think that the more shocking something looks the better. Others think that less is better. That if the story is told right leaving the worse parts to imagination is much more effective. It’s a hard call really for a director to make. Ultimately in Hollywood tons of violence gore, and sex means money in their pockets.

However let’s look not at what makes more money from the box office and sponsors. Let’s tackle this debate from a creative standpoint only. From an artistic point of view really.

Now I think personally I am somewhere in the middle here. I’ve always loved special fx and the most special fx work one can find especially in the 80’s when I really started to get hooked was in the horror or sci-fi genres. Let’s face it in those genres the special fx really took off in the 80’s giving us some of the best practical fx artists ever!

Gore has always been in the middle of it all in the horror genre becoming more involved I’d say in the height of the Hammer House of Horror days and then slowly becoming more used pushing the censor boards to movie their bar lower and lower to allow more to be seen. Directors, writers, and fx artists pushed the limits movie after movie until in my opinion it got out of control. Because the gore fx were improving and becoming more awesome to watch and analyze the writers and directors were forced to tell the story around the gore scenes instead of telling the story. The result…and we all know what I’m talking about…sequel after sequel…movie after movie that had now substance just FX. Myers, Jason, and Freddy were no longer judged by the dark psychological elements their original stories had, but instead the body count.

Now we have present day where we have nothing but horror movies that are built around violence and gore. The Purge, Saw etc all have moments of being really good, but their sequels are more built around violence and gore. Come on…The Purge is a perfect example. I liked the first one because yes it was built around violence and gore, but that wasn’t what made it good. To me the psychological elements of being trapped in the house and a society so twisted it dedicated a night to legalized torture and murder. We didn’t need to open the story up to what was going on outside. I mean if I wanted to see a group of people make it through the streets and not get killed I’d watch The Warriors for crying out loud! The claustrophobic feeling of dread that the original purge had was what made that movie kick ass to me.

Now as I am writing this I’m trying to think why I am more partial to psychological elements over the gore elements in horror movies. I’ve seen all the classics and yes technically I was introduced to the genre by the likes of Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi…but I am not a “monster kid” so to speak meaning I grew up in that era and those movies were the only ones I had. As I got alittle older the Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street movie series were in full swing and thanks to the VHS era I was able to see those more than the classics anyhow. In ’89 when I was introduced to the haunted attraction genre those movies were the ones we fell back on for inspiration. Still if I had a choice to watch Dr. Phibes over Freddy, Jason, or Michael…I did! Those performances, the creepy elements of the stories are what really hooked me. I found more substance to those films than I did the typical horror movie of my generation. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what the gore laced movies of the time lacked was good solid stories. I associated what they were missing to psychological horror elements in the story.

Arguably one of the best scenes in movie history that is horror based is the Psycho shower scene. Yes I know technically that movie is a thriller, but still that scene is still praised even today. Let’s look at that scene.

It is a powerful scene to say the least and guess what…no gore! Now I know what you are thinking well that was a different era and yeah it’s a good scene, but if Hitchcock could have gotten away with hacking her up he would have. Nope I don’t buy that one. What you don’t see is more effective. Look at this…

Now everyone cringed and talked about how horrific it was when he cut off his foot in that scene from Saw. As you can see we see very little of him actually cutting off his foot! It was the Hitchcock method I like to call it and this movie proved it still works by today’s gory standards.

Now I am ready to listen to your arguments for more gore the better. In fact I am truly in the middle here. I do want gore…just the right amount of gore that helps intensify the story not cheapen it. I am a special fx nut and even if it is over the top I like to watch it if only for the sheer fact that I try to figure out how it’s done. However I can walk away…for example the latest episode of The Walking Dead…saying okay that gore was cool, but it did nothing but cheapen the story. I wish they would have left some out. So I guess I’m in the middle. I will go on record to say that if the big three of modern horror…gore, sex, and violence…work in the overall story then so be it. Hack away at it then. However if they don’t then don’t include them just to include them thinking you will get a bigger payday in the end. Viewers are smart. They know what they like. Even if they are gorehounds and don’t fully realize it a good solid story with a fine mix of psychological horror and gore goes a long way with them. It’s those that blend it all well that become the long running fan favorites while the other plain gorefests are nothing more than the flavor of the moment until something better comes out.

Yes there are cases where gore made the movie better. Alot of the 80’s horror movies that have become fan favorite classics were built on gore and without them pushing limits they wouldn’t be the same…in fact they would be down right horrible. Plus look at John Carpenter’s The Thing…a movie that pushed special fx limits that has a non-gory original to compare too. Arguably this is one remake that is actually compared on it’s own and is good! Yes I like the original…it’s a classic…but so is Carpenter’s version. This is an overall argument that cannot be proven either way because it is based on personal tastes. However it is a good discussion to have because honestly no matter what our stances are I think we are all ultimately on the same page.

So I stand by my less in more viewpoint involving horror movies and shows. Like I referenced before the season 7 opener of TWD. Just because you have Greg Nicotero in your corner saying yeah I can make an eye pop out and it will be shocking and awesome doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do that. When I wrote my review earlier this week for the blog I explained my position on that clearly I hope. A scene like that could have been more emotional…had more of an impact if they tugged on the old heart strings more showing some sort of black and white Glenn loves Maggie flashbacks in between the bat swings with the voice over of “Maggie…I will find you”. That would have been better than that cheezy looking eyeball looking at her. I’m sorry not Nicotero’s best work there. I get it…they needed to have a shocking episode to justify the cliffhanger drama, but I wasn’t saddened by the scene. I was visually disgusted. Instead I was indifferent about the death itself. Heck that could have been Rick, Carl, or anyone in that position and I would have felt the same way. That is another example of what I mean when I say less is more.

To sum up yes I think psychological horror elements are a must in even the goriest of movies. Gore is find if done at the right time for the right reason. To me it’s like making a pot roast. If you just toss the meat in the pot and cook away it won’t taste that great. You need the seasoning and the vegetables to make it taste good. Now you can change out what you put in the pot roast or how much you season it, but ultimately you still need all the ingredients there. That’s the easiest way I can sum it up. The movie or show cannot survive on the story alone. Yes you need all the elements…good character developments, talent, a solid direction, and gore…all mixed together just right to make the perfect pot roast. The director of course can use their own recipe of how much of what, but in the end it needs to be balanced in order for your guests to enjoy the meal.

Okay guys and ghouls…your turn. I’ve shared my thoughts so you share yours in the comments below!

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