It’s October, so it’s time to talk horror. It’s quite possibly my favorite genre, so I’m as giddy as a little ghoul.
One of my favorite sub-genres of horror is splatter.
There’s a little bit of debate (in my mind, anyway) as to what the word “splatter” truly means. Many will say that splatter is any movie with a LOT of gore. That means that Saving Private Ryan is a splatter film. It also means that Cannibal Holocaust is a splatter film.
There’s another term for what I’m going to talk about: “splatstick.” I actually don’t really like that term, partly because even the word “slapstick” is kind of silly to me. (I know. Slapstick itself is pretty silly, so why not give it a silly word, right?) The first time I ever heard the word “splatter” in connection to horror, it was used to describe some of these specific films. Not Cannibal Holocaust. Certainly not Saving Private Ryan. That’s why I’m going to use the word “splatter” instead of “splatstick.”
“Splatter” came about somewhere around the mid-80s. The roots go back as far as 1963 with Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, but that one was ALMOST a little too serious minded to truly be splatter…almost. Herschell definitely had a sense of humor. He had to to make a movie about a man obsessed with an Egyptian sacrificial feast or a movie about a man who paints with blood and organs. His movie are a lot of fun to watch now, but in the early 60s, they were stomach churning.
Skip ahead to the 80s and you get to the real meat of what splatter truly means. It’s basically a comedy where people are destroyed in various ways, all including lots and lots of different fluids exploding or leaking out of their bodies. Sometimes they melt. Sometimes they just bleed. All the time it’s over the top and kinda silly.
I love it.
Splatter kind of fell out of favor in the late 80s, but a few people have done their best to keep it going. Too many, though, have taken it too far and just made parodies of horror films. As much as I like the Hatchet movies, it’s pretty much a loving parody of slasher movies. There is, however, one on my list that could fall into this category…but it’s just a better movie. (It’s my list, I can do what I want.)
Also, Troma is one of the biggest purveyors of splatter movies out there. They still crank them out once every year or two. I love the hell out of Troma. Truly. The problem is that…all of these movies are better than anything Troma has ever made. I think (hopefully) Lloyd Kaufman would be ok with me saying that because most of these movies were made with near-Troma level budgets and they were all made with the spirit of Troma.
Maybe I’ll do a Troma list soon. We’ll see.
Here are my five favorite splatter movies.
Before Sam Raimi started making real money with movies about a spider-bitten freak, he made this: one of the greatest horror films of all time. It’s pretty much the granddaddy of all splatter movies. It wasn’t the first, but it’s still the best.
If, for some reason, you haven’t seen this movie, don’t let the “II” in the title scare you away. Not only is it one of the only times where the second movie is better than the first (although, the first is VERY good and the basis for a pretty decent remake), but you don’t even really have to have seen the first one to understand where this one is coming from. In fact, it may help if you haven’t seen it. Raimi made the first one on a shoestring budget throughout the late 70s and early 80s with a bunch of friends. It was finally released in 1984 to crickets. Someone, though, liked it enough to give him a little more money for a sequel. He decided to basically start over. He told the story from the beginning, but changed it completely.
Here, Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend (sans all the other friends) go to a cabin in the woods. His girlfriend is “taken” by the titular entity and Ash has to slice her up and bury her. And that’s all in the first ten minutes. The real fun starts after the other folks show up. That’s when we learn about the Necronomicon and the words that were accidentally spoken to bring the Evil Dead back to our realm.
The best of the trilogy (Army Of Darkness would come after this and actually be a hit…and change the origin story again), Evil Dead II is Raimi at the top of his game. He would pretty much revisit the world of the Evil Dead with an incredibly unofficial fourth film, Drag Me To Hell (2009). it’s great and definitely worthy of a few looks.
Actually, who am I kidding? Watch ALL of the Evil Dead movies multiple times. They’re all a lot of fun and full of gore and grue. So many fluids are thrown into Bruce Campbell’s face (Alison Lohman takes his place in Drag Me To Hell) that I’m surprised he would ever even shake Raimi’s hand after the first one. Each movie is a test of his limits, with Raimi giggling like a school girl every time he gets to torture his friend some more.
Who wouldn’t love a man like that?
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Written by Dennis Paoli/William Norris/Stuart Gordon
Based on a short story by HP Lovecraft
Let’s stay in Lovecraft Land for a bit. (In case you aren’t aware, Lovecraft came up with the Necronomicon, which the Evil Dead movies all revolve around.) Herbert West – Reanimator is one of the creepiest stories I have ever read. It’s one of the few things that I’ve read that made me make sure that nothing was creeping up my bed while I was reading.
Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is not like that. It takes the basic premise (a young student from Miskatonic University meets Herbert West and joins him on his quest to reanimate dead flesh) and turns it not just on its head, but inside-out.
Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is that young student. He’s a med student who is dating Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of the dean. Then he meets Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, who has been called “the poor man’s Bruce Campbell”). Things start to go downhill. West has a reagent that he’s sure will work, but he goes a little…well…funny…in the head. He gets it in his head that he might have to kill to get subjects for his experiments.
Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) goes even funnier in the head. He goes after West and Cain…and Megan. In fact, his head goes after her. That’s all I’ll say here. This is a family site…kinda.
Stuart Gordon has revisited Lovecraft many, many times over the years, but he has yet to top this first adaptation. His next film, From Beyond (1986), comes pretty close, though. It stars Combs (who is in a lot of Gordon’s films) and Crampton and is worth a spin or two.
If Jeffrey Combs looks familiar to you, it might be because he was in The Frighteners, the Peter Jackson ghost movie that everyone unfortunately forgets about. Or it might be because he played approximately 458 characters in Deep Space Nine. Either way, the guy’s awesome. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing him soon as Edgar Allan Poe in a Stuart Gordon directed biopic. The one man show was amazing and needs to be put on screen.
STREET TRASH (1987)
Directed by J Michael Muro
Written by Roy Frumkes
In a city that was crumbling from the inside as New York City was in the 70s and 80s, it only makes sense to make a film about people melting from the inside. Street Trash is just that movie. It’s THE “melt movie.”
Fred (Mike Lackey) is just a happy-go-lucky bum who wants a drink. He stumbles into the local liquor store and steals himself a bottle of Tenafly Viper. Little does he know that this particular ale was found by the store’s owner behind a wall in the back room. One of the bottles was cracked and leaking a disgustingly oozy liquid. No matter! This could make him a few more bucks!
Lucky for Fred, the bottle is stolen from him and sipped by another bum…who proceeds to melt into the toilet in one of the greatest scenes in the history of film.
No, this is not the best film ever made. In fact, it’s probably the worst of these five films. The acting is pretty bad, the dialogue is almost worse and it’s not exactly kind to the womenfolk. It’s even a bit slow at times when the comedy falls flat and it’s been a while since a good melting.
It is, however, directed by a great steady-cam operator (Muro has gone on to work with James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Brian DePalma and quite a few others) and has some of the greatest, most disgusting melt scenes ever put on film. It’s also (quite possibly accidentally) a good metaphor for NYC at the time. Just take a look at some of the scenery, the dilapidated buildings and junkyards. The city was falling apart at the seams and nothing seemed to be able to stop it, much like the bums who drank the Viper.
Of course, it’s also a pretty damn funny movie. It’s the least known of these films and it deserves a little bit of attention.
Check out the documentary on the Blu-ray: The Meltdown Memoirs. It’ll tell you all you need to know and more about the making of this movie. Muro has become a born-again Christian. While he was involved in the documentary, he declined an invitation from Fantastic Fest a few years ago. He said that he’s glad that people enjoy the movie, but he doesn’t necessarily want to have anything to do with it anymore. To each his own. I’m glad I’m able to own a copy.
DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD, 1992)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Stephen Sinclair/Fran Walsh/Peter Jackson
Speaking of Peter Jackson as we were for about 10 seconds, Mr. Hobbit started his career with splatter. In fact, I was hard pressed to not include his first film, Bad Taste, on this list. It’s about aliens coming to Earth to take over, but a few intrepid Kiwis stop them…with chain saws.
So watch Bad Taste. Definitely. But Dead Alive wins here. After seeing this movie a friend decided that he never had to see another gore film ever again. This one had all the gore. He loved it, but there was so much that he felt that he had seen it all. (Little did he know.)
Basic rundown: a young man in 1960s New Zealand is a bit of a social pariah. He’s nice enough, but he’s ruled by his rich mother. When he meets a young lady, his mom goes a bit ballistic…and then gets bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey. Then things start to get a bit ugly. And people drop like putrid, festering flies. And there’s a giant lawnmower. And it’s amazing.
Peter Jackson’s twisted sense of humor is all over this movie, from the aforementioned death machine to a few of the preacher’s lines. It’s gold from beginning to end and I can ALMOST understand not wanting to ruin your idea of gore after this being your first gore film.
I’ve actually never seen the completely uncut version (which was called Braindead…Jackson never liked Dead Alive as a title), but I actually don’t think that they cut too terribly much out. Either way, you should probably see this movie. As great as all of the films on this list are, Dead Alive is pretty much the perfect splatter film.
TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL (2010)
Directed by Eli Craig
Written by Eli Craig/Morgan Jurgenson
Bringing us right up to date is this little gem. Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are just a couple of redneck guys on vacation. They just bought an old cabin in the woods and they want to check it out. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since the cleaning lady came around.
Also unfortunately, a group of college kids show up and start “committing suicide” around them…in horrible, bloody ways.
When Allison (Katrina Bowden) falls and gets knocked out, the boys take her back to their place to take care of her. The rest of the kids think that they’ve taken her to rape her and make a woman suit out of her, so they go on the immediate offensive. They’re so stupid, though, that they keep dying. No matter what our heroes try to do, the kids just won’t stop dying.
The movie brilliantly sends up the tropes of “crazed hillbilly” movies, making Tucker and Dale just about the only sympathetic characters in the movie (Allison is a close third) and showing the outright prejudices that people have against supposedly poor people.
It’s not quite as messy as the splatter movies of old, but there’s still a LOT of blood spurting into the faces of everyone. Eli Craig may be out last hope for true modern splatter.