The hype surrounding the remake of Evil Dead has largely been centered on the brutality of the film’s gore, especially for a mainstream release. This violence has been the main focus for the marketing; its poster claims the movie is “the most terrifying film you will ever experience,” the Red Band trailer shows completely grotesque scenes, and numerous TV spots emphasize the insanity that will unfold as it progresses. Director Fede Alvarez even went as far as to claim that people would not see a harder R rating than his film. Indeed, in Evil Dead, people are stabbed, cut, shot, dismembered, and burned in extreme fashions, probably the most extreme in any wide release horror film for years. Whether or not you were as disgusted by the gore as the marketing claimed you would be, the fact remains that audiences were drawn to the film to witness this excessive gore, to experience a movie that would be ruthless in its intensity. With it beating out all other competition this weekend, Evil Dead clearly succeeded in its campaign, demonstrating the appeal that this type of film has to the country.
Yet, violence in film is still a controversial topic. When discussing the horror genre, critics often dismiss gore as being cheap and exploitative. They claim it adds nothing to a movie, but rather covers up weak elements of the script and production itself. They assert that showing less is more, and in many cases, this is true; some of the most effective horror films are so effective because of the mystery they create for the audience, because of their ability to make certain images even scarier due to their absence. However, this dismissal of gore in the horror genre comes across as narrow minded. Yes, gore can be used in cheap ways (the Saw series comes to mind), but it can also be used for a number of other purposes, purposes that enhance films in a non-exploitative way. Rather than viewing gore objectively as an element in film that provides cheap thrills, audiences need to take into account how the filmmaker intends the special effects to be taken and how the gore is integrated into the story, characters, or viewing experience.
In some films, for instance, gore develops characters. Take the film Excision, in which the main character is a necrophiliac. Throughout the film, graphic dream sequences are shown in which the protagonist imagines having sex with dead bodies. These scenes, while difficult to watch, are filmed in a beautiful and clean way. They are not meant to simply disgust the audience, but rather serve to develop the character’s dreams and desires, desires that are not ugly to her, and are therefore not portrayed in an ugly manner. Rather, the scenes embody the beauty that the protagonist sees them as, thus developing who she is, and illustrating the idea of the subjectivity of gore. In the underrated film Family Traditions: A Portrait of America, two characters mutilate one another in a horrific but beautiful sequence that provides redemption that would be unattainable in any other way. In Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, the violence and gore is handled unflinchingly, demonstrating the viewpoint from the protagonist in his distant and alienated lifestyle. In all of these films, the gore and violence serve to develop their characters, to reflect the mindsets that they possess, and thus enhance who they are to the audience. They provide aggressive and raw looks at people that would be less powerful if not for the brutal images that are presented.
Gore can also serve the purpose of enhancing a plot. The key (which many films fail to do) is to have the necessary foundations of a story and then build from there. A film like the French horror movie Inside is beyond brutal, but because it creates and builds a plot and narrative with strong characters, the gore is never used to replace the foundations of the story. A film like Martyrs is horrifically violent, but because the violence enhances the complex ideas of the plot, it never feels exploitative. Rather, the gore in these films serves to enhance the script rather than cover up its weak elements. If not for the violence, their subject matter would be less effective.
However, not all films need to have a philosophy with their gore. Sometimes, witnessing violence onscreen can appease the natural inclination that humans have towards violence, or it can simply be fun. The entire idea behind cinema is to provide an escape from the real world, to understand that the images onscreen are just illusions but be tricked into believing they are real. A film like Evil Dead contains gore to provide an adrenaline rush. In the film, gore is used to look as real as possible and thus enhance intensity, provide a brutal and relentless atmosphere and show images that are not able to be seen by most people. It provides a spectacle, but from that spectacle results a strong reaction which is stimulating and serves as an outlet. The gore may not provide a philosophical purpose or help develop characters, but it adds to the visual aspect of film, to the idea that the images presented onscreen are unable to be experienced in any other art form. Gore can also just be fun to watch; in some films, like Dead Alive, Re-Animator, and Slither, the tone is goofy and ridiculous, and thus makes the special effects less serious and separate from the plot itself. They can be enjoyed for their technical achievements and ridiculousness.
Gore, therefore, needs to be taken in context of the movie. Sometimes, it can help develop characters, add to the intensity of a plot, or simply be fun. Just because a movie is gory does not mean it is exploitative or weak on story, but rather means that the filmmakers wanted to use these special effects to enhance a certain element to the film. It can help provide the illusion that comes with cinema, and convince people momentarily that what they are seeing onscreen is real. Hopefully, Evil Dead represents a new brutal wave of horror films in America in which gore is not turned away from, and the idea of containing a scene of literal raining blood will not be too crazy of an idea.