Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen
By John McCarty
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 1984. 197 Pages.
Any collector of horror reference books knows the name of John McCarty, since he has written several books on the genre over the years. From Psychos, The Modern Horror Film, to Movie Psychos and Madmen, he’s definitely spent his time watching and learning about the genre. Now maybe its because he’s watched so many that a factual error might slip by. Also, sometimes ones opinion of a title might not be the same as everyone else’s. Which is fine as well, but maybe you should state that it is your opinion.
Before we get to the root of it, let’s get some details out of the way. This book was originally published by FantaCo in 1981, in a trade paperback version, which has Michael Myers wearing his “Bob” costume from Halloween on the cover. This version was updated with a couple of more chapters added, with a new cover, which was taken from Paul Naschy’s 1974 film Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (known here on VHS as House of Psychotic Women) and first released in a hardcover version in 1984, which is kind of tough to come across these days. It was released in a softcover later, which is a little easier to find.
Okay…back to the review. Right in the beginning of the book, he writes, “Splatter movies, offshoots of the horror genre, aim not to scare their audiences, necessarily, nor to drive them to the edges of their seats in suspense, but to mortify them with scenes of explicit gore. In splatter movies, mutilation is indeed the message – many times the only one.”
Now I do agree that a splatter film does intend to bring the gore to the table, no question about it. But I do think you can have much more there than just the blood and guts at face level. The 2008 film Martyrs is a perfect example of that. There were several films he qualifies as splatter, that I think are much, much more than just that. Plus, trying to explain your meaning of a ‘splatter film’ and including Halloween as an example, doesn’t seem to make sense mainly because there is very little gore in the film.
He also claims that The Exorcist is a splatter movie, stating “Despite its pretensions to being about the ‘mysteries of faith’, William Friedlin’s The Exorcist was little more than a very posh splatter movie, utilizing every trick in the book to pulverize audiences into a single gagging mass.” Sorry, but I feel this film strikes the viewer not just at a visual level, but a very deeper and powerful one. Again, to each their own when it comes to opinion. Just that one was a little hard to swallow.
But no matter how one wants to feel about a certain film, when it comes to writing about them, it really helps when you are describing the right film. And honestly, this was kind of surprising to read this from this author. Maybe he was just pressed for time to meet a deadline, but when writing about Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), he states: “His most successful film as of this writing is Zombie, a rip-off of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in which a mad doctor (Richard Johnson) sets up shop on a remote tropical island in order to conduct a series of bizarre experiments in secret. To preserve this secrecy, he has his island hideaway guarded by an army of killer zombies.”
To me, it sure sounds like he’s talking about Marino Girolami’s 1980 gut-muncher Zombie Holocaust (aka Doctor Butcher M.D.) than the Fulci film. Maybe McCarty was just watching too many Italian zombie films back to back and got them confused. I’d really like to think he had seen Zombie, but either way, when you’re writing a book, you really need to make sure your facts are correct. Otherwise, people might tend to doubt everything within the pages.
Now, besides these little issues I’ve found, let’s not lose track of what McCarty does do right here. He starts this book out right by talking about the Grand Guignol, a theatre in France back in 1899 that was doing simple plays of gore and violent acts. He also goes into the history of some of the violent acts that some movies got away with in the early days of cinema. That was of course before the ratings board were created. He moves through Hammer Films rise of glory in the late ’50s, to the Godfather of Gore, H.G. Lewis unleashing his pictures upon the drive-ins, and continues to move up through the cinematic history, before moving on to Romero and the more modern day filmmakers.
So this is a tough review here. Yes, McCarty does give the reader a nice history of gory films, hitting most of the important chapters. I just have an issue when I find little factual errors like that, or an opinion that just doesn’t make sense to me. But that is just my feelings. If you are a collector of horror reference books, then I would definitely say this needs to be in your library, like all of McCarty’s books. But just proceed with them with a tad bit of caution and don’t take everything you read here as gospel.