Saturday, 23 March 2013

Gorn (or the Etiquette of Blood and Gore)

Readers let it be known I am no stranger to the concept of blood and gore in stories, nor am I opposed to it. Sometimes though we just have to find a better way to use it. Today I talk about gorn (and boy is the page image for that accurate).

Now of course I'm not referring to the alien from Star Trek.

This alien for those of you who are wondering
No today I instead talk about (as quoted from TVtropes) the 'extreme and sadistic violence, to the point of prurience. A portmanteau of "gore" and "porn". The term can refer to just an extremely graphic scene of bloodshed, or the entire sub-genre of torture films in the spirit of Saw'. And of course if that's not explanitory enough for you, let's just say that it's blood and gore for blood and gores sake.

Now that's not to say that the application of gore is a bad thing, in fact some of the best video games and horror movies use bloody murder to captivate/horrify their audiences and wratchet up the action in the game/film. In fact in some cases it can be downright hilarious! That is, if it is used tastefully and applied well.

Some video games just tend to suffer from over the top gore with blood dripping from the screen, these aren't even necessarily horror games, but action games which have ridiculous ammounts of blood and guts just seemingly for the sake of it! It can be fun, but after a while it is just boring, and incredibly juvenile. You won't see much evolution in gameplay terms as long as developers concentrate on this!

I'm no stranger to liberal gore, some of my favorite video games include the Dead Space series, Gears of War, and Resident Evil. Now none of these games is exactly light on violence. In fact Gears of War is billed as being a violent action game with some of the over the top violence being the selling point. I mean when your using a chainsaw bayonet to saw through a Locust Drone while screaming 'yeeeeaaaaah!' along with the character on the screen you can't exactly claim you aren't enjoying it.

Case in Point, vis Destructoid
Now this is a game which is sold on over the top action along with a mediocre story. Here's the thing though, the weapons and violence sell it. They are larger than life and improbable, which combined with good gameplay mechanics and interesting hammy characters we have something that sells quite well.

Looking at Dead Space, you have something which is basically zombies in space. They have scything talons and go around infecting people by driving a proboscus into the player characters head or removing his limbs from his torso in various gory and creative ways. These are all items that are expected in a zombie style game, and as watchers/players of that particular genre we now expect that people will be messily devoured and zombie heads will explode through high velocity lead poisoning (or plasma cutter related work injuries) and that is pretty much what we watch the genre for. The Walking Dead would not be what it is without the proper application of zombies eating people and zombies being killed by people. Done in proper context and shown well it is what viewers enjoy.

However, few people want to see a show or game where the zombies win and eat everyone, or all the main characters are messily devoured in pointless ways. Admittedly some people were rooting for the zombies in Land of the Dead (I wasn't) but no one really wanted to see them win!! What they wanted to see was the plucky human characters defeat the evil villains and if the zombies helped do that, great! If not, well, putting a bullet in their brains isn't a terrible idea.

The reason you can't have a zombie as a sympathetic character (most of the time) is that they are human eating machines, and as such are beyond the sympathy of people. You don't want to see them messily devour someone who might be innocent, and you don't want them to win in the end. In fact I've only ever read one series which did this well, is The Rising by Brian Keene.

The thing is though, that mindless gore will be a given when a zombie is the main character, just like if the main character in a movie is a slasher. We will have to sit through ages of the villain/monster killing people, now this can be done well by being downplayed in favor of the horror of this person winning, or it can be done poorly by dragging out the horrible torture for ages.

A point in case of this being done well is actually the first Saw. I personally may not have liked it, but, I will concede that it was not especially gory and used the terror it created in a decent fashion for reeling the audience into the characters awful dilemma. The sequels however, instead turned up the gore and violence and had people dying for no other reason than for us to see them brutally murdered on screen. Another movie which invokes this trope, is Hostel which is literally a movie with no point other than seeing young tourists having sex, then being kidnapped to be tortured to death by foreign rich people. The ludicrous ammount of gore and its ridiculous use (I mean blow torch to the eye?) makes people want to vomit. Literally none of this adds to the movie, and its more disturbing than scary, and not in a good way. It doesn't leave you asking anything about the movie, instead merely wondering who the hell would come up with this plot?

It's hard for people (most people) to sit through a film where teenagers are being slaughtered left and right with no reason. Some movies today will spend mindless ammounts on gore budgets just to get realistic looking slit jugulars or ripped out rib cages. In fact some movies have decided to just ditch the concept of plot or characterization altogether in order to show scantily clad co-eds being ripped apart or hacked up in order to appeal to the lowest denominator in advertising.

This film being a recent offender
You see gore isn't what people expect from a horror movie. What they expect is to be scared or terrified, and in truly well done cases ask fundamental questions about their own humanity and what constitutes a monster. Yes they expect blood, yes they expect murder, but what they don't expect is for the set to be drenched in so much blood you could fill a swimming pool. Sometimes just finding a dead and mutilated body is much better than having to watch that character be mutilated and then have their friends stumble upon the scene moments later. It just saves time and can increase terror.

The fact of the matter is that lots of horror today suffers from a lack of substance and a ridiculous infusion of severed heads and spurts of blood flying around for no reason I could point out. Even in video games (like Left 4 Dead) the gore begins to become an impediment when you can't even see the screen properly through the layers of blood. In fact one of the reasons the Resident Evil series has suffered recently is the fact that it has become self aware of the gory nature of the transformations and monsters and is just playing them up for kicks! This is in no way interesting, and really doesn't appeal to most players who are looking for an exciting horror survival (or maybe in the far future an actualy horror!) game with puzzles.

Crime dramas today are also becoming dependent on gory murder rather than the idea of solving crime. Thankfully however, some shows are coming out which deal less with us following demented serial killers as they butcher people in 'creative' ways (such as in the ever sinking Criminal Minds series) or the psuedo-science and ripped open bodies as seen on CSI, and instead lead us to the enjoyable 'murder as a framing device' plots of great crime dramas and character driven stories such as Castle (which in my opinion is probably the best crime drama on TV right now).

Literature isn't immune from this either. Some series take the gory horror to a ridiculous level. Many modern Lovecraft books begin having freakish monsters messily and slowly disembowling their victims for no real reason. Some novels (like some particular moments in the Sword of Truth series) just have long torture sequences (committed by the heroes no less) and use them for what might have been a metaphor about war, but it is lost in the ensuing random 'heroic' violence that follows.

In fact much of the literary genre of horror has also come to try and depend on gory monster attacks rather than the physical horror of such monsters, or being alone, isolated and under attack by otherworldly creatures! The Slenderman mythos is so scary not because of any gore which might be in it (and there rarely is any) but because of the sense this tall suited blank faced creature can chase you down anywhere and then...well what exactly he does do when he catches you is left to the reader, and that makes it all the more scary!! No gore necessary but maximum scare fest!

It's the unknown or monstrous that usually scares people, not the sight of someone being dismembered or a college co-ed having her still beating heart ripped out and force fed to her. While those images are disturbing I wouldn't call them terrifying in and of themselves. I mean I've seen uncensored battlefield casualty photos which are gorier than these films and while it makes me feel sick it doesn't make me particularly scared.

What writers (and more importantly, executives) need to learn is that you can't just appeal to the common denominator base that looks for bloody gore and sex while expecting to win out in the box office. People tend to quickly tire of that kind of thing, and it ends up with the same repetetive, boring, predictable, and idiotic, plots that people really only go to see from boredom. Just putting bloody murder onto a screen and expecting it to sell is not an incredibly successfull business plan (hell even the classic 'sex sells' mantra fails if you underestimate your audiences intelligence).

What horror and action writers should learn is that you can't abandon plot for silly gimmicks and expect to be wildly successfull in your careers. Hopefully this can end with a thrilling psychological horror movie coming out that serves to scare me because it's actually scary, and not because the script says its scary by decapitating some teenagers.

Now here's a picture of a zombie getting it's head blown off.

Until next time readers!


  1. Yeah, I agree with Saw. Like I've said before, I quite liked the first, but I did not enjoy the other entries (and by the 4th I couldn't really stomach the formula anymore).

    As for Piranha 3DD... yeah, it only really tried to sell itself on ratcheted up boobs and violence, nothing else. Even then, it wasn't even as violent as its absolutely brutal predecessor (or even as well made for that matter). It was terrible. I want to write a retrospective on the series, just so I can aptly tear it apart.

    Also: loved the ending. XD

  2. Why thank you!

    Yes I think that the 'gore-porn' and 'torture-porn' genre needs to die. Quickly.

    The Saw series might have been good as a trilogy of interesting movies (I still wouldn't have liked them) and TBH I find that type of movie unappealing. Though there really was no worse way to do them.