SPLATTER MOVIES: BREAKING THE LAST
TABOO OF THE SCREEN
By JOHN McCARTY
(St. Martin’s Press; 1984)
Apparently the most authoritative overview of
the splatter movie phenomenon ever published--or so I’ve been told. After
finally reading this book, however, I’m not too sure about that claim.
It’s a readable account, certainly, written by a man who knows his gory
movies. John McCarty has also penned the two-volume SPLATTER MOVIE GUIDE, which
fills in many of the gaps of this earlier book (and which I recommend in its
place). Those gaps include essential splatter fests like
THE FLESH EATERS,
BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, which are listed in the
glossary of the final pages but appear nowhere else in the text. There’s also
scant mention of foreign gore films like those of the Japanese “ero-guro”
(erotic-grotesque) genre (although in all fairness, such films were little known
to the Western world back in 1984).
What we do get is an account that argues gore is the cinema’s “last
taboo.” All other filmic taboos, according to McCarthy, had been broken by
1920. I don’t entirely agree with that point, but will go along with McCarthy’s
contention that gore took some time to come into its own onscreen.
McCarthy includes a brief overview of the Parisian
Grand Guignol Theater, which kicked off the splatter movement back in 1899.
Things apparently didn’t pick back up splatter-wise until England’s Hammer House
of Horror movies of the fifties and sixties, followed by the low budget
gorefests of H.G Lewis (BLOOD FEAST, etc). From there the unprecedented carnage
of BONNIE AND CLYDE and Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH finally ushered gore into
the mainstream, and the splatter movie was up and running.
That’s how John McCarty sees it. He ignores Nabuo
Nakagawa’s 1960 grue fest JIGOKU (a.k.a. HELL), which predated H.G. Lewis’s
films, and the American FLESH EATERS from 1964, which was nearly as
unprecedented. The omission of the Roger Ebert-scripted BEYOND THE VALLEY OF
THE DOLLS also galls, especially since McCarty concludes the book with an
argument against Ebert and his late partner Gene Siskel’s early eighties crusade
against gory movies--a mention or two of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS would
have given McCarty plenty of ammunition! And what’s with the comment that
Italian splatter movies are “virtually interchangeable with those made in
America, England, Spain or wherever”? I beg to differ!
There are also interviews with David Cronenberg, Tom
Savini and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE actor Ed Neal. Far more comprehensive
interviews with all three figures are available elsewhere, just as McCarty’s
once groundbreaking insights on splatter movies have since been surpassed. This
means that readers of this book are best advised to somehow transport themselves
back in time to 1984, or simply find a more up-to-date resource.