Splatter Horror, the precursor to modern Torture Porn, is a type of horror that depends on violence and gore to accentuate the vulnerability of the human body and the art of its graphic dismemberment. Drawing on the aesthetic themes of Grand Guignol theatre, splatter horror as a genre movement has its roots in horror movies from the 1950s and 1960s, but the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis codified many of the tropes and imagery associated with what was then a new subgenre. Splatter horror grew in popularity in the 1970s, leading Moral Guardians to try to censor or ban such gory films, a move which led to the creation of the Video Nasties list. As movie special effects have improved, splatter horror has experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 2000s, in the form of Torture Porn and the works of Eli Roth. Incidentally, not all gore is played for drama or horror in these works; films where the violence and bloodshed is so over-the-top that it's played for laughs are known as "splatstick".
Splatter horror is not just a film genre: certain authors of extreme horror novels have adopted the term splatterpunk to describe works that include gory depictions of violence.
Tropes associated with Splatter Horror:
- Bloody Hilarious: In splatstick, the blood and guts are played for laughs.
- Bloody Horror
- Body Horror
- Crosses the Line Twice
- Gorn: One of the main elements of this genre, though while gorn is used to excite the viewer, splatter horror uses similar themes to upset or horrify the viewer.
- Gory Deadly Overkill Title of Fatal Death: Many of the early splatter horror titles were gratuitously over-the-top, offering would-be viewers a good idea of what they were in for.
- Kensington Gore: An initial component of splatter horror, due to censorship limitations and special effects limitations. As movie effects have improved, so has the realism of the gore (for better or worse).
- Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Many films in this subgenre use fake blood measured in gallons.
- Slasher Film: The genre most associated with splatter back in the 80s, which featured graphic violence in a Ten Little Murder Victims setup.
- Torture Porn: In the 2000s, splatter was revived as this.
- Herschell Gordon Lewis is considered the father of splatter films, using so much stage blood in his movies that they were labeled "two gallon" or "three gallon" pictures based on how much he ordered from his distributor.
- Lucio Fulci shares Lewis' title as the "Godfather of Gore", as his giallo and horror films seldom pass up the opportunity for over-the-top gore, to either horrifying or unintentionally hilarious effect.
- Peter Jackson is best known for his sweeping epic fantasies today, but when his career was first getting started he was responsible for splatstick films like Braindead (described in more detail below).
- Eli Roth has stated that he wants to get back to the roots of horror from the 1970s and 1980s, especially the gore. As such, he was one of the forerunners of splatter horror's resurgence in the 2000s. See Hostel and Cabin Fever below.
- EC Comics is a pre-Comics Code horror publisher that used the visual medium to its fullest in gory, often horrifying ways to punctuate its stories, which included themes like cannibalism, live burial, body horror, and gruesome deaths (or gruesome survivals). Ultimately this led to a backlash from the Moral Guardians in the 1950s, which sought to tone down a lot of the gore and ultimately led to the closure of the publisher.
- Blood Feast, directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, is considered the first splatter film, notable for its depictions of onscreen gore. As such, it is the oldest film to be included on the Video Nasty list.
- The first splatter film to popularize the genre was Night of the Living Dead (1968), as George A. Romero attempted to replicate the gore and atmosphere of EC Comics on the big screen. Romero would later coin the term "splatter cinema" to describe his later film, Dawn of the Dead (1978).
- Cannibal Holocaust is one of the more infamous examples of this trope in cannibal films, featuring on-screen violence and deaths so realistic at the time that the director was accused of making a snuff film. In addition, the film has drawn fire for featuring six genuine animal deaths on-screen, and even though the snuff accusations were disproven, the film has been heavily censored or banned outright in several countries.
- Evil Dead 2, in line with the increasingly comedic tone of the series, featured gallons of stage blood of various colors and visual gags involving zombie parts as it essentially parodied its own (more straightfaced) prequel.
- Then there's the 2013 remake, which is bloodier by far than the original series and features graphic dismemberments and mutilations (some self-inflicted), including a more brutal version of the original's tree-rape scene.
- Braindead is one of the more infamous "splatstick" films, with grotesque special effects mainly surrounding the slow decomposition of Lionel's mother Vera and her victims, culminating in a climax that involves a chest-mounted lawnmower, a basement full of zombies, and the most stage blood that had ever been used in any film at that time.
- Hostel was the first film in the Torture Porn resurgence of splatter horror in the 2000s, featuring a pair of college students who fall afoul of an organization of sadists while backpacking across Europe.
- Saw and its sequels emphasize the psychological aspect of splatter horror, as Jigsaw forces his victims to survive gruesome deathtraps or mutilate themselves or others in order to escape, though as the series progressed, the focus became less on psychological horror and more on the gory setpieces.
- The Cabin Fever movies feature a fast-moving flesh-eating virus working its way through the leads, leading to plenty of bloodshed and Body Horror as they literally disintegrate over the course of the movie.
- The Final Destination franchise centers around the laws of physics apparently Balancing Death's Books through deadly freak accidents. The first two movies were (relatively) realistic in the death scenes, while the third and fourth started to get rather cartoonish and over-the-top. The fifth movie dialed back the gore quite a bit after negative reactions to 4.
- The Dead Snow films feature Norwegian hikers versus Nazi zombies, both of which seem to be Made of Plasticine. Naturally this results in members of both groups getting torn apart in showers of blood and limbs. In the second film, the undead Nazis even use a length of intestine from one of their victims to siphon fuel from a crippled vehicle to a more viable one.
- The Belko Experiment starts with the concept of a white-collar take on Battle Royale and runs with it to its bloody end, featuring exploding heads, bloody, over-the-top murders (including one character getting his face obliterated with a fire ax on-screen), and gruesome injuries even among those that aren't instantly killed. The film dances all over the Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror, ultimately averaging out somewhere in the realm of a blood-splattered Black Comedy.
- The Green Inferno, coming from the unholy union of Eli Roth and the cannibal film, starts off relatively tame, but takes a hard left when the protagonists are captured by the cannibal tribe they were trying to same from deforestation, starting with the gruesome dismemberment of a still-living Jonah (starting with the village elder extracting and eating his eyes and tongue) and continuing from there with increasing physical and psychological brutality. Some of it is played for Black Comedy (as with the death of Lars, when he is swarmed by a tribe of stoned cannibals with the munchies), but most of it is just gleeful gore and violence, as befitting Roth's love letter to the subgenre.
- The Guinea Pig films are a series of six Japanese horror films from the 1980s and 1990s that gained global notoriety mainly for the first two films (The Devil's Experiment and Flower of Flesh and Blood), which led to the producer needing to prove that nobody was actually hurt or killed during the graphic torture and dismemberment sequences, as well as for the sixth film (Devil Woman Doctor) being found in the possession of Japanese serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki. In particular, Flower of Flesh and Blood scared Charlie Sheen so badly that he called the FBI to report a snuff film.
- Ravenous (1999), being a borderline Black Comedy historical thriller about cannibalism, was not only so bloody that the production ran out of fake blood during the climactic battle, but also presents meat dishes with the same loving attention most films would give an eviscerated murder victim. In fact, one of the main themes is comparing human meat to animal meat, and considering the lead actor, the writer, and the director are all vegetarians, the honest disgust shown towards meat in general enhances horror of the cannibalism scenes nicely.
- The Cube series of movies center around cubical mazes where some of the rooms contain brutal deathtraps that can take out the unwary in a number of creative ways, ranging from razor wire to flesh-eating bacteria to abstract four-dimensional rearrangements of spacetime. Figuring out the pattern behind the placement of the traps and how best to avoid them and not go splat provides much of the tension.
- Apeshit, as a love letter to the slasher genre, features over-the-top descriptions of gore and dismemberment—made even more shocking and stomach-churning by the fact that the characters survive the brutality. Its sequel, Clusterfuck, cheerfully continues this trend.
- James Herbert's The Rats was notorious at the time for bringing new levels of graphic descriptions of painful death and physical injury to horror novels. Herbert's many followers in 1980s Britain included Shaun Hutson, Guy N Smith, and Graham Masterton.
- Until Dawn is a homage to classic splatter horror, featuring all of the classic tropes and cliches and a variety of very bloody and sometimes quite creative ways in which its main characters can meet their end. Interestingly, most deaths can be averted (only one death is hard-coded after the prologue), though doing so is very unlikely in the first playthrough.
- Splatterhouse, as the name suggests, was essentially this aesthetic as a sidescrolling Beat 'em Up, with enemies being dismembered in showers of gore and Body Horror aplenty. While the original games are quite tame by modern standards, the original arcade game was still gory enough to draw the ire of Moral Guardians at the time.