A sharp blade, a petrified young woman, SHING! A bucket of blood splashes across the wall! Iconic, satisfying, and straight to the point! It’s one element of horror that never seems to fail us as an audience.
Why is it that blood, gore, and horrible deeds are so common in this genre? What is the importance of having such violence?
The use of blood in stories goes all the way back to the stone age. Blood represents concepts like life, vitality, trust, and freedom. These concepts exist simply because they support the story.
Gore was less prominent because it was so… final. It would typically signify the end of a character’s situation. (This isn’t always the case, but it’s far more mainstream now). The purpose of blood was to represent what the character was after. Let’s talk about Hellraiser for a moment.
Torture, absolute endless suffering, and bloodshed. All the blood you can imagine! These devilish Cenobites came to the protagonist,Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), with an objective: if she did not obey their orders, then their cruelty would be ungodly. The purpose of blood in this story is power. They wield an immense power over the characters they face with the promise of endless torment. Through this, we’re exposed to intense violence ending in only bloodshed.
On the flip side, how does that affect us as an audience? We feel the same affliction as the characters do, the nail being torn off their finger, the flesh separating from bone. You cringe in your seat and squint as you feel uneasy. The torment these devilish beings afflict on the characters affects us as an audience. We do not want to be exposed to such cruelty, and we do not want to see characters we care for die so painfully.
Gore, on the other hand, is much more extreme and leans towards more of a sinister purpose. Let’s talk about a classic film, Saw.
Imagine you wake up in a bathtub, submerged under water. You gasp for air and panic. After you escape the tub and catch your breath, you realize that you’re in an abandoned bathroom with two other bodies laying around.
Your leg is chained to a metal bar and you’re all alone.
The feeling of being completely vulnerable, chained, and forgotten is horrifying. Does anyone know you’re alive? Does anyone care? This would destroy someone’s psyche for the simple fact that they’re imprisoned and are slowly considering the fact that they might die alone here.
Why is this setup important? Because the cruelty is often only bearable when the circumstances allow it. Sure, there's plenty of gory films that are out for your money, but if you’re looking to tell a compelling story, you need to convince your audience that the actions these characters take line up with a sense of reality.
I’d only cut my leg off if I knew it was my only chance to escape alive.
So why is it that the original film did not follow a similar formula that the remaining series did? Why is it that this had far fewer moments of intense gore compared to the other films with unrelenting torment? Did the bloodshed have any meaning anymore? Or was it just a plot tool to extend a story further?
I believe compelling stories that contain gore only really affect me when they set up a purpose and force me to watch the intensely violent act. Bloodshed is common, but gore on the other hand? That’s final, extreme, and often irreversible. When you’re exposed to gore and you are compelled to see if the character commits to the act, this is when you’re most affected. It’s because A: They have to do it. B: They only have to do it once (so you better not miss seeing it!) C: There’s a chance they can save anyone else from experiencing it.
At the end of the day, whether you’re looking to write a story or watch a gory movie, it’s important to know why it’s there. Why are you exposed to such violence and does it mean anything?
When gore and bloodshed are used just right, your mind will completely buy into it. Emotionally, you’re sucked in, and the deeper you go, the more traumatic the experience. Blood and gore both have their value in horror and in stories.
Do you have any favorite bloody films that used these concepts to great effect? Let me know, and we’ll open up a discussion.
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