Note to Directors and Writers: Gore does not Equal Horror

Nosferatu (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

What happened to the horror genera? While a growing trend for the last few decades, it’s now apparently firmly entrenched in the minds of directors and writers (and, unfortunately, many fans) that horror automatically means gratuitous violence and gore.

However, this is a sophomoric and lazy “cheap thrills” approach. “Slasher” films and books have nothing to do with the reality of ghosts and the paranormal. Instead, they rely on shock produced by violence and gore to elicit a reaction.

Starting roughly in the 1960s, the horror genera became less about the story and more about the violence and gore. With the violence and gore taking center stage, as audiences became accustomed to a certain level of violence and gore, the level kept increasing in order to still produce a “shock” reaction. We see the results in today’s “horror” films which attempt to outdo each other in body counts and means to inflict horrific death. Is this really a good situation?

What happened to the good old fashioned scary movie or book in which the horror was largely psychological? Remember the classic Universal movie monsters? Restricted from showing over-the-top violence and gore, the writers were forced to focus on the story. They didn’t have the lazy option of merely showing someone being sawed to pieces to illicit fear. Nosferatu didn’t even have sound, yet remains a deeply disturbing and scary depiction of vampirism.

One of the best horror films ever was the 1963 version of The Haunting.  Amazingly, there’s no crazed, paranormal psychopathic killer on the loose, slashing apart half-naked teens. Instead we’re treated to a highly realistic depiction of ghostly activity. Yes, one character dies at the end, crashing her car after being driven mad by the ghost. Yet we’re never sure if the ghost actually existed or existed only in the troubled young woman’s mind. This film is the stuff of psychological horror – real horror. For what greater horror is there than to be completely uncertain of the reality of one’s own mind?

Is it possible to leave the violence and gore behind to instead focus on the story? We certainly know it’s been done in the past.


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