She’s always asking why I like watching people die
And why I get my kicks while others scream and cry
My friends think that I’m sick or maybe uneducated
And my family doesn’t want to admit that they are related
Harley Poe: “Gorehound”
Growing up, I never read Fangoria magazine. I never even saw a copy of Fangoria until I went to a birthday party at a friend-of-a-friend’s place and glimpsed some of the slimy, monstrous, demonic images within. Even though I knew all this was just about movies, it still seemed scary and forbidden in a way even porn couldn’t match. It was just so gross, and here was a whole magazine – with subscribers – dedicated to the grossness!
But I got into horror in general late in life. I’ve had to discover many of the old classics on my own via Summer of Horror. And it’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the value of gore in the horror scene, it’s just that I don’t usually seek it out.
A gorehound is defined by the thirst for ever more extreme depictions of violence, dismemberment, blood ‘n guts, etc. in movies. As the song lyrics above allude, this is a tough thrill to explain to some people. Not to speak for the real gorehounds among us, but I would say the appeal stems from a mixture of black humor and the artistry involved in creating the “gags” themselves. The stone cold classics of the splatter genre – Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2, Re-Animator, etc. – usually lean comedic, using the gore effects as a form of slapstick comedy (what some refer to as “splatstick”). Behind it all, there’s the fascination with “how did they DO that?” when the effect is convincing enough, and that curiosity is how effects legends like Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero got their start. Watch the behind the scenes features of any sufficiently gory movie to see the ingenuity that goes into these practical special effects. Even when it looks pretty fake or cheesy on screen, it’s still a much more meticulous and challenging process than you expect.
Gory content in movies isn’t always meant to be funny, of course. And the more “serious” the movie, the more realism is demanded in the effects, and this is the area where gore potentially becomes challenging to me. I’ve watched a lot of gory movies in my time, and none of the gross stuff tends to bother me as long as it’s played as comical or over the top. Dead Alive has a severed head chopped up in a blender, and a zombie massacre-by-lawnmower that serves as the climax of the movie, but a torture scene in Game of Thrones in which a small strip of skin is slowly peeled away from a pinky finger was far more troubling.
For whatever reason, zombie movies don’t make me queasy regardless of how much realistic human-eating occurs on screen. The Walking Dead consistently ups the bar for extreme (and realistic) gore portrayed on mainstream television, all of which is inflicted upon humans or former humans. But cannibal movies affect me. The notorious Cannibal Holocaust had effects so realistic the director was summoned to court on suspicions of making snuff films. But the thing that made me both physically and emotionally sick was the violence against animals – which unfortunately was 100% genuine. Bone Tomahawk has been steadily gaining notoriety for one particular scene that truly turned my stomach, in which a man is stripped naked, scalped, has his own scalp hammered down his throat, and is then chopped in half at the groin and finally split in two like a wishbone. The effects are brutal, unflinching and realistic as hell (the sound design may be the secret weapon of this sequence though). There is no comfort to be had in humor in that scene, other than marvel at the sheer gruesomeness of it. Even Eli Roth’s Green Inferno had a centerpiece dismemberment scene that turned me a little, well, green. Since zombies only exist in movies, I think it provides a screen of disbelief that I don’t get with cannibals, which are actually out there among us, potentially. Humans inflicting such cruelty on humans is more unsettling than monsters I guess.
For real gorehounds, they can’t get enough. Cartoonish, realistic, funny, or horrific, the gore IS the main course. But for me it’s an ingredient. It can make your movie MORE funny, or more shocking, or more exciting, but only in concert with everything else that makes up the craft of moviemaking. Consider Hereditary. No slouch when it comes to shocking displays of violence, but hardly what one would consider “extreme” by today’s standards when the images are taken without context. But the context itself is what makes the violence in Hereditary so impactful. No mindless zombies or chatterbox side characters are eviscerated – the worst is reserved for the characters we care the most about.
But I can’t deny that gorehounds are my brethren. The line from Halloween lover to horror movie fan to gorehound is a common one, and it has resulted in a community that is fuller, healthier, and kinder than just about any other I’ve toured. They’re at the horror conventions, they’re going through the haunted houses, they’re wearing the same horror movie T-shirts. And of those I met, none of them have been depraved lunatics! A love of the gross and the macabre is really just a sign of willingness to find the beauty in things normally considered ugly or “low”. It marks you immediately as a member of an exclusive club, because to be a horror fan requires similar formative experiences, combined with a dedication to seek out the very things that won’t exactly make you popular in school or earn you the respect of your elders. In other words, to be a horror hound, not to mention a gorehound, is a lifelong labor of love.
I’m not a gorehound, but I’m with them all the way.