I don’t like to be scared and yet my favorite kinds of books are thrillers and I love horror movies. I like psychological thrillers (but that is for another post), horror (both supernatural and slasher), and any other kind of movie with a chill factor. (Which is totally funny, because I am a total baby. I don’t read books that scare me when I am home alone or at night, and when it comes to watching a film that has that chill factor, I prefer to watch it during the day, my husband must be present and I hide behind a pillow.) But one thing I don’t appreciate is how a lot of movies think gore is more (entertaining, creepier, scarier – you get the point). I’m not sure if I am in the minority here, but when it comes to thrillers, horror or slasher films, less is always more. Insinuations that leave me wondering… the scariest thing is the unknown (who the killer is, where the killer is, who is going to be next, etc.). A weakness of mine has always been the cat and mouse dynamic.
One of my favorite thrillers is 2001’s “Joy Ride” starring Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski and Steve Zahn. The movie is about two brothers and their friend driving home from their respective colleges (except for Zahn, Walker bailed his butt out of jail – they played brothers in the movie). The brothers played a joke on a trucker they only know by his CB handle ‘Rusty Nail’ and soon the three find themselves trying to escape ‘Rusty’ who seems to be everywhere and nowhere. Abducting their friends, putting their lives at risk, leaving surprises in the trunk, making Walker and Zahn parade around naked (oh yes they do, any girl or guy who is into guys will be grateful) and ends with a terrifying face-off that almost costs all of them their lives. To me this is a scary movie.
I don’t need hooks and spilt blood or guts to send a chill down my spine. And while these things are all right in small doses if there is a point (a protagonist finding a body in the trunk can be such a point for example) when it gets excessive it doesn’t make me any more scared, in fact it makes me less scared and more annoyed than anything. If I see unnecessary displays of gore it grosses me out, which interrupts the natural tension, and it is that tension where the real scares are. And then there are the movies that are supposed to be horror flicks, scary, but are really just excuses to have an endless parade of gore with little plot, character development and therefore actual thrills.
These are not horror films, they’re gore films and I wonder why someone would watch something just to see gore. I understand if a film has a really good plot and interesting characters and just happens to be incredibly gory (the movie “Saw” – the original – would be an example of this in my opinion), but these films are few and far between. Usually a film that is a gore fest is nothing more than a gore fest. While I loved “Joy Ride” and would have loved a sequel because of the story (and being from Nebraska, it taking place on the open road made it all the more chilling) it never came to be, and that was all right. But then there were two direct-to-video sequels made several years later. I don’t consider either of these sequels actual additions to the franchise because they took a really creepy movie that focused on its characters and the plot and just turned it into two different gore parades. It was all about how many people could die and the bloodiest ways to die, which made them predictable and over-the-top in a very bad way. No one likes something that tries too hard – it just never works.
Horror Movies That Prove Less Gore Is More!
This list is for the movies that have minimal gore and are some the creepiest I have ever seen!
“Joy Ride” (2001)
I have already mentioned this movie, but it is one of my favorites. It was creepy, very cat and mouse and something that could happen on a lonely highway. Minimal blood and gore, and yet it creeped me the f**k out. Maybe it is a Nebraska thing – we have plenty of open highways… This movie was all about ‘less is more’ – I mean the audience never even sees the face of the killer! Also, Paul Walker’s bare butt was a bonus. 😉
“The Grudge” (2004)
Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t find “The Grudge” all that gory, but the dead girl was uber creepy. This was the movie where some omniscient force is after you… you know it is coming – you feel it, but there is no stopping it! I am not speaking on any of the sequels, but the original was something that nightmares are made of without all the blood and guts. Plus, I love me some Sarah Michelle Gellar. She is a phenomenal actress and while I think the movie was always going to be good, what she does with her character makes it kind of great.
“When A Stranger Calls” (2006)
This movie is the reason I was afraid to be home alone, late at night when I was younger. I haven’t seen the original, but I thought the remake with Camilla Bell was nicely done. The fear of the threatening phone calls and the isolation is a real kind of nightmare, without the blood and guts. When he (the killer) finally appears for the first time, I always feel like I can’t breathe. The final showdown is full of adrenaline and what makes it that much scarier – you never see his face!
Horror Movies That Have Gore (Not Gratuitously) But Are Still Creepy
This is the list of movies that have some obvious gore (sometimes only when it pushes the story forward and sometimes just because) but the plot and characters make that all right and they are still scary. The gore while there, is not there to be shocking or just for the sake of having gore – and often adds to the movie, rather than taking away from it.
“Final Destination” (2000) and “Final Destination 2” (2003)
“Final Destination” was a movie that had a scary idea and ran with it until it became a truly terrifying movie. Playing with the idea of fate, what happens when you cheat death – you are supposed to be dead but by sheer luck avoided the inevitable. Well, Death always gets its way. The death scenes are shocking and sometimes gory (often in the sequel) but besides these elaborates scenes where Death returns for the next person whose time has come… the movie is all about terrifying possibilities. When you look at the world as one big death trap… well nothing is more terrifying.
“I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997) and “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” (1998)
Out of the several slasher films that could wind up in this category of ‘yes there was gore, but it was worth it’ I don’t think any movie can top “I Know What You Did Last Summer” in my heart. The first film is less gore and more terrifying in the cat and mouse way that I love, but whenever there was gore, it actually furthered the story. The sequel is much gorier and its gore is not always necessary, but it is not the glue that holds the movie together and there is still more to fear than actual gore. Nothing is scarier than past demons coming back to collect!
“Urban Legend” (1998) and “Urban Legend 2” (2000)
Urban Legend (the original) had such a cool premise: A serial killer murdering people using popular urban legends as the method of their ultimate demise. It was creepy; I cared about the main character and several supporting characters, and I was sad when some of them met their end. But the who, what, how and why of the movie was incredibly smart and deeper than just some crazy person offing a lot of random people. I always felt it was kind of underrated. The sequel was nowhere as good as the original (it is a sequel after all) but it is still very good, and completely fits into this category. It had the fabulous Loretta Devine reprise her role from the original film and was about a student doing a film thesis on the events of the first film, and then… well you’ll have to see it for yourself! 😉
*There are so many movies that could fit into this category it is not even funny. Other considerations included the “Scream Trilogy” (not the fourth installment), “Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” (not the other Freddy Kreuger movies that I have seen), “The Six Sense”, “Valentine”, and “Seven”.
Horror Movies That Are There For The Gore And Nothing More!
And here are the movies that I never watch on purpose, because their only purpose is to be gory. It is a gore showcase from beginning to end, leaving little room for anything else, like an actual plot of characters you care about.
“Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead” (2008) and “Joy Ride 3: Road Kill” (2014)
These two sequels to my beloved “Joy Ride” are not really sequels. That is what I tell myself because the original cast did not return and it was made almost a decade after the original. They were also both direct-to-video releases. These two ‘sequels’ were only made to show high body counts in the most gruesome ways possible. None of the characters matter to the audience (calling them characters is a stretch) and there is no real story in either of them. They’re just about a group of hot young things who crossed Rusty Nail’s path so they are all slaughtered in goriest ways possible, along with anyone else who gets in Rusty’s way. Perfect examples of gore for gore sakes, but they are not scary. They are only gross.
I watched this movie when it first came out, and I only remember two things. First, I was equally disgusted by the unnecessary displays of gore that were over the top AND the terrible effects, which made the over the top gore laughable. If you take away the gory scenes that are meant to be shocking and far from it, there is nothing left.
I’m curious what other fans of horror and/or slasher movies think. Am I only one that thinks excessive gore just takes away from the whole scary thing?
For a more in-depth look at the film “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and the novel by Lois Duncan that inspired the film check out: I Know What You Did Last Summer: The Book Versus The Movie.