Screen Time: Splatstick Films
During the 1980s, a new genre appeared on the home video market and captured the hearts of teenagers everywhere. Combining excessive gore with comedy, filmakers began to produce films that were gross, goofy, and extremely fun to watch. These films were dubbed “splatstick” and here are some for your viewing consideration.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
It is hard to believe that the same guy who directed the Spider-Man series of films was also the mastermind behind the Evil Dead series of horror films. While the first film in the series was played straight, the last two are peppered with in-jokes and hilarious one-liners among the gore and the blood.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn picks up where the first film left off. An evil force attacks a cabin in the woods where a pair of couples were having a romantic getaway. Ash Williams is the sole survivor of the attack and attempts to flee the cabin at daybreak, but fails. He is joined by another group of people looking for the owner of the cabin: a professor who was researching an ancient and evil book that the evil force desires. As night falls, the evil force attacks the cabin again. Who will survive and will they find a way to send the evil force back to where it came from.
Even if you are not a big horror fan, you should at least check out the third Evil Dead film known as Army Of Darkness. The gore is turned down a bit and the laughs are turned way up. Plus, the back-story from the first two films is given at the start of Army of Darkness, so you’re not missing anything by going directly to the third film… apart from a lot of laughs.
Dead Alive (1992)
Before he got cuddly with some Hobbits and a big gorilla, Peter Jackson made not one, but three splatstick films. The goriest of them all was Dead Alive (also known as Braindead in New Zealand). With more than two hundred and fifty liters of blood used in the final scene alone, this film proudly claimed to be “The Goriest Fright Film Of All Time” for many years. The film starts slow, but the gore dial quickly gets turned to “11″ for the last half of the film.
Dead Alive is about a shy young man named Lionel Cosgrove and his overbearing mother. Through a terrible stroke of fate, Lionel’s mother is bit by a monkey and it turned into a zombie. The zombie mother begins to turn other people into zombies and Lionel attempts to hide all of this from his girlfriend. His solution is to hide all the zombies in his basement. Everything goes to hell during a house warming party and the zombies escape from the basement. In the gore filled finale, Lionel and his girlfriend engage the now-zombiefied party guests and Lionel’s mother in a battle to the death… or second death… or is it third?
If you’re into the Jackson style of gore, you owe it to yourself to check out Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles. I am still recovering from watching Meet The Feebles, which is best described as the Muppets with generous helpings of sex, drugs and violence.
I can still remember the older teenagers talking about this film back in ‘85. Not only were they lucky enough that our city had a theatre playing the film, they were also managed to sneak in to see what was considered an unrated film. Inspired by an H.P. Lovecraft tale, Re-Animator is a film that keeps the gore flowing from start to end along with some pretty funny jokes. It is also a well-made film from a script and pacing point of view.
Loosely based upon an H.P. Lovecraft tale, Re-Animator introduces us to a scientist by the name of Herbert West. He has discovered a chemical that can bring dead tissue back to life. After being expelled by Zurich University under mysterious circumstances, West returns the states and enrolls at Miskatonic University in New England. After bringing his roommates dead cat back to life, West finds a new partner in his reanimation research.
Two more films were made in the Re-Animator series (Bride of the Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator), but they are not as good as the first film. Fans of the series will be interested to know that a fourth film has been announced for a 2010 released. Known as House of re-Animator, it boosts a cast that includes William H. Macy and George Wendt, who are better known as The Shovler from Mystery Men and Norm Peterson from “Cheers”.
I can still vividly recall the scene in Frankenhooker where there is a room full of exploding hookers. Granted, there was no blood in the scene, but image of exploding hookers still makes me laugh out loud. This film isn’t quite a gory as others I have mentioned, but it is pretty much one big dark comedy from start to finish. It also had an interesting VHS marketing twist. One of the VHS box releases featured a button that when pushed, made the box say “Wanna date?”. My buddy one of these boxes and it still works after all these years.
Frankenhooker is about a demented medical student by the name of Jeffrey Franken. After his stunningly beautiful fiancé has a terrible lawnmower accident, Jeffrey manages to save her head. He has a plan to create a new body for his fiancé by using the best bits from New York prostitutes.. after blowing them up with an explosive drug he creates. His plan is all for naught for when his girlfriend finally has a new body, she wants everybody but Jeffrey.
If you are a fan of Frankenhooker, you should also check out Brain Damage (1988) and Basket Case (1982). While not as funny as Frankenhooker, the other two films are pretty good splatsticks and share the same director as Frankenhooker.
I had a belief that splatstick films began to die off in the mid 90s. Studios began to add more gore and less humor as they tried to pump out horror films as fast as they could on as small as budget as possible. There were some exceptions (Jason X, for example), but for the most part, splatstick films were falling out of style. I was a bit surprised to see advertisements for Blacksheep in 2007. This film from New Zealand not only got a theatrical release, it also had a pretty good marketing campaign behind it.
I’d be stating the obvious if I told that Blacksheep was about sheep. However, it is a film about genetically modified sheep that are out for blood. The killer sheep go on a rampage across the New Zealand countryside either killing anything in their path or infecting others through a bite. Can they be stopped or will the killer sheep completely obliterate New Zealand? There is more to the plot than that, but to say much more would ruin some of the surprises.
While Blacksheep is not a good splatstick film, I do appreciate the film maker’s efforts and passion for the genre. You can tell that the film maker is a big fan of splatstick and set out to make a film like the ones he was fond of. Overall, it is not a bad film and it gave me hope that maybe we’ll see a rebirth of the splatstick genre someday.
Until next time, mix a little laugh with your gore.