Horror films are often filled with decapitations, amputations, disembowelment, and more; particularly with the introduction of the so-called "torture porn" subgenre, we're seeing a higher level of violence and excess. Sometimes it’s effective; other times watching the film’s cast of characters endure the kind of violence we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy is kind of a turn-off.
What we don’t see a lot of these days, though, is a horror film that actually shies away from on-screen violence, opting for atmosphere over arterial spray... but those films's aren't impossible to find. For a recent example, James Wan's The Conjuring, which opened this summer with a massive $41.5 million, relies on clapping hands, immobile dolls, and creeping shadows to terrify the audience. In fact, some of our most beloved films from years past are less intense than we might remember them. There have been several times where I have re-watched a film for the twentieth time and wound up scratching my head as the credits rolled, wondering, "didn’t that film used to be much more violent?" Of course, our favorite movies haven’t changed; we just tend to remember some of them as showcasing more brutality than they actually do.
We ran round one of this feature in July (read it here) and it proved popular, so because we're thoughtful people, we bring you seven more movies that are likely less violent than you remember. Have a look and tell us what you think in the comments below!
[Warning: some spoilers ahead]
Terror Train is a tried-and-true classic: it explores the typical revenge-fueled killing spree plotline, but the revenge isn’t actually as bloody as a lot of its contemporaries. The body count is there, but the deaths are tame when compared to a lot of other slasher films. The film does feature the always-fantastic Jamie Lee Curtis, and an early performance from the legendary David Copperfield; and let us not forget the lizard man. All of the preceding elements worked together to make horror movie magic without venturing into excess.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Tobe Hooper’s grindhouse classic is an accomplishment in filmmaking: it grabs the audience by the throat and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. It’s a pulse-pounding kind of reaction that the film elicits from its viewers, but considering the title, the scares aren’t reliant on a massive amount of gore. In fact, there's hardly any bloodshed when you stack TCM up against almost any modern horror film. A lot of successful horror movies make the choice to rely on ambiance as the key ingredient for conjuring scares, and that's what Hooper does here. He explains on the DVD commentary that he tried to lobby the MPAA for a PG rating, because there is barely any stage blood used in the film, but his request clearly fell on deaf ears.
Let Me In
This vampire tale starring Chloe Grace Moretz is the rare example of a remake that does right by the original (the acclaimed 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In). Other than a few instances, though, the film is nearly devoid of violence (unlike its occasionally graphic inspiration). In addition to downplaying the gore, Let Me In is extremely character driven; it shows the darker side of vampirism and the torment a person of the night might actually feel, as opposed to the happy-go-lucky attitude a lot of onscreen vampires exhibit.
The Omen is noteworthy for a fairly intense decapitation sequence, but it is still fairly restrained by today’s standards. For most of the running time, it emphasizes ambiance over shock value. Damien Thorn (Harvey Stephens) is so terrifying as the devil child that The Omen doesn’t need a lot of excess violence to scare the audience. The psychological shocks are ample, and a large part of what makes the film a horror classic.
This horror/thriller hybrid has a couple of mildly violent moments – namely the infamous French fry scene and the shocking semi-truck showdown - but it's largely more atmospheric than violent; for example, the truck scene doesn’t actually show Jennifer Jason Leigh being dismembered, but it gets the point across. We do get to see Rutger Hauer turn in a brilliant performance that really makes the film, as he relentlessly taunts C. Thomas Howell for nothing more than his own psychotic amusement.
There is a fair amount of blood in the water in Jaws, but in revisiting it I was surprised to discover the film is heavier on atmosphere than actual gore... though it definitely pushed the boundaries of the PG rating, even for the fairly persmissive '70s. The content didn’t necessarily warrant an R, but a lot of viewers considered it too graphic for a PG. Director Steven Spielberg would ignite similar controversy again in 1984 with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which along with films like Gremlins ultimately led to the inauguration of the PG-13 rating.
The Changeling is one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen. It's a brilliant haunted house film, and has one of the most unusual endings of any horror film in history. It accomplishes the highest imaginable level of tension, but upon revisiting the film I was hard pressed to pinpoint any scene of extreme bloodletting; though the bathtub scene is certainly disturbing, I wouldn’t chalk it up to graphic violence, so much as sheer intensity.