More often than not, horror films are filled with decapitations, amputations, disembowelment, and more. Particularly with the introduction of the ‘torture porn’ subgenre, we are seeing more and more violence and excess in horror cinema. Sometimes it’s effective. Sometimes, watching the film’s cast of characters endure the kind of violence we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy is a turn off to audiences.
What we don’t see a lot of these days, though, is films that shy away from on-screen violence and opt for atmosphere over arterial spray. But it isn’t impossible to find. For example, James Wan's The Conjuring, which opened this weekend 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?" As it turns out, my favorite movies have not been watered down; I just tend to remember some of them as showcasing more brutality than they actually do. So, because we are thoughtful people, we bring to you six movies that are probably less violent than you remember them. Have a look and tell us what you think in the comments below.
The interesting thing about Saw is that I didn’t even consider putting it on this list until after I had begun working on it. Most people wouldn’t think of Saw when considering films that aren’t terribly violent. But realistically, it isn’t that gruesome. James Wan and Leigh Whannell made a movie for very little money and they didn’t overdo it on the gore. The six films in the franchise that it was succeeded by were over-the-top, graphically violent, and sometimes even hard to stomach. However, the original film is primarily comprised of two guys stuck in a room. A lot of the violence is implied, off camera, or shown by way of brief flashbacks. Even the key in the stomach scene – which is one of the more graphic scenes in the film – is tame in comparison to six films that followed.
This long out of print title finally received a re-release courtesy of Katarina’s Nightmare Theater. And to the surprise of a lot of viewers who hadn’t seen the film in some time, there is nearly no onscreen violence. There is a fake terrorist attack that leads to some phony bloodshed and that scene almost eclipses the violence incurred by the deaths not tied to a fraternity prank. Most of the deaths carried out at the hands of the film’s killer transpire off camera and the aftermath is panned to when the deed is done. Even the reverberation isn’t much to look at. Final Exam also suffers from an unusually long absence of death. There is a kill scene that takes place at the beginning of the film that sets the stage and then, it’s roughly an hour in to the feature before any more actual blood is shed.
The Dorm that Dripped Blood
This Daphne Zuniga slasher film was also known as Pranks. Like Final Exam, it recently received a re-release. Synapse films put it out as The Dorm that Dripped Blood. The Blu-ray has a reversible slipcover that also allows the owner to display the Pranks cover art. When I sat down to revisit the film for the first time in a while, I was amazed at how little violence actually occurred onscreen. The Dorm that Dripped Blood is full of very tame kills that don’t live up to the bloodshed of films like Friday the 13th. Beyond not being very gory, it isn’t that heavy on plot, there is very little character development, and the performances are weak. But there are worse ways to pass 90 minutes.
In the case of the holy grail of slasher films, it is easy to remember it as being more violent than it actually is. Halloween represents a class of films known for excessive onscreen violence. But given that John Carpenter was working on a limited budget, he found that in order to make his financing go as far as he needed, he had to work within his means. As a result, we don’t see buckets of blood in Halloween. In fact, in the kitchen scene where a character takes a knife to the chest, the actor is actually holding the knife in between his bicep and chest. But ultimately everything works very well and Halloween stands as one of the most universally respected and terrifying horror films. Halloween triumphantly proves that excess bloodshed is not always necessary to scare viewers.
Like Halloween, The Fog is a great testament to John Carpenter’s ability to create terror without the use of excessive violence. The Fog is like a good old-fashioned ghost story told around a campfire – in fact, in the opening scene, the story is being recounted over a campfire. Leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis is as delightful as ever and the lovely Adrienne Barbeau turns in a keen performance as an oversexed radio DJ. The film is well made and it packs plenty of tension and scares, but there is barely a drop of blood spilled throughout the entirety of the film.
This is another fine example of a film that is easy to think of as filled with violence and if you are thinking of the remake, you are be correct. But if you are thinking of the 1974 original, there is not much of the red stuff flying around. The film has achieved a great deal of notoriety, but that is due more to the filthy dialogue and the film’s willingness to mix murder and the Christmas season. There isn’t a terribly high body count, and of the deaths, none of them are so gruesome as to turn the stomach of even a casual horror fan. Part of what makes the film so effective is that the deaths, while not necessarily gruesome, are still brutal. The killer is merciless and he carries out his ill will with unflinching malevolence