It’s easy to link horror films to societal complexes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a comment on the nuclear family, Hostel as a study of the global effect of torture in the War on Terror, Dawn of the Dead as an attack on consumerism, but what Mark Steven tries to do is link horror – and, more succinctly, Splatter – to an economic dialogue; as a reflection and attack on capital in the 20th and 21st Century.
A few small gripes first. Steven needs to be more finickity about his facts. In one segment on body horror he describes the scene in Videodrome where Convex gets shot by Max Renn and ‘his innards try to burst out of his body’. However, if you read Cronenberg On Cronenberg you know they’re actually tumours. Also, Mark comments on Hellraiser and how the fact that half of the cast are dubbed into American as a critique of the US dominance stance in European finance, where it’s actually because the studio flogging the film were trying to make it as palatable to the American public as possible, which also explains why everyone drinks Coors.
Apart from these sections, Splatter Capital is a pretty incisive book. Steven loves his subject, which shines through in the text, and clearly has a boot to kick into the groin of capitalist economics. He manages to come up with some good examples of how Chainsaw represents industrialisation and commercial collapse, and how Hostel is a shout against the rich subverting the poor by literally turning them into an economically disposable item.
Saying that, some of the time this doesn’t work. Sections on capital and splatter seemed shoe-horned into the corner and tend to jar, and the fact that Steven thinks The Devil’s Rejects is a work of art, rather than a tiresome load of old self-indulgent wank it is, count against him. Plus, he’s a bit squeamish. In one chapter he describes a scene in Saw 3 where a lawyer gets pig guts dumped all over him as one of the most hideously revolting scenes he’s witnessed, yet it’s actually pretty mild compared with some of the other incidents in the film.
Films, for me, are a reflection of society as a whole, so to narrow it down to capital alone seems a bit reductive, although it does make an interesting argument, and Mark should be applauded for trying to take a different angle on the subject of horror. Plus, he gets massive kudos for mentioning Splatter by John McCarthy, which is one of the few works out there devoted to the history of gore.
A good chin-stroker for those who like their horror critiques with a bit of meat on its bones. And off its bones, come to think of it. And maybe with an axe in the head. And a face in the blender. And don’t forget the pliers! And (etc, etc)…