Fear is what draws me to genre. I love the feeling of adrenaline I get when I’m watching a gut-wrenching horror film. The kind of film that gives most other girls I know nightmares. That’s why when I came across the trailer for Wyrd Studio’s documentary The Splat Pack, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. It gave me a chance to relive the films that made me fall back in love with fear- and ultimately became the inspiration for this trip down memory lane with directors Eli Roth, Adam Green and Darren Lynn Bousman.
THE SPLAT PACK REVISITED: By Andrea Albin
“Ask yourself when was the last time you were truly terrified. I guarantee you’ll remember. Horror stays with you. That’s the beauty of it.” Darren Lynn Bousman, the directorial mastermind behind three of the most memorable SAW films, went on to cherish my admission of becoming physically sick during the pig grinding in SAW III. “Only in the horror world would that be a compliment.”
Bousman, alongside fellow splatter kings Alexandre Aja (High Tension), Neil Marshall (The Descent), Greg McLean (Wolf Creek), Eli Roth (Hostel), Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects), Adam Green (Hatchet), and James Wan (the original Saw), is part of an elite group of filmmakers unofficially dubbed THE SPLAT PACK. Critic Alan Jones of Total Film is credited with coining the term, but it was Roth who took it for a joy ride. “I totally ran with it and posted it on everyone’s IMDB trivia page without their knowing so that journalists would ask them about it- and it worked!”
Fanatical doesn’t even begin to describe my love of the genre. Drawing out my top ten favorite films, six of them are horror. I never had a `thing’ for romantic comedies. Horror has always been my turn on. I live for the type of film that doesn’t make excuses. Unapologetic, unnerving, thought provoking horror. I think that’s why this self-made fraternity caught my attention to begin with. They were different, and at the time they were exactly what horror needed. Directors Mark Henry and Frank H. Woodward’s new documentary gore-fest THE SPLAT PACK brought me back to this moment in time- and gave me an excuse to not only put HATCHET back on viewing rotation, but to also revisit the movement for myself.
And it didn’t take much to convince Henry and Woodward, along with Green, Roth, and Bousman, to take that journey with me.
With the exception of SCREAM, the intense films of the 70’s and 80’s had taken a backseat to studio mockery by the time 90’s horror hit mainstream cinema. “The casts were interchangeable. Films just weren’t hitting. Where did the kills go? Where did the villain go?” recalled Green.
Roth remembered the difficulty he had bringing CABIN FEVER to life. “For years no one would finance CABIN FEVER because they told me ‘horror’s a dead genre.’ My response was ‘horror isn’t dead. Shitty movies are dead. If you make a great film the fans will come and support it.’ And they did.”
CABIN FEVER was one of many films that had started to surface in the early 2000’s that were mirror images of the movies that had, in a sense, gone missing from the genre. “I remember watching a screening of CABIN FEVER for the first time at the Egyptian Theater and thinking wow, this is such a change. A throwback. It reminded me of old horror- the type of horror that had gone dormant.” Henry expressed. “As more films emerged, it was very obvious that these were solid filmmakers that understood the essentials that make horror work.”
CABIN FEVER was only the beginning. Aja’s film HIGH TENSION was up against a non-existent horror movement in his home country of France. McLean set out to impair the world’s vision of Australian natives with his film WOLF CREEK. Marshall brought new meaning to claustrophobia with THE DESCENT. Bousman took over the SAW franchise with a psychological backdrop that hadn’t been seen since the days of Freddy or Jason. And it’s hard to forget Zombie’s dynamic trio in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS or, my personal favorite, Green’s comedic, bloody romp HATCHET.
Each of these filmmakers proved that R-Rated horror really wasn’t a thing of the past. That it could be commercially successful without the high budgets, star-studded casts, and watered down scripts. It was something that hadn’t been seen since John Carpenter or Clive Barker, and it wasn’t just horror fans that were taking notice. Horror had finally gone mainstream- but in return, had set itself up for the inevitable backlash.
“Comedians don’t get criticized for being too funny. Drama doesn’t get criticized for being too dramatic. It’s horror directors who get penalized for their vision,” said Bousman, who had to turn to Zombie for advice when battling the MPAA for an R-Rating on SAW III. “The ratings board wants to feel like they helped satisfy the public.”
But it wasn’t just the ratings board that had an issue with the public’s sudden, insatiable thirst for blood. Roth is no stranger to criticism. When HOSTEL was released, many critics said that the film proved the genre was one step above porn- or worse.
“The term `torture porn’ was created when HOSTEL opened at #1 and people couldn’t explain how fans were flocking to these films. I think it says far more about the critic’s lack of understanding of these movies and their fear of them than the film itself. I don’t go out of my way to upset people, but you cannot make movies like this and be afraid to offend.”
Green added: “When you start to take off you have about fifteen minutes until people start gunning for you. They want you to fail. In this business, you can’t not have thick skin. If you’re going to worry about what other people think, make studio films. They’re safe.”
By the time Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN hit theaters, the emotion had fizzled out, but the movement had effectively changed the way the genre is perceived. It did what it was supposed to do- slit throats, took names, and pissed people off, all while bringing horror back into the forefront of Hollywood.
When I asked each of the filmmakers their feelings on being a part of THE SPLAT PACK, the answer was universal.
Green: “We all do what we do. No one likes a label, but to be associated with THE SPLAT PACK is nothing but a compliment. I had no idea anyone would like something like HATCHET. To this day, I don’t understand it- a whole generation of people was missing this type of film.”
Roth: “When CABIN FEVER came out, it felt like we were at the beginning of what would be a perfect storm of horror. You had an amazing group of talented directors all over the world making incredibly smart, creative and violent horror films. It was time for new blood.”
Bousman: “It’s an honor to be among this group of people. Two years later, two years earlier this never would have happened. If I never make another film I’m just happy to know I was there for the rebirth of horror.”
When Henry and Woodward took on THE SPLAT PACK idea as a full-force project, they embraced the movement with open arms. Compiling everything from memorable, imbrued clips to compelling interviews, they effectively capture the impact of these films while staying true to the vision of the filmmakers. I got my hands on the piece a couple of weeks ago and have watched it several times- hell, it was the inspiration for this long-awaited tangent. It reminded me why I loved horror in the first place- and why I still bought SAW III on DVD despite my less-than-orgasmic reaction.
“The Splat Pack was responsible for a new age of horror,” said Woodward. “They know horror can be great. It was hard not to notice the films that were being brought out.” Mark added “They liked what they were doing- and it showed.”
Against an offbeat backdrop with an intense soundtrack penned by Mars of Dead House Music, the guys at Wyrd did a fascinating job in a compact, one-hour feature that’s more than worthy of even the most casual horror fan’s time.
The video is currently available for download on Wyrd’s website: www.wyrdstuff.com. It can be directly purchases or viewed as a rental. A limited supply of DVDs will hit sometime soon.
So what’s next for the crew?
Roth’s highly anticipated THE LAST EXORCISM will be released this Friday, coinciding with Marshall’s CENTURION, while Aja’s PIRANAH 3D hit theaters over the weekend. McLean is taking on RED HILL while Green wraps up HATCHET 2 (which I will plug until the end of time) and Bousman tackles the remake of MOTHER’S DAY (another film on my radar). And what about those nuts at Wyrd? They’re working on MEN IN SUITS, an in-depth look at the men behind the monsters. (The trailer can be found on their website.)
And what’s next for horror?
Green: “I’d like to see what happens five years from now when the kids who grew up on the SCREAMs and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMERs and URBAN LEGENDs come up with. I’m curious to see if they’ll react the way that we did.” If that means another wave of breathtaking horror- I say `yes please.’ Just don’t leave out the gory details.
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