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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: July 2017

3 - “It's Alive!”: The Splattering of SF Films


You wanted to blow other people's minds and you wanted to blow your own.

—David Cronenberg (The American Nightmare)

The 1970s represent one of the great transitional periods for Hollywood, producing an increasingly independent and confrontational approach to cinema in terms of both narrative content and aesthetic display. Film–makers sought to break violently with film–making conventions by reimaging genre tropes through a more visceral and realistic style, challenging audiences with graphic, nihilistic, and often brutal imagery. Thus, John Carpenter, director of The Thing (1982), confesses that he “wanted something savage to happen. I don't believe I could do that now. I don't believe they'd let me do that,” while David Cronenberg explains that he “wanted to blow other people's minds” (both qtd in The American Nightmare). This attitude was particularly apparent within film genres as they were being reimagined in this period. For instance, the western The Wild Bunch (1969), the outlaw film Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and the gangster film The Godfather (1972) all featured dramatic shootouts in which the bodies of protagonists were riddled with bullets in an orgy of bloodletting and violence. Similarly, big budget Hollywood horror films were reworking their scare tactics through visual display and special effects, both The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976) featuring regular and escalating set pieces in which the body comes under brutal attack by the devil and his minions. Nowhere was this emphasis on graphic imagery—defined by John McCarty as “splatter”—felt more keenly than in the arena of independent exploitation or underground cinema. McCarty argues that splatter cinema is a type of film whose aim was “not to scare their audiences, necessarily, nor to drive them to the edges of their seats in suspense, but to mortify them with scenes of explicit gore. In splatter movies, mutilation is indeed the message” (1).

While we most commonly associate splatter with horror, many of the era's exploitation film–makers were increasingly rethinking the nature of genre, blurring the lines not only between art and exploitation, but between sf and horror. Splatter especially served to reimagine sf within the context of increasingly independent modes of film production and a growing cult audience.

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Science Fiction Double Feature
  • Online ISBN: 9781781384640
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