Gorno - The Slipknot of Cinema? Words: Dylan Spicer
When I was at school we would often have a conversation about what music could ever be more hardcore and extreme than bands such as Slipknot, Korn and Amen. This painfully embarrassing memory serves as a perfect allegory for a genre that has come to the forefront in the last ten years: 'Gorno'. For those of you not in the know, Gorno is a sub-genre of horror that revels in violence and torture, and structures its plot around a scenario that will lead inevitably to such events. Notable examples include Eli Roth’s 'Hostel' (2005), Rob Zombie’s 'The Devil Rejects' (2005), and Alexandre Aja’s 'Switchblade Romance' (2003). It has its roots in the pre-slasher, independent horror films of the 1970s, such as 'Last House on the Left', 'Cannibal Holocaust' (Deodato, 1980) and 'I Spit On Your Grave' (Zarchi, 1978). Ridiculous titles, insane characters, and a firm refusal to cut away from the most horrific of acts come as standard. Most of them made a good profit when originally released, with the Saw movies becoming one of the highest grossing horror franchises of all time. Yet can it really be seen as a shocking new entry to horror, and cinema in general, or is it just a continuation of the trends of the last thirty years? Have we as a culture just become more accepting of violence?
The dust has rather settled on this debate in the last few years, with the 'Saw' franchise being the only true remainder of the period that is still going strong. Yet many of the films are still in the public memory, with Hostel in particular causing outcry in some circles, though just as much for its perceived racism as for its violent content. Indeed, the Gorno period has left its mark on the world to some extent, as will anything that makes money in Hollywood. The current trend of restarting franchises have lead to a much more violent Halloween, Last House on the Left and Friday 13th being released in the last few years. Gorno’s true legacy could be seen as making violence as a whole being more accepted in the media. Dark Knight contained torture and someone’s face burning off, and managed to sneak away with a 12A certificate. 'Pirates Of The Caribbean 2' (Verbinski, 2006) had the most deaths of any Disney movie in history. 'Inglourious Basterds' (Tarantino, 2009), which ends virtually every scene with blood and guts, gets nominated for best original screenplay at the BAFTAs and OSCARs. Like a lot of the culture of the noughties, such as freeview, broadband Internet, and male grooming, Gorno has not exactly gone out of fashion, but been amalgamated with the norm.
Has this apathy to violence really made society a worse place to live in? The answer to this question comes in the true reason Gorno has done so well, and also the reason that it splits audiences. Every film that the word can be attributed contains truly ridiculous scenes, and must be looked at as entertainment, rather than the darkest corner of the human soul. Is someone’s penis being cut off with a pair of scissors really atrocious, or just a crowd pleaser? A woman being forced to wear the skin of her dead husband’s face and then getting run over a truck, provoked one of the biggest laughs I have ever seen in the cinema. This may sound horrific, but is where I go back to my schooldays to prove my point. To look at Gorno as reaching the peak of violence in cinema is to utterly miss the point. For although brutality in real life is horrible, watching a simulated version can be very funny. You can watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon to discover that. This does not trivialise the shocking scenes found in a film like The Pianist. They are just incomparable. In exactly the same way that Slipknot are not the “peak” of extreme music, Gorno should only be seen with the right kind of eyes. Why Gorno will be nothing more than an enjoyable but silly part of cinema history is that it never really brought any new ideas of its own, and any gore it contained was always too slick and Hollywood produced to be truly effective. Their plots may shock a newcomer, but to gorehounds they are just there to be processed. Compared to Japanese cinema the whole movement looks a bit tame. Flowers of Flesh and Blood (Hideshi Hino, 1985) anyone? Our society managed to survive communists taking over Hollywood in the fifties, Video nasties creating serial killers in the eighties, and will probably live through Gorno too, no matter how extreme its legacy turns out to be.