Determining the greatest gore films of all time is not an easy task. After all, splatter tends to measure its own value in gallons of blood and baskets of body parts. For some, any grue is way too much. Many felt that The Exorcist had pushed the boundaries of taste when director William Friedkin showed young Regan McNeal having her artery tapped for a CAT scan (apparently, the crucifix and the pea soup were easier to tolerate), while Broadway He-va Bob Fosse offered an extended sequence of open-heart surgery smack dab in the middle of his autobiographical musical All That Jazz. From David Warner’s decapitation in the original Omen to the infamous fish tank frenzy in Silent Partner, the mainstream movie has readily embraced entrails as a means of making its point. This doesn’t mean viewers have enjoyed it. Like liver or Limburger cheese, they are willing to sample small doses, and that’s about it.
No, in order to really understand and appreciate what gorehounds find exciting, one needs a crash course in cruelty – and these 20 films can provide said viscera enlightenment. Marrow mavericks and skull-cracking connoisseurs will have their own special selections, movies that push the absolute limits of brain bashing and torso tearing, while others will question the overt Western angle that makes up the majority of these choices. It’s a conscious decision, one meant to highlight films actually seen vs. one’s merely rumored about. While it would be nice to experience each and every title that the world’s wanton cinema has to offer, it’s logistically impossible. Besides, this overview is meant as a mere stepping stone, a jumping-off point for discussion and debate. It’s definitive in its narrow perspective only.
In compiling this list, we have also purposely avoided certain titles that seem antithetical to any discussion of film. Offerings like the Guinea Pig trilogy and the Faces of Death mock docs are instantly discounted since they are far more focused on the sordid (and the fraudulent recreation of same) than selling themselves as actual motion pictures. Similarly, movies like Island of Death and Subconscious Cruelty are marginalized for being more hype than horror.
Lastly, as it’s October, we’ve stayed firmly within the traditional fear factors. War is hell workouts like Saving Private Ryan or Letters from Iwo Jima are purposefully left off, allowing more room for our favorite fright flicks, while deconstructionist Westerns such as El Topo and The Wild Bunch are missing as well. No, it’s frost on the pumpkin time, and in recognition of the upcoming fright night, we offer the 20 Greatest Splatter Films the fright genre has ever produced, beginning with…
20. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
Among all his sluice-defining films, this is one of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ most grim. Centering on a magician whose Grand Guignol-inspired “tricks” eventually materialize in real life, we get nothing but nonstop nastiness. While the F/X are tame by today’s standards, they still pack quite a pus bucket punch.
19. Maniac (1980)
Infamous for Tom Savini’s technically disturbing “scalping” sequences, this sickening slasher film caused a major controversy when it was released. Along with other foul blood feasts, it served as a rallying point for Siskel and Ebert’s eventual denouncement of the entire horror genre. Anyone who has seen this tasteless slice and dice understands why.
18. Cabin Fever (2002)
Before he turned Eastern Europe into a most dangerous game-style businessman’s paradise, director Eli Roth was exploring the stomach-churning variables that arrive when people are pitted face to melting face with a flesh-eating virus. This adolescents in danger effort brought fountains of foulness back to horror in a big, bad way.
17. Ichi the Killer (2001)
Perhaps the most infamous film in the entire Takashi Miike catalog, this tale of torture and vengeance among sadistic members of Japan’s Yakuza contains some of the most hideous human vivisection ever. While some will argue that his horror romance Audition contains worse examples of violence, nothing can top Ichi‘s relentless brutality.
16. Demons (1985)
Dario Argento co-wrote and produced. Lamberto Bava directed. Audiences vomited. Really nothing more than 90 minutes of dazzling (and disturbing) make-up effects set inside a weird film within a film narrative, it was proof that ’80s Italians had not forgotten the vile vein juiciness of their ’70s counterparts.