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The spectacle of horror from King Lear to The Splat Pack

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Yasmin Bell

on 12 January 2014

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Transcript of The spectacle of horror from King Lear to The Splat Pack

The spectacle of the damaged body: from Shakespeare to The Splat Pack
'... the staging of spectacularly explicit horror for purposes of audience admiration, provocation, and sensory adventure as much as shock or terror, but without necessarily breaking ties with narrative development or historical allegory... as a mode of direct, visceral engagement with viewers...'
(Lowenstein 2011)
What is 'Spectacle Horror'?
Early Modern Context
A Brief Chronology
A study of King Lear
Here Comes the Splat Pack
A study of Darren Lynn Bousman
A study of Eli Roth
'I would love to take credit and say that the splat-pack started this [torture porn] movement. We didn’t. We just reinvigorated it – it’s always been there.' (Bousman 2008)

1591- 1592:
Titus Andronicus
'... show[s] Shakespeare competing with the spectacular representations of violence in plays by other dramatists of the time, especially Marlowe.'
(Foakes 2003: 9)
1599 - 1601:
'The violence in 3.4 does not exist simply to add a pointless action scene to the play... [3.4] further fleshes out the characters of Hamlet and the Queen, their intentions, and their actions. Thus, the dark violence of scene four serves to illuminate the work as a whole.'
(Johnson 1998)
1605 - 1606:
King Lear
'... the blinding of Gloucester in Act 3, Scene 7... provokes nothing but shock and horror, unless performed ineptly, or with parodic intentions. Cynthia Marshall believes that the power of a scene like this arises from... 'compelling physical and emotional resonance for viewers', reminding them of the vulnerability of their own observing eyes.
(Simkin 2005: 193)
Saw II
Saw IV
(2005 - 2007)
Saw IV features '…an autopsy of Jigsaw (aka John Cramer) – a delicious piece of cinema as real-looking as anything you see on the Discovery Channel…' (Turek 2007)
Repo! The Genetic Opera
'While there’s a lot of killing and gore... it’s not exactly scary or suspenseful (nor is it supposed to be). But I think Lionsgate will have some trouble marketing it to the people who are expecting “Jigsaw Sings!” or something, because the violence is mostly played for laughs.'
(Wilson 2008)
'Horror is a cycle, "torture porn" turned to "haunted house," 'Saw' turned to 'Paranormal Activity.''
(Bousman to Larnick 2011)
'the directors... seem to have been coming from different places. Maybe some of them were angry, maybe some of them just liked horror, maybe they wanted to make a statement, maybe they wanted to show off, or maybe they just wanted to get paid.'
(Dobbs 2013)
(2005) and
Hostel: Part II
'He’s [Roth's] first and foremost in the business of giving the audience what they want... While worth a passing glance from strong-stomached viewers interested to keep in-touch with the genre, we can only hope that Roth’s best work is yet to come.'
(Goundry 2007)
Cabin Fever
The film takes a '... maniacal pleasure in turning its hardbodied teens into gooey mush... the film's main problem is that it can't decide whether it's straight horror, camp pastiche, or a gross-out comedy.'
(Russell 2003)
The Green Inferno
'Between the slightly arid set-up and the brutally matter-of-fact style of horror, The Green Inferno might not go over too well with people who walk in expecting "Hostel in a Jungle..."'
(Weinberg 2013)
Competition between Playwrights
Tamburlaine the Great, Part One
(1587 - 1588) by Christopher Marlowe
Suicide by bashing one's head on the bars of a cage
Competition between the Splat Pack
'...there's a real bond between everyone. None of us are competing for the same projects. Everyone is doing their own thing. And when a movie is successful, it helps all of us. When "House of a 1,000 Corpses" was successful, it helped "Cabin Fever." When "Cabin Fever" was successful, it helped "Saw."'
(Roth to Horowitz 2007)
'... while these playwrights were interested in exploring their society's deep connection to and comfort with suffering and torture, they did so in the relative safety of the deliberately unreal excesses of the stage.'
(Allard and Martin 2009: 9)
'Although public execution was not “theater” in the technical sense, they were fundamentally similar. Each had as its central feature a presentation by one or more individuals who spoke directly to the crowd, each attracted large numbers of people from every class and background, and both had action that was played out on a raised wooden structure... Even the condemned man or woman followed a sort of “script” on the scaffold, no doubt creating some sort of connection between the two forms in the minds of both theatrical audiences and spectators at the execution.'
(Redmond 2007)
Later Revenge Tragedies
The Revenger's Tragedy
(1607) by Thomas Middleton,
The Duchess of Malfi
(1612- 1613) by John Webster,
T'is Pity She's a Whore
(1633) by John Ford
The Spanish Tragedy
(1582 - 1592) by Thomas Kyd
hanging, stabbing and letter written in blood
Lowenstein, Adam (2011),
Spectacle horror and Hostel: why ‘torture porn’ does not exist.
Critical Quarterly, 53(1) 42–60
Allard, James Robert and Martin, Mathew (2009)
Staging Pain, 1580 - 1800: Violence ane Trauma in British Theater
, Farnham: Ashgate
Redmond (2007)
Staging Executions: The Theater of Punishment in Early Modern England.
MA. Florida State University.
Shakespeare, William (2005)
King Lear
, London: Penguin
Shakespeare, William (2005)
Titus Andronicus
, London: Penguin
Marlowe, Christopher (1998)
Tamburlaine the Great Part 1,
Manchester: Manchester University Press
Kyd, Thomas (2009)
The Spanish Tragedy
, London: Methuen
Cabin Fever
(dir. Eli Roth) 2002

(dir. Eli Roth) 2005

Hostel Part II
(dir. Eli Roth) 2007

Repo! The Genetic Opera
(dir. Darren Lynn Bousman) 2008

Saw II
(dir. Darren Lynn Bousman) 2005

(dir. Darren Lynn Bousman) 2006

Saw IV
(dir. Darren Lynn Bousman) 2007

The Green Inferno
(dir. Eli Roth) 2013

(dir. Darren Lynn Bousman) 2011
Foakes, Reginald Anthony (2003)
Shakespeare and Violence
, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Execution of Roger Ashurst at Tyburn
. Available at: http://www.executedtoday.com/2009/06/23/1592-roger-ashton/ [accessed 5/12/13]
Dobbs, Sarah (2011)
Whatever happened to the Splat Pack?
Available at: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/25208/whatever-happened-to-the-splat-pack [accessed 2/12/13]
‘There is certainly much laughter-inducing violence on the early modern stage, from “Enter Titus like a crook” to the over-the-top enthusiasm of the mad revengers of Marlowe, Tourneur, Middleton and Marston. The blinding of Gloucester, though, is different. Designed to provoke an audience reaction, it even stages a response to its own spectacle of violence, putting a representative spectator on stage to react and intervene.’
(Staines in Allard and Martin 2009: 76)

'The Blinding of Gloucester... and the formal and structural excessiveness of the play's design have led some to speculate that Shakespeare was purposefully tormenting his audience. Stephen Booth, apparently troping on A.C. Bradley's remark that
was Shakespeare's greatest achievement but not his greatest play, called
King Lear
greatest achievement, shifting the focus from a formalist concern with design to a phenomenological one with reception.'
(Marshall 2002: 1)
A Study of King Lear
'By showing his tormentors as sporting with Gloucester, Shakespeare is not only echoing medieval drama but also finding the same solution as it did to the problem of staging violence. Unconvincing death scenes can come perilously close to farce, but if laughter has been preempted by the playwright and placed in the mouths of torturers, the audience is discouraged from ridicule… The body in pain has a dignity that the mocking intensifies.'
(Groves 2007)
'... the blinding of Gloucester in Act 3 marks a significant shift; the violence of Lear and Kent was sparked by anger, and we may allow that a blow struck in passion can be partially excused... Cornwall claims this privilege... however, he does not strike out in anger, but rather prepares in cold blood to torment his helpless victim, first ordering servants to bind him to a chair, while Regan plucks his beard... their grilling of Gloucester and brutal blinding of him appear merely gratuitous and are made the more outrageous in that they are guests in his house.'
(Foakes 2003: 146)
The Den of Geek interview: Darren Lynn Bousman
. Available at: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/13302/the-den-of-geek-interview-darren-lynn-bousman [accessed 2/12/13]
Horowitz, Josh (2007)
'Hostel' Helmer Eli Roth Says Horror Should Have No Limits: 'It's All Fake'.
Available at: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1555691/hostel-director-wants-no-limit-horror.jhtml [accessed 2/12/13]
Turek, Ryan (2007)
Review: Saw IV
. Available at: http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/reviews/1727-saw-iv/ [accessed 5/12/13]
Larnick, Eric (2011)
'11-11-11' Director Darren Lynn Bousman Talks About the Film's Haunted Set.
Available at: http://news.moviefone.com/2011/11/11/11-11-11-horror-movie-director-interview/ [accessed 7/12/13]
Weinberg, Scott (2013)
FEARnet Movie Review: The Green Inferno
. Available at: http://www.fearnet.com/news/review/fearnet-movie-review-green-inferno [accessed 7/12/13]
Groves, Beatrice (2007) [PDF.]
'"Now wole I a newe game begynne": Staging
Suffering in King Lear, the Mystery Plays and Grotius's Christus Patiens.
Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England. Available at: http://content.ebscohost.com/pdf19_22/pdf/2007/7UL/01Jan07/26650479.pdf?EbscoContent=dGJyMNHX8kSeprU4wtvhOLCmr0uep69Ss6u4S7eWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGqtk63rrJMuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=R&D=aph&K=26650479
Middleton, Thomas (1606-1607)
The Revenger's Tragedy
. In: Middleton and Webster (2001)
Five Jacobean Tragedies
, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions
Ford, John (2009) T'is Pity She's a Whore, London: Metheun
Webster, John (2001)
The Duchess of Malfi [fourth edition]
, London: Methuen
Shakespeare, William (1992)
, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions
Johnson. Charles (1998)
The Use of Violence in Shakespeare's Hamlet
. [PDF]. Available at: http://charleswjohnson.name/essays/eng12hamlet.pdf [accessed 10/12/13]
Russell, Jamie (2003) Cabin Fever review. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2003/10/02/cabin_fever_2003_review.shtml [accessed 10/12/13]
Goundry, Nick (2007) Hostel: Part 2 review. Available at: http://www.futuremovies.co.uk/review.asp?ID=787 [accessed 10/12/13]
Simkin, Stevie (2005) Early Modern Tragedy and the Cinema of Violence, Basingstoke: Macmillan
The spectacle of the damaged body is enhanced further by both early modern playwrights and the Splat Pack competing to present it in its rawest form
The early modern tragedies reflected the spectacle of execution and familiarity with damaged bodies, whereas the Splat Pack shows the (usually) mediated images of damaged bodies that we see today
Both the early modern playwrights and the Splat Pack use deliberately unreal and excessive representations of the damaged body in order to explore a sensitive subject matter
The early modern playwrights and the Splat Pack have attempted to develop their depictions of the damaged body over the course of their artistic careers in order to provoke an emotional or intellectual response from viewers, rather than just for the thrills. Some were more successful than others as the plays entertained a wider audience than the "cult" audience of horror films.
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