Last week's routine trawl of the DVD trade-in dug up a Ł2.50 copy of Rob Zombie's horror film debut House Of 1000 Corpses. Like its demented follow-up The Devil's Rejects, it was a crass lesson in subversive terror, spooning out the splatter in big, thick globs. Limb amputation, bloody scalping and wide-awake brain surgery, all orchestrated on whiter-than-white victims by deranged, dribbling killers, whose mockery of classic genre convention saw them not only kick shit in such hideous fashion, but get away with the whole damn thing too. Another day in the age of the sado-horror flick.
Now let's take a small jaunt back to the previous week, perched on the tip of a black, leather sofa, as I was, in Rockstar's cosy office in London's billionaire playground of Chelsea. Up ahead, flashing on a giant screen, gentle-looking amnesiac Daniel Lamb (a twisted joke, surely?) was smashing in some stranger's head (presumably, a bad person) with a heavy slab from a toilet system while taking a pee.
Crrraacckkk (or it could've been more of a crrrrunnnchhh - either way, there were some pretty gratifying sound effects going on there that suggested this wasn't some lazy-arsed robbing of the BBC sound library).
Soon I was being treated to some tastier, more stylised set pieces as villains were multi-punctured in iron maidens and winched to the ceiling on giant, two-pronged hooks. And blood, conspiring with those great schlocky sound effects, was rampant in full glorious flow.
Oh sorry, let me introduce you to the world of Manhunt 2 by the way...
Just two days prior to my visit, the BBFC had famously denied Rockstar's 'stalk 'n slash' sequel an age rating, condemning it for "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone". This, the normally liberating BBFC, who were passing torture scenes on innocent victims in movieland, and had yet to viciously waggle a finger at a video game since Carmageddon in the late '90s. It all seemed to point to one resounding fact - that Rockstar must surely have cocked up somewhere on a spectacularly grand scale.
However, if it's the grimace-provoking gore and relentless sadism that has ruffled the BBFC, then consider that the impact of watching the likes of The Devil's Rejects and Hostel were (for me personally, at least) far more powerful and repellent than the executions in Manhunt 2. Call it a photo-realism thing, or the fact that such accounts were being perpetrated on emotionally more developed and humanistic characters (both very significant factors), but while I was disturbed by the brutal raping of The Hills Have Eyes remake, and the spine severing of Wolf Creek, I don't ever recall wincing at Manhunt 2's violence once. And let's not forget who our victims supposedly are in Manhunt 2, either.
Inevitably the BBFC's concerns crawl back to that complex, age-old passivity versus interactivity argument. In movies, you're the voyeur, in the former, you're the player. Manhunt 2's gameplay focus (and appeal) lies upon the stalking and killing of villains, where not only are you required to carry out such atrocities, you're encouraged to do it in such a skilful manner that comes the reward of extra horrific deaths. Not nice on paper, granted, but perhaps little different to any gore-hungry movie fan seeking out the 'Uncut Version' of their favourite flick on DVD. But as the BBFC stresses, there's barely any gameplay alternatives in Manhunt 2 outside of the sadistic slaying, making such entertainment even more morally unnerving.
Okay, fair enough, point taken, but then again, perhaps unsuspectingly, the BBFC has also just described the gameplay of the original Manhunt, which incidentally passed through the radar with an 18 certificate in 2004, and the two games, in my opinion, play almost identically. And what's the horror genre for if not for shocking?
Time to look at the sequel in more detail, methinks...
First up, the new Wii control has come under severe scrutiny, critics claiming it brings a dangerous level of interactivity to your killing spree. Suddenly, you're not pressing buttons, you're 'slashing away like a total nutjob'. Well, call me 'cackhanded' with the old motion sensor control, but I wouldn't exactly describe my gaming actions as being akin to the onscreen mutilating. In fact, so concentrating was I on repeating the onscreen prompts, that the fact that I was committing heinous murder, for me, seemed rather inconsequential.
Indeed, as has been highlighted in arguments elsewhere, if Rockstar really wanted to capture the sensation of slaughter, it would surely have integrated free-roaming, improvised control of the motion-controller (as in Wii Sports), not the mini-game 'repeat the actions' system.
Elsewhere, and back to the issue of 'gore', and indeed Manhunt 2 has amped up the splatter with the introduction of its new 'environmental kills'. No need to rely on shards of glass to do your dirty work, people, you can pack your foes off into whirring grinders, or drill holes in their faces while they're skewered down into dentistry chairs. Of course, this has been done all before in 2004 with The Punisher. If my memory serves, I was part of a 20-man journalist crew at a Chicago showcase who 'amused' by scenes involving car compactors, piranha tanks, laser cutters and sausage mincing machines. The Punisher escaped (albeit, with some hint of warning) with the all-important 18 certificate - to reasonable acclaim, and the overall group press reaction to such over-the-top, inventive, excessive comic-book violence was one of blackly comic chuckles. The Devil's Rejects movie screening two years later, on the other hand, provoked entirely different reactions among its journalistic audience, some seeming genuinely upset at the levels of sadism, some of which was misogynist, being carried out against its incredibly innocent protagonists.
Please feel free to cite photo-realism, emotional intensity, profundity, characterisation, mood, tone, and the victims of such horror, for the differences in response.