Movies have become machines for the sadomasochistic imagination. Die Hard 2 is said to depict 264 killings. But so-called serious cinema has also been skidding down a slippery slope, aiming to meet schlock halfway. Since The Wild Bunch (1969) and The Godfather (1972), scarcely a would-be serious American film is complete without hitherto unphotographed representations of the untimely release of blood from the human body— witness Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, with its ice pick in the back of the head, its bathroom floor flowing with blood.
And make no mistake: media violence thrives on the demand as well as the supply side. Teenagers, the major audience for American movies, lap—and camp—it up. Four films produced by one man (Die Hard 1 and 2, Lethal Weapon 1 and 2) are said to have grossed about $1 billion. And movies are not alone in their delectation of ingenious ways to blow people apart. Heavy metal and rap sound vicious notes. Newspapers, local television news and syndicated crime shows, music videos, popular fiction—all fill with gore.
The chain saw that was a mark of kitsch in the splatter movies of the seventies has become a staple of genre fiction, culminating in the grotesque depictions of the ripping and rending of flesh reported in Bret Easton Ellis’s instantly notorious American Psycho. For what cause does all the blood flow? Where does it flow from, where does it flow to? What does the spillage say about, and to, our culture?
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