Splatter: Architects of Fear is a horror movie shot on video. That might not sound interesting because of the many, many VHS tapes that have now come into fashion as “cult classics,” but Splatter is a different sort of movie. In an attempt to overcome the Canadian censorship of the era (1985-6 for this film), director Peter Rowe and producer Bill Smith crafted a documentary about gore effects framed around the production of an actual movie that pushed the limits of what graphic horror films had done in the past. Cannibalism, dismemberment, and brain explosions stemming from being “fucked to death” were all included in Splatter: Architects of Fear under a PG rating, because the makers of the film claimed it was an educational video explaining the process behind the special effects used in lower-budget SOV films. It doesn’t sound relevant to today’s CGI-filled movies, and on paper it would seem Splatter has become an outdated low-budget mess of horror scene clips. That’s exactly what it is, but it’s an extremely fun watch too.
Part of the charm of Splatter is the oddball approach to the documentary production. On the one hand, the film is given a pretty convincing narrative voice-over from Christopher Britton, who sounds a lot like someone you’d hear on an old home ec documentary about sewing or food nutrition. There’s quite a bit of useful content in the descriptions of how SFX are created, and that’s paired with an in-depth dissection of the gore effects used for the film production Splatter follows.
But director Peter Rowe, also playing himself in the film, is not just interested in the value of documentary education. Splatter‘s film-within-a-film (which, as far as I know, did not get an SOV release) is heavy on the violence simply for the sake of it; while Rowe could explain that it was necessary to the overall learning experience, Splatter is definitely about pushing the boundaries of gore effects for SOV films. Obviously, the guys behind Splatter‘s SFX – Randy Daudlin and Tim Mogg – aren’t the best of the bunch, and for films like this one they’re working with tight budget constraints that might include using condoms for bursting blood effects or rubber tubing and convenient editing. But the effects we do get, while messy, showcase a side of horror history that has mostly been lost to digital effects work.
It’s nice to see a documentary like Splatter: Architects of Fear getting a decent re-release on DVD from Slasher//Video, too. They’ve been able to preserve the content as best as possible with elements transferred from video, and it looks about as good as can be expected. With that said, there’s no other way to watch Splatter than in its 4:3 aspect ratio with all of the goofy video effects like spinning video clips and accordion transitions preserved. Even Fang (Paul Saunders), the film’s somewhat unnecessary mascot, works despite the film’s tendency to show the same clip not once, not twice, but three times.
Splatter is a nice peek at what practical effects used to be, and for retro horror lovers, this is a great pickup. Many probably missed this back in the late ’80s, and Slasher//Video has brought it to DVD with a couple of handy bonus extras. There’s audio commentary from Bill Smith, Cannibal Cam, and Jesus Teran, which is a surprisingly bulky extra for this package. There’s also an interview with Bill Smith about some behind-the-scenes stuff – he provides a lot of good background context for Splatter. A video review with an introduction by Paul Zamarelli of VHSCollector.com is also a fun extra, along with a photo gallery and trailer. All told, this is a nice package for those looking to view the secrets behind practical gore effects, and it’s definitely worth a look at $8.99 on Amazon.