'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 1981 USA
'Jaws', 1975, USA
I assume now that every pre-teen thinks ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a bit old hat and has seen the ‘Hatchet’ films at a sleepover, but when I was a kid it was hard to see contemporary horror. I always credit ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ as giving me my first “gore scene”. Of course, I mean the face melt of the Nazis at the opening of the Ark. No, I had never seen anything quite like that beforehand – maybe stills ‘The First Man into Space’ in all his goopy glory that I had in a monster book came close (but I wouldn’t see that until much later). But here was a graphic melting face in all its bloody liquefying glory. All the credentials for a gore scene: just there because it could; graphic because it could be; a little outrageous; a moment to wrench and make you go “Wha? Oh –!!! Blegghhhh!” - but not necessarily in that order. And the hint that maybe you are watching something you shouldn’t.
Of course, now I am thinking that it was notable what Spielberg was getting away with here and in ‘Jaws’ which, in these moments, were just as full-on as the horrors, and were often more graphic once the horrors were cut up by censors. Even as a kid, I knew Bruce the shark chomping on Quint in the finale was silly and hints that there’s always a little condescending “Hey, they’ll swallow anything in the end” to Spielberg – but its excess works. This was 1981 and we were just on the brink of the Video Nasty panic that came with ‘81’s ‘Evil Dead’ – and the melting in both are kindred spirits – but even so, that was an ‘X’ (18) and ‘Raiders’ was rated PG, a family film. Gee, ‘Jaws’ is a PG too now, which makes me think that the censors have always had a blind-spot with Spielberg. And even now, these are treasured go-for-broke moments if not the initiation tests for gorehounds they used to be.