Don’t tell director Matt O’Mahoney what he can’t see. His strong opinions toward censorship have found a brutal, bloody, entertaining outlet in his splatterfest Bloody Knuckles, which premiered at the Fantasia Festival on July 27. His short film, Electric Fence, won best short horror film at the Fantastic Fest in 2008.
Bloody Knuckles finds an underground comic book artist who, after offending local asian gangsters, loses his drawing hand. Withdrawn and literally severed from his art, the artist turns inward, until his severed hand insists he get back to work with appropriately nauseating results. Sound On Sight sat down with O’Mahoney to discuss violence, growing up twisted and the changing nature of censorship.
When did you first start writing Bloody Knuckles?
Oh God, about two years ago. I had this screenplay I was working on and it evolved into what it is now.
We shot – we have some pick up shots, but I think the original shot about 20 days.
There’s obviously a lot about censorship in there, I just wondering if anything was going in your life related to that?
Well, I’ve always felt strongly about it. Even as a little kid, it’s the first thing I was attracted to. Mainly because all the music and movies that I enjoyed were always targets. And when you’re a kid and you want to watch unrated horror movies and you run into people telling you you can’t see them, or cutting them into ribbons, that always irritated me. I can’t deal with someone telling me that I’m not allowed to read something or watch something.
Do you remember anything specific?
When I was a kid, the 2 Live case was going on at the time, when they were being charged with obscenity in Florida. And I remember that being such a big triumph when they won their case. Also, Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ was happening around the same time, Robert Maplethorpe. There was a lot of stuff on the news, the ratings board, the “X” ratings. And it was all personal because I liked that stuff.
In terms of film, where do you think we are right now?
In terms of censorship, I think we’ve broken down a lot of barriers. I don’ think we’d have seen Hostel in a multiplex in like 1500 or 2000 cinemas in 1989. Our media has become more violent. Some people may look at that as a negative. So we’ve loosened up a little bit. Though even though our media’s gotten a little more violent, our society has declined in violence. Crime rate in Canada and the U.S. has gone way down. Even in the U.K., which is a huge blow to anyone who says violent media influences behaviour. Their argument has lost traction.
Could that be a backlash to the violence in culture? Sure, the crime rate’s gone down, but the level of violence in media has certainly grown exponentially.
That might have something to do with it. In a post-9/11 world, you’re not going to be too rattled by violence on television. We’re already pretty shell-shocked by the real-world.
Does that make us more cynical?
I think the world does, and the media reflects that.
[points to O’Mahoney’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shirt, O’Mahoney laughs]
Oh yeah. And being that this film is about comics all of that has been a huge inspiration. I was always really attracted to underground comics. It was always seedier and sleazier. And they talked about issues that I was fascinated by. Like Mike Diana’s stuff, they were my inspiration.
He didn’t lose a hand…
(laughs) He didn’t lose a hand, no. But his drawing hands were legally severed. The guy wasn’t allowed to create. That’s the worst thing you can do.
Where does the audience’s responsibility come in?
As a teenager, you seek out the nastiest things, and some of the things I saw I wish I hadn’t. But nobody made me seek that out. The audience has to take that responsibility. It’s the parent’s. It’s not the ratings board or the government’s job to chew your food for you. You can look at the U.K. for a really bad example of that. It was only, I think, in 2012 that Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom was shown uncut.
So what makes a good splatter film, besides the gore?
The gore is essential. You gotta have something that splatters. With Bloody Knuckles, we couldn’t do a Peter Jackson-Brain Dead splatterfest. So we looked back to films that were memorable because they really take their time with their effects. They were memorable because they made it a real showcase. So we tried to make some effects that people would remember. A lot of those films, you knew the gore scenes before you even knew the movie. That’s what we set out to do.