Credit: Slither: Chris Helcermanas-Benge

With the opening today of Slither (pictured), you’d expect another round of hand-wringing over the current wave of horror movies that seem to have taken gore and violence to new extremes of gruesomeness. But some film critics are stepping up to defend these films on their merits. One is EW’s own Lisa Schwarzbaum, who gives Slither a B+ in her review in the new issue, saying, ”So sue me, sometimes after a day of enjoying Belgian film-festival prizewinners, I like to relax with copious servings of horror-flick slime and a good visual joke involving squids, girls in bathtubs, and overhead cameras.”

Another is Christopher Kelly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Via Movie City News comes this link to Kelly’s lengthy essay insisting that many critics have failed to see the virtues of such recent horror-exploitation flicks as Saw and Saw II, Wolf Creek, Hostel, and The Hills Have Eyes. To Kelly, those virtues include an ”often-astonishing level of craft” and a pessimistic outlook that captures the post-9/11 zeitgeist, a sense that inexplicable evil could inflict a horrible demise on any of us at any time. Sure, the movies seem sadistic, but he says teen viewers who are their target audience identify and empathize with the victims and not their tormenters, as slightly older viewers did when they watched the Freddy/Jason/Michael Myers sagas.

I’m not sure whether the new splatter filmmakers are trying to make serious allegories or whether they’re simply one-upping their influences (the previous generation of horror films, violent videogames, manga, Takashi Miike movies) with the new technologies available to them (digital cameras, CGI, state-of-the-art makeup). Still, they’ve managed to create a new aesthetic experience for moviegoers, one that feels like being pummeled mercilessly for 90 minutes but is still cathartic. I’m glad that some critics are willing to take these movies seriously as objects of study. Of course, I won’t be one of those critics; I’m too grossed out. Y’all enjoy Slither, but I’ll be across the hall watching something harmless like Ice Age 2.

addCredit(“Slither: Chris Helcermanas-Benge”)