Since then, the Farrellys’ style of rom-com has fallen out of fashion, but gross-out has exploded, Mr Creosote-like, in directions that would have been unimaginable even in the 1970s – unless it was John Waters doing the imagining. Team America: World Police (2004) gave us puking puppets. Borat (2006) and Jackass: The Movie (2002) brought scatology into the real world with a daring not seen since Pink Flamingos; look up the “Poo Cocktail Supreme” sketch in Jackass 3D (2010) if you don’t believe me.
Gross-out horror movies have also gone to almost unbelievable extremes. While Jim (Jason Biggs) was putting certain body parts in unorthodox places in the American Pie series, other body parts were being lopped off in Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001) and in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever (2002) and Hostel (2005), as well as in Saw (2004) and numerous other so-called “torture porn” films. Then there was Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003), in which Choi Min-sik eats a live octopus. And yes, that’s an actual live octopus. And yes, Choi actually eats it.
As repulsive as these horror films can be, gross-out comedy usually has an inclusivity to it that warms the heart, even while it turns the stomach. The theme behind every candid depiction of an out-of-control body is our common humanity – the often-overlooked fact that we’re not gleaming robots or clouds of philosophical thought, but fleshy, fallible creatures prone to all manner of squelches and stinks on a daily basis. To gasp and wince during a gross-out sequence is to have a giddy moment of connection with the people on the screen and in the cinema. All the barriers between us are dissolved by those sloshing bodily fluids. True, maybe we haven’t all been sick on someone’s head, used a washbasin as a toilet, or defecated in the street while wearing a designer wedding dress, as Melissa McCarthy and friends do in Bridesmaids (2011). But we all know that something like that could happen to any of us. Gross-out is a great leveller. “A lot of comedy depends on the idea of superiority, and laughing at someone who’s inferior to you,” says King. “But in gross-out comedy, the characters are going through something that you could be going through yourself.” The next time you’re on a cruise liner, bear that in mind.
Triangle of Sadness is out in US cinemas now and will open in UK cinemas on 28 October.
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