Where are they now? A short history of BBFC banned films
In light of the British Board of Film Classification’s recent decision to ban the release of The Human Centipede: Full Sequence (an event that, incidentally, the ADHD generation are pretty much over by now) we felt the time was right for reminiscence. In the spirit of a chirpy TV presenter conducting a 6 part special to hunt down the forgotten stars of a classic 80s musical, let’s take a look at this country’s history of forbidden nasties and ask – what were they, and where are they now?
The first thing to notice on a scan of the banned list is that ‘Women in prison’ flicks crop up a lot. Unsurprising, perhaps: this exploitation sub-genre typically involves the physical and sexual abuse of a group of female inmates by their sadistic prison officers. Some, like The Big Doll House, are camp examples of tacky 70s cinema; others, like exploitation maestro Jess Franco’s Barbed Wire Dolls, are slightly darker. Both of these films now live a healthy life on general release as certificate 18s. Interestingly, the only ones from the genre that remain banned are Nazi themed – Deported Women of the SS Special Section and Nazi Love Camp 27 both swap a casual prison block for a Nazi concentration camp. Similarly, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is a sexualised Nazi officer who subjects her victims, both men and women, to routine torture.
And indeed, it seems the relationship between subject matter and horrific events in real life plays a massive part in censorship. The 1992 horror film Mikey was originally set for release with an 18 rated trailer. However, after a media storm erupted around the infamous killing of James Bulger in 1993, the BBFC removed the film from distribution as it contained a child murderer. It remains banned.
Historically, the Board are known for being considerably uptight in their censoring. Before the Swinging Sixties relaxed them considerably, they had banned Rebel Without a Cause for fears of inciting teenage rebellion. (It’s now a PG.) However, they’ve got so much more laid back over the last decade or so that now, much more so than in the past, whenever they actually wield their power to censor they’re assumed to have just cause.
The most recent films to fall foul of the BBFC (Japanese splatter film Grotesque and, of course, The Human Centipede: Full Sequence) were both refused classification due to their depiction of extreme sexual violence against women. This, the Board believes, is “at greater risk of being emulated” than, you know, standard chopping people up and so on (you don’t need props, to start with). Unsexualised violence and murder are of course no less horrific, but they’re not shrouded in taboo to the same extent.
But of course, what was controversial 40 years ago has now achieved lovable cult status. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on The Left, the latter containing a rape scene, are now compulsory viewing for Horror fans; and A Clockwork Orange (which overflows with drug use and ‘ultraviolence’, much of it sexual in nature) is compulsory viewing for any film fan, period. The exploitation films on the banned list, of which ‘women in prison’ films are a part of, are now endearingly camp. Where are they now? On proud display on any cool kid’s DVD shelf.
Judging by this inevitable process of evolution, will The Human Centipede: Full Sequence be just another camp classic in 30 years? Along with all the droogs and Leatherfaces, will people arrive at Halloween parties crawling in a group of 12, stuck to one other in a massive centipedey line? It would sure make for a cheap costume – all you need is a whole lot of masking tape.
Or can a film achieve timeless repulsion? Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, details 120 days of physical and sexual torture of a group of teenagers captured in fascist Italy. It was banned on its release in 1975. In 2000, it was passed (uncut) as an 18, but still it has a reputation for redefining what constituted a truly sick film. But I watched it for the first time the other night, and I have to say – I didn‘t think it was that bad.
This little delving into the BBFC’s history has shown us that in terms of offence, future generations may well only grow in their apathy. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a once-controversial musical about sex and transvestitism has now just been reclassified as a tame 12A. Repulsion is relative; in 3011 we will probably be watching The Human Centipede between daytime chat shows.