WARNING: MATURE CONTENT
With it being Halloween month, Edward Howard takes a look at the various scary movies that were once banned by British censors for one reason or another, and in some cases still censored in the UK to this day.
In this special Politicalite piece, we’ll be examining the most famous horror movie titles to ever be banned in one way or another from Britain, some of which are scarier than Joe Biden’s latest gaffe! Some are classics, others are trash and some are slightly arty, but at one point or another, they have been banned by the British Board For Film Classification for some reason. For the sake of space and time, the various movies prosecuted during the moral panic of the ‘Video Nasties’ like 1981’s Evil Dead and 1978’s Faces Of Death will not be included, as they were never officially banned by the BBFC, of whose decisions matter most here. So sit back, relax and hide under your sofa for these scary flicks too damn scary for us impressionable Brits.
10. The Exorcist (1973)
Considered to be the scariest movie of all time – and for the longest time the highest grossing horror movie of its day – the original Exorcist was heavily popular in the UK, making over £7 million at the box office, and opening at number 1 when it was released in 1974. Despite this, it received much controversy as well, having been campaigned against by Mary Whitehouse’s infamous Nationwide Festival of Light, and several councils banned it for its content, including those of Bradford and Torbay.
While never officially banned by the BBFC, it was unavailable on home video following the passage of the Video Recordings Act in 1984, of which made it illegal to sell unclassified videos in UK, in response to the aforementioned ‘Video Nasties’ scare. The film up until then had been available on home video uncertified. The board’s director at the time James Ferman, refused to grant the film a video certificate despite most at the BBFC wanting it passed uncut, citing his worries that children could view it and that it could pose harm to those who believed in demonic possession, something shown by the board’s 1998 statement on the matter. This led to the remaining uncertified copies being removed from UK shelves in 1988, when the VRA came to be in force.
This led it to several theatrical re-releases, including a successful 25th anniversary run, whereby it opened at number 5 at the box office. After Ferman left the board in 1999, his successor Robin Duval – of who had previously attempted to get the film shown on Sky TV when he worked there – passed the film swiftly uncut on home video with an 18 certificate, where it has been ever since.
The film would be higher, but it was never formally rejected by the BBFC.
Current Status: Uncut at 18 since 1999.
9. Hate Crime (2012)
In one of the more controversial horror films to come across the BBFC’s desk, James Cullen Bressack’s 2012 Neo-Nazi found footage movie – of which one critic claimed made the torture porn staples of Saw and Hostel ‘look like Disney movies’ – became the first film to be refused a certificate for a Video On Demand release.
The movie, of which consists of a group of Neo-Nazis terrorising and killing a Jewish family, was refused a classification by the board in 2015 due to the film’s sexual violence, of which they felt was made worse by the ‘racist invective’ of the villains of the film. It is worth noting that the political climate was contentious at the time, with the likes of the rabble rousing groups of the English Defence League and Britain First being heavily criticised, and the political party of UKIP being falsely accused as racist by the British press. On top of this, they also had political pressure being pushed on them, with Danny Stone, the director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism admitting that the group had worked with the BBFC over the subject matter, and that they had a ‘robust position on anti-Semitism and racism’. Stone also told the Jewish Chronicle that the group was ‘welcome’ of the decision to ban the film.
In response to the film’s ban, the director James Cullen Bressack – of Jewish descent – was initially pleased, describing how he was ‘honoured to know that my mind is officially too twisted for the UK’. He later recanted his views, recounting his experiences with anti-Semitism as an inspiration for the film, and claimed he was saddened to ‘learn that censorship is still alive and well’. This had been despite the fact that the film had initially been shown at the Grimmfest Festival in 2012 in Manchester, alongside the likes of Sinister and Cockneys vs. Zombies where it cited no controversy. Bressack’s other films, including 2013’s To Jennifer and 2020’s Beyond The Law, have been passed uncut by the BBFC.
Current Status: Still banned.
8. Mikey (1992)
In a tragic case of bad timing, the 1992 slasher film Mikey of which centred around a child murderer killing his foster families – and of which starred horror icons, like Ashley Laurence, best known for her iconic role as Kristy Cotton in the Hellraiser series – was initially granted an 18 rating by the BBFC in 1992, of which was withdrawn following the murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993. Other movies, including 1992’s Reservoir Dogs and 1993’s Bad Lieutenant were also affected by this.
When it came back to the board for a 1996 video certificate, the film was refused one, with the board citing how ‘three distinguished child psychiatrists’ had warned them about the ‘dangerous impact’ on young children if they watched it. Another child killer film, that of 1992’s The Good Son suffered video cuts because of the controversy as well, but was never outright banned, being released uncut in the early 2000s once it had passed.
It remains banned to this day, although it is available on Amazon Prime, where British law and BBFC jurisdiction isn’t applicable.
Current Status: Still banned, albeit available on Amazon Prime.
7. Black Sunday (1960)
Famed Italian horror director Mario Bava’s debut, centred around vampires and torture, was controversial for its day, particularly on its violence, of which was considered very strong for the time. This is what caused it be rejected by the BBFC in 1960, leading to an 8-year ban.
It was initially passed in 1968 for a cinema release, but this was the cut American version, of which removed over three minutes of violence and objectionable content by its distributors at American International Pictures, most famous for being behind Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe movies, of which often starred famed horror legend Vincent Price.
It would later be passed uncut in its original version at a 15 rating for a video release by Redemption Pictures in 1994, of which it has stayed at ever since, allowing British audience’s to enjoy the ‘Italian Master of Horror’ at his best. Other classic boundary pushing films, like 1963’s Shock Corridor and 1965’s Onibaba and were banned for similar reasoning, albeit with uncut releases later on.
Current Status: Uncut at 15 since 1992.
6. Freaks (1932)
The classic 1932 horror film was one of first of its genre to be refused certification by the BBFC, of who initially cited its alleged exploitation of people with psychical disabilities – of who made up the main anti-heroes of the film, inspired by director Tod Browning’s real life times at the circus – as being wrong, especially for commercial purposes.
It was rejected once more in 1952, whereby its distributor argued that because of the ‘sympathetic manner’ the eponymous freaks were portrayed in by the film, and that it would ‘eliminate from the public mind’ what he called ‘the usual horror’ of seeing them at horror shows, concluding that the film ‘deserves to be seen by an adult audience’. The BBFC disagreed, feeling that not only was the seeming commercial exploitation of disabled people still wrong, but that the film contain unpleasant scenes.
It was finally classified with an X certificate (the modern equivalent to an 18 rating) on the condition that the release would be limited. Despite this, one member of the public still complained, feeling that the reaction of laughing teenagers around him undermined the film’s anti-prejudice message, and confessed he walked out after 20 minutes. It was initially classified at 15 uncut for a video certificate for the violent death of the antagonistic Hercules, but was downgraded to a 12 rating in 2001 for home video, where it has stayed ever since.
Current Status: Uncut at 12 since 2001.
5. Maniac (1980)
William Lustig’s underrated cult horror has became well-known and recognised in many ways, inspiring a short film sequel, a hit 1983 song for a different movie, and a controversial 2012 remake with Elijah Wood, of which was banned in New Zealand for its violence.
However, the original was banned in Britain for just over 20 years. This is because the focal point of the film – the main character Frank Zitto’s violent murders of several women, including with stabbings and shotgun kills, brought to life in strong detail by VFX legend Tom Savini who cameos in the film – was a big no no with the BBFC at the time, who initially banned it in 1981 for a cinema release.
It faced similar ire for its proposed 1998 video release, of which was also refused a certificate for the same reason, with the board decrying the film’s alleged link with sex and murder, and the often ‘scalping’ of victims. They also noted the endless ‘stalking and slashing’ nature of the film, along with how Zitto doesn’t die at the end, leading the board to conclude that the character’s ‘stalking and mutilation will begin again’.
Allegedly, the film was seen by four examiners, mostly men who wanted it banned, and a women who thought it could be passed with cuts. The video distributors Exploited cried foul, citing how the heavily controversial 1997 film Lolita – of which was passed uncut 18 on both film and video, attracting 24 complaints from that, becoming the most complained decision in 1998 after that – had been allowed to been rigorously examined by psychiatrists and experts on the paedophilia the film explored, a privilege Maniac wasn’t granted.
It was finally passed with an 18 rating in 2002, after 58 seconds of cuts to the film’s sexual violence. Partially a vanity project for star Joe Spinell, best known for being a character actor in such classics like The Godfather, Rocky and Taxi Driver, it is a haunting and great film with a disturbing and unflinching central performance by Spinell, of who also co-wrote and produced the movie. It is worth a look, if you can track the uncut version down. Happy hunting.
Current Status: Cut with 58 seconds removed since 2002.
4. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
This Christmas based horror movie, a sequel to an already controversial 1984 original which didn’t see a UK release until a 2009 DVD release, was banned outright by the BBFC in 1987 for a video release, of which has yet to be lifted.
The film – part sequel, part recap of the first one due to a botched production – was heavily criticised for its bad acting particularly that of star Eric Freeman and Frank Novak, and unintentionally hilarious moments, like the infamous ‘Garbage Day’ scene, of which has since gone viral in the age of the internet.
It was banned by the BBFC after the distributor refused to make cuts to scenes involving a double murder and shots of a topless woman being killed, a big no no for the BBFC at the time. To make matters worse, the film’s use of gun violence was seen as problematic due to the recent Hungerford massacre, whereby a debate in the media took place on screen violence, with the press initially blaming Rambo: First Blood Part II for the killer’s shooting, of which was later thrown out as a motive. Several action movies in the 1980s and 1990s were affected by this too.
The film is still banned, but is available on Amazon Prime, like Mikey is.
Current Status: Still banned, albeit available on Amazon Prime.
3. The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence (2011)
Perhaps the most recent famous ban of a horror film, Tom Six’s The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence was initially banned for a video release in 2011 after they argued that no amount of footage could be removed to make the movie’s amount of sexual and gross violence acceptable.
While the first and third films in the Human Centipede trilogy didn’t cause the board any censorship issues, allowing them both to be passed uncut, they banned the second one outright, arguing that the film wallowed in ‘the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims’, citing infamous scenes involving sex and sandpaper, as well as others involving defecation and rape.
Six fought back against the decision, eventually leading to a heavily cut version of the film being released in British cinemas and video, of which removed the more stronger scenes around sexual violence and child killing, just to name a few. 2 minutes and 37 seconds were removed in total, and it has remained that way for all UK releases ever since.
The film – which focused on a black and white shot meta storyline about a disgruntled British car park employee making a human centipede of his own, inspired by the first movie – was also banned in New Zealand and cut in Australia by 30 seconds, after an initial uncut release there. It was critically panned upon release, with several major film critics like the American Roger Ebert and the British Mark Kermode being particularly harsh on it. Others did defend it, like Nightmare Movies author Kim Newman, but they were in a minority. The third film didn’t receive anywhere near the same controversy, despite Six threatening that it would make the second one look like a ‘Disney movie’ by comparison.
Current Status: Cut with 2 minutes and 37 seconds since 2011.
2. The Last House On The Left (1972)
Wes Craven’s classic 1972 horror, itself inspired by the 1960 Ingmer Bergman film The Virgin Spring, focuses on an early attempt at a rape-revenge plot, with a group of rapists and murderers having turned up to the parents of one of their recent victims. Once the parents released who they’ve got as company, they turn the tables in a quick and bloody fashion.
The film was initially rejected for a 1974 cinema release, with the then secretary Stephen Murphy claiming that there was no ‘redeeming merit’ in the film, especially for its subject matter. It later tried to get an uncut release by the Greater London Council, of who has allowed the likes of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be released despite the BBFC ban, but more on that later. The GLC upheld the BBFC ban however, and beyond an initial uncut pre-VRA video release in the early 1980s – of which would see it be labelled a video nasty, and was prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Obscene Publications Act afterwards – it was unavailable for UK fans.
After Ferman left the BBFC, of who admitted that the film wouldn’t be classified under his tenure in 1988 at a Wes Craven retrospective, it was resubmitted in 1999 for a cinema release. However, due to the film’s sexual violence, an uncut release was not allowed, with the board offering 90 seconds of cuts to sexual violence. Once the distributors declined, it became the most recent film to be refused a cinema classification, and the first for ten years after 1990’s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 was also rejected under the same way.
Following new guidelines published in 2000, the board were shown the film once again, this time for a DVD release. Cuts were once again offered, but the distributors appealed the decision, taking the BBFC to the Video Appeals Committee. They not only sided with the BBFC, but felt that they were too lenient, doubling the cuts from the original 16 seconds to 32. Many decried the decision, including the aforementioned Kermode, of who had spoken on behalf of the film at the VAC, and who wrote in the Independent that the decision was ‘typically depressing’ and explained that it was why genre fans import their films ‘as a matter of course’. Later DVD rights holders would get past this by hiding the cut scenes as frame-by-frame content on the extras – as the board only classifies moving images, this went outside their remit – and by having an online code on the DVD to find the cut footage online. Better than nothing, I suppose.
It was then resubmitted for a DVD release in 2008. In light of the various torture porn films and violent video games like 2007’s Manhunt 2 at the time, the film was considered date and unlikely to cause any disturbance to the British public. It was therefore allowed uncut at an 18 rating for a 3 disc release, a certificate it still currently holds.
Current status: Uncut at 18 since 2008.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This 1974 classic, considered to be one of the most influential in horror movie history, may not be the most controversial on this list, but it is the most famous, hence its rightly deserved top spot here. Leatherface’s first outing may have been real received for substituting violence and gore for atmosphere and suspense, but British censors banned it outright for such reasons.
It was initially rejected in Britain back in 1975, when then BBFC boss Stephen Murphy banned a mildly cut version of the film, on the grounds that the ‘tone’ of the film was so disturbing that it would be unacceptable to most local councils. During the 1980s, the film was asked to be looked under James Ferman, of who dubbed it the ‘pornography of terror’, and found that cutting made no difference to the film’s atmosphere and menace. His particular issue was the final chase scene with the character of Sally by the Sawyer family, headed up by horror icon Leatherface, of which he felt was misogynist and exploited the terror of a helpless woman. This led to the film being unavailable on video in the 1990s.
Despite this, the ban was more de facto than de jure; due to the fact that ultimate certification powers rested with local councils, many of them granted the film an X rating, the modern equivalent to the modern 18. This included the Greater London Council along with 9 others who classified a version with 28 seconds cut with an X rating, but 19 others held up the ban. It was also available on pre-certificate video in the 1980s in an uncut version, before the VRA was passed in Parliament in 1984. The board were steadfast in this stance, with a 1998 statement on the continued ban noting this. This was swiftly contradicted by a 1999 statement on the lift of the ban, released in literal months after the first one.
Following a succession of screenings in Camden in 1998 and at the London Film Festival, the film was resubmitted for a cinema rating in 1999, after Ferman had left the board, and the aforementioned Duval had taken over. The film was granted an 18 uncut rating, with video classification and releases coming swiftly after. They stated that the film was dated, so it wasn’t as much an issue as it was on its initial release in 1974. You can even get the original in Poundland now, to make the matter all the more chuckle worthy.
Many of the film’s sequels suffered the same fate; the second film in the series was unofficially banned after the distributors withdrew the film from the BBFC process after 22 minutes of cuts were required, and the third was the last time an original film was refused a cinema certificate outright. The fourth film was the first to be passed fully uncut on first submission in 1999, with the second and third films being soon passed uncut at 18 as well.
The recent remake and reboot series haven’t had any issues with the British censors in their post-1999 liberal phase. But the less said about those movies, the better.
Current Status: Uncut at 18 since 1999.
Happy Halloween, Politicalite readers!
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