Season of the Banned

Piece originally published in 2011 by EmpireOnline (but since taken down – banned perhaps?)

Patience, they say, is a virtue.

On 6th June, 2011, the BBFC published its decision to deny a certificate to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), effectively banning the film for allegedly posing “a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.” Marshalling the terms of the Video Recording Act and of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and 1964, as well as the Board’s own guidelines and a nebulous notion of public acceptability, the judgement concluded that “the unacceptable content runs throughout the work”, ensuring that “cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.”

In other words, the BBFC presented its decision as uncompromisingly final. Viewers keen to see this sequel – a relatively small constituency no doubt expanded in its numbers by the notoriety that the BBFC’s concerns were suddenly conferring upon the film – were left with two options. The first, only made possible within the last decade, was to download the film from extra-national sources; the second, a recourse that has long been available to those interested in marginal material, was simply to wait.

There is nothing, you see, quite like time to expose both the cultural relativism and the absurd arbitrariness of censorship. History is littered with artworks that were once banned for political or moral reasons, but have since been accepted, sometimes even embraced, by both the authorities and the public. Obscenity never has been, and never will be, an absolute. Times change, and attitudes change along with them.

It is a principle borne out by the Horror Channel’s Season of the Banned, kicking off on 4th November with the world television premiere of Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape. Jake West’s documentary offers a forensic examination of the hysteria and muddle-headedness that led to 72 so-called ‘video nasties’ being banned by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the early Eighties. Today, the majority of these films, resubmitted to and passed by the BBFC, can be seen in their unaltered entirety, as can many other titles that had previously been rejected by the BBFC. This is why original ‘video nasties’ like The Evil DeadThe Beyond and Tenebrae, and other taboo titles previously butchered or refused classification by the BBFC like The ExterminatorIsland of DeathCity of the Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, can now all be screened uncut on television as part of the Season of the Banned. Evidently the perceived capacity of these films “to deprave and corrupt” viewers has diminished, or at least been reappraised, with the passage of time.

In the case of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), the BBFC – which is on the whole a far more enlightened body today than it ever was under the stewardship of James Ferman – has revised its position with astonishing speed. On October 6, exactly four months after their original ruling to reject the film outright, the BBFC has passed an edited version (shorn of some 2 minutes and 37 seconds) that distributors Eureka Entertainment and Bounty Films (Australia) submitted on appeal – meaning that The Human Centipede II enjoyed its UK premiere at FrightFest’s Halloween all-nighter on October 29, and then be released theatrically from November 4 and for the home market from November 21.

While 32 cuts might seem a lot, it is far fewer than might have been expected give the BBFC’s previous assertion that no amount of cuts would dissuade it from the decision to refuse a certificate – and Eureka, to their credit, have done an impressive job of ensuring that the film still appears seamless and offers a narrative that, despite some segmentation, remains coherent. There is also nothing, at least in this version of the film, that goes beyond the pale of acceptability in what is, after all, an 18-certificate horror – even though Six has certainly upped the ante on his first Centipede film in trying to shock, disgust, and (oh yes) darkly amuse.

Since then, the BBFC has announced on October 12 its decision to refuse a certificate to Adam Rehmeier’s The Bunny Game, a reportedly very good, albeit harrowing, BDSM abduction shocker which had been slated for DVD release early next year. For those who wish legally to see that – or indeed an uncut version of The Human Centipede II – the wisest counsel is patience. For in our new season of the banned, there may still remain a thick fog of moral panic, tabloid fear-mongering and (to borrow the tabloids’ own expression) political correctness gone mad, but for those not in a hurry, release usually wins out in the end. Just wait – and see.

Anton Bitel