Beef with the BBFC: The Human Centipede II et cetera

By Lee Cassanell


Throughout the 80s a cousin of mine with a connection in Saudi Arabia was the proud owner of one of the greatest pirate video collections in the land. Not only did he receive the latest US cinema releases long before they hit the UK he also acquired an extensive collection of banned or heavily-censored films that were not available in Britain.

Flicks such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Evil Dead (1981), Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), Straw Dogs (1971), Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and I Spit on your Grave (1971) were all either banned by the BBFC or classified as ‘video nasties’, or both, and thus were bestowed with an oft undeserved notoriety. Naturally all of these are now readily available to purchase and view but at the time they were like gold dust, really violent gold dust, and I don’t like to brag but I’d seen them all by the time I left Primary School.

Yes some of the scenes were shocking and, admittedly, I had a few nightmares. Freddy Kruger was the most disturbing of all though and you could pick up a copy of the Elm Street series at any local video shop. I mean, what’s more frightening? A demon chained up in a basement, a power tool wielding psycho or a hideous razor fingered child abuser who wants to murder you in your sleep?  I was so disturbed by Kruger that he affected me on a psychological level: shadows became his glove and for a while I slept with the light on; too afraid to close my eyes in case Freddy came a calling.

I realise my street-cred is taking a bit of a hit here but to preserve my hard Northern exterior I’d like to affirm that this period didn’t last. Eventually I became obsessed with being scared, subjected myself to every creepy movie on the market and became thoroughly desensitized to all manner of violence; I was beyond terror. Or so I thought…  

One fine day I was watching television and a news report came on about the trial of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, the so called ‘Rostov Ripper’ who had been accused of  raping, murdering and mutilating 53 souls, mostly young boys and girls. He appeared on the screen, his face lit up by the intermittent strobe of camera flashbulbs and I saw something in his eyes which I’ve never seen before and hope to never see again: Evil. Not the religious bearded imp with a pitchfork kind but a twisted, debased, madness; a human black hole void of regret; an essence that horror villains frequently tried to replicate but never truly could. That image became seared in my mind and from then on I was no longer interested in scaring myself. I’ll watch a cheesy Hollywood horror if someone puts it on and glance through news of the latest mass murderer but I no longer seek out the macabre.

Yesterday all the hoo-ha over the BBFC banning The Human Centipede II (2011) tempted me into watch the trailer, just to see what all the fuss was about. Yeah that’s right: I ate the apple and I’m thoroughly pissed off that I allowed my head to be turned. I’ve resisted the ridiculous Hostel series, which a few friends raved about whilst describing graphic scenes of torture, and spurned the silly A Serbian Film (2010) which has been internationally lauded for its shock value. I thought I was above all the promotional tricks and gimmicks but last night, as I was watching The Human Centipede trailer unfold, I realised the decision by the BBFC to flex its flagging muscles has done nothing but hype this movie to hell. They’ve made this film taboo; tantalizing. The fact that the BBFC still believes it carries any weight, other than as an inadvertent marketing tool, is astounding.

As for The Human Centipede II…who gives a damn? I realise I’m speaking as somebody who has little interaction with the modern horror genre but I’d urge you to think before recommend this film to a friend. After all with online downloads promoting a BBFC banned film hardly makes you the Luke Skywalker of motion pictures does it? Sure if your friends are hardened horror fans that eat snuff flicks for breakfast chances are it will be water off a ducks back but if they are more sensitive souls then what’s the harm of letting it pass them by?

There are people of all ages watching all kinds on the Internet from Terrorist beheadings to violent pornography and that’s just the way things are. People are curious and will seek things out of their own accord but to point them in the direction of such things is criminally irresponsible and the BBFCs biblical proclamation has done just that.

I do not personally like films of this nature. I think they can twist and damage people and who knows how that will manifest itself but that is just my opinion, take it or leave it. A film board trying to impose its will on society is a different kettle of fish and smacks of nanny state status. If such things are tolerated where will it lead? To living in a society  where everything we see and hear is controlled by an institution on behalf of the state that’s where, oh yes I read 1984, and that, my friends, would surely be the scariest horror story of all.

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5 responses to “Beef with the BBFC: The Human Centipede II et cetera

  1. Can’t say I entirely agree with this. We routinely ban works of extreme pornography that portray sexual violence or incest, the reasoning being that – on balance – they stand to cause far more harm than good. This film is essentially extreme pornography and so rejecting distribution in this country is fair – the BBFC rarely bans straightforward movies these days, even the gauling ones.

    They’re taking a stance and saying that this material is unfit for public consumption, in much the same way they would do with snuff pornography. People are still free to procure the material by other means if they wish, but the BBFC has merely exercised the power of its office to protect the public interest. It let A Serbian Film pass – albeit with cuts – and if they banned this film it is simply because it is nothing more than a work of extreme pornography masquerading as mainstream horror.

  2. Forget having a board that ban films for being violent, let’s just have a board that bans films for being shit. That should be the one and only true criteria. “Yes, we realise it’s violent and there’s loads of rape and everybody gets flayed alive but that’s not principally what we object to. We just think it’s shit. Shite. Wank. Its stupidity, lack of innovation and reliance on two types of person (Bad Men What Do Evil and Soft As Shite Middle Class Arseholes Cast Solely To Look Scared & Scream) offends public decency so we’ve decided to fuck it off and watch Kes instead.” There you go

  3. @Matthew: Your analogy is entirely inaccurate. There’s a difference between sick-twisted, disgusting gross-out fiction and snuff films. Snuff is REAL murder committed solely for the sake of being captured on film. It’s censorship – pure and simple – for a governmental (or quasi-governmental) agency to tell citizens that something unreal is too disturbing for them view. While I have NO intention of ever watching any of these movies, I’LL decide what’s too disturbing for me and what I’ll allow my children to see, NOT a bunch of twerps sitting in a room (who were not selected by the populace).

    • @Tommy (and anyone else who wants to chime in): I get the whole “It’s my choice what I watch and no one else should control that” argument but I can’t help but wonder; is there no cut off point, in your opinion? Is there no limit at all to what visual mediums can portray? I ask as it’s something I wonder often myself and I’ll admit I’m beginning to think there may be a limit – deciding what that limit is is the tricky part and one I have different answers for from day to day.

      For example you say, quite rightly, that a fictional film depicting murder/rape is different to a snuff movie, which is real. But what if a fictional film graphically showed the sexual molestation of a child and did so in a way aimed to titalate, rather than shock, the audience? Or if a fictional film sends a strong message that children like having sex with adults, would this be too far? (I’m using child molesting as an example as it tends to be a more universal no no than murder or rape).

      Media does effect us, and in various ways we can’t understand immediately (I don’t for a second accept the “monkey see, monkey do” argument but people do become acclimatised to imagery when they see it often) so shouldn’t there be some responsibility on the part of creators of art/media? The problem with the “everything goes” argument, imo, is that it takes away any sense of responsibility or duty on the creator’s part and they have no need to accept any consequences for what they put out there. Censorship, unfortunately, provides that consequence at the moment.

      I’m genuinely interested in what others think on this, as I flip from one side of the argument to the other on a regular basis. (I’m sensing a blog post percolating in my mind…)

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