I recently discovered this article of mine, (dating back at least a couple of years now), originally intended for publication on another site, but which – for reasons I no longer recall – it never made it online. As such, and because I thought you might all find this of interest, here are…
Ten Extremely Disturbing Movie Moments That Got Past The British Censors!
The BBFC is the UK’s film censorship body, and unlike the USA, where films can be released uncut and uncensored, without a certificate, every film here has to be classified. And as many of you with even the most cursory knowledge of film censorship history will know, the BBFC have been very strict about what does and does not pass them, even at the most restrictive levels of classification – 18 certificates.
Now, this article is not going to go into the rights and wrongs of censorship, nor am I going to argue for more or less censorship either. They are discussions for another day. Today, though, we focus on the Ten Most Shocking Scenes that did pass through the BBFC. We shall start our countdown at the 10thmost extreme title, and work our way up to the granddaddy of nastiness. As ever, these choices are my own, and are open to debate.
10 – THE STORY OF RICKY (1991, Ngai Choi Lam)
If you like live-action manga, or martial-arts films, this one will deliver scenes you will never forget, in spades. When a teenage boy is incarcerated into a maximum-security prison, he is forced to endure painful beatings from both fellow prisoners and wardens, using his super-powered martial arts skills. In the film’s most memorable scene, Riki-Oh (Siu-Wong Fan) tackles a muscle-bound opponent, by tearing a hole in his stomach, ripping out his intestines, and strangling him with them! Passed uncut in 2002. If it weren’t so unbelievably far-fetched and outrageous, it would be incredibly disturbing. Not unlike our next entry…
9 – BAD TASTE (1988, Peter Jackson)
Peter Jackson’s first film was a gory little affair. Aliens are taking over New Zealand, and it’s down to The Boys (Jackson and fellow cohorts Terry Potter, Craig Smith, Peter O’Herne and Mike Minett) to save the country, and possibly even the world. With an almost zero-budget, and filmed over a two-year span, this is still one of the best horror films ever committed to celluloid. Original, inventive, and full of scenes you won’t forget in a hurry, one of the most memorably nasty being Jackson’s cameo as an alien indulging in a bit of light soup-consumption, when a corpse has the top third of the skull missing, and the brain has been liquidised. The film pans up, and you see the corpse, with a few odd squirts of blood still ejaculating, and there is Jackson, dessert spoon in-hand, happily (and furiously) digging into some mashed brains. The film was passed uncut by the BBFC in April 1989.
8 – BRAINDEAD (aka DEAD ALIVE) (1992, Peter Jackson)
Another bloody Jackson affair. Timothy Balme plays Lionel, a mummy’s boy. Bored, alone, single, until one day, the beautiful Paquita (Diana Penalver) arrives, and turns his life upside down. After Lionel’s mum gets bitten, (in a sickeningly funny scene also involving pudding and a pus-filled boil), by a Sumatran monkey, she turns rabid and goes on the warpath. It’s up to Lionel to save the day, even if it does involve killing his dear-old Mum. Peter Jackson’s early splatterfest was – rather surprisingly – released uncut in the UK, but cut in the USA – due to the graphic and blood-filled finale, which has to be seen to believed. The highlight, if you can call it that – is the mass slaughter of half of Lionel’s sleepy town, by lawnmower blades to the face! Gallons and gallons of gore ensue, as do limbs of every description, as they fly past the camera’s lingering gaze. The comedic tone helps diffuse any potential offence, but it’s a scene of gore that ranks up there as being one of the most in-your-face.
7 – DUMPLINGS (2004, Fruit Chan)
Ah, there’s nothing like Far Eastern food. Chinese, Thai or Japanese, they have so much culinary delights to offer us, but this is one thing you would definitely not want to eat, no matter what. Asian actress extraordinaire Bai Ling take on the role of chef Mei, a woman who will stop at nothing to make the most delicious dumplings in town. Her food is so popular, that she promises they will improve a woman’s health, even to making her look and feel younger. But like any food scare, if customers knew what was inside them, the Asian Food Standards Agency would be having severe words.
This film was originally a short – part of three films made for the acclaimed THREE… EXTREMES (2004). It was then expanded to feature-length, and released separately. The notoriety of the film is because of the main ingredients of the dumplings themselves – aborted baby foetuses! Mei has discovered that by mixing them up and adding them into her food, they can enhance the consumer’s physical appearance. The detriment, is the problem in obtaining a steady supply of foetuses, and staying one step ahead of the law. The subject matter alone may put many of you off this stunning and shocking piece of Asian Extreme cinema, but it’s definitely a film that lingers in the memory.
6 – BAD BOY BUBBY (1993, Rolf De Heer)
The Western World is one that loves its animals. Even though as adults, we know full well where our meat comes from, and how items like leather are made, it’s still very shocking to see animals appearing to be harmed or in distress. Moreso in fictional cinema films. This Australian shocker is not one many of heard of, but it gained notoriety on the festival circuit, not only for its content, but for its subject matter. Bubby (Nicholas Hope) has lived in complete isolation from the world, for over 35 years. His whole existence, has been formed and restricted by his domineering and disturbed mother (Claire Benito), who has controlled everything he sees, hears and does, inside a grotty, unkempt shed of an apartment. Forcing him to have sex with her, is one of her daily delights. When Bubby’s father makes an appearance, from the Outside, Bubby’s world is turned upside down. Mother has taught him that no one can breathe on the Outside, without a gas mask, due to the putrefying atmosphere. So, when Pop (Ralph Cotterill) appears, seemingly unharmed from the Outside, Bubby starts to think for himself.
What makes the film so shocking for many, is the atmosphere that director De Heer creates for the audience. One memorably shocking scene, is Bubby’s taunting and torture of Cat – the pet cat. When Cat is covered in cling-film like an Egyptian Mummy, and suffocates, Bubby starts to test the clingfilm on himself, and then others, resulting in the killing of both his Mother and Father, before he finally breaks free, and unleashes himself on the world Outside, leading to humour and tragedy. In the Blu-ray booklet, Benito notes that at no time was any cat actually harmed or put under duress during the film’s making, so thankfully, audiences are assured that no torture took place. But for many years, many audiences and film classification boards believed that a cat really had been killed. If you didn’t know this beforehand, then seeing Bubby’s torture of Cat makes for very harrowing viewing. Although originally cut by the BBFC for all previous cinema and home viewing editions, BAD BOY BUBBY was finally passed uncut in 2007. Even today, it’s still an unnerving scene to view. (N.B. The Blu-Ray was deleted a few years back, but can still be bought online for a reasonable sum, from Amazon UK!)
5 – SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini)
Pasolini was never a man to do things by half. His works are always contentious and challenging, forcing viewers to confront themselves and the scenes he dares to place up on the screen. SALO was no different, but it was a film that sadly came at an extreme personal cost. Adapting the Marquise De Sade’s magnum opus “The 120 Days Of Sodom” for a modern-audience was never going to be an easy task. The novels frequently repellent and graphic descriptions of forced consumption of bodily waste, was seen as being nothing more than outright pornography. It is still seen in this manner. Modifying the story, Pasolini changed the setting, and reframed it, to set it in the small, Italian town of Salo, and created a film of monstrous proportions.
Blending in the theme of Fascism, SALO is a masterful and depressing experience. In fact, for many, it is a work they cannot sit through. The tone is amoral, and so unrelenting, few can stomach it for a few minutes, let alone almost two hours! At number five in our rundown, this is a film that few will want to stomach even now. Coprophagia, or the consumption of faeces, is not something many of us would choose to indulge in, let alone be a witness too. As a form of torture, it would be considered one of the most nauseating. Combine this with scenes of naked teenagers, bound, gagged and being treated like dogs would be seen as going overboard. But this is Pasolini, and this is SALO. When a set of Libertines meet-up in Salo, in order to indulge in a week-long session of excess, little do their teenage prisoners know what is in store. Captured, tortured, stripped naked and dehumanised, they are forced to indulge in some of the sickest punishments possible. Sex with the libertines. Sex with each other. And then the Torture. Eating faeces, and/or faeces with nails hidden inside it, are scenes that – for most – go too far. Originally banned by the BBFC, but shown uncut in 1977, in numerous of London’s “Club” cinemas, the film was finally passed uncut for the masses, thanks to the British Film Institute, in 2000. Whether cut or uncut, the film’s notorious scenes of defilement are tough for any adult to sit through. Can you?
4 – IRREVERSIBLE (2002, Gaspar Noe)
Gaspar Noe was always a controversial director. From his early film CARNE (1991) through SEUL CONTRE TOUS (aka I STAND ALONE) in 1998, Noe’s films are frequently violent, frequently unsettling, and frequently disturbing. His use of flash photography, and speeded-up scenes that are borderline hyperkinetic cause many audiences to suffer. IRREVERSIBLE was going to test even those with cast-iron stomachs. Monica Belluci and Vincent Cassel are happily married couple (off-screen and on) Alex and Marcus. One night, their world is shattered forever more, when Alex is brutally raped.
The film, told entirely backwards, starts off with the film’s end-credits, and ends with its opening titles. Rape has been explored in many films, in titles such as THE ACCUSED (1988) with Jodie Foster, through to notorious exploitational shockers like Zeir Marchi’s original Video Nasty, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1980). The subject matter alone can repel an audience, before it even sees a single frame, and many people would prefer film never show scenes of rape at all, as they feel it is insensitive and exploitational, as well as deeply disrespectful for real-world victims of rape, who suffer from the emotional and physical trauma and scars that it can leave. Noe pushed the boundaries, and caused a stir at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival with IRREVERSIBLE, when for nine whole minutes, we see Alex’s rape in a Parisian underpass. The scene is unrelenting, and audiences have walked out in disgust as well as anger, at being a witness to the seemingly-unending sequence. The film’s rape scene became notorious around the globe after Cannes, and when it came to the film being submitted by UK arthouse company Metro Tartan Distribution in September of the same year, caused the BBFC many problems. Could they pass the scene intact? Was it exploitational? Was it obscene? Was it just grossly offensive?
On top of this, the film contained a second, equally notorious and uncomfortable sequence, in which a man in a nightclub has his head bashed-in to a bloody pulp, with a fire extinguisher. During screenings at the BBFC, several examiners saw the film, alongside the then Director, Robin Duval and even the BBFC Presidents. The BBFC stated:
“There was strong support for passing the work uncut at 18, despite many examiners declaring the film to be both challenging and gruelling.”
Yet, it was the two scenes of violence that caused them to think long and hard whether UK audiences would concur, that adults should be allowed to see such a film in their local cinema.
According to the BBFC:
“The Board considered the (nightclub) scene justifiable in the context of the narrative as a whole, and that there were no convincing grounds for intervention at 18. The film did not glamorise or promote such violence, nor was there any attempt to encourage audience complicity. Cutting the scene to reduce the number of blows or gory detail would have served no useful purpose regarding the impact of the scene on the audience. The bloody violence… is unusually explicit, with an almost seamless use of CGI effects and props to depict a man being battered repeatedly in the face with a fire extinguisher, over 20 times. Many, if not all, of the blows are fully visible and foregrounded, with his face eventually collapsing as the blows continue, accompanied by wince-inducing, loud sound effects, and bones and bloody flesh flying off under the impact.”
After much discussion, including interviewing a leading clinical forensic psychologist as to whether the film’s scene would be likely to be harmful, under the Obscene Publications Act and the BBFC’s own guidelines on the portrayal of sexual violence at the time. The psychologist agreed that whilst the rape scene was incredibly brutal and raw to view, at no point was Alex nor the rape endorsed, nor was it portrayed to be titillating in any form. As such, the BBFC were happy to pass the film completely uncut. However, Metro Tartan themselves also recommended that cinemas showing the film, warn their patrons that the film contained material that many “were likely to find disturbing or offensive”, due to the extreme content it housed.
Thankfully, despite protestations from the Tabloid press, the film was seen and generally endorsed by many as being a harrowing and raw experience, and one that demonstrated that rape was never a pleasant or nice event. In fact, many male as well as female audience-members couldn’t stomach the rape scene. Was this a good thing? Maybe the BBFC were right, and having a film that portrayed rape in such a clinical, cold, unfiltered and unflinching manner, was actually a stark warning to men, not to go out and rape women. Whatever your view of such a scene being included, the film is unrepentant, brutalising and very difficult to stomach. At home, even in its uncut format however, some of the film’s power is removed, as you can skip the rape sequence, if you should chose to do so. This is one film where being confined to the dark realms of a cinema, actually enhances the film’s authenticity.
3 – PINK FLAMINGOS (1972, John Waters)
The heroine (or should that be hero) of our film, is the bitchy, snidey, and foul-mouthed Divine in the role of Babs Johnson, who wishes to attain the title of the Filthiest Person Alive. That, is no mean feat, especially when your arch-nemesis is the deliciously disgusting Connie and Raymond Marbles, (Mink Stole and David Lochary respectively), who will do anything to remain top of the filth-heap, including but not limited to the kidnapping of women, forcibly inseminating them and then selling off the babies to lesbian couples; funding porno stores and getting schoolkids hooked on heroin. Throughout the films 92-or-so minutes duration, we see a boy having sex with a chicken then killing it; syringe semen injection into a woman’s vagina, and a singing anal passage. This film is definitely not for those with delicate sensibilities. But nothing, and I do mean nothing, comes close to the film’s shocking climax – a feat that no one has yet come close too – when Babs follows a dog-walker around town, sees the dog evacuate its bowels, and she then picks-up and consumes the bowel movement, in two tasty, chomping consumptions! No cuts, no edits, all in one single disgusting take. Divine really does eat shit! It’s briefness is the only reason it’s not at the top of this list. If you haven’t seen this film, there’s a reason why its notoriety still exists. The BBFC would have passed this uncut in 2008, however the UK Distributor decided to withdraw the film from submission at the time, and it has never been resubmitted since.
2 – ANTICHRIST (2009, Lars Von Trier)
Another Cannes film that caused a stir, and again, further accusations of misogyny of its director. This time, Danish director Lars Von Trier was the man at the centre of the storm, and just as IRREVERSIBLE before it, ANTICHRIST was going to divide everyone who came into contact with it.
Von Trier was no stranger to controversy. His earlier film, THE IDIOTS (aka IDIOTERNE) (1998) had also been provocative and inflammatory at Cannes, when it featured a storyline featuring “normal” people pretending to “spaz” out, or acting like people with severe physical, emotional and/or mental disabilities. Once more, the BBFC took advice as to whether the film could be passed uncut in the UK, as not only the subject matter was of concern, but also the film’s brief, explicit, but unsimulated shot of sexual penetration was problematic. Again, the BBFC agreed to release the film uncut with a warning to cinemas and cinemagoer’s about the film’s challenging themes. (On VHS and DVD, the film was initially cut, and then passed uncut a few years after.)
In this angst-ridden, but taboo-busting film about recovery, Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as He and She. When their young son is killed in an accident, She goes into a psychological meltdown. He is forced to use his skills as a therapist to try and help her recover, but all is not what it seems, and they retreat into a remote cabin in the woods to confront the deadly and unseen forces at work. Both lauded and derided by critics at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, Von Trier was never going to be a director to make a film that would sit comfortably with audiences or journalists, and this film was no different. What caused the uproar, was not the film’s theme, but the appearance of deep-rooted misogyny that seems to percolate throughout the entire 108-minute duration. The film’s climax, with She taking revenge on He, is where the film really caused major uproar. In it, and the reason this film is at Number 2 on our list, are two scenes of genital mutilation that go beyond what anyone thought would ever be considered appropriate to include in any film. As She descends ever more into her psychological and mental breakdown, She knocks out He. She then proceeds to mutilate him, by drilling a hole through his leg and attaching a heavy grindstone weight, to immobilise him. She also breaks his penis, and he ejaculates blood within his semen. Shocked enough? When She hits rock bottom, she mutilates herself, by – and I apologise to our more sensitive readers – snipping off her clitoris, with a pair of rusty scissors!
Now, such scenes were faked – using prosthetics and body-doubles – but for many, these two scenes were two scenes too far! When premiered at Cannes, festival attendees walked out in disgust, and they were alleged fainting from some viewers. When the film gained heavy press coverage, UK film fans were wondering whether Von Trier really did show this “money shot” or whether this was simply the tabloid press getting into a hysterical fit, like it usually does (cue a lengthy diatribe from Daily Mail scribe Christopher Tookey, who penned an article about this sickening film, which was followed by numerous piss-taking from film fans and film viewers across the globe, destroying every part of his article)!
At the BBFC, they were acutely aware, that if Von Trier’s film really did feature the material it claimed to do, then there could well be problems. After viewing the film, the BBFC decided that these shocking scenes neither breached their guidelines, nor that of English Law, and whilst likely to upset or offend many, were “exceptionally justified by the context”. The film was duly passed uncut and uncensored on 12th June 2009 for cinema viewing, and again, on 13th May 2010 for home viewing. To be fair, without the media attention, the film would still have gained some notoriety, but not nearly half as much as it did. As such, the Tabloid Press did more to help the film, than to decry it. Still, the scenes are taboo-busting in every sense of the word, and as such, they are definitely not what many would want to view. But they aren’t the worst offenders to have passed the BBFC uncut. That position is relayed for our Number One movie. A film so graphic and repugnant, that it was banned for many, many years by many countries, and kick-started the film-within-a-film genre…
1 – CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979, Ruggero Deodato)
This film is the number one most grotesque film that is legally available, A film that contains so many shocking scenes, that it wasn’t technically passed for legal home viewing, until May 2011, and even then, it still has 15 seconds of cuts remaining. This is the granddaddy of all horror films. The one that no self-respecting horror movie buff should not own or have seen at least once in their lifetime. It is a film that will guarantee to disturb, upset and offend, and that’s even if many of you will sit through the entire 92-minutes of it… which many can’t!
In 1979, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was released onto an unsuspecting world. An Italian-American horror flick, that was neither the first nor last, of the cannibal/third-world-savage genre that was popular at the time, and a staple diet of the Italian and American film industry too. A group of American film students from New York travel to the fabled Green Inferno, near the Amazon river, to discover whether cannibalism still exists, and to document it. When they arrive, their methods of filming leave a lot to be desired, and when the local natives are pushed too far by the students’ antics, they rebel in the most violent and angry manner.
Deodato’s tale was a riposte to all of the television news stories of the time, that packaged-up tales of war and death, to make them tolerable for tea-time audiences, whilst simultaneously decrying the abominable footage they were airing. Trying to explain to his son, what the news was showing proved hard for Deodato, and hence, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was born.
Until 2011, this film was effectively banned within the UK, though easily importable from the US and easily available legally in many other countries. Bizarrely, in Australia, it’s been legally available for many years uncut, yet Australia has one of the toughest (and oddest) film classification boards of its kind. (A film can be classified as legal one minute, then have that classification rescinded the next, and suddenly that film can instantly become illegal to own!) But for UK horror fans, bootlegged VHS tapes and discs found their way into the UK, often from the Netherlands, the US and across the waters in France. So why is this film at the Number One spot?! Simply put, this film breaches so many taboos, its notoriety so infamous, its content so extreme, you have to wonder how this could be passed at all.
The combination of violence, gore, real-animal slaughter (performed on-screen, and in unrelenting close-up), plus some odious sexual violence, and scenes of rape, has pretty much guaranteed this film its notoriety forever. Anyone who has sat through this film, or attempted too, will tell you that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is not for the faint-hearted or the squeamish. Even hardcore horror film fans, such as myself, consider this film to be the strongest, legal horror film available on our shores. Yet, for me, what makes this film so brilliant, is that it does horrify you. It forces you to endure the graphic and unpleasant imagery on-screen. It says to you, “I am a horror film that will utterly horrify and repel you, because you’ve chosen to watch a horror film to be scared”. And isn’t that the point of any good horror film? Shouldn’t action films be thrilling? Shouldn’t comedies make us laugh? If they don’t, then they aren’t doing their jobs, are they?
Well this one, will horrify you, and sicken you, and that’s even – as I said earlier – if you can stomach it. If you are easily offended, then you may not wish to read on. There are around five scenes of animal cruelty in the film: the first being the killing of a Coatimundi, a muskrat-type creature, that is killed, by having a flick-knife blade put through its stomach, and sliced open. As the actor undertaking this does so, the poor creature screams in agony, until it dies, where it is then torn open and its inside ripped out. A Sea-Turtle is dragged out of a river, turned upside down onto its back, where it flails around, only for one of the cast to behead it, hack off one of its legs, and then rip the shell from its belly, and play around with its internal organs. A monkey is decapitated, and its brains removed and eaten – for real. A piglet is kicked, then killed with a shotgun, at point blank range. A snake is chopped-up, and a tarantula mashed with a machete. On top of this, there are two scenes of graphic rape, and the first is probably the most troubling. A native woman is caught, and viewers are told she probably breached a native or cultural law, by sleeping with a tribesman. The woman is raped, and then a small ball of mud is formed, with large wooden spikes in it. This torture is designed as a punishment, we are told. The ball is repeatedly jammed into her vaginal area. Then, the poor woman has her head smashed in with a rock, and she is left on the riverbank to die. (All of this is simulated, but it’s deeply uncomforting to watch.) Lastly, we see what happens to another woman, where – again with clever camera trickery and crude special effects – we see a woman impaled on a six-foot-high wooden pole. The pole enters her backside, and exits through her mouth. (In fact, the actress concerned, simply sat on a partial wooden pole, with a bicycle seat on it, then placed, a balsa-wood replica of the top, spiked part of the pole, in her mouth.) The effect is shocking nonetheless.
With the exception of the Coatimundi killing, all the other scenes were passed at 18, by the BBFC. They said that all the animal killings were clean, and would have caused minimum distress to the animals concerned. The additional fact that the killings were considered culturally normal for the locales the film was produced in, also allowed the BBFC to pass these scenes uncut, as the killings would have taken place anyway, irrespective of whether the cameras were there to film or not.
Even then, the animal killings are scenes that most people cannot and will not stomach. In screenings in the USA, people have walked out. The combination of fictional slaughter and real-life slaughter, were often too much to deal with psychologically. In fact, that is why this film is so great. You can be angry at the way it gives you its message, but the message is still pertinent – namely that violence should be shocking, and that White Westerners should not impose their ideology onto other countries and customs, just because we feel we are morally superior. We are just as savage to natives people, such as the three tribes depicted in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, as they appear savage to our Western eyes.
With that all said and done, though, this film still retains the power to shock anyone who dares to watch it. It’s extremely brutal stuff, but still worth viewing. In my eyes, it’s probably the finest horror film ever made. And that is why it gains the top spot in my chart of Ten Extremely Disturbing Movie Moments That Got Past The British Censors!