Today I want to talk to you about a new film that’s been recently banned, here in the UK, and why I don’t have an issue with it being banned.
It was recently announced on Nerdly.co.uk that James Cullen Bressack’s film HATE CRIME had been banned by the BBFC. Now, for those who aren’t aware of it, HATE CRIME is one of Bressack’s latest horror films. According to his IMDB page here he’s been a busy man, directing, producing and writing plenty of films, since his first work back in 2004. And he’s still exceedingly young – 23 years of age.
The BBFC banned the film, with the full statement reading:
HATE CRIME focuses on the terrorisation, mutilation, physical and sexual abuse and murder of the members of a Jewish family by the Neo Nazi thugs who invade their home. The physical and sexual abuse and violence are accompanied by constant strong verbal racist abuse. Little context is provided for the violence beyond an on screen statement at the end of the film that the two attackers who escaped were subsequently apprehended and that the one surviving family member was released from captivity. We have considered the attempt at the end to position the film as against hate-crime, but find it so unconvincing that it only makes matters worse.
The BBFC’s Guidelines on violence state that: “Any depiction of sadistic or sexual violence which is likely to pose a harm risk will be subject to intervention through classification, cuts or even, as a last resort, refusal to classify. We may refuse to classify content which makes sexual or sadistic violence look appealing or acceptable […] or invites viewer complicity in sexual violence or other harmful violent activities. We are also unlikely to classify content which is so demeaning or degrading to human dignity (for example, it consists of strong abuse, torture or death without any significant mitigating factors) that it may pose a harm risk.”
It is the Board’s carefully considered conclusion that the unremitting manner in which HATE CRIME focuses on physical and sexual abuse, aggravated by racist invective, means that to issue a classification to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, would risk potential harm, and would be unacceptable to broad public opinion.
Of course, the Board will always seek to deal with such concerns by means of cuts or other modifications when this is a feasible option. However, under the heading of ‘Refusal to classify’ our Guidelines state that “As a last resort, the BBFC may refuse to classify a work, in line with the objective of preventing non-trivial harm risks to potential viewers and, through their behaviour, to society. We may do so, for example, where a central concept of the work is unacceptable, such as a sustained focus on sexual or sadistic violence. Before refusing classification we will consider whether the problems could be adequately addressed through intervention such as cuts.” The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the fact that unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.
Clearly, the BBFC have issues with the films amoral content. The certification was for a VOD (or Video-On-Demand) version of the film, to be viewable via TheHorrorShow.TV’s site, rather than a physical release to UK cinemas or for home viewing on DVD/Blu-Ray. Bressack originally said:
I am honoured to know that my mind is officially too twisted for the UK. So it goes… I find it unbelievable that a film that shows little to no on screen violence and no nudity was actually banned. it just shows the power of what is implied and peoples imagination; and is a testament to the fact that the same crimes that happen in the world are truly horrifying.
Now, the problem I have, is that the BBFC – and this may surprise some of you – don’t actually want to ban things! It does them no favours to do so. When they do, they receive a lot of criticism, not only from the film-maker themselves and/or the studio releasing their work, but also from anti-censorship campaigners.
Normally, I do become interested in something that has been banned, and have written many times about such works. It’s usually a sign of something interesting and worth my time seeking out – usually via an import DVD/Blu-Ray. HATE CRIME is out in the USA, on DVD, and has been legally available there, since 15th October 2013, via Unearthed Films: a company who have released many other controversial, and/or films that would be banned within the UK, such as Nacho Cerda’s AFTERMATH (1994) or the brutal and nihilistic PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE (2009, Andrey Iskanov).
|HATE CRIMES (Image has been edited, to conform to various
global laws, in which Swastika imagery is illegal to show!)
Since HATE CRIMES release, it has barely raised a murmur online, showing at a few film festivals around the globe, often to extremely mixed reviews – mostly negative. Online reviewers have been similarly torn between rating it “excellent”, “thought-provoking” and “harrowing”, to “badly-made”, “gimmicky” and “wretched”!
So why am I writing about this film? Well, first of all, I need to state that I have not seen this film. As such, what I am about to say, is liable to end-up with me being labelled a hypocrite, and a clueless idiot. But, that’s fine with me. No one can ever claim to be a perfect individual, and I am certainly no angel. I say what I feel, and I write what I mean.
For James Cullen Bressack, having his film banned, wouldn’t have been an issue for me. However, what has caused me problems, is that a few days AFTER the film was banned in the UK, and he said how proud he was to have been banned, (why?), he then released this piece of ultra-defensive P.R.:
As a Jewish man, and a victim of anti -Semitic hate, I made a horror film that depicts the very thing that haunts my dreams. As an artist I wanted to tell a story to remind us that we live in a dangerous world; a world where racial violence is on the rise. It saddens me to learn that censorship is still alive and well. As a critic and journalist, you should at least see the film you are criticizing and do your research to learn that the filmmaker is Jewish. However I have to admit that I do appreciate the press.
I’m calling bullshit on this! He’s clearly upset that his film can’t now be legally viewed by UK viewers, which means he can’t make money from this title. But to try and glibly claim what he does in the afore-mentioned piece of P.R., is hilarious.
So, let me get this straight: his film is banned for (presumably) being extremely violent and potentially anti-Semitic (under English Law, at least), but at the same time, the film contains nothing controversial that would warrant a ban, in his view, and – because he is Jewish himself – that that means his work is wholly defensible? Is that really how you want to go about things, Mr Bressack?
This reminds me of the very same defence that Srdjan Spasojevich tried when A SERBIAN FILM came out a few years back. As you will note in my blog post here he said that the infamous “baby-rape” sequence was a metaphor on the rape and murder of the Serbian people, by their Government. At the time, I didn’t buy it, and neither did many others. Even those who quite liked the film, and stood up for its entire artistic existence. To my mind, this is exactly what Bressack has done. After the film’s notoriety has gained attention, and been criticised, he is now desperately trying to do some major damage-control, and defend the indefensible: to justify why his work should be allowed to be seen by over-18’s here in the UK. Claiming he is Jewish, means that automatically gives him the right to make a potentially anti-Semitic film, doesn’t wash with me. Likewise, nor does it excuse the content that the BBFC have flagged-up as being unsuitable for classification.
Clearly, the film must contain some extremely contentious material, otherwise the BBFC would never have banned it, and/or the option of cuts would have been offered to the director. As that didn’t happen, we can only conclude that the film must contain material that is potentially grossly inflammatory. If the BBFC can find a way to edit A SERBIAN FILM for an 18 rating, and we all know how extreme that film is in its cut and uncut versions, then HATE CRIME must presumably be far worse.
HATE CRIME has been compared to the 1977 film FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE from director Robert A. Endelson. In that film, a bunch of redneck prisoners flee from their prison, and wall themselves up in a local Black Ministers home. There, they terrorise, degrade and torture the Ministers family.
If you’ve not seen that film, it’s certainly a movie worthy of your time. The main difference between this and HATE CRIME however, is that in FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, the viewer is firmly put on the side of the victim, rather than the perpetrators. As such, at no time do you either sympathise with the aggressors, no matter how much venom and bile they spout about “niggers” and “coons”! Although the film was banned in the UK, back in 1983/84, and placed on the Video Nasties list, I suspect that if it were submitted today, that it would pass through uncut, with an 18 rating. Not because the film is especially violent, as it isn’t, but purely for the racist language, which is extensive and potentially degrading. However, although the language is contextualised to a certain degree, it is still going to be seen as really inflammatory, and that is why I believe an 18 rating would be handed-out to it, rather than a more lenient 15 certificate.
HATE CRIME clearly doesn’t side with the victims, and thus it can’t use the same defence. According to some online reviews, there are scenes that feature the sexualised violence, from the eyes of the perpetrator, and you watch the scene unfold as if you were the aggressor, actively taking part in the torture. Much like a similar scene found in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, when Henry and Otis rape and torture a family, in the infamous “home invasion” sequence. When that film came through the BBFC’s doors, James Ferman the then chief censor, had real issues with this moment, and insisted on major cuts and alterations. (Full details of these cuts and alterations can be found at this 30-minute long video link here courtesy of Gavin Salkeld, which I should warn you all, is not suitable for under-18’s, and isn’t work-safe either!)
Now, stylistically, it may be seen as in interesting way to get under the skin of an audience member, just as happens in HENRY, but it will also – quite often – make the scene feel even more seditionary than you intended. And then, the power and impact of the scene, suddenly doubles or triples. That is why directors have to take great care when using this stylistic technique in films.
That said, such filmic techniques are nothing new. PEEPING TOM, the classic British chiller from 1960, had its killer use a camera on a tripod with a steel blade inserted into one of the tripod’s legs, as a way to have an audience see the victim’s suffering, to demonstrate that murder is often not quick, clean and painless. It too, was similarly controversial, and the film’s notoriety permanently ended the career of its director, Michael Powell. So, this device is neither new or novel. And the recent upsurge in the “found footage” genre of horror films, stemming from films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, have also rendered this once-innovative filmic device commonplace.
So, with the film now being banned here in the UK, what does this mean. Well, whilst many horror fans will now be eager to download or purchase this film, which is freely available from places like Amazon, I won’t be one of them. I think the film is as crass and dumb as it appears to be! Just another excuse for a director with no talent, no creativity and no ability, to make some money by being infamous. Someone whom, once all the fanboys have stopped wetting themselves over this film’s ban, will realise has produced a work with no purpose, point or relevance, other than being a grubby, repellent exploitation flick. In-and-of-itself, that’s not a problem. But the problem the BBFC has, is that the justification for the extreme content, does not override the “entertainment” side of things. Namely, the film has been created to entertain first, rather than suggest or inform the audience that such on-screen-violence is contextual or has some moral fibre to it.
Ultimately, I know people will condemn me for my view – namely being a hypocrite for being okay with a film being banned, that I’ve not actually seen myself; and being a hypocrite for being okay with this film being banned, yet readily admitting to watching, owning and liking other, similar banned films (e.g. SNUFF 102, PHILOSOPHY OF A KNIFE, etc, etc), and that may all be true, but it’s my viewpoint.
As I’ve got older, I’ve become less and less tolerant towards films that have no moral purpose whatsoever in them. I get fed-up with the horror genre as a whole being tarnished, by directors just coming-up with more and more excuses to show ever-more-extreme content, when there’s no point for the violence in the first place, and no story. For every worthwhile work, that attempts to subvert the genre, there are a hundred others who just want to peddle ever-more brutal violence. I’ve not become desensitised to it. I’m just bored by it. There’s only so many eye-gouging’s, beheading’s, blood-letting’s, and amputations of all known bodily organs – both external and internal – I can stomach, before it all gets rather coma-inducing.
Don’t get me wrong. I still like violence. I still like gore. There’s nothing wrong with liking that stuff, or including it in your films, but for goodness sake, give me some kind of story, or point, if you want me to give you 60-120 minutes of my life, to viewing your work. Show me something innovative, rather than derivative. Give me a new take on a story or plot, not just a rehash of someone else’s ideas. If, as a director, you think that showing excessive violence is the coolest thing possible, then clearly you are not as smart as you’d like to think you are.
And on that note, I will see you back here shortly.