With the ever increasing number of provocative movies looking to push the boundaries of human taste and decency, we here at THN have decided to take a look at the stand-out movies that really got us this far and did they really deserve the notoriety they received. Growing up with my love of films and hearing about certain titles I was not allowed or unable to see because of the BBFC’s banned list of video nasties only made me more intrigued to see what I was missing out on.
It’s only human nature to be intrigued as to why we are not allowed to view such entertainment. Which only prompts people to seek them out even more. A fact someone should have told Mary Whitehouse before her crusading journey began in the early eighties. These are the movies that I grew up watching, fascinated at their content and the context that made them so notorious in this country. Memories of back alley video stores that if you gave a nod and wink to, could get you the film that everyone in the school yard were hounding you about to ‘get seen’, even if they were made decades before.
One of the earliest films to shock audiences not only in the UK but all over the world was Todd Browning’s FREAKS (1932). A brilliant and actually heartbreaking film that outraged many for its use of actual circus freaks, who were put front and centre on screen for the world to see, only not as the object of ridicule or fascination but to show that these are human beings with feelings, whether its a ‘midget’ in love with the beautiful female trapeze artist or the vengeful actions of his protective deformed fellow circus friends.
The end of the sixties brought with it a new breed of filmmaker. Names like George A. Romeo, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven adding to list of already gritty movie masters. It was the early seventies that began in controversial circumstances with Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the Anthony Burgess novel A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971). Malcolm McDowell’s mesmerising portrayal of Alex, a young thug who along with his three hoodlum friends, get up to all sorts of criminal activities before one extreme act lands him in prison. There, he volunteers to undergo a bizzare new treatment program that he hopes could ‘cure’ him of his violent tendencies, but at what cost to Alex himself upon his parole. The film was praised on its release and is still considered a masterpiece but Kubrick’s self imposed decision to pull it from cinemas, and not a BBFC ban, was the cause for it’s unavailabilatly until 1997. This all due to the press highlighting articles of copycat gangs causing havoc on Britain’s streets. One particular attack mimicking a scene from the film. The film’s futuristic vision is almost frightingly accurate for today’s youth.
In the same year, Sam Peckinpah brought his unique talents of the violent westerns that built his career to the unusual setting of Cornwall for STRAW DOGS (1971). A moral tale of how far a mild mannered mathematician can be pushed before he takes extreme action to protect his home and lover. STRAW DOGS features a tour-de force performance from Dustin Hoffman, but its the controversial ‘rape’ scene that blurred the lines of ‘No’ means ‘Yes’ involving Susan George’s Amy, that made it unavailable for so long. (Check out our full retrospective feature of the film HERE).
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) was Wes Craven’s first attempt at making a name for himself. An uncomfortable film to watch because of its gritty unsettling voyeuristic style setting. An update of Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), Craven showing the themes similar to STRAW DOGS of how far civilised people, parents in this case, would go in order to take extreme revenge against those that have harmed their loved ones in such a despicable manor.
The film that everyone talked about in my teens was William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST(1973), a powerful film about religion and demonic possession that had people fainting in the ailes (my mother being one of them) at the sight of a teenage girl using extreme language, vomiting pea soup and self harming with a crucifix in intimate parts of her anatomy. It is still quite as shocking today as it was back then with an amazing (literally) head-turning performance from a young Linda Blair.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) is another unsettling watch due to its raw documentary style of filmmaking, although very little gore is seen on screen it’s the unnerving and realistic tone of the film that gained its infamy. The title itself creeping under the skin to give the viewer a sense that there was a lot more guts and gore than there actually was. The faux ‘What happened is true’ blazened on the poster working a treat at the box-office.
The late seventies and early eighties brought a host of films to make it onto the BBFC’s video nasties list most of them no where near the standard of quality film-making as the titles mentioned above but that didn’t stop the us wanting to see them. Most notable were the two most popular flesh-eating themed features, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) and CANNIBAL FEROX (1981), as well as Fulci’s Romero knock-off, ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979), with its infamous splinter in the eye scene. Also exploitation classic I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) that even with all the unintentional comedy acting, as well as a number of difficult to watch rape scenes, features one notorious set up that made us boys wince whilst crossing our legs rather uncomfortably.
The films and the titles got sillier as time moved on with ANTHROPAGUS THE BEAST (1980), featuring a ridiculous scene of George Eastman’s beast pulling an unborn fetus from a unlucky female victim, released heavily cut years later under THE GRIM REAPER and its suitably titled sequel ABSURD (1981). Both utterly forgettable amongst the growing number of these type of movie’s scraping the bottom of the barrel but just letting your friends know that you have seen them gave you an edge of mystique coolness in the school yard, even in the nineties amongst fellow ‘Fangoria’ and ‘The Dark Side’ readers.
There were a good few cracking gems amongst the dreck of those tarred with the video nasties label. William Lustig’s slasher MANIAC (1980) Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD (1982), Dario Argento’s TENEBRAE (1982) and Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND (1981) were amongst the many films deemed likely to ‘deprave or corrupt’ in the crackdown that saw many video stores raided for such content and even filmmakers themselves prosecuted. What time certainly shows is that censorship, whilst still a major part of the movie business, has somewhat softened, considering the recent remakes of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE having a lot more realistic gore and disturbing scenes than their previous incarnations. Yet, those efforts passed by UK cinemas and video stores without much fuss. Try telling that to director Tom Six whose recent brush with the BBFC has saw his HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE refused a certificate. Could it really be that bad, another title for the gore hounds to seek out in the near future just because someone has told them it’s not for you… Sound familiar?
Why not let us know your favourites?