In the early 1980s, the British Board of Film Classification (thanks to the pressure on them courtesy of the late Mary Whitehouse) banned several perceived ‘Video Nasties’ which were films they believed to be harmful to members of society and therefore unfit for public consumption in any form. The concern was that these films, at the time becoming readily available on VHS, could in some way corrupt the viewers, especially if they were children. This meant that films such as Cannibal Holocaust, Driller Killer, The Evil Dead and the persistently unpleasant yet politically motivated The Last House on the Left were unavailable legally in the UK. However, gradually over the years we’ve seen the BBFC relax it’s approach to censorship and allowing nearly every film imaginable a release barring some minor editing. I believe that there are only four films notably banned; Mikey, Visions of Ecstacy, Grotesque and new to this list, The Human Centipede (Full Sequence).
The original Human Centipede is a film that’s reputation precedes the film itself with it’s unpleasant concept being talked about more so than the actual narrative itself. It became a cult hit that people talked about, despite being mauled by critics worldwide, most famously by Roger Ebert who poetically stated that “I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” Regardless of the film’s horrifying imagery, it passed the through the BBFC’s criteria and got released in the UK because, despite it’s disgusting premise, it’s not as graphic as you’d imagine; it’s just really depressing. It’s sequel is ‘wronging’ that ‘right’ in director Tom Six’s mind and has upped the anti to the point where the BBFC have had no choice but to ban the film entirely. The BBFC site explains the Dickensian plot as follows:
“The principal focus of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims. Examples of this include a scene early in the film in which he masturbates whilst he watches a DVD of the original Human Centipede film, with sandpaper wrapped around his penis, and a sequence later in the film in which he becomes aroused at the sight of the members of the ‘centipede’ being forced to defecate into one another’s mouths, culminating in sight of the man wrapping barbed wire around his penis and raping the woman at the rear of the ‘centipede’.”
I have always been a proponent of art having the ability to push barriers and break taboos as long as they made sense; the rape scene in Irreversible is horrible and virtually unwatchable, but in the space of the film itself it makes sense and isn’t there for some form of gross titillation. Even a depraved features such as A Serbian Film had some kind of political ideology and metaphor behind what it was showing, no matter how flimsy it would seem to the casual viewer. I somehow fail to see any form of argument for including a scene in a film where a man not only rapes a woman, but also a woman involved in a human centipede as well as being raped with a barbed wire covered penis. I can’t see the artistic merit in the actions described within the BBFC report, there almost appears to be little thought or meaning behind the entire film.
The Evil Dead, a film unceremoniously banned in 1981, is widely regarded as a modern horror masterpiece and the archetypal blueprint for a fun horror film. It scares the viewer with it’s gore and violence but always has it’s tongue firmly placed in it’s cheek throughout, leaving audiences a little freaked out but never disturbed or greatly distressed (with exception to the “tree rape” scene that director Sam Raimi is full of regret about). I get the sense that The Human Centipede will have no fun to it; it will just continue the trend of torture porn films that are relentlessly bleak and refuse to entertain audiences in the way that they hope.
What are the adverse effects of the banning? It’s a complicated answer. Word of mouth of the film’s ban through mediums such as Twitter has meant that the public’s interest has been whipped up and with the availability of films through the many torrent sites online, people who want to see the film will be able to see it at their behest. It also means that the film will make no revenue for the film-maker or it’s studio, not that the original made a huge amount on either it’s limited release or it’s DVD sales. This film will probably fare much worse in sales, yet undoubtedly more people will be watching it this time around as a result of it’s banning.
“It is the Board’s carefully considered view that to issue a certificate to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, would risk potential harm within the terms of the VRA, and would be unacceptable to the public.”
Will the ban do any good? Probably not, people will still see it and those that the Video Recordings Act of 1984 once sought to protect, children, will still watch it. ‘Taboo’ films and any other material deemed offensive online are readily available online making it impossible for the ban to be effective. What worked in 1984 no longer applies in this highly technological world, and the internet’s complexity has changed the rules entirely, making the BBFC and any other censorship body appearing somewhat rudimentary in their methods.
In my opinion, this is less an argument of narrative content, it’s more of a debate about substance; if the director can truly provide a legitimate reason for his use of violent rape and sexual imagery as well as the copious amount of blood and defecation Six has promised in this sequel, then there would be a possible reason for it to be distributed. Without justification, it is just another film that the world can do without; a 90 minute bleak, sexually aggressive, misogynistic and morally repugnant picture with no artistic merit.