This week’s banning of the horror film The Human Centipede Part II by the British Board of Film Classification certainly isn’t the first time that the board has taken such action against a film. In fact, over the eight decades that the Board has existed, it has banned more than a number of films, with a majority of them being from the horror genre. Some of those bans have been lifted, while others remain in place. Here’s a look at some of the more famous and infamous films that the BBFC have ruled on.
Freaks (1932) – Director Todd Browning’s macabre classic of murder and intrigue in a travelling circus’s sideshow is the first film on record as having been prohibited from exhibition in the United Kingdom thanks to the BBFC. Not only was it rejected by the Board on its initial release, the ban was upheld when a rerelease was attempted in 1952. It finally passed the Board in 1963, but with an X rating.
The Wild One (1954) – It’s hard to believe that this Marlon Brando classic could be so objectionable that it should be withheld from audiences, but that is just the position that the BBFC held for 13 years. There’s certainly no horror content in the film, though it is possible that some violence, however tame by today’s standards it may seem, may have been a factor in its ban, though I suspect that the film’s strong anti-authority stance may have helped things along. The BBFC finally passed the film in November 1967 with an X rating and it had its first public screening the following year at a London nightclub.
Black Sunday (1960) – Right from its opening minutes, in which a 17th century witch and her lover/brother are executed, Mario Bava’s debut film Black Sunday makes it obvious that it is not for the squeamish. Unfortunately for British horror fans, the BBFC was pretty squeamish concerning the film’s amount of violence, and banned the witchcraft, vampirism and revenge film from distribution until 1968. The film didn’t fare too better on this side of the Atlantic where distributor American International Pictures trimmed over three minutes from the film. History seems to have had the last laugh though, as Black Sunday is considered a highly influential classic of the genre.
The Trip (1968) – Exploitation king Roger Gorman’s The Trip featured Peter Fonda as a heartbroken man who tries LSD to ease the pain of his divorce. He spends the night wandering up and down the Sunset Strip before finally meeting a young woman whom he makes love to. An attempt to put on film the psychedelic effects of the drug, the BBFC decided that the film glamorized LSD a bit too much for their tastes and kept it out of circulation until 1988.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – That this film sat on the BBFC’s banned list for 25 years is probably a mystery to those who have actually seen it. Although its premise is easily lends itself to gory imagery, the film contains very little shocking material itself. It is only through some very adroit editing and the viewers own imagination does the film really impact the audience.
Visions Of Ecstasy (1989) – The oldest, still banned film on the list, Visions Of Ecstasy also holds the dubious distinction of being the only film banned on the grounds of blasphemy. The short film featured a sexualized representation of Saint Teresa of Ávila caressing the body of a crucified Jesus on the cross. At a runtime of 19 minutes, the BBFC saw no point in trimming these scenes out as they would effectively shorten the movie to half its length. However, the UK’s blasphemy laws were repealed in 2008, so theoretically the film could pass the board if it were resubmitted for consideration.
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) – The fact that this sequel may not have left as much to the imagination as the original did may have been a major factor in it landing in the BBFC’s bad graces, but I have no doubt that the fact that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was on still on the banned list also played a part. While the original would finally make it off the list in 1999, Part III remained on the list for another five years until 2004.
Mikey (1992) – Dennis Dimster’s film about a sociopathic child who attempts to murder his new adopted family originally passed the BBFC with a rating of 18. However, between the time it was approved and when it was scheduled for release in 1996, a two-year-old boy was kidnapped from a Liverpool shopping center and subsequently killed by two ten-year-old boys. BBFC head James Ferman revoked the film’s release certificate upon the advice of three child psychologists under the fear that the film would lead to imitated behavior. The film is just one of four that remains banned to this day.