Listen to the Banned

Ok, so it should be “Watch the Banned”, but it doesn’t sound as good. Yes, what this article is about is those naughty illegal films – those of you who think we live in a free society had better think again! Next issue will include a list of these ( of course, purely in order to help you avoid acquiring any by accident ) though first, a general discussion seems a good idea.

Better begin by defining precisely what we mean. Under the Video Recordings Act, it is an offence to deal in any videos that have not received a certificate from the BBFC, punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a hefty fine. However, if you look at the list of uncertificated videos, it is extremely long and contains a lot of films which have obviously not been submitted e.g. “Fred Basset”, as well as those which have been submitted and rejected. It is this second category that we’re talking about, along with those, like “The Evil Dead”, which have not been sent to the BBFC because those concerned know it would be a waste of time. We will also, with a few exceptions, be sticking to British releases – there are any number of foreign tapes that wouldn’t be allowed into the country!

Let’s just point out a couple of anomalies in the law. It is quite possible for a video to be banned, while the film version is totally legal. “Zombie Flesh Eaters” received an ‘X’ certificate on release, but is on the blacklist. Another point is that TV companies often show uncertificated films, for example “Passion Flower Hotel”. This means that I can record this film quite happily (ignoring copyright laws!), but if I try to sell the tape, it can be seized by the police. Given the speed at which the bill was rushed through parliament, it’s not surprising such contradictions occur.

Trying to discover what videos are ‘banned’ isn’t easy. Not as many films are seized now as were in the past, meaning that most lists are about four years out of date. Adding to the problem are different versions of a film. “The Burning”, a video nasty produced by my old employers Thorn-EMI (to their acute embarassment), came out in three versions: the full version was prosecuted and it was then edited; this censored version was released and was prosecuted; a hurried recall of the tapes, a little extra use of the scissors and finally a legal tape was produced.

Unsurprisingly, a small industry has sprung up around these films, either selling original versions or pirate copies. This operates very much by word of mouth, people ‘know’ people, and since all it takes is access to two video recorders, it’s not very surprising that it’s fairly easy to get your hands on copies of “Cannibal Ferox”, “Faces of Death” or “Blood Diner” if you put your mind to it. Oddly, for some reason this network seems better developed in the North than the South.

One important thing to stress is the often forgotten fact that just because a film is illegal does not necessarily make it any good! The reverse is probably the case – decent films like “Hellraiser” or “The Fly” have a much better chance of getting passed than mean-spirited movies which exist only as an excuse to show gore. “Driller Killer” is tedious and boring, “Zombie Flesh Eaters” is almost as bad, and “Cannibal Holocaust” has no redeeming features at all as a film. In such cases, you ought to thank the BBFC for saving you from them.

Mind you, some are worthwhile. “Flesh for Frankenstein” (aka “Flesh”, aka “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”) is entertaining, in a tacky way, and “The Evil Dead” is a landmark in cinema. These are the exceptions rather than the rule, with the abysmal heavily outnumbering the impressive.

Few of the banned videos now appearing are professional; most of those that do are pirate copies of tapes from America or Europe; “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”, “Combat Shock”, “Lunchmeat” and “Nekromantik” are probably among the ‘best sellers’, though since there are no charts for such things, this is pure speculation! How these get into the country initially is uncertain – post seems unlikely since the Customs are on the ball about such things; a friend in Germany sent me a BLANK tape to record “Spitting Image” and they opened that (trust they enjoyed watching four hours of snow!). Probably wisest to ignore such questions and just enjoy being able to give the finger to the Nanny State who want to decide what you can, and cannot, watch!

5 Films that have been Horribly Over-Rated.

I fear this list won’t make me any friends. I’ll just stress that a film appearing in this list doesn’t make it a bad film, just one that people have been unwilling to recognise the faults of…

  1. Night of the Living Dead – A landmark in horror history, true, but it is an excruciatingly dull film. The zombies are as menacing as cold custard.
  2. The Blues Brothers – What IS it about this film? I can’t appreciate why so many people rave about it, dress up like it, sing along, etc. Compared to “Rocky Horror”, it’s uninspired and VERY derivative. Nice car chase tho’.
  3. 2001, A Space Odyssey – Kubrick has a severe tendency to forget about things like story-line, and gets obsessed with baffling the viewer by bombarding them with images. This is an example – what the hell IS happening at the end?
  4. Cry Freedom – Aaargh! Such a bloody ANNOYING film; all the ‘white’ i.e. in power S. Africans are nasty, all the ANC supporters are nice. Attenborough, not content with rewriting the past ( “Gandhi” ), now tries to rewrite the present.
  5. Tootsie – Dustin Hoffman keeps getting the Oscars, but for me the only year the Academy got it right was when he was beaten by John Wayne… Couldn’t bear to watch this film again, the least funny comedy since Cannibal Ferox.