When The Shit Hits The Fan

The Black Dog Podcast’s Lee Medcalf has one major bugbear when it comes to fandom; all of it. From his chair on GeekPlanetOnline’s front porch he likes to shake his walking stick and yell at the kids to get off his damned lawn; we’ve tried asking him to stop, but he has a nasty bite when riled…

Science Fiction is replete with dystopian tales of manipulation by the media, the government, Big Brother or just "The Man". It's a staple of the genre that authority is not to be trusted, that those in control of information are to be observed closely for signs of corruption or an agenda which will twist what we perceive to some nefarious end.

It's a popular concept, one that taps into a latent paranoia simmering beneath the surface of every person who has ever spent more than five minutes entering personal data into a website to register for something.

Yet, while this sub genre of SF is as popular now as when Mr Orwell first informed us that Airstrip One was at war with Oceania, while a clock in the city main square chimed thirteen. It seems no one really heeded the warnings our favourite genre was teaching us.

Take for example this week's news that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) banned the sequel to the film The Human Centipede. A film which, in hindsight was only really noteworthy for its shocking central premise, and was, in the cold light of day a rather dull, poorly made exploitation flick which didn't live up to the hype it had generated.

Now, before we go down the argumentative cul-de-sac and start discussing the merits or otherwise of censorship laws, let me lay my cards on the table: I personally disagree with censorship. However one caveat to that, is that I do believe that controlling what minors have access to is a necessity, because frankly I do think that young minds (I'm talking pre-teen here) are easily influenced by what they see around them. So stopping something like Reservoir Dogs being on TV at three in the afternoon on a terrestrial channel is just common sense given a legal directive, but that is as far as it goes.

Anyway, moving on, back to The Human Centipede 2.

Before the film was ever made, the director, Tom Six, threw down the censor-baiting gauntlet, releasing a teaser trailer showing him walking through a car park and promising in the voice over "this really will be the sickest movie of all time"

Fast forward twelve months and The Human Centipede: Full Sequence is, rather inauspiciously, slated for release direct to DVD. The world gives a collective shrug and gets on with its life...

Until this week that is, when the film was submitted to the BBFC entirely uncut and denied certification, something which is a world away from the hyperbolic and divisive word “banned”; the subtle difference being that banning makes it illegal to show the film anywhere in the UK, denial of certification on the other hand, says it can be shown at private screenings or events with permission of the local council authority.

In any case, this film was given a kicking by the BBFC, who listed on their website and a press release some of the choice moments that caused the movie to be denied certification. Now, if you want to go and read what the BBFC deemed so foul that it prompted their reaction, then go right ahead. I won't list up their bullet points because some of the events are extremely unpleasant; but sufficed to say, it didn't seem like they were watching a new episode of Postman Pat.

So far so straight forward. Until, the BBFC press release gets some rather fortuitous attention from movie websites and the papers. Within seconds, the internet is ablaze with cries of "Big Brother!", "No one tells ME what to watch!" and similar yells of impotent rage. Just fan ranting you might suspect, however, I can't escape some minor details that seem to be being ignored here.

Firstly, as with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the BBFC will not automatically "ban" or non-certify without discussion with the studio and/or creator of the work, to see if a compromise can be reached, if minor cuts or adjustment of the work can be made to fit in with their standards. This has clearly either not happened or the studio/creator have not entertained the idea of any compromise.

Secondly, films have been "banned" before and not garnered such attention. I recall the rather grim A Serbian Film getting a denial of certification, but beyond a few horror fan sites, the event passed with little more than a mild ripple of interest and that film was going for a big theatrical release. The last time there was an active furore over "bannings" it was during the 80s and the whole video nasty saga.

Now at the risk of sounding like Fox Mulder with a severe case of paranoia, the two events above and subsequent shit storm that has erupted on the net because of it, gives me reasonable grounds to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, this is nothing more than a very clever marketing ploy. And if, as I suspect, it is, then fans are being manipulated, coerced and generally toyed with by a shameless huckster.

See, what I think is going on here is a clever manipulation of the censors for some free and easy cheap publicity for a film that was, on the face of it, not good enough for a studio have faith in a general theatrical release. It was heading straight to the bargain bin without passing go and without collecting £200. The interest of the audience was near zero, which was as much to do with the poorly received original movie as it was about lack of marketing for this film.

And so, the movie is submitted to censors utterly uncut, containing some extremely graphic imagery which has little bearing on the story or its supposed subtext, but is, as one commenter put it "unpleasant for unpleasant sake". Then have the studio presumably refusing to recut, then draw attention to the subsequent, "banning" memo from the BBFC and let the viral nature of the internet do its thing.

And didn't it do its thing well this time round.

The aforementioned moral crusaders against censorship came out to play, proclaiming everything from a denial of civil liberties to the final straw in the creation of an Orwellian nanny state. While elsewhere, horror fans also dug out their flaming torches and pitchforks for the BBFC for much the same reason, except with the added undertone of "Wow, if it's been banned it must be the best horror film EVER!!!" and all of this without anyone seeing a single frame.

A straight to DVD film and sequel to one of the most under-delivering, over-hyped horrors of modern times suddenly went from pound shop to the big time, acting as a poster child for an anti-censorship call to arms.

After a day or so, just as the initial rage at the injustice of not being allowed to see a man knocking someone out with a sandpaper flesh light was dying down, who should appear on the scene with a carefully prepared statement to fire everyone up again? Tom Six that's who...

His statement is available to read on the Total Film website, but to paraphrase, it says: "It's a film, it's all made up, who are the censors to tell you what you can and can't watch. It's a horror film, it's supposed to be horrific, anyone should be able to watch it if they want."

Which is all very true and something I do actually agree with in principal. However, given that this is coming from a film maker who has just made a film that was unlikely to get any press prior to this situation, it does feel a little bit, well, like showboating to continue to inflame and perpetuate the whole situation.

Okay, you might say, but if the film is unavailable in the UK what is the point of all this supposed free promotion, the BBFC have inadvertently created?

Well it's simple really, just because its "Banned" in the UK, doesn't mean it will be in other territories. However, I'd bet a shiny pound that all the box artwork for the film is being hurriedly being remade with a "SO SICK IT WAS BANNED IN THE UK"-style strap line. It's that kind of crappy hollow statement that will easily place the film on any pre-pubescent Fangoria reader's movie wish list at number one.

Ultimately, we as fans, not only of the horror genre but film in general, may well have just had all the right buttons pushed to inadvertently promote a movie that would, in all likelihood, have failed miserably to make its money back, all expertly manipulated by PT Barnum-style theatrics. We've come out with the best of intentions, roaring in defiance of censorship and in doing so thousands of horror fans have suddenly decided to go check this film out anyway, possibly because of its sudden notoriety, rather than any genuine desire to see a sequel to The Human Centipede. And all the while no one seems to have taken a step back and reviewed how this situation has fired up and questioned any of it at all.

And that is more Orwellian than any censorship dreamed up by any government.



Lee Medcalf is currently making a movie called Burn All Censors In A Vat Of Poo And Acid 3D. Its budget is 50p, and Lee is currently hoping it will get banned.