Censored-1999 Channel 4 documentary

Back in the late 90’s the UK to a large extent was still basking in the glow of the early years of Tony Blair’s Labour government, and of course, the liberalisation of censorship that had become rife under the 18 years of Tory rule.

One of the things liberalised were films thanks to the new regime at the BBFC, so the likes of The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre finally got an official UK release as opposed to being the sort of thing that’d you’d only see at a film club or on a dodgy VHS copy.

This discussion from Channel 4’s Censored season in 1999 is a bizarre bit of history and when snippets like 200 MP’s signing a petition to ban Natural Born Killers, but only six actually saw it is sneaked into the conversation, then you realise just how little we’ve moved on in the last 16 years. It’s a fascinating discussion, and when A.A. Gill is one of the most sensible voices or the Child’s Play 3 myth has to be debunked (possibly for the first time on a mainstream British programme) to people that should know better then it’s an example of the problems of discussing censorship. People for the sort of hard censorship they demand find any old reasons to ban something as this programme exemplifies perfectly.

It’s also a reminder of the time when Channel 4 wasn’t just a stream of shite programming and when they tried to do some real challenging programmes like this.

My Worst Five Horror Films Ever

I did a list of my top 20 horror films but some things were missing. This is going to plug at least one of those gaps as I run as painlessly as possible through the worst horror films I’ve had the misfortune to endure.

Let’s start at #5 with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

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At this point I reckon most people are going ‘WHAT???!You can’t call The Shining a bad film?”. I’m not calling it a bad film, in fact in this short list of my worst horror films it’s by far the best made film by a country mile, but as a horror film that adapts a book by Stephen King it’s a sad failure.

Why? It’s just a very simple film that uses horror cliches to make you jump because Kubrick seems to be confused as to whether he’s making a horror film featuring characters you can believe in (which is the case with the book) rather than broad caricatures. It’s also the film that saw Jack Nicholson  play up the ‘Crazy Jack’ persona to such a nonsensical degree that you’re taken out of the film, and in fact, I’m constantly taken out of the film as there’s no sensible reasoning used by any of the characters in this film.

It’s a wasted shout at what should have been a great film but I can’t stand the film. It’s cold. It’s false and it doesn’t fill me with dread. I love Kubrick as a filmmaker but the sense of crushing disappointment I felt upon seeing this for the first time has never left me.

As we move on from #5, all sensible criticism gets blown away in the wind as we hit the shitefest of #4, it’s the craptastic Zoltan, Hound of Dracula.

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It’s Dracula’s dog. Really. It bites people on the neck and everything. It’s fucking awful.

Moving on swiftly to #3 it’s the even more fucking awful I Know What You Did Last Summer.

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Why is it awful? Well, it’s the film that gave us the genre of horror films made for people who really don’t like horror films. It’s the date horror film which gives minor scares and features amazingly glamorous, nubile American teenagers being murdered in a variety of boring ways. Even the Friday the 13th films were more fun than this and I fucking hate those films, but they at least allowed the audience in on the gag. This is smug, offensive patronising cookie-cutter filmmaking by fucking wankers for fucking wankers.

It also introduced a look for modern American horror films with this palate of grey/green/black colours that make all films looking identical. It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible film.

At # 2 it’s not just one film, but a number of them. It’s crappy inferior remakes of better films, so for an example let’s kick the crap out of the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street.

The original is a classic little horror that ok, has dated badly, but stands up still. The remake is a dismal little thing that should have been never made. So also, Last House of the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even remakes of naff films like The Amityville Horror show how incredibly desperate Hollywood is for ideas. Calling something A Nightmare on Elm Street and making it all ‘dark’, ‘broody’ and aimed at again, the sort of person who really doesn’t like horror films that much but recognises these names through the general drip of culture.

All you need to do is get a director who’ll churn out one of these remakes in what’s become a house style and hey presto! You’ve got a minor hit at the box office and a success on DVD as they market them to people who really do think a film can be made better by ‘up to date’ effects.

I hate these films so much I’m not even going to link to a trailer as they’re hateful crap.

And lastly, at #1 it’s The Purge/Insidious/Sinister. These films annoy me in a way few other films do, except of course the films of Michael Bay, the wanker!

Take Sinister as an example of how they annoy. It takes bits of the Slenderman meme with bits of the Found Footage genre, and should be a gripping horror film rather than something that constantly relies on the Lewton Bus for scares, that is, when the scares start to happen as the film is so amazingly dull thanks to cardboard characters you don’t care about from the start.

The Purge is the worst example of these current trend of film. It could have been a clever little exploitation film in the hands of say, Roger Corman back in the 60’s or 70’s rather than the deadly dull and serious piece of crap it actually is. It’s a decent enough idea but from the off it’s so badly executed with characters doing ridiculous things because the plot needs them to do ridiculous things that again, I couldn’t care less.

These films are contemptuous. They’re insulting and are made for people who really don’t care for horror films, or indeed, good filmmaking but want 90 minutes of mindless crap rather than search out something actually worthwhile.  Making a good horror film is tough, but there’s now a trick which is to hack out these films because they play to a dumbed down audience who think something like The Purge is ‘edgy’ when in fact, it’s badly executed, boring wank with a messed up set of politics.

Nihilism doesn’t make something edgy. It just makes you a moody teenager sitting on your bed playing too much Emo and wanking too much, which is in my mind, what these films are. They’re the cinematic version of moping around being moody because you once heard an Ayn Rand speech once.

So there you go. I feel better now that’s out. Next time let’s find out why there was no Hammer Films in my top 20 list…

 

My Top 20 Horror Films-2-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project 7Hellraiser, 6, The Evil Dead series 5, The Exorcist, 4, Suspiria and 3George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead.

I’m nearly at number one but before we get there lets go for a trip in Texas in Tobe Hooper’s amazing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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The plot is simple; a group of young people visiting a relatives grave after a series of grave robberies and worse, decide to visit one of their families old homes on the way back, but after picking up a bizarre hitchhiker the group are picked off one by one by a family of cannibals.

Sounds all fairly fun for an exploitation film but this isn’t a safe journey for the viewer, though the film does have a great streak of black humour that’s so dark that most people will miss it as they’re too busy being freaked out by what’s happening on the screen.This isn’t to say it’s splattered with gore; it’s not. In fact it’s pretty much lacking in gore, but it is violent. It’s the mood, feel and general atmosphere Hooper creates in the film that comes from a mix of some wonderfully bizarre performances, some inspired direction and a relentlessly disturbing soundtrack that all comes together with the truly twisted set design straight from a Graham Ingels story from an EC Comic, mixed with the story of Ed Gein.

Sadly the film suffered unbelievable censorship in the UK with the BBFC refusing it a certificate for decades, and when the Video Nasty fiasco happened and all uncertificated films endured the BBFC’s wrath with Texas Chain Saw Massacre suffering because of it. So for year the only way to see it in this country was by watching a grainy VHS copy, or smuggling a copy into the country on import on laserdisc.

Thankfully after the relaxation of censorship in this country post 1997 meant the film slowly seeped out to be appreciated for the remarkable work it is, not to mention it’s a massively influential one too as this was the film Ridley Scott watched to inspire him for Alien, and it shows.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an experience. It makes you doubt your own sanity at times as one disturbing image follows another so you can see why censors have a problem with the film as there’s nothing especially explicit to cut out. It’s the total package that grotesque and horrific so by the time you get to the image of an insane Leatherface dancing in the sun you’re so drained emotionally in a way I’ve rarely experienced.

Forget the sequels. Forget the remakes. Especially forget the remakes. This is all that matters. It’s an extraordinary film which is uncompromisingly brilliant. You’ll never want to hear a metal door slam shut again in your life after this..

And this means I’m about to reveal what my number one film is. Why have I not had any Hammer Films? Where’s the Cronenberg films? What about The Shining?

Well, next time you’ll find out………………………