Every time the heart warms to the ol’ Sceptered Aisle — usually after a particularly good BBC podcast — the dozing dragon that is Great Britain’s “video nasties” law stirs and growls, and sense retakes me once again: “Oh yes,” I think, “THAT’S why I don’t live there.”
This week, it turns out that law, officially called the Video Recordings Act of 1984, isn’t really a law at all, meaning future action under its auspices is no longer enforceable. Yet rather than taking this opportunity to quietly leave behind a particularly dark age of holier than thou insanity that saw many video store owners fined and jailed for renting horror flicks like The Evil Dead (and yes, to be fair, extreme flicks such as Cannibal Holocaust) to adults, the British government is quickly trying to ratify that 25-year-old act to ensure that this Thatcher-age assault on intellectual freedom remains robust for years to come.
There’s a certain symmetry to all of this of course, coming on the heels of the British banning of the new Japanese torturefest Grotesque.
In researching The New Horror Handbook, it was driven home to me again and again that this long history of horror film censorship around the world is more intellectually dishonest than we often give it credit for.
Governments often rely on a two-pronged approach: They garner public support for censorship from the excitable elements of society by decrying the potentially demoralizing effects extreme movies might have on the young. Yet what they are really doing is tamping down any work that has the potential to lure individuals to question public mores.
Love or hate the Hostel movies (which have been banned in places such as New Zealand), for example, but there is no denying that there are some deeply political messages lurking somewhere beneath the gore. Ditto for video nasty poster child Cannibal Holocaust.
Are lawmakers really so terribly concerned that young children will be forever devastated by a chance glimpse of The Werewolf and the Yeti, or is it subversion itself that makes the Powers that Be quake in their boots?