Cut: Censorship,The BBFC and Human Centipede 2

In a move that’s boggled the minds of UK horror fans, the BBFC have refused to certificate the sequel to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede, Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. 2009’s Jap horror Grotesque was the last film to join this rarified club of films too awful for the sensitive British public to see.

This, from the BBFC’s press release:

“It is the Board’s carefully considered view that to issue a certificate to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, would risk potential harm within the terms of the VRA, and would be unacceptable to the public.

“The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.”

Wow. It must be nasty then. The press release also goes into fairly vivid detail about the “unacceptable content” that they have decided we’re not grown-up enough to make up our own minds about. This, as well as indulging in the questionable art of plucking out and highlighting the most horrible bits of a story out of context*, has shafted a very carefully constructed marketing campaign by the film-makers. The sense of mystery and anticipation built up by Tom Six over what interested audiences were likely to see has been blown out of the water.

However, as per usual, the BBFC’s actions have backfired. #humancentipede was trending worldwide on Twitter for a while yesterday evening. Reactions seem to be mixed between amusement and revulsion (which was the reaction the first movie got in equal measure), but can be summed up in this tweet:

And that might not be as unlikely as it sounds. As Brendon Connelly and others are at pains to point out on a lively discussion thread on the Bleeding Cool forums, HC2 has not been banned. Refusal of certificate means it can’t be legally screened in UK cinemas or sold in the shops (UPDATE: not strictly true, as Chris Rogers makes clear in the comments), but that’s hardly the be-all and end-all. Direct mail, downloads and festival and film club screenings (horror festivals regularly show uncertified material) mean that the HC2 will get a showcase in this country, however much the BBFC believe that it would cause us harm for that to happen.

Whether you want to see it is, therefore, your call. If you care to seek it out, you’ll find it. Personally? The Human Centipede films are a surreal, absurdist twist on the torturegore sub-genre, but I find Six’s theories more interesting than his films. If we can take the BBFC synopsis at face value, it could be argued that HC2 is a satiric commentary on the argument that you have to be some kind of sicko to want to watch the film in the first place. Fair point, but I’m not sure that I want to slog through ninety minutes of fun with abrasives and fencing material to have it made.

There is, of course, another agenda to be considered, which David Cox in The Guardian cleverly points out. That of the uncomfortable relationship between the BBFC and certain types of imagery.

The BBFC referred not only to their own classification guidelines when they made their ruling, but also to the Obscene Publication Acts of 1959 and 1964. They used the argument that HC2, under the wording of the law, would be likely to deprave and corrupt a significant amount of the viewing audience.

Referring to the reasons for the outright ban, David continues:

It’s not the “degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder” which the board tell us that Six’s new film offers. Clearly, it couldn’t be, given their indulgence of so much of these things elsewhere. It’s “the link between sexual arousal and sexual violence and a clear association between pain, perversity and sexual pleasure” that poses the problem. This link is apparently too dangerous in itself to be dwelt upon, however it’s depicted.

Well, Six himself clearly accepts that films can corrupt, since his new offering turns on that very idea. Nonetheless, if it’s to be the subject itself, rather than its depiction, that rules a work out of contention, then the notion that the one thing beyond the pale is a connection between sex and pain seems almost quaint.

We’ve been here before. Section 63 of of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 was created specifically to legislate against imagery like the ones found in HC2, so-called “extreme pornography”. Mostly BDSM and fetish material. In real terms, this legislation has meant that prosecutions could brought against people for entirely consensual and legal activity within their own homes. Or, as happened in 2010, for being in possession of a cartoon showing Tony The Frosties Tiger having sex with a human. That law has been shown time and again to be unenforceable, even under the broad and vague terms under which it can be brought into play.

It seems that the BBFC, while perfectly happy to pass films with absurd levels of violence, and indeed horrors with intense and shocking imagery, finds that Human Centipede 2 passes a little to close to the bounds of section 63 to pass it, cuts or no cuts. That feels like censorship under the grounds of taste, an ideological decision based on a dubious moral standpoint, and an uncertain reading of the law. Ensuring that they don’t pass something that could be used in a case using the Act (even though certification instantly puts any work of art beyond the remit of the Act). Better safe than sorry.

Last word to The Melon Farmers, who sum up the whole affair in one pithy headline, and an image that Tom Six is doubtless ready to use in Human Centipede 3:

BBFC Heads Planted Firmly up their Arses

Well, quite.

*Consider. A political and religious activist is torn from his home and loved ones. In punishment for his calls against the will of the state, he is whipped with lashes tipped with steel hooks, which tear the flesh from his bones. Those whips are then used to drive the man through the streets of his home town, while he is dragging a rough wooden cross at least three times as heavy as he is. Outside of town, he is nailed to that cross. That cross is then raised up, and the activist is left to dangle from the solid metal spikes through his hands and feet. A spear is driven through his side, and he is given vinegar to drink when he begs for water. He dies, bleeding to death from his multiple wounds, tortured and alone. 

We all know the story, but the bald details are worthy of a horror film, don’t you think? 


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

One thought on “Cut: Censorship,The BBFC and Human Centipede 2”

  1. “Refusal of certificate means it can’t be legally screened in UK cinemas or sold in the shops” – That’s not entirely true; the BBFC’s role in relation to video/DVD sales is a mandatory one and any work not certificated by them can, indeed, not be legally supplied. That was the intent with this film, I gather. But for cinema, the BBFC is advisory only, as the licensing of cinemas -which is what determines what can be shown in them – is a matter for the relevant licensing authority which, for most places, in the local council. In practice few mainstream distributors would go against the BBFC’s decision, but they could as long as their local council were ok with it. Film clubs can also show non-certificated works, by reason of them being members’ clubs. This is how the BFI/NFT get round it, offering effectively day membership to non-members.

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