Horror, shock, and awe are primary drives for successful cinema. The affront to our normal sensibilities and cultural beliefs challenges us – why do we enjoy violence and being scared? Can something be too gruesome? The answer — yes.
Horror cinema has spawned long standing franchises such as Friday the 13th, Scream, and Halloween. But there have been films deemed too much for audiences and subsequently banned.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
One of horror cinema’s finest and one of the first slashers to make headway in popular culture. Based loosely off the story of American serial killer Ed Gein, the film was produced on a fairly small budget in 1974 but made most of its minimalist setting to maximise horror.
The violence was an affront to contemporary sensibilities, and the now-iconic villain Leatherface sparked terror (and a longstanding multimedia franchise). The film was director Tobe Hooper’s first directorial credit, which kindled a long career that arguably culminated in 1982 film Poltergeist.
There’s a mixture of legend and myth that clouds Cannibal Holocaust in the decades since its release. An Italian film made by one of the greats of their cinema, Ruggero Deodato, Cannibal Holocaust is one of the first found-footage films and without a doubt paved way for Blair Witch et al.
An American rescue team from New York go deep into the Amazon Rainforest to rescue a crew of documentary filmmakers who have gone missing during their shoot. The film shows brutal displays of violence and it blurs the line between fiction and reality – especially for a 1970s audience.
A particularly famous scene that had audiences questioning the legitimacy was a woman brutally impaled. It took a long time for the world to learn more of the truth around this film, and that it was indeed part-hoax that any of this was real.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
A spiritual successor to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in narrative and character, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer spooked audiences so hard they were convinced it was not a fictional story … but a documentary. This is one of the many times where I question the intelligence of moviegoers, as I do not know how something like this could be deemed even close to being a documentary.
Starring Michael Rooker as the titular Henry, it’s a great example of how to make an audience empathise in the most compelling way with an outright psychopath.
The film’s release in 1986 immediately got it an X-rating in the United States. The uncut version of the film is still unavailable in Australia.
Faces of Death
With a title like that, you’re always in for a good time. This 1978 film gained notoriety for the extreme violence and graphic imagery, as the film interspersed footage of real deaths and fake deaths. One of the many times you’ll be like “wait why?”, well because why not. Banned in at least 46 countries.
Notoriety and moral outrage gave movies like these that extra push and worked as its marketing alone. Faces of Death is still called one of the most horrifyingly gruesome films of all time. Not bad for a movie that is essentially a treatise on our collective societal fears of death.
The Evil Dead
1981’s The Evil Dead kicked off the career of horror auteur Sam Raimi and the career of B-movie great Bruce Campbell. A brutal horror movie in its age, and lambasted by the press as one of the many “video nasties” upon VHS release in the United Kingdom.
For a film made by a student on a shoestring budget, it is highly effective and creative with its budget. It was banned for graphic violence, blood, sex, gore, and brief nudity. The legend of it being banned doesn’t really do the film justice. I still maintain that it’s a horror comedy, but the comedy part was only uncovered in the many years after initial release.