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Banned: The most controversial films

By Laura Davis

Published 09/10/2010

<b>A Clockwork Orange (1971)</b><br/>
Banned in Ireland 1971-2000, UK - by Stanley Kubrick (1973-1999), Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Spain <br/>
Adapted from Anthony Burgess's best-selling novel, A Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex and his gang of violent 'droogs' who kill tramps and rape women. <br/>
The film is infamous for copycat behaviour, which many thought to be the reason that director Stanley Kubrick withdrew the film in the UK. After his death, his wife Christiane revealed that the actual reason he had the film banned was on the advice of the police after severe threats were made to him and his family.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Banned in Ireland 1971-2000, UK - by Stanley Kubrick (1973-1999), Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Spain
Adapted from Anthony Burgess's best-selling novel, A Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex and his gang of violent 'droogs' who kill tramps and rape women.
The film is infamous for copycat behaviour, which many thought to be the reason that director Stanley Kubrick withdrew the film in the UK. After his death, his wife Christiane revealed that the actual reason he had the film banned was on the advice of the police after severe threats were made to him and his family.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Banned in Finland (1984), UK, Brazil, Australia, West Germany, Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore and Sweden
Five friends go to visit their Grandfather's grave after hearing it was vandalised, and pick up a hitchhiker on the way. After the hitchhiker takes a knife and slashes himself and one of the boys, they promptly get rid of him but have to stop for gas at a small sinister looking place which unbeknown to them, is the home of the chainsaw wielding Leatherface.
The film was loosely inspired by real-life murderer Ed Gein who wore human skin, but didn't use a chainsaw.
The Exorcist (1973)
Banned in the UK, Malaysia and Singapore
One of the most controversial horror films of all time tells the story of a 12 year-old girl possessed by a demonic force and the two priests who try and save her soul.
The film received critical acclaim when it was nominated for 10 Oscars, and won 2 for Best Sound and Best Writing.
Life of Brian (1979)
Banned in Norway (1979-1980), Singapore, Ireland (1979-1987)
Brian was born in a stable next to Jesus and as a result is deemed a messiah, but he can't seem to convince his followers otherwise.
Due to its heavy religious satire, the film was not well-received by many religious activists. In 2009, the thirty-year old ban of the film in the Welsh town of Aberystwyth was finally lifted. Sweden, on the other hand, used the controversy to its advantage, marketing the film as 'The film so funny that it was banned in Norway'.
The Last Tango in Paris (1973)
Banned in Italy (1972-1986), Singapore, New Zealand, Portugal (1973-1974) and South Korea
A young Parisian woman (Maria Schneider) begins a sordid affair with a middle-aged American businessman (Marlon Brando) who wants their relationship to be based only on sex.
The film became notorious for its butter-lubricated sex scene, which still haunts Schneider, as it wasn't part of the original script. In the New York Post, 2007, she said 'I felt humiliated and, to be honest, I felt a little raped . . . Thankfully, there was just one take . . . I never use butter to cook anymore - only olive oil.'
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Banned in Austria (1931-1945) and Germany (1931-1945)
The film follows a group of young German soldiers who come to understand the tragedy of war and misconceptions of their enemies when they fight in World War One.
Due to its anti-war and perceived anti-German messages, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party banned the film from Germany until the end of World War Two. During its brief run in German cinemas in 1930, the Nazis disrupted the viewings by releasing rats in the theatres.
Caligula (1979)
Banned in Canada and Iceland
The story of Roman Emperor Caligula who used violent means to get to the throne, his shocking actions during his tyrannical reign and his subsequent descent into insanity.
The film was considered controversial not only for its depiction of violence, but also for the gratuitous nudity and Caligula's sexual passion for his sister.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Banned in the UK (1984-2002), Singapore, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, West Germany and for over 32 years in Australia.
A pair of teenage girls go to a rock concert to celebrate one of their birthdays and afterwards try to get some marijuana in the city. They are then kidnapped by a gang of psychopaths who have just escaped from prison.
The Last House on the Left was directed by Wes Craven who also directed The Hills have Eyes (1977) which was banned in Finland, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and the Scream films - where he appeared in all three.
Freaks (1932)
Banned in Italy, Finland and Ireland
A beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of the circus performers who is also a dwarf, but his friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance.
Director Tod Browning took the exceptional step of casting real people with deformities, rather than using costumes and makeup. His choice shocked audiences of the time and despite the film having since achieved cult classic status, its release resulted in Browning struggling to find work.
The Evil Dead (1983)
Banned in Malaysia, UK (1983-1990), West Germany (1984), Sweden, Iceland, Ireland and Singapore
Five friends take a trip to a cabin in the woods where they find the Book Of The Dead, which awakens a demonic force turning them into zombies.
The Evil Dead was one of the first films deemed a 'Video Nasty' - the term for films criticized for their violent content by various religious organizations, in the press and by commentators.
120 Days of Sodom
Banned in Italy, Finland, Australia, West Germany, New Zealand and Norway
Also known as Salò, this film is based on the book by Marquis de Sade which he wrote while imprisoned in the Bastille in 1785. Sade was incarcerated in prison and in an insane asylum for nearly half his life.
In Pasolini's film, four men of power in Italy: the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President, collect a group of teenagers, and subject them to 120 days of torture. Graphically violent, the film was, and is still, banned in several countries for its depiction of sexual torture - particularly to children, as they are raped, mutilated and forced to eat faeces. Despite all of this - the film still excludes some of the horrors of the book - it's no wonder why the word Sadism was derived from Marquis de Sade's name.
The director, Pier Paolo Pasolini was no stranger to controversy himself. His first film Accattone (1961) was based on his own novel and its violent depiction of the life of a pimp in the slums of Rome caused a furore in Italy. Many of his films expressing his contentious views on Marxism, atheism, fascism and homosexuality, and with an end as dramatic as a scene in one of his films, he was brutally and mysteriously murdered by being repeatedly run over by his own car.
Banned in the UK
Opening with a boy killing his parents, the film follows Mikey, a disturbed little boy who murders his family, and moves onto his adoptive parents. Mikey had, in fact, been passed '18' uncut by the BBFC in November 1992. This film - unlike, say, Reservoir Dogs and other banned titles - had officially been 'passed out' of the BBFC: in other words, Mikey's distributor had the certificate in his hand and now all he had to do was find a theatre to screen his film.
In February 1993, however, James Bulger was killed by two 11-year-old boys and the Daily Mail immediately pointed out that the upcoming Mikey also featured a child killer. Head Censor of the BBFC James Ferman was already scared from the effects of the Bulger case as other films has been blamed for the horrific attack, and so he demanded the return of Mikey's certificate, making it banned in the UK.
I Spit on Your Grave
Banned in Finland (2006), Australia (1997-2004), China, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Canada, Iceland, Norway, West Germany, Ireland (2002), UK (1984-2001)
Also known as Day of the Woman, this is the story of a woman who retreats out of New York to write her first novel, and is captured by a group of local men, in order for one of them to lose their virginity. The four men gang-rape her, destroy her novel and leave one to murder her - but he cannot go through with it. After her recovery, she then plots to take her revenge each of them, violently murdering each them all.
The controversy is linked to the lengthy and graphic gang-rape scene which has been described as glorifying violence against women. The writer and director, Meir Zarchi, responded to such criticisms by explaining how he was inspired to make the film after he helped a young woman after finding her bloodied and naked in New York after she had been raped - denying that the film was too exploitative.
Cannibal Holocaust
Banned in Singapore, Australia, Norway (1984-2005), Finland (1984-2001), Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand (2006), Ireland, Iceland (1984-2006), West Germany, Italy (1980-1984) and the UK (1984-2001)
A director and his crew head to the Amazon rainforest to shoot a documentary about the tribes there, but vanish while there. An anthropologist then heads there to attempt to find them and discovers the film reel, revealing exactly what happened to the crew.
Apart from the genuine cruelty to animals which finds Cannibal Holocaust in the midst of controversy to this day, the film originally went to court as there was a belief that it was actually a snuff film. As the actors who had been murdered in the film had signed contracts to agree not to be used in any form of publicity for the film for a year afterwards, the director Ruggero Deodato struggled to prove that the deaths in the film were not real, and eventually had to break their contracts in order to avoid life imprisonment.
Visions of Ecstasy
Banned in the UK
This 18 minute film includes scenes featuring a sexualised representation of Saint Teresa of Ávila caressing the body of Jesus on the cross. As a result of this the film was rejected for a UK certificate by the BBFC on the grounds of possible blasphemous libel.
The distributor took the case to the European Court of Human Rights in 1996 to consider whether the existence of a law of blasphemy was consistent with Freedom of Expression rights. Although blasphemy laws in the UK were only repealed in 2008, the film is still not classified and so it remains the only film banned in the UK on the grounds of blasphemy.
Faces of Death
Banned in New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Norway and the UK (1984-2003)
The films includes faked scenes of people getting killed intermixed with footage of real accidents, all to show audiences the different 'faces' of people while dying.
It features executions by decapitation and the electric chair, animals eating people, suicides and major accidents. Whilst some of the footage (Allan A. Apone, make-up and special effects artists for the film said it was 40%) is obviously fake, there is also stock footage of a napalm bombing in Vietnam, various newsreel footage, and wartime footage of Hitler.
No Pressure (2010)
A short film scripted by leading British comedy screenwriter Richard Curtis on behalf of the 10:10 environmental campaign achieved the dubious distinction of becoming one of the more short-lived propaganda tools designed to help save humanity after it was withdrawn following complaints about its graphic scenes of exploding climate change refuseniks.
The four-minute video was taken down from the 10:10 website and plans to distribute it to cinemas were ripped up after members of the public and key backers of the campaign, including the charity ActionAid, said they were "appalled" by its portrayal of zealous greenhouse gas activists using a red button to blow up reluctant supporters, such as the actress Gillian Anderson and former footballer David Ginola.
Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse
Banned in Finland (1933), Germany (1933-1945) and Sweden (1933-1952)
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse follows Berlin police inspector Lohmann investigating a case in which all clues lead to a man, Dr Mabuse, who has been in an insane asylum for years.
With the rise of Hitler, Goebbels became head of the Ministry of Propaganda and banned the film in Germany, suggesting that the film would undercut the audience's confidence in its political leaders. Goebbels called the film a menace to public health and safety and stated that he would not accept the film as it 'showed that an extremely dedicated group of people are perfectly capable of overthrowing any state with violence'.
Despite Goebbels saying he was 'struck by the dullness of its portrayal, the coarseness of its construction, and the inadequacy of its acting' he still organised private viewings for his friends, and the director, Fritz Lang, later claimed that Goebbels asked him to work for him in order to create films for the Nazis (although there is no evidence to support this).
Banned in Austria
This short horror film is directed by Nacho Cerdà and doesn't actually feature any dialogue. The audience sees a mortician after hours in the morgue, as he mutilates the corpse of a young woman who died in a car crash. Shortly after, he has sex with the dead body, taking pictures in the process. He then brings her heart home to feed his dog.
Unsurprisingly, the necrophilia is the controversial topic in the film which shocked audiences, but it has also been praised for its attention to detail and cinematography.
The Devils
Banned in Finland (1985, 1971), Ireland and Italy
Based on The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley, the film is a dramatised historical account of the rise and fall of Urbain Grandier, a 17th century French priest executed for witchcraft following the supposed possessions of Loudun.
Father Grandier's sexual appeal makes the clergy jealous and the nuns outraged, accusing him of sorcery and evil spells, not content until he is burned at the stake.
Ken Russell's film was banned from Italy and its stars Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed were threatened with three years' jail time if they set foot in the country.
Straw Dogs
Banned in the UK (1999)
Dustin Hoffman stars as a Mathematician who experiences some harassment from local men, who go on to rape his wife Amy, leading him to respond with a violent attack.
The initial rape scene was criticised, as Amy begins to find it pleasurable due to a sexual history with the rapist. Feminist cinema critics accused director Peckinpah of glamorizing rape and the BBFC asked for cuts to the scene, but the film was finally passed fully uncut for DVD in September 2002.
Released in the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry, the film sparked heated controversy over the increase of violence in cinema.

Take some needless violence, a religious satire and a dash of incest - and you've got yourself a collection of films too shocking for cinema.

>>Click on the image on the right to launch our guide


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