Sexually violent films are a small minority in the world of film, although they are starting to gain bigger and bigger audiences. In the past, sexually violent films such as The Last House on the Left (1972) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978) were not shown in mainstream cinemas and the former was even banned in the United Kingdom for thirty years. Now, films such as A Serbian Film (2010) and The Human Centipede II (2011) are being allowed into ordinary cinemas across the western world. Both of these films are filled with grotesque scenes that the British Board of Film Classification and the Motion Picture Association of America deal with quite differently. The guidelines for both the BBFC and the MPAA are quite similar for their 18 and NC-17 certificates, both being based on sexual content, violence and drug use. The main difference between them is that the BBFC allows more sexual content if the images are justified throughout the film. So why are sexually violent films censored differently in the UK and USA?
For the American release of The Human Centipede II, Tom Six decided not to put the film through the MPAA, which resulted the in the film coming out at unrated. Unlike the BBFC, the MPAA is a voluntary censorship act in which filmmakers put their films through it to get a rating. If they decide not to do this then it will come out as unrated which causes a lot of problems as mainstream cinemas will not show the films, which then limits them to art house and independent cinemas. The Human Centipede II was distributed by IFC Films, and even thought it wasn’t necessary, they decided to cut one scene before its release. This scene was where Martin covers his penis with barbed wire and then rapes the woman at the back of the human centipede. Given the situation, this scene was classed as sexually explicit rather than just extremely violent. What is surprising is that this was the only scene to be cut even though there are much more repulsive scenes, such as when Martin caves his own mother’s face in with a hammer or when a newborn baby gets stood on and squashed to death. President of IFC Films, Jonathan Sehring when questioned about the cut said “Did I think it was necessary, or did we think it was necessary to tell the story? No.” Although this scene may seem irrelevant to the plot, it was in fact a pivotal moment as it was the high point of Martin’s fantasy as this is what he actually created the human centipede for.
In The United States of America, the punishment for rape is a lot more severe than in the United Kingdom. American laws state that the perpetrator can have up to a life sentence in prison for rape using threat or force, and in the case of the rape shown in the film, it will definitely fall into that category. In the UK however, the sentence would only be between 6 and 11 years in prison. It seems that this could have been a factor in why the US decided to only cut the rape scene instead of any of the others. Saying this though, the laws against killing in both countries are up to life, so why was nothing cut from the scene in which the baby gets killed by IFC Films? A reason for this is because the MPAA usually favour violence in films, over anything sexual. Film critic Roger Ebert argues this point “I have no way of knowing whether violence is more common in films today, but it seems to have become more explicit and brutal. Even more disturbing is the new attitude toward violence in many films. No longer is violence exclusively a force of evil.” Violence can now be viewed on national television all day longer, meaning that anyone can watch it. The viewers can then become desensitised to this as it is a daily occurrence and when it comes to seeing violence in films, it can then be deemed not as bad because of course it is not real. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was banned in the United Kingdom for 25 years for the amount of violence it contains – 1974 to 1999. When it became unbanned, not one single cut was made to it, showing just how much the tolerance of violence has changed in such a short amount of time.
The American release of A Serbian Film only saw three minor cuts to it – still more than in The Human Centipede II. These three cuts came from the newborn porn scene, a shot of a man ejaculating and the scene in which a man gets his penis bitten off. Surprisingly, they did not make cuts to any of the brutal murder scenes, and instead chose to cut out a quite ordinary ejaculation shot. The MPAA have a history of choosing violent scenes over sexual scenes. They also did not cut second scene that shows a child in a sexual situation. This scene saw the main character; Milos rape his own son, who in the film was aged only seven. Strange as it may sound that they chose to keep that in, but take out a purely sexual scene between two consenting adults. A reason for this is that the rape scene with the seven year old boy was mainly implied, in that there were no shots of the actual penetration. As well as this, the father and the son were not shown in the same shot together, instead, close-ups were used of the two and it quickly cut between the two of them. The use of sound was also used to Spasojevic’s favour and he could incorporate the pain of the son through that, instead of graphic images on screen. If explicit images were shown, then the MPAA (or even the police in this case) could have intervened and cut them out, but since A Serbian Film doesn’t actually cross those boundaries, they couldn’t legally stop it.
The British Board of Film Classification was very quick to reject The Human Centipede II. One of the reasons that the BBFC decided to ban this film is because it is basically a film about a man’s reaction to a film. This could then “pose a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers” and also may be in breach of the obscene publications act. The amount of sexual violence throughout the film is immense, as the majority of the film is just one man’s fantasy about creating his own human centipede. Of course, by showing the viewers that just the idea of the first human centipede film could corrupt a man in this way could possibly give them ideas about it too, and show them that it is actually possible. What the BBFC haven’t realised is that there is no proof that a real member of the public would want to recreate the film in any way at all. In fact, if someone did want to create their own, they could just watch Martin create his centipede and watch his fantasy being played out on screen. There haven’t been that many cases of crimes replicated from films in the past, and the crimes that have taken place were only of a violent nature, not a sexual one. If the BBFC is concerned about copycat crimes and fans taking their love of the film too far then they should not be worried about what is cut from the film, as just the idea of making a human centipede would be enough. Also, with the way that technology is evolving, it would not be hard for said fans to gain an uncut copy of the film illegally.
A good scene which shows that the BBFC prefer to let the viewers see violence over sex is one of the many rape scenes in A Serbian Film. This scene in particular lasts just under two minutes and has had a massive 33 seconds cut out of it. The majority of the cuts came from the shots of the woman just tied to a bed; nothing sexual was happening at this point. 15 seconds of her on the bed doing nothing is cut from this scene whereas only 8 seconds was cut from her being killed and then raped whilst dead. This just goes to show how much the BBFC does not like a naked body shown on screen. A reason for this is that the amount of screen time the naked body is getting allows the audience members to eroticise that woman and they do not allow excessive shots of anything that can be regarded as sexual. The way in which the woman was murdered was quite brutal too, her head was hacked off with a machete by the central character; Milos. Also, this scene contains necrophilia, which the BBFC did not find harmful enough to cut any more than 4 seconds out of it. Necrophilia is of course illegal but fewer viewers would find that erotic, compared to a woman strapped to a bed.
In both films, there is one scene that stands out the most as grotesque and strangely enough, they were not the most censored. The two scenes both involve babies in a sexual and violent manner, something that most viewers would be disgusted to see. A Serbian Film has quite a lengthy scene of a woman giving birth to baby, soon after (and still attached via umbilical cord) a man proceeds to rape the baby as the woman is smiling. A total of ten seconds was cut from this scene by the BBFC, but it still left enough visuals in for the viewers to create a clear image in their minds of what is going on. Spasojevic defends this scene by saying “This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government”. After reading his statement, the scene starts to make a little more sense. From the day you are born, to the day that you die (as viewers will see in a later scene), Serbian citizens are being ill-treated by their government, especially after their civil war. The BBFC cut this scene in fears that is may stir sexual arousal from certain viewers, but if that was to happen then those viewers would be paedophiles and they could find more extreme and real videos elsewhere. By cutting quite a lot from this scene, the BBFC have deprived the audience of witnessing just how terrible Spasojevic is portraying the Serbian government. On the other hand, if the audience did not previously read any interviews or articles about the film before they watched it, they would not know that it had anything to do with the Serbian government. What is most surprising about this scene is the fact that not that much of it was actually cut out during the classification process, compared to some of the other more extreme scenes. A nightmare sequence that shows a naked woman being fondled however has a massive 26 and a half seconds cut out of it. This is quite strange since this sequence is clearly shown as a nightmare; therefore the events that are happening are not real. In the newborn porn scene however, the events are shown as real, yet they have not been as harshly censored as the nightmare.
In The Human Centipede II, the scene that stands out as the most monstrous and was censored the most was of a woman giving birth, and then squashing her baby to death in a car. What is interesting about this is how the BBFC decided to cut the whole entire scene, instead of just cutting a few seconds off it so that the audience still find outs what happened to the baby. In the guidelines for how to classify an 18 rated film, they state that “portrayals of sexual or sexualised violence which might, for example, eroticise or endorse sexual assault” are not allowed at all, anywhere in the film. This is very hypocritical as this scene only showed a baby being killed, whereas in A Serbian Film there was obvious sexual violence towards a baby. In most films that display scenes that involve rape like in I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and The Last House on the Left (1972), they have been very heavily edited, making it obvious how against sexual violence the BBFC really are. A reason for cutting the whole baby killing scene in The Human Centipede II could be that there is nothing to justify why the baby is being killed, unlike in A Serbian Film where the newborn porn scene was used to represent the Serbian government. In the BBFC guidelines for an 18 rated film, it mentions that scenes “where there are more explicit images of sexual activity which cannot be justified by context” are not allowed. This is acceptable, but the scene in which the baby was killed was not sexual in any way. Another reason for the scene being totally cut out was the fact that it was a baby, and in not many films there are scenes in which newborn babies are murdered. This has always been a taboo subject in real life, never mind in the film world.
In interviews Tom Six carried out during the release of The Human Centipede II, he made it clear that he wanted the film to be as shocking and disgusting as possible. This could have seriously been a factor in why his film was much more heavily censored than A Serbian Film. “Mr. Six does not deny that his movie was designed to provoke, and is happy to capitalize on anything that burnishes its reputation for over-the-top grotesquery. “I like to make controversial films,” he said. “I would hate it if I would make a film and people wonder what to have for dinner when the film is over.”It seems that Tom Six is far more interested in getting coverage of the film for being so notorious than getting it into mainstream cinemas. In other words, the violence in his films is unnecessary. This is Tom Six’s way of filmmaking and judging from the first human centipede film, the BBFC should have been aware that what he made was going to be grotesque and controversial as possible. The whole point of horror films is to scare the audience, and his way of doing it is scaring them through the medium of sexual violence. With all of the media coverage surrounding his films, there must not be that many fans of cinema who have not heard what this film is about. Even if they did not know, just from the posters and taglines they should be able to work out that what they are going to watch is going to be pretty vulgar. The tagline for the second Human Centipede film was just simply “sick”, the fact that it only needed one word to sum up the film tells potential viewers that the whole point of the film is to make them feel uneasy. However, the BBFC are against films that do not have any context for what is shown in the film, and from what Tom Six has said about it, it doesn’t contain much, if not any at all. The whole film is just one man’s fantasy about a film and it doesn’t show any of the other characters apart from objects the protagonist uses for his own sexual pleasure.
There is a technique that the BBFC uses when trying to make the films more suitable for mass audiences. This is where specific frames in certain sequences are replaced by a simple black frame. In both The Human Centipede II and A Serbian Film this occurs. The way that the BBFC have used this technique makes a lot more sense in A Serbian Film, as it blacks out some of most notorious images. In a montage scene lasting around 30 seconds, there are images of the newborn porn scene, a close-up of a vagina, a close-up of a young girl seductively eating an ice lolly, a woman biting into a penis, a woman lying dead of the floor covered in bruises and a woman covered in blood. These shots all had about a second of it replaced with the black frames. When watching this montage, the black frames look extremely out of place and surely a couple of extra seconds of seeing these images wouldn’t make so much of a difference to the viewer. Especially as these images are all flashbacks, so the viewers would have already seen what is happening and would expect to see them in such detail again. In The Human Centipede II however, the black frames only replace frame in the lengthy rape scene, in which Martin rapes the girl at the back of the human centipede. What would make more sense in this case is just to just cut a lot of the frames out, rather than swapping them with a black frame. Unlike with A Serbian Film, the black frames do not look that much out of place as it just makes the lights look as if they are flickering. This more or less fits in with the setting of this scene, since it is in a dingy warehouse where the lights probably would not work very well. This technique is not very good at all because the majority of the shots the BBFC are trying to cover up are being shown so the images will be stuck in the viewer’s minds. Taking a couple of seconds out really isn’t going to make much, if not any difference at all. Cutting the shots down would have been far more appropriate in these two cases.
The ending of both films were completely different which may offer an insight into how censored these films were. The Human Centipede ended with Martin still continuing his life as normal as a car park attendant. This shows that none of his actions in the film have consequences and gives the impression that something like this could actually be pulled off. In no part of the film is there even a hint of remorse or guilt for what Martin has done, not even after killing his own mother did he feel at all bad about it. A Serbian Film’s ending however is far different from this. Milos ends up taking his own life, as well as his wife and sons too. By taking his own life, it tells the viewers that what he has done throughout the film are some of the most awful and nastiest things possible. The BBFC could have based some of the censoring (i.e. – banning of The Human Centipede II), on the endings as they are the morals of the story and of course Martin’s fate was much better than Milos’. Naturally, the BBFC would not like to promote that doing illegal and immoral actions are okay to get away with, so by banning this film first, they showed the viewers that they do not agree with how the film ended. Although, quite a lot of films show illegal activities such as bank robberies and drug use, they are considered much more ordinary as they have been reoccurring themes in films since the very start of cinema. There were not many films at all that showed crude sexual scenes and the sexploitation genre only started up in the late 1950s after the Roth vs. United States court case which redefined what was classed as obscene. Only after this were such films allowed to be distributed around the United States.
In the end, the way that both the BBFC and MPAA have dealt with these films are based on their own guidelines and the laws in their countries. Even though some of the scenes in A Serbian Film were almost certainly more grotesque and disturbing than in The Human Centipede II, they were allowed to be shown more widely as the director, Srdjan Spasojevic could explain what the majority of his images represented. Director of the Human Centipede franchise, Tom Six on the other hand just wanted to make his film as notorious as possible and gain cult status from this. It’s safe to say that in the United Kingdom, the censoring was much harsher as it needs to comply with the law and the Video Recordings Act. This is why The Human Centipede II was banned outright as it served no actual purpose and had no meaning behind it.