As horror fans, we are no strangers to acts of on-screen violence, cruelty, and murder. The rest of the world doesn’t wallow in the grime we wallow in, and because of that they are perhaps a little more shocked by this imagery, willing to believe that it is real. Frequently, these films are censored or confiscated for obscenity charges (as in the UK’s “video nasties” of the 1980s). But sometimes the film is just so vile that criminal charges are actually brought against the filmmakers, believing that they took part in a violent felony all in the name of film.
A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971)
Lucio Fulci’s cult giallo is not his best-known film, but it may be his most notorious. In it, a woman, Carol, has vivid, hallucinatory nightmares of drug orgies and murder, only to wake up and discover the murder is all too real. Pretty standard stuff for a Fulci film. It was a scene with dogs being vivisected that set off the Italian magistrate. Believing the scene to be real, Fulci and the producers were charged with animal cruelty. Producer Edmondo Amati had to testify that the dogs were fake, and to do that, he produced special effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi (who won Oscars for his work on ALIEN and for creating E.T.) who had created the six fake dogs out of rubber and coyote pelts. The charges were immediately dropped. Rambaldi later destroyed the dogs because of the “bad memories” associated with them.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
The original “found footage” film, this is a high-ranking entry on most “extreme horror” lists. A documentary crew goes into the Amazon to look for another documentary crew who has gone missing. All they find of the first crew is their film footage, documenting rape, torture, murder, and various abuses – many at the hands of the “civilized” film crew. Within weeks of its premiere in Milan, director Ruggero Deodato was arrested, initially on obscenity charges. The Italian courts dug up a centuries-old law against the murder of animals for entertainment purposes (originally written as a way to outlaw bullfights), which allowed them to ban the film outright, as HOLOCAUST features a number of real animals killed on-screen. When French magazine Photo suggested that it was not a fictional film but a real snuff film, the charges against Deodato were amended to include murder. Complicating the issue was a publicity stunt in which the actors who were killed in the film signed contracts stating that they would not appear in television, film, commercials, or do any press for one year after the release of the film, to really drive home the “reality” of the situation. Deodato had to produce his stars in order to prove himself innocent, and the murder charges were dropped.
Deodato, his screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici, his producer Franco Palaggi, and a representative from the distribution company were still on the hook for animal cruelty charges, and each received a four-month suspended sentence.
GUINEA PIG: FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD (1985)
GUINEA PIG is a notorious series of seven Japanese films made in the 1980s and 1990s. Of varying length and quality, the one thing the films seem to have in common is the lack of any plot. It is pretty much just film of men torturing women to death. FLOWER is the second of the series. In 1991, actor Charlie Sheen got a VHS of the movie and, after watching it, called the FBI, thinking he had seen a real snuff film. Special Agent Dan Codling took possession of the tape and assured Sheen that he was working with the Japanese police to investigate the film. The investigation was closed when producer/director Hideshi Hino went to court to demonstrate some of the special effects used.
LOOSE CANNONS (1990)
Though not a horror film, this utterly forgettable action/comedy got a moment of notoriety in 2013. A man in Alberta, Canada, found a film strip in a landfill. He saw it contained footage of a man holding a knife, standing over a dead body. Fearing he had discovered an actual murder or a snuff film, the man called the police. They launched a homicide investigation, but closed the case later that day, after they discovered the film was a big-budget Hollywood production. The man holding the knife? Actor Dan Aykroyd.
A SERBIAN FILM (2010)
The most recent film on this list, A SERBIAN FILM became instantly infamous for its suffocatingly bleak atmosphere and depictions of child rape. After it screened at Spain’s prestigious Sitges film festival, a Roman Catholic organization filed a complaint with the Spanish prosecutor, and Angel Sala, the director of the festival, was arrested for exhibiting child pornography. Prosecutors decided not to charge the Serbian filmmakers because of the logistical difficulties in pursuing an international case, but Sala was facing up to a year’s jail time. The charges were eventually dropped.