America…land of the free! Well, sometimes not completely free. Granted, the USA tends to be a lot more relaxed with censorship policies than many other countries (as you are about to read below), but we still have a turbulent history of decreeing that some films or scenes aren’t fit for public viewing. Here are 10 horror movies that have been repeatedly banned around the globe.
FREAKS (1932)(cover photo)
After the success of DRACULA in 1931, director Tod Browning was given a lot of leeway in the making of FREAKS, a film about carnival sideshow performers that used real people with deformities. After a devastating test screening where one woman actually sued MGM claiming the film caused her to have a miscarriage, the movie was cut from its original length down to only 64 minutes. They also tacked on a happy ending so the film did not seem so bleak. The cut scenes included a castration sequence and several comedic scenes with the sideshow performers. The removed footage has long been considered lost. After the censored version was released, audiences still had a lot of negativity and even hostility towards the film, and many places outright refused to screen it. MGM eventually sold the rights to FREAKS. It was not until decades later that people realized the importance of the movie and began re-screening it as a work of classic cinema.
THE DEVILS (1971)
It is no great shock that this Ken Russell film was banned considering the hefty amount of self-pleasuring nuns, enemas, and generally blasphemous content. While some countries banned it outright, others made their own edits, leading to a lot of different versions and a lot of lost footage. One of the most complete versions of the film played in Los Angeles a few years ago as part of The Beyond Festival, and it did include some portions of the infamous femur masturbation scene.
THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
Stanley Kubrick stayed fairly close to the novel when making the movie, more so than some of his other book-to-screen adaptations. He accepted the film’s X rating during its original release and worked to get the film edited down to an R version for a re-release in the USA in 1973. But in Britain, after several criminals and murderers stated that they were encouraged to commit crimes after seeing the film, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was pulled from release. It was not until the late 1990s that the film was made available in the UK.
THE LAST SHARK (1981)
THE LAST SHARK aka GREAT WHITE is a bit different from all the other films on this list because it was not banned for being too extreme or morally objectionable. THE LAST SHARK was banned (and is still technically banned to this day) on copyright grounds. When the movie released to US theaters in 1981 it was a hit and made over $18 million dollars during its very short-lived run. But noticing the obvious similarities to JAWS, Universal sued the film company for plagiarism. The court agreed, and THE LAST SHARK was banned from release in the US. It was not until just a just few years ago when a region-free DVD was released that people in the United States could watch the film.
This lesser-known horror gem was brought back into the public eye when transgressive filmmaker Gasper Noe cited the movie as one of his main cinematic influences. This Austrian film is in a similar vein to HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER using an unflinching camera to follow a killer throughout his heinous acts. The film has been repeatedly banned all over Europe and was not distributed in the United States until just a few years ago.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
Though it has since become a cornerstone of holiday horror movies, when SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was first released theatrically, it created quite a fervor because of its ad campaign depicting a killer Santa Claus. People gathered at theaters around the country to protest the film’s release causing the distributor to pull it from theaters after only six days. The film was later re-released with a slightly less controversial ad campaign. To hear more about the turmoil surrounding SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, check out our interview with the lead actor on the SHOCKWAVES Podcast.
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986)
HENRY was given the notorious X rating upon its original release to film festivals. Though the director offered to trim the film down making it less brutal, the MPAA stated that no amount of cuts would get the film down to an R rating. Because of this, the film had problems finding a stateside distributor. The producers argued that the film was non-pornographic which was usually the only type of movie that would receive an X rating, and ultimately HENRY along with several other non-pornographic extreme content movies led to the creation of the NC-17 rating. The film was heavily censored in the UK and was outright banned in New Zealand and Australia.
This movie is still currently banned in many countries including Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, and even parts of Canada. It is available uncut here in the states.
IMPRINT was meant to be 13th episode of the Showtime’s MASTERS OF HORROR series. Directed by Takashi Miike who is known for extreme subject matter, the segment features aborted fetuses, pedophilia, incest, and deformities. Showtime decided the segment was far too extreme even for a cable channel that prides itself on adult content. The episode was banned from release. After fan outcry, it was made available via a DVD release several months later. Read more about IMPRINT here.
A SERBIAN FILM (2010)
This haunting story of a porn star hired to make one final film shocked audiences around the world. It was banned in multiple countries and some of the exhibitors were issued child pornography charges for showing the film publicly. A very slightly edited version was released in the United States. Only a few seconds of footage were removed for the US release, but it was enough to assure everyone would be clear of potential legal charges.