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Thursday, October 13, 2011 

The pornography of terror.

It's proving to be a busy three months for the good people down in Soho Square. No sooner had the BBFC rejected Tom Six's magnum opus the Human Centipede II, a decision which last week they reversed after the director offered to truncate his work, removing scenes of sandpaper masturbation and barbed-wire rape, than they're banning a slightly more serious work, Adam Rehmeier's The Bunny Game.

The two films, although both in the horror genre, could hardly be more different, despite it seems sharing the same black and white aesthetic. The Human Centipede is pure fantasy, albeit it "torture-porn" indebted fantasy; The Bunny Game is startlingly grounded in reality, to the point where the film's star and co-writer Rodleen Getsic, according to the makers, genuinely endured the treatment her character receives from the truck driver who abducts her, everything you see apparently being real. Agreeing to be branded with a hot iron for your art is not the only disconcerting apparent detail: Getsic according to some reviews has experienced abuse herself in the past, something alluded to in this piece she links to from her Twitter account.

If the making of the film was in some way meant to act as both therapy and catharsis, then it poses further uncomfortable questions for both censor and viewer: the BBFC, concerned as ever with the potential for harm, for once quite reasonably worries that "the lack of explanation of the events depicted, and the stylistic treatment, may encourage some viewers to enjoy and share in the man’s callousness and the pleasure he takes in the woman’s pain and humiliation". For the viewer, there's the knowledge that if this is part of an attempt by Getsic to turn her very real past pain into a performance while also emphasising the fact that suffering ends and life goes on, then by watching are you playing a role in something which very few therapists would advise? Are those attracted to such material complicit in deriving entertainment from the very real acts of violence committed by murderers and abductors?

Without having seen the film, it's difficult to be able to say for certain just how brutal the violence is, and whether it genuinely does break new ground in the horror endurance stakes. Unlike the also recently banned Grotesque, which fitted into the Japanese mini-genre of pseudo-snuff horror associated with the Guinea Pig series of films, it instead appears to bear a resemblance to the final act of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where the character Sally endures almost a full half hour of terrorisation at the hands of her captors, before finally escaping and experiencing the euphoria of freedom. TCM was one of the few films that the BBFC's former director James Ferman felt could not be released in any form, with the organisation's student case study revealing he described it as "the pornography of terror". What it doesn't make clear is that Ferman overruled all those under him at the organisation who felt it could be released, with the unsurprising result being that almost as soon as he retired the film was passed 18 uncut.

It's this fear of the "pornography of terror" which it seems has returned to claim a new victim. Even considering the fact that The Bunny Game is far more graphic than TCM ever was, one thing that is absurd for the board to complain about is that there's no apparent explanation for the violence depicted in the film. The idea that violence, abduction and murder can always be given such an explanation is to ignore the fact that on some occasions there is no real reason; it's simply because the perpetrator can. They may well derive and sexual and sadistic pleasure from their crimes, but that is to only partially understand why. If the film's whole raison d'etre is to portray the grim reality of what some victims have gone through, then it appears the BBFC would rather that such accounts are toned down before they can be accepted as fiction. Indeed, in passing TCM the BBFC noted that

any possible harm that might arise in terms of the effect upon a modern audience would be more than sufficiently countered by the unrealistic, even absurd, nature of the action itself.

The implication appears to be that film-makers at the extreme end of horror can't win either way. Go for too much realism and you'll be banned, while you'll also find your work cut if you cast aside reality and stitch together multiple people from mouth to anus and put abrasive materials into the mix. That adults should be able to decide for themselves what they personally can stomach and experience seems as distant an ideal as it has ever been.

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