Believe it or not, the original Evil Dead movie was banned — until this past summer. In late August, the German government finally gave up the decades-long fight to prevent people from seeing Ash’s hand come to life and have goofy, scary fun with Bruce Campbell’s body. (Not that kind of fun.)
What’s most shocking about this is that The Evil Dead isn’t the only film to have been banned — or to still be banned in a large country, including the USA. The Production Code may have put a stop to wide commercial release of films with nude scenes and the MPAA’s NC-17 rating may have actually made it easier to avoid bans (because filmmakers would rather cut objectionable content than be shunned by the public); however, several movies found a way to offend enough people to end up a loser in the courts.
Here’s a rundown:
The Evil Dead
Released in 1981 and immediately banned in Germany until August 30, 2016, Sam Raimi’s first independent release was a landmark in the genre—and strangely ended up becoming the focus of a huge court battle. Sony Pictures even got into the mix in 1999, arguing that all lower court reverse bans put on the film due to its depictions of violence and vague violations of modern “moral standards.”
The Federal Review Board for Media Harmful for Minors is apparently still fighting the recent verdict to allow for a Blu Ray/DVD release, but Sony’s lawyers released a statement claiming near-total victory: “What was considered as breaking a taboo three decades ago is nowadays often no longer perceived as critical or—like in this case—even viewed as an important work of modern art.”
The British Board of Film Classification’s own website admits Quentin Tarantino’s film “was the subject of considerable debate within the BBFC.” In the end, however, they decided to release it restricted with an “18” rating and all seemed well—its incredible box office success far outpaced its performance in America. Its VHS release, therefore, seemed both a foregone conclusion and a major film event in the UK in 1993.
Then a random boy named James Patrick Bulger was targeted for torture and soon murdered by two sadistic ten-year-old boys.
Parliament, anxious to stem the tide of horrendous violence, scapegoated movies likely to incite more violence in young people.
Suddenly, the ear-cutting scene, although involving two adult characters, was seen as culturally inappropriate due to its torture aspect and the entire film was banned for years—but only from home video. Instead, the movie played until 1995 in British cinemas and the controversy (as well as the success of Pulp Fiction), kept it in the spotlight the entire time.
South Park: Bigger, Long and Uncut.
This sweet little animated Disney film for all ages was strangely banned in “Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam,” according to NME. “Not Canada, though.”
Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the Back to the Future series.
Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the Back to the Future movies were all banned in China for treating time travel as a real possibility. It’s not clear why the Communist government considers time travel such a threat—maybe people in that country would have a little false hope they can transport themselves to a time when they no longer have to hear about new Transformers movies.
A Clockwork Orange
You may know that A Clockwork Orange was banned in the UK for almost thirty years and that the controversy over the film’s depiction (and some say bipolar celebration/condemnation of “a bit of the old ultraviolence”) may have thrown the 1971 Best Picture race to The French Connection. What you probably don’t know is that this is one of the few instances of a filmmaker banning his own film. Stanley Kubrick was horrified by rumors of copycat crimes and successfully convinced Warner Brothers to keep it out of UK cinemas—and subsequently home video—until after his untimely 1999 death.
An interesting asterisk. Cocksucker Blues is actually banned because it has been prevented from release by the documentary’s own subjects, the Rolling Stones. With sequences that include a groupie being stripped in front of a horde of laughing pranksters, Mick Jagger snorting coke and an actual injection of heroin (also by a groupie), the Stones took legendary photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank to court to block it.
The current court agreement states that, because the Stones commissioned it, they have a right to control how the movie is shown, which makes sense, in a way. Specifically, Frank must be present and the screening should take place in an “archival setting” (whatever that means)—although, unsurprisingly, the film is widely available online… if you know where to look.
Life of Brian
“The film so funny that it was banned in Norway” wasn’t just a marketing slogan for Monty Python’s Life of Brian, it was the truth—and not even the whole story of the controversy. It was banned in South Africa during apartheid, rural areas of the Pythons’ native Britain for decades (in some places for up to 35 years) and all of Ireland for eight years, and continues to be banned in Malaysia and Singapore on grounds of “blasphemy.”
I Spit On Your Grave
Roger Ebert’s least favorite film (at least at the time of its release), this 1978 Z-grade shocker (or it schlock-er?) disappeared from the box office for two years… until some fool thought it would be a good idea to announce a ban on it. (We’re not sure who thought of banning it first.)
As expected, I Spit On Your Grave was re-released in 1980 and instantly banned in Canada, Australia, Norway, Ireland and West Germany, as well as Iceland and many other countries, including ones that didn’t speak English. The reason? A 30-minute gang rape was understandably condemned for glorifying violence against women. (This despite the fact that the scene spurs the victim to methodically slaughter each of her tormentors over the next hour of screen time.) As of 2016, it’s still banned in Ireland—including on DVD and Blu Ray.
Without a doubt, this is the most persecuted film in history. The FBI stepped in to block this X rated film from being shown anywhere, although it ended up playing in Times Square for years, breaking box office records there and across the country. Starring porn actor Harry Reems, funded and distributed by the Italian Mafia and featuring some heavy TMI investigations itself (mainly of the clitoris and the art of fellatio), Deep Throat was actually held up in the courts at one point and its lead charge with conspiracy to distribute obscene material.
For all the controversy, Deep Throat was never even shown in the UK—not for 33 years, until a special screening in Britain in 2005 subverted the British Board of Film Classification’s stringent rules and allowed it to be shown—once. It’s an unrepeatable situation, as it’s unfathomable now that a $47,500 movie would go on to make $100-600 million (either way likely making it the most financially successful film of all time) while being banned outright in English speaking countries, including much of the United States.
And yes, it also helped bring about the resignation of President Richard Nixon—his FBI stooge, Mark Felt, used the movie’s title as his code name to meet with journalists Woodward and Bernstein.