Movies don’t have to be bloody to be banned



Still from “The Last Temptation of Christ” which was met with a lot of backlash from Christian groups in the United States.

October means we get to dim our lights, make a bowl of popcorn and have scary movie marathons. Or, it’s the one time of the year where you’re sleeping with the lights on for a whole month, because your friends tricked you into watching a horror film.  

But what’s “spooky season” without watching some of the basics like the original “Halloween” movies with Michael Myers, “Saw,” “A Clockwork Orange” or the “Exorcist?”

Legal actually.  

Most of these classic horror movies at some point in time were actually banned to watch or censored in certain parts of the United States or around the world.

A Clockwork Orange” was given an X rating prior to release in 1971, which back then made it difficult for theaters to screen both in the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Christopher Parrish, a professor in DePaul’s school of Cinematic Arts explains how when movies received certain ratings, theaters pulled back or refused to screen viewings.  

“Even though it received a rating and you could play it at different theatres across the country, there were chains of theatres that at the time, and still today, that refuse to play anything with a rating of that sort,” Parrish said.

In the U.K., Stanley Kubrick himself had to remove “A Clockwork Orange” from theaters when crimes inspired by the film took place after the release. 

“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the 1974 horror film classic directed by Tobe Hooper, was banned in the U.K. until 1999. A long list of other countries such as Canada, Finland, France, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and Germany – to name a few – attempted to censor and ban the viewing of the movie as well. The film was banned in certain regions partly because it marketed itself as a “true story.” Much of the plot was truly made up, although based on and inspired from the real murders of an American serial killer, Ed Gein

Much of the controversy is around its depictions of violence and gore, but it still led to a future of “Leatherface” franchises with sequels and remakes, as well as comic books. 

Often, these bans would entice movie watcher’s to get their hands on the film, or eyes and ears rather. These bans might have actually enticed viewers to check it out, like an abandoned building.

“These were sort of considered ‘badges of honor’ for the filmmakers and the distributors,” Parrish said. “They would run ads, they would run newspaper ads, or even in television commercials, where they would print the words, ‘banned in Canada’ or a voice over would say something like, ‘banned in such and such’ or ‘banned in this many countries’ and that would actually entice theater goers to come and see the film.” 

It’s not just horror movies that are often banned in different countries. The banning goes far beyond depictions of gore, violence and cruelty. 

Shelby Saute earned her bachelor’s degree in film and television production from California Lutheran University. While interning with Blue Sky Studios and Endemol Entertainment, she was able to get an insight in the censorship of movies, particularly in the United States. 

“I think it’s safe to say things that get films banned are typically sexuality and violence. I would put political and religious themes on that list as well,” Saute said. “A lot of the bans for films start with outcry from specific groups of people. Whether it’s a church or religious group, a political party or a group of people who may not be portrayed well in a film. Those groups tend to make a lot of noise around these films that then get the attention of local and state governments who then enact the ban.” 

Saute references Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The film was banned, censored and protested all around different parts of the United States. 

Prior to its release in 1988, it was retaliated against by Christian groups and was banned in a few U.S. cities after it was released. Christian religious groups protested the movie because it depicted a vision of Jesus and his apostles that was seen as against the nature of what is told in the scripture of the Bible. 

An article from the Los Angeles Times in 1988 summarizes the nationwide controversy of the film. Religious leaders, bishops and nuns spoke out against the film while protests near the entrance to the Universal Studios Tour erupted that threatened damage and destruction to movie theaters that showed it. 

Jack Balligian, a senior studying film and television production at DePaul, said he remembered learning about how the “Exorcist” was once controversial and banned in multiple countries such as the U.K.. While the movie itself wasn’t banned in the United States, the first trailer that was released was banned and pulled from movie theaters. 

“Anything that was deemed unsavory was out, ranging from violence or glorification of crime, to witchcraft, to sexual content,” Balligian said. “Even pre-’60s, there’s a lot of racial issues that plague these movies, with some getting banned in Southern cities and states if they were viewing the topic of race too liberally.” 

Believe it or not, a children’s television show was once at the forefront of retaliation in the ’60s. 

“‘Sesame Street’ was something that public television viewers, racist parents in the South, in particular in the state of Mississippi  back in 1969, wanted to censor,” Parrish said. “Because it promoted harmony and unity amongst people of different races and on Sesame Street of course, there was no segregation there and they wanted to pull it, they wanted to censor it from PBS stations.” 

Fortunately, “Sesame Street” was never banned, and the attempted censorship of it was never successful, but Parrish shared that movies and television shows that also conveyed messages about sexuality in some nature, or depicted same sex couples would recieve protests from homophobic and racist adults.

Alongside that, films that threatened or commented on the current political state or social structure of countries were often placed on a “list.” 

“Things that pose some sort of perceived threat to the ‘powers that be’ or to the political structure or to a social structure which might be completely unfair to marginalized groups, these are projects or productions that the ‘powers that be’ don’t want to see the light of day because it threatens their power,” Parrish said.  

In the United States, movies or television shows aren’t typically banned nationally, but rather regionally or state-by-state. Balligian shared that interested viewers could often travel to see the film or wait a few years after the initial release cycle was over and the film was re-evaluated. 

Whenever you pick a scary movie on Netflix, turn on a show, or watch a critically acclaimed film, do some research beforehand. Odds are what you’re watching is or was banned or censored somewhere in the world.