A British horror film about the time when numerous horror films were banned in Great Britain and even more horror films were massively edited: why CENSOR is a must for genre fans, we reveal in our review.
OT: Censor (UK 2021)
The year 1985 in Great Britain: Conservative voices are in hysteria. Because according to them, a new wave of ultra-brutal (cheap) horror films, sometimes appearing directly on video, is corrupting society. The staff of the British Board of Classification (BBFC) is therefore encouraged to monitor newly submitted films particularly closely and to demand generous censorship cuts even for the highest age ratings. For Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) this is easy: she watches even the toughest films in boredom and makes extensive notes of passages that she classifies as amoral and disgusting and therefore has them censored. But when her parents awaken a dream she hasn’t yet had by reminding Enid of her sister’s disappearance without a trace, Enid’s life begins to spiral. She recognizes more and more of her life in the horror films that she has to watch. And her life reminds her more and more of horror films.
It remains a huge mystery how film fans can complain that “nothing is allowed today.” Because at least in most Western film markets we live in a film culture climate that is open-minded. While in young post-war United Kingdom, shy Doris Day comedies were sometimes given a rating from 16 or even 18 years old because dialogues with heavily coded ambiguities shocked the decision-makers, in the 1980s it was primarily horror films that moral guardians were after . The flood of horrors caused major scandals in a society characterized by a Christian church that was more vocal in its judgment and culturally more influential at the time. Numerous films were confiscated, indexed or only received their 18+ release after massive cuts. In the meantime, several films of this type are re-examined every year, disappear from the index and are sometimes even given a rating of 16 years and over (or – although this happens more in the action genre than in the horror genre – even less!). Things that were unthinkable back then. Not just in United Kingdom. Great Britain, for example, was also at the forefront of the anti-horror hysteria and therefore also of the loud calls for more censorship in order to protect children and, oh, society in general.
The Censorship Committee meets…
The term “Video Nasties” became known to the British. The term is commonly used to refer to the flood of extreme horror films and the cultural debate surrounding them – but there was also an official list of Video Nasties. It contained video releases of films that could not be banned as obscenity – but could be confiscated via another paragraph. These films include “Christmas Evil” (now released in the UK for ages 15 and up), Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” the “Suspiria” original and “The House with the Torture Cellar” (also now available in the UK for ages 15 and up). ). Director/author Prano Bailey-Bond and author Anthony Fletcher, both of whom have so far exclusively been responsible for short film projects, put us right in the middle of the video nasties craze with their feature film debut “Censor” – and offer us a nice ironic nod to how the culture is changing has changed since then. Because their psychological horror with isolated peaks of violence, which would have caused this film problems with the BBFC in the mid-1980s, was financed with British funding. As if the rehabilitation of numerous video nasties titles wasn’t enough, now the once banned style of 80s horror is also treating itself to a state-sponsored victory lap in the form of an homage!
“Director/writer Prano Bailey-Bond and writer Anthony Fletcher, both previously responsible exclusively for short film projects, put us right in the middle of the video nasties craze with ‘Censor’ – and offer us a nice ironic nod to how the culture has changed since then has changed.”
However, it doesn’t take the simplest route. It would be too easy to bow to the horror that British conservatives wanted to smother by simply copying. Or through a kind of metafictional revenge film in which someone or something slaughters members of the British clearance authority (although we also find this idea somehow appealing…). Instead, Bailey-Bond approaches the censors in a nuanced way: some portray them as constantly outraged, others are on the side of the filmmakers and argue for not using the scissors. And still others seem to just want to find appropriate clearances and are now overwhelmed by the pressure of expectations to take tough action. Protagonist Enid, on the other hand, is a very strange combination: completely jaded, she watches the films with rolling eyes and disgust. Without being shocked by what is shown, she condemns the minds behind these films as amoral and disgusting. At least until her parents stir up an old trauma. Now she suddenly suffers intensely – and although she allows herself to be absorbed by the fascination of these films, she reacts to them increasingly angrily.
“Censor” has a strange style…
Niamh Algar (“Cash Truck”) embodies this difficult to understand woman full of character barbs with a fascinating, stoic attitude, so that Enid’s emotional outbursts and gradually escalating irrational phases hit you all the harder. She manages to keep Enid plausible throughout this film world, even though she is completely aloof and rarely acts in a comprehensible way. Enid’s character is the real mystery of the film and its driving force, while Enid’s investigation into the case of her missing sister is just the springboard to dive into this atmospheric psychogram. Bailey-Bond and camerawoman Annika Summerson (“Mogul Mowgli”) immerse this material in a mostly emphatically barren, desolate aesthetic that illustrates the desolate nature of Enid. But again and again, more stylish features waft through “Censor” until they ultimately completely take over this production, which jumps between 8mm film, 35mm film and shot-on-video. But what “Censor” does is eclectic: everything is there, from quiet, stable shots with a ghostly atmosphere and the blue-pink contrast of higher-quality productions to the grainy image noise and the all-consuming shadows of underexposed cheap films. Always depending on what’s going on in Enid’s head. Enid’s mental crash takes time to get going before it progresses quickly and enthrallingly. So you shouldn’t expect a mind-screw ride, but rather an atmospheric psychological horror with lurid violent peaks – and above all with an excellent sound design: static noise brings back video cassette memories and ensures tense basic acoustics, several times creaking and mechanical sound effects shake the marrow without that they would ever be cheap moments of shock.
“Bailey-Bond and camerawoman Annika Summerson immerse this material in a mostly stark, desolate aesthetic that illustrates the desolate nature of Enid. But more stylish features keep wafting through ‘Censor’.”
Prano Bailey-Bond next adapts the short story “Things We Lost in the Fire,” about a female community that takes extreme measures against male threats. We’re looking forward to it – and until the film is finished, we could catch up on and/or watch a few Video Nasties titles again. “Censor” definitely makes you want to watch it.
Conclusion: “Censor” is a must for genre fans who want to approach the minds behind the video nasties hysteria with time and critical distance, but also with empathy. But you shouldn’t expect an orgy of violence: This is an atmospheric psychological thriller, not a non-stop breaking of taboos. Which definitely fits the topic.
“Censor” can be seen in cinemas from July 29, 2021.