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Human Centipede II Banned in the U.K. -- All Part of Its Business Model

The British Board of Film Classification has banned Human Centipede II (The Full Sequence) from being shown in U.K. movie theaters, much to the delight of IFC Films which has incorporated the ban into its online marketing of the film: The trailer (below) now gleefully reads, "Banned in the UK; Poses a real risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers."

If you still don't want to know what Human Centipede and its new sequel is about, trust me, do yourself a favor and stop reading this now. Even the BBFC's statement explaining why it was refusing to license the movie will put you off your lunch.

The movie probably won't be "banned" in any significant way in the U.S. because of the First Amendment protection of free speech. But at least 59 countries have quasi-governmental authority to censor the distribution of movies.

Of course, the internet has made true censorship impossible. The Brits (and everyone else) will get their Centipede fix by ordering import DVDs and watching streaming video on the web. From a business point of view, Human Centipede II's director, Tom Six, actually needs the ban -- his film won't be profitable without the extra free publicity the ban has triggered.

A classic in the making?
History rarely judges censorship kindly. In the U.K., the BBFC has banned classics such as Tod Browning's Freaks, The Wild One (starring Marlon Brando), The Exorcist, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs (starring Dustin Hoffman).

Does this mean Human Centipede II is destined to become a cult classic? I'm a scary movie fan and I hate the new wave of "torture porn" films. There is a difference between movies that are scary because they deliver genuine scares (Alien, for example), and movies that simply focus on the most repellent thing the director can think of.

The economics of torture porn
Unfortunately, as a cultural issue, "torture porn" is a rare thing in scary movies: a genuinely new genre, ushered in by the Saw franchise and its ilk. Human Centipede II is likely to be its nadir, and thus will earn a much-discussed place in movie history.

The BBFC issued its ban after coming to the conclusion that the movie might violate the Obscene Publications Act, which prohibits "works that have a tendency to deprave or corrupt a significant proportion of those likely to see them." This illustrates the second reason that censorship almost always backfires: It's fair to say that no member of the BBFC's panel -- which includes novelist Fay Weldon -- feels they were depraved. Depravity is something that only happens to the little people.

And very few of those little people choose to risk depravity, it seems. For all IFC Films' president Jonathan Sehring's blather about the first movie being one of his "maybe 10 most profitable films," it actually grossed just $252,207 in worldwide cinema receipts after costing $1.5 million to make.


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