Thursday, June 30, 2011

Island of the Fishmen aka L'isola degli uomini pesce

Well, it's been a while since I wrote (or watched, for that matter) anything as gloriously silly as Island of the Fishmen. Whilst I have seen it before, it was only once and somewhat over a year ago, so I thought this re-imagining of Dr Moreau's isalnd was ripe for another watch. And what a (ahem) treat it is!

It opens as you might expect a tense serious monster film to: the sea is still, several injured men look silently at the camera and a gull screeches overhead. Something has gone very wrong here, but we just don't know what! Maybe this will be, despite the name, a slow-building tense affair, all hinted-at flashes and unsettling curiosities..... OH WAIT, NO! MONSTERS HAVE ARRIVED!

The boat rocks, the men shout and scream, despite clearly being in a studio rather than the ocean they are plunged into the sea! We see flashes of fishy monster hands and eyes... and all this in the first five minutes.

The greatest thing about this film is that, unlike many of its ilk, it never really slows down. All too often, I've watched dull films with snappy titles, fun beginnings and then a tedious 45 minute crawl towards a decent finale, the kind of film that makes 90 minutes seem like a very long time indeed. Thankfully, Island... is not one of these. The pace does dip and wobble but the sense of threat and excitement never really leaves. Even within the first half hour or so most of the first characters meet grisly fates (more fishmen!) , presumably-poisonous snakes have threatened the others and native islanders have attacked and captured our heroes. Through all this carnage walks the impressive mustachioed badguy, Rackham (Richard Johnson), sneering and snarling his lines at his captive would-be wife and our shipwrecked hero.

From here on in it just gets sillier. We learn about the rediscovery of Atlantis, the origin of the savage clawed fishmen and the dastardly Rackham's true plans. It's chaotically silly stuff that makes little sense to anyone but it romps on through with gleeful abandon. And it is great fun.

I don't want to give too much of the fabulous plot away but I couldn't help but mention the volcano shots... Every now and then the camera cuts to some very impressively shot footage of erupting volcanoes - obviously lifted from a nature documentary - which, when contrasted with the unspeakably silly Fishmen costumes, makes them look even more ridiculous than they otherwise would have done.

N.B. This was re-cut and re-released in the US as Screamers. I'm not really sure in what ways that version was different, as I watched the Italian print, but I do know that Roger Corman re-shot the intro to add more gore... The poster for Screamers bears almost no relation to what happens in the Island of the Fishmen!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Banning the Human Centipede II

A day or two ago, the UK's national organisation of stopping-you-watching-things, the BBFC, announced that they had rejected The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) as a work too depraved to be released in the UK, a film that couldn't be salvaged by any measure of cuts, a story that would corrupt and damage our all-too-fragile sensibilities.

In one word, this is ridiculous.

To explain why, I'm using this post to write out three of the reasons I believe this. Namely, that 1) this move reveals awkward things about what we do and don't accept, 2) that the evidence upon which we base the 'dangers' of watching bad things is pretty slim and 3) that censorship simply doesn't work.

What we ban.
The BBFC have always had a major downer on sexualised violence. This might not be such a surprise in itself but it becomes more unusual when you consider that they are considered one of the more lenient bodies in almost all other forms of violence or abuse. Although this has always been the case (see David Pirie's New Heritage of Horror) it is becoming more and more obvious as other very violent films or very explicitly sexual films are released uncut, whilst any combination of the two tends to fall foul of the censors' scissors.

David Cox's Guardian article is spot-on in picking out this detail and makes the following point (quoting the BBFC's explanation):
The board explain that the original film was OK (if "undoubtedly tasteless and disgusting") because its centipede was the product of a "revolting medical experiment", whereas its successor is unacceptable because its own centipede is "the object of the protagonist's depraved sexual fantasy"
So there we have it. Apparently, the minute someone is enjoying their disgusting creation, rather than simply experimenting, it becomes something which no-one should watch. The inconsistency here is phenomenal: this is, as Cox says "an ideological step", exposing a curious belief that repulsive violence, sadistic actions and grisly surgical detail are in someway only bad if someone in the film derives some kind of sexual pleasure from them.

And if this is the case, as the BBFC seems to think it is, then there had better be some good evidence to support it, right? Oh...

Why we ban.
There really still isn't very much clear evidence that watching something nasty in any way makes you nasty.

I should point out, I'm talking about censorship rather than restriction. I have no problem at all with limiting children's access to films but I think we're on much more troublesome ground when it comes to adults.

The BBFC state:
It is the Board’s conclusion that the explicit presentation of the central character’s obsessive sexually violent fantasies is in breach of its Classification Guidelines and poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.
Oh. So this film "poses a real risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers", does it? Even when we get around the incredibly vague probability of this sentence (risk...likely...potential..) it is quite a bold statement. What kind of harm do they mean? And how is it measured? Even more interestingly, why is it that sexualised violence poses more risk than non-sexualised but equally brutal and graphic violence?

In fact, do they have any evidence to suggest this at all?

It would seem not. Ah well, it hardly matters really because, as anyone with half a brain could tell you...

Censorship doesn't work.
It's a curious thing. In a world in which movie and film industries are having remarkable difficulty in forcing their 'customers' to actually pay for their 'product', how does the BBFC think a ban will effect the viewing figures of The Human Centipede?

It was not submitted for a cinema release, so we can already discount cinema screenings. What the BBFC's ruling does is to make DVD sales of the film illegal in the UK. Despite this, we can absolutely take it for granted that the moment this film actually hits DVD somewhere in the world, it'll show up on the internet in high quality, just waiting to be downloaded.

Not only will it be available, however, but it now has a whole heap of free publicity. At the time of writing this, the BBFC's decision is reported as news on the front pages of several national newspapers' websites (inc. Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent) and is now something that people have heard of. The classic censor's argument about protecting the children is also obviously poor: nothing makes a fifteen year old want to see a film so much as being told it's been banned! And, with the internet, they (and everyone else) will be able to access it easily.


So, in short, a disaster. For dubious reasons, the BBFC have inflicted an unenforceable ban which will almost certainly massively increase the number of people who see the film. Gee, that was smart, wasn't it?