[SUDNANCE REVIEW] CENSOR Critiques the Validity of Censorship While Exploring the Impact of the Video Nasty Gabe Castro
Prano Bailey-Bond’s CENSOR seeks to explore what happens to the frail but dedicated minds that were tasked with watching and rating the graphic exploitation horror films of the 80’s known as Video Nasties. Due to lack of legislation in the UK specifically designed to regulate video content, there was an influx of horrifying films graphic in nature and in advertising. Without watch-dogs to decide what is suitable for the general populace, the filmmakers and creators of these explicit titles ran free taking out full page ads featuring graphic imagery and releasing gratuitous pieces. Because of this eruption of films, dubbed Video Nasties, there was a public outcry regarding the morality of these films and questioning the effect on viewers. Similar to the criticism of video games and rap music during the Columbine School Shooting, people sought to pin blame on the media for the crimes of man.
Director Prano Bailey-Bond, fascinated by the Video Nasty era which intensely questions human morality and judgement, said in her Q&A after the Sundance premiere of CENSOR, that she was interested in what happens to the censors who watch these films day in and day out. There was extreme stress around the effect these films could have on the human mind going so far as to say that showing the mutilation of breasts could incite violence and rape towards women. With this idea Bailey-Bond questioned, “What prevents the Censor from losing control?”
CENSOR follows film censor Enid Baines as she slowly unravels after watching a particularly triggering Video Nasty. Enid is a strict, by-the-book film censor that takes her job very seriously. She is the first line of defense for society against the horrors and incredibly impressionable graphic films she reviews. Enid holds the heavy power and obligation on her shoulders with pride until she fails to properly censor a film that allegedly inspires a murder. This failure brings about criticism from the public who hold her ultimately responsible for the murders and sends her on a spiral where reality and insanity are blurred lines. Coupled with her attempt to grapple with her real-life traumas when her parents decide to finally declare her sister dead, after having been missing since childhood, Enid quickly becomes an unreliable narrator that leads us on a psychological trip into the underworld of the Video Nasty.
There is an obvious love for the sub-genre of the exploitative and wild films under the Video Nasty header. Watching the films in the censor offices, we’re placed in a small, intimate theatre while the lights and colors flash across the censor’s face. We walk through hallways, surrounded by the buffered screams of women. With Enid, we venture into the depths of the production, the intimacy and grunge of creating traumatic and gory works of art. CENSOR, like the video nasties it features, introduces its viewers to unsettling landscapes and questions the validity of censorship as a whole.
Enid, though tasked with the heroic role of protecting the populace from themselves, is only human. Her slow acceptance of her impressionability and the meaninglessness of her job is a guide for the viewer to see the futility of censorship. Did the man who committed than heinous murder do so because of the Video Nasty, Deranged or was he going to commit murder regardless? At one point, Enid, skulking through a local VHS shop sees a lively exchange between a customer who watched and quite enjoyed a blacklisted Video Nasty and the employee who keeps a few hidden away on hand for such fans, and we are left to ask, “Why haven’t these people committed murder?”
Working in horror myself, I have had my own sanity and morality questioned. People ask, “Does it desensitize you, watching so much horror?” and the truth is, it does the opposite. Horror can create a cathartic experience that can also allow for a viewer to empathize with the victims and heroes on screen. We can experience first-hand the horrors that others have to battle every day. With CENSOR, that idea is explored further as Enid slowly descends into chaos, allowing the fear to bleed through into her reality.
Visually, this film is striking. We are submerged into the Video Nasty era, the film itself feels as if it belongs there. There is darkness on the edges and as Enid loses the plot in her frantic quest for answers we are plunged headfirst into a new Video Nasty. There is a clear appreciation for the sub-genre and a defense of an art-form that has suffered long-time criticism. CENSOR is incredibly graphic and doesn’t hold back, it is a refreshing and wild trip into the complicated minds of exploitation films.