Thursday, August 5

Some Random Thoughts on the MPAA and Horror Films

One of the coolest things about flipping through old issues of Fangoria is running across the "what might have beens?" The news tidbits and interviews excerpts that place actors and/or directors with projects that either fell through or transformed into something else. Like Shocker continually being pimped as Wes Craven's "big comeback" prior to its release. Or ill-fated remakes of Roger Corman's Vincent Price pictures. Or Jeff Burr's initial idea of having three costume phases for Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw 3. Although I'm already starting off beside my point.

What you really don't see anymore in horror mags is the perpetual battle with the MPAA cutting a swathe through (primarily) '80s horrordom. To the point that the ratings board almost seemed to harbor a vendetta against the genre or merely feeling the pressure of the "morally upright" Regan era. Of course, virtually everything about the MPAA's impact on horror has substantially diminished since Fango's print heyday, but lasting damage is still felt in spurts. Since the MPAA "set the bar" for public versions of horror films, there's still an ongoing search for alternate/deleted footage sliced away at the behest of the board for re-insertion into new digital special editions.

Uncaring studios are partially to blame as well, especially Paramount, who seem aloof about requests to dig around in their vaults for the original piles of excised Friday the 13th series footage. The studio still treats Mr. Voorhees like a redheaded, albeit extremely profitable, stepchild. The original My Bloody Valentine is another Paramount tragedy. Despite the recent disc restoring three minutes, reportedly the MPAA initially ravaged the Canuck slasher of around eight minutes total. There are miraculous success stories like lost snippets of Stuart Gordon's From Beyond randomly found in a film can by sheer chance. Or, on a vastly more historic scale, the whole Metropolis janitor closet saga.

The biggest modern carryover from the MPAA's wraith is the propensity for genre outings to shoot for a comfortable R-rating. This can be evidenced in the Saw franchise's unrated cuts only running just seconds longer on gore grounds with more padding from added exposition (like Jigsaw eating soup in Saw 2!?!). In some ways, it's like horror filmmakers and FX artists used to purposely overshoot the gore quotas of their work for the express purpose of pissing off overzealous censors. Not so much anymore. Still, it's a blessing that the explosion in popularity of "unrated" home video that arrived with DVD has defanged the board's stranglehold on what essentially amounts to version control. Blu-ray's capability to provide outstanding presentations at home also has an importance. Not only can we enjoy uncut features, but view all the vicious mayhem in exacting, realistic detail. Not in fuzzy, analog video back when the scissors felt the right to alleviate your eyes of murky sights depicting Jason cleaving horny teens.           

It's also interesting to note how the paradigm has changed since the '80s. The "torture porn" trend (no insult intended) is perhaps the ultimate way of showing the board for how ludicrous it really is. The MPAA tied itself in knots, or at least caused hair loss amongst filmmakers, over the "tone" or "feeling" of violence on-screen. The rated cuts of films like Saw and Hostel show that the censors don't feel the need to go apeshit ballistic over inferred or outright violence towards and suffering of victims. But show that same violence from the point of view of the killer? No way in the eyes of the MPAA. Well, unless Anthony Hopkins is the one perpetrating it, that is. Although what's more disturbing? A sudden, on-camera disembowelment or seeing the slow torment of the girl pictured to the left from Hostel 2? I can still remember the absolute unease I felt watching that scene, but most of the straight up gore effects work I see fall to the wayside (and really, the most memorable seem to also be the most fake-looking).

You know most of this already, but it's nice to vent. The MPAA have always been bullshit. At least North American horror fans never had it as bad as Germany or the United Kingdom. Actually, looking back, it's funny to think when the MPAA were at their most tyrannical, horror flicks on television were a constant. Nowadays, horror on TV has all but vanished, and the MPAA mostly just pisses off Steven Spielberg and let's the torture commence in the multiplexes mostly unabated...


Jose Cruz said...

Great essay, Jayson. I've felt the need to write about the inanity of the MPAA and censorship in general before, so you just keep on rantin'! Marvelously put and good points made. Thanks for the entertaining read.

Mr. Fiendish said...

The MPAA is definitely more uptight over sex than it is violence. in Europe it's vice versa

Aylmer said...

The OFLC in Australia is as bad as ever. One conservative christian politician starts yelling about some movie and next thing you know... it's gone.

DrunkethWizerd said...

Dude, sweet post!

Unknown said...

Great post - VERY interesting and it brings back some 80's memories of reading Fangoria and their take on the ratings board at the time. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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