Ban Them All! 10 Infamously Controversial Movies

Lars von Trier’s latest descent into hell -- Antichrist -- is just the latest in a long line of stomach-wrenching shockers.

by | November 26, 2009 | Comments

Death, despair and genital mutilation: only a great Dane could fuse all three into one brilliantly bleak, guaranteed nausea-inducing piece of cinema… which seems to blame all the evil in the world on women, though Lars von Trier begs to differ.

Antichrist is definitely out there, but shock and awe in cinema are hardly anything new. Think back to Luis Buñuel’s queasy, eyeball-slicing Un Chien Andalou (1929) — arguably the birth of the movie ‘shocker’ — Tod Browning’s grotesque Freaks (1933), or any number of early films whose now-tame titilations terrified the censors of the time. Since then, movies have been an ongoing magnet for controversy, from Deep Throat (1972) to The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) to Kids (1995), while some — such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) — resulted in the trial of their directors before the courts. Here, then, are 10 of the most controversial….

Booze-swilling, drug-toting maverick misogynist Sam Peckinpah’s lurid tale of a newlywed couple’s (Dustin Hoffman and Susan George) trip to the woman’s remote home town sparked outrage in England, where it was subsequently banned for nearly 20 years. Hoffman’s professor-type isn’t a match for his wife’s former lover and his henchmen, who descend on the couple’s home and wreak havoc. Amy (George) is raped by two of the local meatheads, in typically seedy Peckinpah style (it’s suggested she’s lured the men in) before Andy (Hoffman) fights back.

Stanley Kubrick’s vision of a dystopian society and the corruption of power in near-future England was banned by its own director, after copycat killings with gangs of thugs dressed up as Alexander DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his ‘droogs’. The “ultra violent” journey of madness (based on Anthony Burgess’ novel) involves daily, ritualistic beatings — plus there’s the rape and clubbing to death of a yuppie housewife (with a giant phallus, no less) and some equally grim brainwashing techniques. So disturbed was Kubrick by the film’s potentially catastrophic content that he never allowed the theatrical ban to be lifted in England.

Banned by the band before its release, Robert Frank’s unpleasant, warts ‘n’ all doco on the Rolling Stones’ 1972 US tour contains some of the best live footage ever shot of the Stones, when the group were at their height. Alarmed by footage of the group’s posse shooting up, roadies having orgies with groupies (it’s dubious whether it’s consensual, too) and Keith being in a general state of intoxication, the Stones threatened legal action. Instead, the pedestrian, concert-only Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones was eventually released, two years later.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s bleak shag fest (said to be based on his own fantasies) provided another milestone for screen icon Marlon Brando, who thrived on the ‘less is more’ logic of the script (he’s said to have improvised much of his dialogue). Brando’s middle-aged businessman Paul is mourning the loss of his wife, when he encounters saucy young Parisian lass Jeanne (Maria Schneider). They meet daily and shag like rabbits — without ever exchanging names or numbers. Paul insists on anonymity — then utters the immortal line: “Go, get the butter.” The infamous anal sex scene (improvised by Brando and the director at the last minute) meant that Bertolucci’s film was slapped with an ‘X’ rating, and he was tried in Italy for obscenity. Despite all this, it was nominated for two Oscars.

Typically barmy, perverse tale of corruption and small-mindedness from writer-director Peter Greenaway that focuses on a supposed virgin birth — and a community’s frenzied response to it. It was banned in many territories, due to its horrific climax: the systematic, relentless rape (and subsequent death) of The Daughter (Julia Ormond) — as sanctioned by the Church. Power does indeed corrupt — but was this really necessary? We think not.

Lars von Trier’s follow-up to the bleak Breaking the Waves follows a group of middle-class brats turned misfits who play at being ‘spazzes’ for kicks. There’s some muddled silly message that some of them attempt to hang on to, but by the time a group ‘spazz’ orgy has been almost routinely run out, you’re left patiently waiting for the thing to end. Spoilt rich kids taking the piss out of handicapped kids for kicks — and having a mass orgy in spazz mode: only Lars could get away with it.

No one believed that Brett Easton Ellis’ psychotic novel could be successfully adapted for the big screen — until I Shot Andy Warhol‘s Mary Harron delivered this genius piece of cinematic gore. Pre-Batman Christian Bale fits the role of Patrick Bateman like a latex glove, delivering a still career-best performance, as he chops and slices his victims up with glee. The business card scene remains unmatched in its scathingly shallow critique of corporate America.

Years before Lars shocked his fellow man at Cannes, French writer-director Gaspar Noé’s horrific tale of one tragic night in Paris had them fleeing for the sick bins. Real-life couple Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci play the film’s doomed lovers, with the voluptuous Alex (Bellucci) brutally raped and beaten in a savage act of random, drug-crazed psychosis. Told in reverse-chronological order (à la Memento), Marcus’ (Cassel) rampage of revenge is equally convincing.

When a film is sold on its ‘real sex’ content — and ends up only being entertaining for its live music (hence ‘9 Songs’) — one has to wonder what on earth was going on in director Michael Winterbottom’s otherwise very talented head (remember 24-Hour Party People?). A couple meet in London, fall in love, have lusty, full-on sex sessions (remember: it’s all real, apparently), have painfully dull conversations — and go to rock concerts. The handheld footage from the gigs is a welcome light relief from the tedium — and would sit nicely all on its own. As for the real sex — simply try it out at home, folks.

Greg Mclean’s modern horror classic saw John Jarratt ditch his wholesome Aussie blokeness to play psychopath Mick Tayler — a loony Outbacker whose penchant for skinning backpackers alive knows no bounds. The ‘no one gets out alive’ mantra of the film — disturbingly based on real events — surprisingly saw it not get banned or cut before release, but worried the hell out of tourism chiefs, who understandably questioned the wisdom of advertising such stuff to the outside world. Outback backpackers are now routinely asked, “Have you seen Wolf Creek?”

Antichrist is in cinemas now.

  • Benjamin Freedman Knew Best

    The vast majority of these were done by Europeans. Such things happen when you become too hip and enlightened for God.

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