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‘…certainly of interest to horror fans…’

‘Male inadequacy revenge catharsis’ is how the central character in Censor explains away the phenomenon of the 80’s video nasty in the UK; the phrase sounds very modern, but it very much fits the character of Enid Baines (Niamh Algar). She’s working for the British Board of Film Classification in 1985, but her exposure to a relentless stream of horror films seems to have caused her to be a little unhinged, and may be provoking memories connected to her sister’s disappearance. Can Enid figure out what’s real and what’s a celluloid nightmare?

So Censor is a horror film, but one that derives much of its interest from looking behind the curtain at the inner workings of our moral guardians. Enid Baines feels guilt and pain about her sister’s plight, and when she spots a lookalike in the murky films of fictitious film-maker Frederick North, she turns detective, Nancy Drew-style, and attempts to track down his next production. But Enid is alone, unsupported by staff or parents, and crosses the wires when she ends up playing a role for North. Writer and director Prano Bailey-Bond is keen to mix things up as Enid’s obsession merges her daily reality with the bloody carnage she watches so dispassionately; the later stages are something of a guddle, but not before the film has set out an aggressive stall in terms of confronting the darker side of the male gaze.

Context is everything here; I wasn’t 18 when the 80’s kerfuffle about moral censorship dominated the news, but observed what we’d now call the Streisand effect in action. The 50+ films deemed unsuitable for viewing by anyone by the BBFC became required viewing for any teenager, and we’d come back from school to watch such outré fare as The Burning or Cannibal Ferox; it took longer to track down the good ones like Tenebre or Possession. Did viewing these films destroy my moral compass and leave me a hopeless, steaming deviant? Regular readers will have their own opinions, but viewing these films certainly gave me the fear in terms of poor production levels, misogyny, poor scripting and dreadful acting. These films were a rite of passage, but are more to be laughed at than feared or taken seriously as anything other than a cultural phenomenon caused by a ridiculous act of nanny-state thinking.

This kind of subject has been tackled in films like Sinister or books like Theodore Roszak’s memorable Flicker, and for once, the background is well caught; Enid’s job is under threat because one of the films she’s passed has been mentioned as a catalyst for a real-life murder by the ‘Amnesiac killer’, and the film probes Enid’s own lack of concrete memories. If Censor starts to falter around the midway mark, it’s because there’s two films here; one a witty takedown of censorship, the other an earnest horror film, and the two sides never quite gel to a consistent tone. But with horror guru Kim Newman amongst the executive producers, Censor is certainly of interest to horror fans, even if the jump scares never quite land when the key element of dread is missing.


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  1. I had a friend who was a censor and she said it was entirely boring. They raced through stuff, fast forwarding all the way, virtually nothing like the system shown here apart from the inevitable male hierarchy and the pompousness of any bureaucrat given authority.

    • That’s what I’ve heard and seen too. There was abrief shot of someone slumped in front of a cartoon, and that’s the side I was interested in seeing; the drudge, rather than the tension of seeing the latest mad horrors. I feel there’s a missed opportunity here, to do something more like Schrader’s Hardcore, but it all descended into cliche and farce…

      • I always had the impression especially since the censors insisted on re-reviewing everything that was going out on VHS that the workload was impossible. Censors thought they would get first dibs at amazing new arthouse features and ended up on rubbish overload.

    • It certainly took a dive after they’d got all the cenor stuff out of the way; I’ll deal with the other point in the other comment…

      • It was a strange film altogether. I would have been happy either with backstabbing at the censor office or weird horror movie. Mixing them together did not seem right.

      • It piddles me off when critics et al (not aiming this at you) moan about the overload of superhero (Marvel/DC mostly) movies. In 2021 out of all the releases, 7 were of that ilk, yet 40 horror movies were released witih no-one moaning that it’s too many. So it seems to me the critic world (and probably the world in general) would much prefer to watch nasty horrible people chopping up bodies and raping and slashing, getting pregnant by cars, than watching people save the world. THIS is why we can’t have nice things. Rant over. Booky and I will read books.

        • I hear you, and I get it. There’s tonnes of horror movies, and there’s a lot less blockbusters. I try and find a mix, but I appreciate that not all the films I choose to review are the ones you’d choose to watch. Sometimes, a good book is preferable to some of these films for sure…I will TRY HARDER!

          • It’s OK whatever you do and I’m not having a pop at you as you pick all sorts of genres. And though I know you’re not a Marvel fan per se at least you don’t go spouting off about how awful there’s ‘so many’ of them. I do like to read about horror movies even if I’m not going to watch them, I might fancy one one day!

            • Agreed. There’s something good in every genre, and I’m also aware that when I review Marvel films, the reviews are the most widely read ones, I think I noted that in my end of year round up. I generally avoid gorefests, and try and pick titles that are of general interest. But you are correct about the world we live in; I wish there weren’t so many films that horrify us; what happened to thrillers, rom-coms, and fun films? If nothing else, I watch these films so you don’t have to, and I ALWAYS appreciate your comments! Now, let me just check my Charlie Chan boxed set has arrived…

    • I was late to the party with this one, but it’s worth looking at. Not really a straight horror, but the detail about BBFC work is very interesting for fans…of horror, rather than the BBFC!

  2. Sounds like a neat idea, especially with the fashion now for all things retro, but sounds like the execution isn’t on. Wonder if Newman pulled in any favours from his buddies in the crit community for all those pull quotes.

    • I think the first half is of real interest to anyone interested in cinema history, and even if they didn’t quite pull off the second half, it’s a good try. Newman is a real critic’s critic, and I’m not surprised a project with his influence would attract such positive comments…

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