Socialist Worker

Censor—a cult horror film that’s a gory tribute to cult horror films

Censor has plenty of knowing references to the video nasties of the 1980s. But has it lost its way among all the in-jokes, asks Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2768

Censor is a stylistic homage to old horror films

Censor is a stylistic homage to old horror films


A terrified teenage girl runs through a forest, tortured by filtered lighting effects, strobey editing and a John Carpenter‑style score. A hand clicks a clunky remote and the frame freezes. Two censors watching, Enid (Niamh Algar) and Sanderson (Nicholas Burns) discuss what’s to be done with the gorier parts.

The decapitation is fine because it’s ridiculous, claims Enid, but the eye-gouging will need to be cut. Sanderson does the pompous thing people do citing Shakespeare, Homer and Bunuel, but Enid holds her ground.As she points out she’s already “salvaged the tug of war with the intestines” and “only trimmed the tiniest bit off the end of the genitals”.

A montage of on screen carnage bleeds into news footage of miners at Orgreave being beaten by cops.

“If they’re so worried about the general public, why do they keep slashing social services?” one of Enid’s peers rhetorically asks while Margaret Thatcher reprimands the unions on TV.

But that’s as big-picture political as it gets, and this brief window dressing disappears fairly quickly as a more rote genre-horror storyline comes into focus

The script digs at the era’s paranoia about VHS turning the nation’s youth into serial killers.

Steeped in the gory look, grimy feel of the so-called “video nasties” from the 1980s, the meta-minded horror movie offers a pastiche, spiked with black humour.

Censor posits that repeated viewing of proscribed material could create an unhealthy appetite for the very stuff they’re meant to be regulating. Or does it?

The slightly too many in-jokes and allusions reveal nobody really gets anywhere by talking about violent movies.

“What is it with these directors?” asks one, Anne (Clare Perkins).

“Male inadequacy, revenge ­catharsis,” replies Enid. Enid’s a cliche of uptight conservativism and an archetype of the “final girl”.

Missing

She suffers guilt at having blanked out the details of a childhood incident in which her sister Nina went missing, never to be seen again.

So the censor is self-censoring, but who is she protecting and from what?

She starts to believe that her sister lives on, as an actress (Sophia La Porta) who shows up in the latest trashy offering she watches.

So a rabbit hole gets jumped down.

There are some nice subtle ­flourishes, such as when a ­projector beam turns red implying the bloodiness of the image.

This is more of an exercise in style rather than a discussion about horror, art and censorship.

Censor remembers what horror films do, and that they’re rooted in a return of the repressed.

It takes a while but we do get a “ridiculous” decapitation, and a Cronenberg talking wound.

But the film’s focus is on Enid not the gore, and it’s better for it.

Full of eerie creaks and just audible screams, it bleeds seamlessly as everything narrows down to 4:3 aspect ratio.

Any potential line between reality and fiction and movies and folly gets blurry at best.

Censor is in cinemas from Friday 20 August

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