Hollywood Gothique
The Archive

New day for uncut horror?

Over at Dread Central, Johnny Butane speculates that some proposed changes in the ratings process of the Motion Picture Association of America could result in more horror films being released uncut, instead of being trimmed down to receive an R-rating instead of an NC-17.

Among the changes, filmmakers will be allowed to examien the rules and standards that the MPAA uses, and when contesting a rating they will have the option of referencing similar scenes in previous movies.

Personally, I think Johnny is being way overoptimistic here. All this will achieve is that there may be some more consistency to the ratings,which often seem arbitrary – when they’re not showing outright favoritism.

In other words, Steven Spielberg can blow off heads (in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) or have a topless woman drilled between the breasts with a bloody bullet wound (in MUNICH), because he’s a major Hollywood player making studio films on a serious subjects, and no one wants to run afoul of him or hurt his chance of making a profit by giving him an NC-17. But if a low-independt horror film were to use similar imagery, they would probably have to cut it out to get the R-rating.

The thing is, this may help a few filmmakers, without studio clout, to get on an even playing field with the majors when it comes to ratings, but it will not stop bloody violence from being trimmed to avoid the two restricitng ratings, R and NC-17. (All the other ratings – G, PG, and PG-13 – are really advisory, not restrictive.)

The reason for this should be pretty obvious: these intense, graphic sequence are meant to shock viewers silly; the whole point is to go too far – creating disgust by breaking taboos and showing more than any polite movie would.

You can’t stand around demanding that films go “too far” by normal standards and then object that this extreme material should receive a rating that prevents children from viewing the movies. The position is contradictory, maybe even hypocritical: the hard-core gore hounds don’t want films that are suitable for children; they want extreme horror that pushes the limits.

Of course, there’s a whole separate element to this problem, which is the PG-13 rating – which the folks at Dread Central (along with most of the other horror websites) dread more than the sight of impaled eyeballs, severed heads, and/or evicerated entrails.

The simple fact is that Hollywood demographics do not neatly line up with the ratings board classifications. Hollywood horror movies are often pitched at teenagers, many of whom are too young to get into R-rated films, hence the motivation to earn a PG-13 rating. The ratings board isn’t going to suddenly start passing these films with a more lenient rating to help the studios hit their target audience, and it’s unlikely the studios will start routinely making only R-rated horror films that force a large part of their audience to sneak in. (Imagine the revenue lost when young teenagers purchase tickets to PG movies at the multiplex, then walk into the R-rated film they really want to see.)

The PG-13 “problem” isn’t going to go away soon – and when you think about it, it’s not really a problem. Horror films can be very effective with that rating – as long as they’re designed to work on that level from the beginning, not cut down at the last minute because the distributor is afraid to go with the R-rating.

As for more extreme hororr, what we really need is not so much a revision of the ratings process as a way of taking the onus off the NC-17 rating. At the present time, it’s almost unviable for a movie to be released with this rating, because some newspapers refuse to carry advertisements, and some theatres refuse to play them. There should be some movies made for adults only, without apology, and it should be possible for those films to be released without being stigmtized as some king of sleazy pornography.