Horror movies are designed to be scary, uncomfortable, and downright repulsive affairs. And yet, what is our fascination with them? Not all are completely gruesome, but a select few have pushed (dismembered?) the boundaries of taste to such an extreme, that they've actually been deemed illegal in some countries (and for good reason too). America isn't big on outright banning films, however, in other nations (I'm looking at you, Australia and United Kingdom), declaring it unlawful to show, sell or own certain films has been (and in some cases, still is) a longstanding tradition. And of course, with its outrageous, button-pushing content, horror has been a favorite target of overzealous censors for years. Here are 15 notorious fright films that were found to be so violent, so gory, or so depraved upon their release that they were banned-because surely, they would have corrupted the otherwise pure and innocent minds of anyone who watched them.
15 Freaks (1932)
Banned In: United Kingdom, Finland, Ireland, Italy
This early shocker from Director Tod Browning (Dracula), earned the ire of "the powers that be" due to its intensity and grotesque nature. In particular, the film casted people with real-life deformities as sideshow "freaks" who strike back violently at those who wronged one of their own. Who comes up with this stuff? In the UK, it was banned because it was viewed as exploiting the cast's physical defects, although in truth, Browning had long before developed a fondness for sideshow performers while working in circuses during his youth. Interestingly, the backlash to the film arose even after the studio removed 30 minutes of footage. Despite its lack of explicit on screen violence, Freaks wasn't available to view in the UK until 1963 and wasn't available for purchase until its release on home video in 1994.
14 The Devils (1971)
Banned In: Italy, Ireland, Chile, New Zealand, Finland
If you think a fact-based tale about a 17th century French convent would be dry and boring, consider this scandalous Ken Russell movie to prove you wrong. It's filled with demonic possession, exorcism, witchcraft, torture, and mass hysteria. This film depicts a highly stylized and embellished portrayal of a real-life Catholic priest named Urban Grandier. He was burned at the stake for supposedly summoning evil spirits that possessed the nuns of the convent causing them to engage in outrageous (NSFW) acts. As you might have expected, this material was considered blasphemous by many and was banned in Catholic-heavy countries like Italy and Ireland. Italian officials even threatened stars Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed with three years of jail if they stepped foot in the country. In the US and the UK, the movie "only" received an X rating.
13 The Last House on the Left (1972)
Banned In: UK, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore
To this day, horror movie legend Wes Craven's directorial debut of The Last House on the Left, is probably his most unpleasant offering. It's the tale of the torture and (eventual) murder of a teenage girl and the violent revenge her parents enact on the perpetrators. The combination of lewd acts and violence turned off movie rating boards in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom, the latter of which, didn't even bother to suggest edits that could have be made to make it releasable. In the '80s, it was one of a few movies on the UK's infamous "video nasties" list (list of video tapes that were potentially punishable for renting or selling) that was successfully prosecuted as being obscene. It wasn't until 2008, a year before the Last House on the Left remake was released, that the ban on the uncut original was lifted in the UK. It wasn't allowed in Australia until 2004.
12 The Exorcist (1973)
Banned In: UK, Malaysia, Singapore
Widespread critical acclaim and Academy Award nominations didn't protect William Friedkin's story of the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl from being banned (sorry). The United Kingdom's censors were flagged over the intensity and indecency of the scenes involving an underaged girl (Linda Blair) performing violent and lewd acts while spouting very racy language. Interestingly enough, The Exorcist was allowed to play in UK theaters upon its initial release in the '70s with an X-rating, but with the rise of VHS technology in the '80s, concerns arose that younger kids who wouldn't be able to see the film in theaters could now access it at home. Thus, in 1988, after years of availability on home video, it was pulled from stores and wasn't allowed to be sold again in the country for 11 years.
11 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Banned In: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, UK, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand
The fact that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was banned in so many countries is a testament to director Tobe Hooper's filmmaking prowess. Wondering why? Because in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there's no nudity, very little profanity, and not much gore, to be honest. Most of the violence either occurs offscreen or simply isn't featured in bloody detail; meaning the film's disturbing nature is due mostly to its sheer intensity. We're sweating just thinking about it. The intensity arrises particularly when a young woman is tormented and held captive by a family of cannibals who've just killed her friends (we literally could not make these things up). In fact, because there's so little explicit content, there wasn't much that could be edited out to make it suitable for release, and thus TCM was deemed just "too extreme" to watch.
10 Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)
Banned In: Sweden, Finland, New Zealand
The Swedish film Thriller: A Cruel picture AKA They Call Her One Eye (why did there need to be two titles?) is an example of the generally distasteful type of revenge movie in which a woman is assaulted and spends the rest of the film getting violent retribution on the perpetrators. Usually, this comes in as (appropriately) painful a manner as possible. In this instance, the mute protagonist is forced into prostitution and drug addiction, which of course, provides plenty of opportunity for objectionable material. Censor alert! Its explicit scenes of violence led to it being banned in its home country and elsewhere, although it has since gained a cult following worldwide. In the US, it was cut by more than 20 minutes before its release.
9 Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)
Banned In: UK, Norway, Australia
This cult film was directed in polite, genteel Canada (of all places) and is the quintessential "Nazisploitation" movie, featuring an unseemly blend of violence and Nazi-themed racism (among many other horrible things). It’s certainly not hard to see how the story of a nymphomaniac commander of a Nazi concentration camp became banned. The commander's thrill for torturing prisoners in an effort to prove their threshold for pain that was higher than anyone else's-would lead to this film being rejected in multiple countries. Still, its notoriety helped earn it a fan base and three sequels (three!?). Fun fact: Ilsa was shot on the set of the American World War II-themed TV comedy, Hogan's Heroes, which had just been cancelled and thus didn't need the set any longer.
8 Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Banned In: Australia, Iran, New Zealand, Sinapore, Sri Lanka, Italy, Finland, Malaysia, Germany, UK, Norway
Unlike the campy Ilsa, Salo's portrayal of historical atrocities is different, to say the least. In this instance, the kidnapping and torture of teens by Italian fascists at the end of World War II is a thoroughly grim affair. Based on a book by the Marquis de Sade, it's teeming with graphic violence, torture, degrading humiliation, and murder (but seriously...who thinks of these things). The word "sadism" comes from Marquis de Sade, after all. Even though Salo was not banned in the US, in 1993 the Cincinnati Police Department arrested the owners of a book store for renting it out to their customers. The department charged the store with "pandering obscenity." Fortunately for the defendants, the Supreme Court had already declared that works of "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value" could not be obscene.
7 Faces of Death (1978)
Banned In: Australia, New Zealand, Finland, UK, Norway
Faces of Death is perhaps the best-known "shock documentary" (AKA "shockumentary"), a style of documentary filmmaking that exploits extreme real-life footage (such as violence or exotic rituals). If history is any indicator, these films tend to draw on viewers' curiosity. A precursor to today's sensationalistic reality TV, it's basically a train wreck cinema, and Faces of Death might be the most notorious of the bunch. It revolves around the concept of showing actual deaths (humans and animals alike) on screen, making us queasy and unsettled. It should be noted that some of the footage in the movie (about 40%, by one estimate) is staged, but it's so realistically reenacted, that it caused quite the stir. Fake or not, it's still disturbing nonetheless. It was another one of the "video nasties" that was successfully prosecuted as being too obscene in the UK in the 1980s.
6 I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Banned In: Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Canada, UK, China, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand
This is perhaps the most famous of the revenge fare. This film is as seedy as its title. The lead female character comes into play after being attacked not once, not twice, but three times while on a retreat at a lakeside cabin (all of these films make us want to stay away from cabins for a while). She, of course, returns to seek violent vengeance on the men that assaulted her. And despite supporters claims that the film is actually based on feminism (its original title was Day of the Woman), its scenes of prolonged violence drew the ire of censors worldwide. Along with the likes of Faces of Death and The Last House on the Left, its 1980s video release was officially declared obscene by UK law.
5 Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Banned In: Australia, Finland, UK, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines
One of the most notorious banned horror movies of all time, Italy's Cannibal Holocaust, was ahead of its time in its attempt at the type of "lost footage" realism that helped spur The Blair Witch Project's success in 1999. Its tale of a documentary film crew being slaughtered by Amazonian cannibals was so realistic, in fact, that Italian authorities thought director Ruggero Deodato had actually killed members of the cast on camera, and they arrested him for murder (we're serious)! The charges were later dropped, but the movie did in fact feature several real life deaths...of animals, that is (we're repulsed). Animal cruelty charges, on top of the graphic (fake) human violence, and assaults fueled animosity towards Cannibal Holocaust. And they ensured its status in genre fans minds as a cult classic. Not surprisingly, this "video nasty" was officially found to be too obscene in the UK.
4 The Evil Dead (1981)
Banned In: Germany, Chile, Iceland, Malaysia, UK, Singapore
While the Evil Dead films would later become heavily comedic in nature, the original was a much more somber, straightforward horror affair. Its intensity was noted and contributed to its censorship around the globe. The story revolves around a group of college friends whose trip to a cabin in the woods (never a good idea in a horror movie) turns sour when they inadvertently summon demons that possess them, making them commit violent acts against one another. Plus, for good measure, a tree comes to life and attacks them too. Although declared by UK censorship advocates as the "number one nasty", the courts declared that The Evil Dead was actually not obscene, and it was removed from the "video nasties" list in 1985.
3 Nekromantik (1987)
Banned In: Australia, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Malaysia, Singapore, certain provinces in Canada, anywhere with good taste
This is easily one of the most distasteful movies on this list. This German offering revolves around the social taboo of necrophilia. We don't want to explain what that is, and if you don't know, don't bother looking it up; trust us, it's disgusting, and it's easy to understand how it got the censors' attention. In the film, a dysfunctional couple decides they need to get a third roommate: a fresh, albeit steadily decaying, male corpse (we're gagging). If the graphic gore and immoral escapades weren't objectionable enough, the inclusion of an animal cruelty scene was sure to get this film flagged, making Nekromantik's banning in several countries inevitable. Anytime animals are involved in a distasteful manner, count us OUT.
2 Antichrist (2009)
Banned In: France, Malaysia, Philippines
In renowned director Lars Von Trier's controversial Antichrist, a married couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) tries to deal with the grief over the death of their young son by traveling to a cabin in the woods (not again!) for some peace. And it wouldn't be a horror film without some supernatural forces causing them to turn on one another, would it? Is it just us, or are we sensing a theme here? What sounds like a typical horror movie setup, however, veers into the extreme with graphic violence and scenes that would foreshadow the director's later, equally controversial movie, Nymphomaniac. Its wince-worthy closeups of mutilation go a long way to showing that critically acclaimed "artsy" films can be just as grotesque and exploitive as cheesy, low-budget B-movies.
1 A Serbian Film (2010)
Banned In: Australia, Norway, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand, Kuwait, South Korea
Perhaps the most notoriously shocking horror movie of the past decade, this slice of nastiness from Serbia (obviously) revolves around a retired male adult-film star, who is recruited to star in an "artistic film." That film, however, turns out to involve all manner of heinous acts, including murder, necrophilia, and torture (it is a horror movie after all). Needless to say, the protagonist balks, and so did the movie rating boards in several nations, leading to it being banned. In particular, the placement of minors within the context of such graphic and violent content made A Serbian Film an easy target. The director of the prestigious Sitges Film Festival actually faced charges of child pornography (which were eventually dropped) for showing the picture in Spain.