Friday, 17 February 2012

Terror at 12A

Over at Den of Geek, Mark Harrison takes to task the 12A certification that The Woman in Black received and wonders a) what went through the studio's collective mind and b) does letting in the moppets hurt the film because they won't belt up?

The latter question is easily resolved by my view that anyone who chatters in the cinema should be put in the stocks. As to the former, I've had strong views on this ever since I resaw The Masque of the Red Death (1961) on cable in the States and had to hunt under the couch for my jaw when I saw that it was rated G.  This is the equivalent to a U certificate in Britain and places the Vincent Price horror masterpiece on the same footing as Bambi.

I am convinced that the ratings/certification system must use one of those on-line forms that populates a spreadsheet that then tallies up the points and spits out the answer (X for blood, Y for gore, Z for breasts, etc.).  That is the only way that a film that has very little sex and violence yet is one long white-knuckle festival can get such a low pass.

It's the same with The Woman in Black.  This is the first truly scary film, as opposed to nauseating, that I've seen in years.  When that face appears in the window behind Daniel Radcliffe, I want to take a page from my six-year old Dalek-fearing self and hide behind the seats.  And it gets a 12A?  Did anyone watch this thing?  It's  good, old-fashioned nightmare fuel.   The only reason, aside from lobbying by the studio, must be because it doesn't have any of the bits that throw up the red flags.  Never mind that the whole film is one big red flag.  

That's where these systems fall down.  They aren't intended as real indicators of the appropriateness of the film's content nor are they meant as a way for parents to make informed judgements.  They're a way to deflect criticism and dull outrage.  A film can be as corrosive as acid on public morals as inappropriate for teenagers to see as pornography, but it doesn't matter because it has its little vetting code on the marquee.

This isn't a call for censorship.  By no means.  I can think of many films that I've enjoyed that would be regarded objectively as pretty strong meat, but I've always preferred it when it's appropriate for the audience and the audience knows what it's getting.  What I am objecting to is the mechanical nature of the ratings system and how it takes no notice of the content of the film itself.  The old Hays office and British Board of Censors may have often been prudish and a little silly, but they at least paid attention to the films.  An Island of Lost Souls would easily get the same rating as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with the check list system used now, but the BBOC in the '30s quite rightly pointed out that the former skirted too close to depicting bestiality and banned it for twenty years.  Today, it's available in Britain (which is fine), but it just gets a UK-PG.  I guess today, bestiality rules okay,

I'm waiting for 2022 when The Wicker Man gets shown on Nickelodeon.  At lunchtime.

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