1980s American horror movies that have been cut or banned in Australia.
Confessions of a Serial Killer
Directed Mark Blair / 1985 / USA / IMDb
In early 1994, an 89-minute VHS of CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL KILLER was banned by the OFLC.
The applicant, Eagle Entertainment, censored it down to 87:11 and received an R (High level violence) rating in April 1994.
Australia VHS vs. Japan VHS
I noted only two differences between the Eagle Entertainment tape and the Japanese VHS
00:34 missing from the rape of a woman in her kitchen, including a horrid scene where the two killers cut her throat and have sex with her as she convulses on the floor as she is dying.
00:05 missing of the Landlady and Becky having a fight in the lounge room.
World releases compared
July 27, 2013
A quick summary of known releases
Oz: R 18+ (censored VHS at 87:11)
NZ: R18 (status unknown on VHS)
UK: 15 (censored DVD at 95:34)
US: unrated (uncensored VHS)
Italy: 18 (uncensored VHS at 102:08, Italian dubbing)
Japan: no rating (status unknown on VHS)
Bootleg DVD-R: no rating (assumed to be uncensored US VHS)
YouTube: no rating (censored UK version at 95:35)
Download: no rating (uncensored US VHS)
The Italian VHS, labelled ‘versione integrale’ and released by Fox Video Italia, runs to approx. 102:08 and includes all scenes listed as cut. The Japanese VHS is one minute longer than the Australian VHS according to Goblin on Cinehound.com. It might be the version originally submitted in Australia before cuts and therefore it could be uncut. The Australian VHS has more violence than the UK DVD, but has a shorter running time. This all implies that the Italian VHS is the full version.
On Amazon US, reviewer Lori Nill makes writes:
‘Concorde/New Horizons, which is Roger Corman’s company, thought enough of this film to make it the first ever acquisition it made for video release back in 1987. Prior to then, Corman had only distributed his own films. Unfortunately, they never followed up the VHS release with a DVD, except in Europe, where a third party contractor released a PAL version that was badly chopped up. The good news: Cedarwood Productions, the original producer has reacquired the rights and will very shortly release the new DVD version of the original film – both the MPAA R-rated and director’s uncut version.’
This release has yet to appear and Cedarwood Productions’ website makes no mention of it. Today the uncensored version could get R 18+ locally. The violence is technically quite tame and implied (no Tom Savini effects here), but this is a mean-spirited movie all the same. Stupidly, censors tend to come down hard on low-budget films like this one when they are well made and effective.– Media Censorship in Australia
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) was the second film based on the life of Henry Lee Lucas. This title also had censorship problems in Australia.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Directed by John McNaughton / 1986 / USA / IMDb
In October 1991, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER was part of a package of fifteen tapes that were confiscated by the Australian Customs Service.
See also NEKROMANTIK (1987) in the Film Censorship Database No. 1 for more information regarding this case.
In November 1991, American label MPI Home Video issued an uncut version on laserdisc.
Very soon after, there is a report of Customs seizing an imported copy.
Banned theatrical release
In early 1992, an uncut 83-minute and censored 81-minute print were banned by the OFLC.
In both cases, Dendy Films was the applicant.
We do occasionally ban films – HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER for instance. That would be on the boarder, I suppose, between art house and mainstream, and that was for sexual violence. Because I think if there’s been any shift at all in community attitudes and perceptions over the last ten years, it’s been about a concern for violence, and the portrayal of violence; and in the violence category, any sort of mixture of sex and violence, I think people are apprehensive about. And we react pretty strongly towards that.
In HENRY, there were scenes in that where the sexual violence was beyond what we thought community standards would tolerate, and we said ‘sorry, refused classification’. Normally what happens is that the distributor says ‘all right, what part of it was the problem?’, and we’ll tell them. Sometimes they might appeal, or they’ll go away and edit and come back and resubmit it and we’ll have a look at it afresh — standard practice.– John Dickie, Director, OFLC
– Tabula Rasa No. 3
Dendy Films made an unsuccessful appeal against the refusal to pass the uncut version.
January 20, 1992
Applicant: Dendy Films
Decision Reviewed: Refuse to register by the Film Censorship Board
Decision: The subject of this appeal was a low-budget independent American film made in 1986, which has been screened, sometimes with modifications, in various countries and at various festivals, attracting widespread critical and public notoriety. Some American and English critics, not necessarily the most esteemed, have called it a masterpiece; all have agreed that it is a film of extraordinary power and cinematic interest.
As the title suggests, it’s a study of a serial killer, a young man called Henry, who murders people for pleasure. Henry shares a flat with another man, Otis and Otis’s sister Becky, and persuades Otis to join him on his killing sprees. Altogether there are sixteen murders, but only a minority are depicted explicitly and directly. Some of the victims are shown post mortem (we see only their bodies); in other cases the murders are shot from a distance or in a shadow; in the most notorious scene they are depicted on video replay watched by the killers themselves. The final murder, that of Becky, is no more than implied.
The film contains a graphic depiction of the rape of Becky by her brother. Even in the more extreme and explicit episodes, however the tone is detached and matter of fact. the violence itself occupies something less than ten minutes of screen time in a film of only 83 minutes duration. Most of the film consists of low-key conversations between the three characters. It is nevertheless, in its entirety, deeply shocking and unsettling for many reasons, and the Film Censorship Board decided by majority that it should be refused registration pursuant to sub-regulation 13(1)(a) of the Customs (Cinematograph) Regulations.
The appellants, Dendy Films, were represented by Ms Lynn McCarthy and Mr Graeme Tubbenhauer. They presented a closely argued and detailed submission in favour of an ‘R’ classification. They contended that the film in no way glamorised its violent events or its central character, and indeed provoked suitable feelings of horror and revulsion. It was pointed out that the film had been wildly acclaimed and honoured by overseas critics and audiences. Although the subject matter was disturbing, there was no attempt to sensationalise it or to render it alluring or even entertaining in any conventional way: the treatment was extremely clinical.
A letter was tendered from the critic David Stratton, a former director if the Sydney Film Festival, stating his opinion that HENRY was more honest and less sensational than THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: ‘I can’t imagine it being in the least stimulating. It’s a study of a sick man who seems to be oblivious of normal society or of the forces of law and order’.
The appeal presented the Board of Review with unusual difficulties. All of us found Henry deeply disturbing. All of us recognised that it is a film of unusual interest, and by no means a routine thriller designed to shock audiences and exploit its themes of aberrant behaviour and abnormal criminal psychology.
All of us had misgivings about refusing registration and in effect preventing Australian audiences from seeing the film in the form which it was made; equally we had difficulty with the idea of specifying cuts as a condition of approval. We found ourselves divided between those favouring confirmation of the original refusal and those leaning towards registering the film with an ‘R’ for cinema release. In the event a majority was persuaded that certain scenes-especially the videotaped murder of the family and the rape of Becky-went well beyond the bounds of acceptability, and that the Film Censorship Board’s decision should be upheld.
The Chairman for the minority, argued that an ‘R’ classification was appropriate, and that it was precisely material of this kind-admittedly strong but serious films with a claim to artistic merit – that the ‘R’ classification was intended. The Chairman maintained that the degree of violence -much of it depicted obliquely -could be accommodated within the ‘R’ classification, and that the strong reactions to the film owed more to the unemotional behaviour of the protagonists than to the nature of the violence actually shown.
Although this view was not accepted by the majority, all members agreed that it would be unfortunate if the film were banned for Australian audiences in its entirety. Notwithstanding their reluctance to specify cuts, they agreed that the Chairman should write to the appellants suggesting that, in view of the film’s distinctive quality and artistic merit the appellants might wish to apply to the Chief Censor for permission to reconstruct the film under Regulation 22 of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations. It was the Board’s understanding that a modified version had been approved for cinema exhibition in Britain, and that a similar version might be acceptable in Australia. A letter to Ms Lynn McCarthy, suggesting this course was forwarded on 24 January 1992 and the appeal against the decision of the Film Censorship Board to refuse to register HENRY-PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER in the form submitted was accordingly dismissed.– Film and Literature Board of Review report
R-rated cinema release
After the failed appeal, a censored 81-minute print was submitted. The Film Censorship Board passed it with an R (High level violence) rating.
Dendy Films released this version theatrically.
Let the moral panic begin
Kevin Walter spent 25 years as an NSW Magistrate and was the State Coroner of NSW from 1988 until he retired in January 1992.
He shared his concerns about THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) and Bret Easton Ellis’s AMERICAN PSYCHO (1991) and why he believed our fascination with serial killers was dangerous.
March 9, 1992
…now we have HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. This little gem, which runs for only an hour and 25 minutes, less 90 seconds thoughtfully cut out by the Film Censorship Board, begins by showing the viewer the results of Henry’s depredations. We see six bodies, five female and one male. Two of the females have been mutilated. Two victims were shot during a robbery. One was garrotted, one possibly drowned, and two slashed or stabbed to death. There are sound-effects of screams and grunts accompanying these tableaux.
Henry later explains to Otis, his temporary sidekick, that no-one takes any notice of killings, and that “nothing will happen” as long as death is not occasioned in the same way.
Having warmed the audience up by presenting the bodies, the director gets down to the essential action – more stabbing, kickings, shootings, strangulations, with even a little necrophilia thrown in.
The denouement is equally charming. Otis rapes his sister Becky, who loves Henry. After a fight in which Becky wounds Otis, he is kilted, then dismembered, by Henry. Henry then kills Becky. He drives off into the night. Finis.
At no time is there any intervention or interest shown by police, neighbours or media. The wanton violence takes place in a seemingly normal and apathetic environment. The killer lives to kill another day.
Well, so what?
I have, of course, quite deliberately given the storyline away. I have this touching faith that even if I have sent those who normally read the editorial section slavering to the movie-house, they are not the sort who are so tuned-in and turned-on by depictions of violence that they themselves will be tempted to wreak havoc on some poor innocent.
Just why the Film Censorship Board is willing to unleash this depraved example of cinematography on the public is lost on me. The film does nothing but pander to the violent, instinct present, but controlled, in most of us, and straining to burst loose in a few. Its values are perverted, its presentation cynical.
The worry is that some inadequate person, with a deprived and possibly abused background, and attracted by the power over life and death employed by Henry, will try to copy him. Is this likely? Is that possibility such that our sacred right to see and hear what we please should be infringed?– Read the book, see the movie, wait for the real-life killing
Moral police are on the case
Following the publication of Kevin Walter’s article, Elaine (wife of Fred) Nile questioned the Government’s Minister for Police and Emergency Services. She struggled with the correct title of the film she had never seen.
March 11, 1992
The Hon. ELAINE NILE: I wish to ask the Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Vice-President of the Executive Council a question without notice. Is it a fact that the extremely violent film entitled HENRY – THE STUDY [sic] OF A SERIAL KILLER, which was banned in the United States of America, has been finally passed for screening in Sydney theatres? In view of the warnings of former coroner Kevin Waller, what action will the Government take under its own film censorship powers to prohibit this film, which is a chilling instruction film for potential serial killers on how to abduct, rape, mutilate and kill young women and how to avoid police detection by various diabolical means?
The Hon. E. P. PICKERING: The honourable member raises a matter worthy of mature consideration by the community.
The Hon. P. F. O’Grady: The issue of its screening or the broader issue?
The Hon. E. P. PICKERING: With respect to the broader issue. The film has been passed for public exhibition in New South Wales. I am not sure whether that was done by New South Wales.
The Hon. Franca Arena: It has been cut considerably.
The Hon. E. P. PICKERING: It certainly has been cut. I am not sure whether that was done by the State or the Commonwealth, and I am not particularly interested in that at this point. There is evidence – and I do not put it any higher than that – to suggest that there may be a relationship between violence in our community and the level of violence portrayed in some of the visual media presented particularly to young people and the more impressionable adults. Clearly, there must be a balance between the rights of people to view material and the rights of the community to be protected from any adverse reaction from that material. I recognise that debate can proceed beyond the question of violence into the debate into pornography.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: But it is the censored version that has been released.
The Hon. E. P. PICKERING: Had the honourable member listened she would have heard me say that. Confining my comment to the question of violent material, as a father and as a grandfather I am genuinely concerned about the possibility – and I do not put it any higher than that – that our society may be adversely affected by the increasing level of extraordinarily violent material to which young people are subjected. One of the strange things I have noticed is that when young people watch violent material they do not appear to be horrified by it; they often appear to be amused. I find that reaction difficult to comprehend and it should sound a note of warning to adult society that possibly we are involved in something that should be looked at more carefully. I know that my colleague the Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith is trying to advance the cause of having this matter investigated – I say no more than that – to determine whether we are adversely subjecting our young people in particular.
The Hon. Ann Symonds: Is the Minister concerned about the violence of Stormin’ Norman?
The Hon. E. P. PICKERING: I did not really want to extend my comments to the Gulf War or to war in general. I should have thought that honourable members in this Chamber would be opposed to war. I know I am. I do not think there is a member of this House who is not opposed to war. No one wants war, for goodness’ sake. I suppose the history of mankind has shown that wars occur, no matter whether we like it or not. I was not addressing the question of war. I shall not be drawn by the honourable member. I was trying to address a concern in my mind – and I put it no higher than that – that certain material in society today is explicitly violent and I am concerned about its impact upon young people. I do not know as an individual whether it has an adverse impact, but that is worthy of mature consideration.– Elaine Nile (Call to Australia), Edward Pickering (Liberal)
– Paul O’Grady (Labor), Franca Arena (Labor), Ann Symonds (Labor)
– NSW Legislative Council
R-rated VHS release
In July 1992, Columbia Tristar Home Video was awarded an R (High level violence) rating for a 77:48 (PAL) VHS.
The cover promoted the tape as ‘The Film They Tried To Ban!’. Unsurprisingly, it failed to mention that it was a modified version.
What was censored?
Columbia Tristar Home Video (au) – VHS – 77:48 (PAL)
Presumably, the cuts were the same as the theatrical version.
Body on the toilet
Censored at 04:53 by 00:15 approx. – Close up of the dead woman (Mary Demas) on the toilet. It removes the sound of the bottle smashing and Henry (Michael Rooker) shouting ‘Die Bitch Die’.
Body on the couch
Censored at 15:20 by 00:25 approx. – Close up of the dead woman on the couch. It eliminates the sound of her struggling.
Censored at 51:48 by 00:15 approx. – Otis (Tom Towles) sitting down with the woman (Lisa Temple) on top of him. Henry tells him to remove her bra and skirt.
After/Before – The husband (Brian Graham) struggles on the floor and is kicked by Henry.
Censored at 52:00 by 00:15 approx. – The woman struggling and pleading.
After/Before – The son (Sean Ores) arriving home and being murdered by Henry while Otis kills his mother.
Censored at 52:42 by 00:15 approx. – Otis kissing the dead woman with the sound of Henry killing the father off camera.
After/Before – Otis waving the dead woman’s hand to the camera.
Censored at 52:57 by 00:05 approx. – Otis sucking the dead woman’s breast.
Review Board’s decision explained
September 2, 1992
In matters of film classification, we found ourselves more frequently in agreement than in previous years with the decisions of the Film Censorship Board. In no case were we prepared to uphold an appeal against an ‘R’ classification accorded on the grounds of violence. It is possible that this reflected greater concern on the part of Board members with the extremes of violence depicted in many contemporary films and a keener awareness of community reactions to it. On the other hand, it seemed that in most of the violent films submitted to us the issues were clear-cut, and it was rare for the members to be divided. With one exception, none of the violent films we considered could claim any special artistic merit or cinematic distinction, as was the case last year with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
The exception was HENRY – PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, which had been refused registration by the Film Censorship Board. This low-budget American production, made in 1986, had become a cause celebre, with censorship authorities around the world divided in their attitudes to it. It had been widely shown at international festivals, and it was argued strongly by the Australian distributors that it should be shown uncut in this country. A majority of the Board upheld the decision to refuse to register the film in its uncut form; a minority felt that it should receive an ‘R’ classification. A reconstructed version was subsequently classified ‘R’ by the Film Censorship Board and screened in Australia.
In all matters before us, we were obliged to weigh a range of conflicting arguments and seek a reasonable course between the interests of different parties with frequently irreconcilable philosophical positions. Our starting point has been the view adopted by the Chief Censor and enunciated in the classification guidelines that adults in a free society should be at liberty, subject to certain agreed constraints, to see, hear and read what they please. Whether our decisions were reasonable may be judged from the reports in the following pages; in all cases they were taken after great deliberation and with a conscientious regard record my indebtedness to my fellow members of the Board, and to the staff of the Office of Film and Literature Classification.– Evan Williams, Chairman, Film and Literature Board of Review
– Reports on Activities, 1991 to 1992
Uncut after 13-years
In June 2005, a complete HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER was rated R18+ (High level violence) by the Classification Board.
The DVD was released on Paramount’s Rialto Entertainment label in October 2005 with a running time of 82:29 (NTSC).
In March 2010, a 263-minute special edition was again passed with an R18+ (High level violence) rating.
Umbrella Entertainment released the DVD in May 2010.
Uncut on TV
In March 2014, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER was screened on the World Movies pay-TV channel.
March 17, 2014
Due to popular demand, World Movies is bringing you another week of unforgettable films that changed the film industry forever. More Films That Shocked The World starts tonight at 9.30pm and is set to push the boundaries of controversial cinema further than ever before.
From an outrageously twisted cult-classic to a violent look at a real-life serial killer, these are the films that have shocked, outraged and been banned around the world.
Before the week kicks off, let’s take a look at why these films were so scandalous.
Wednesday 19 March 9.30pm.– The stories behind the scandalous ‘More Films That Shocked The World’
HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER – Australian Television Premiere.
– World Movies
Directed by Scott Spiegel / 1989 / USA / IMDb
In April 1989, an 84-minute version of INTRUDER was banned by the OFLC.
The reason given for the refusal was violence, which was described as being:
A censored 83-minute version was awarded an R (Frequent violence) rating in October 1989.
In both cases, the applicant was CIC-TAFT Video. The full list of cuts made to the 79:57 VHS is detailed below.
Customs send 40 films to OFLC
There is one report of a customs confiscation of INTRUDER.
1991 October – VHS.
See also NEKROMANTIK (1987) in the Film Censorship Database No. 1 for more information regarding this case.
In October 2009, Big Sky Video issued an uncut version of INTRUDER on DVD. The cover carried the same R (Frequent violence) rating that was awarded in October 1989.
There is no entry in the National Classification Database for this release.
Craig S. reports that the Big Sky Video disc runs 83:53 and is the same as the American Wizard Entertainment DVD.
In 2011, they rereleased it as part of a six-disc FULL STRENGTH HORROR BOX VOLUME 2.
The other films in the DVD box set were DARK ANGEL (1994), PARASITE (1982), SUBSPECIES (1991), DEMONIC TOYS (1992) and 100 YEARS OF HORROR (1996).
Four minutes of cuts
CIC-TAFT Video (au) – VHS – 79:40 (minus Paramount logo)
Big Sky Video (au) – DVD – 83:50
Times refer to the approximate point in the DVD.
This is not an exact side by side comparison, so there may be other minor cuts.
VHS and DVD times match perfectly until the first murder.
38:00 – The spike going into Danny’s (Eugene Robert Glazer) eye.
42:00 – Joe (Ted Raimi) slowly falling to the floor after he has been stabbed in the head.
45:00 – The stabbing of the checkout girl has been shortened, especially the blood spray.
47:00 – All shots of Bub (Burr Steers) getting his head crushed are missing.
48:30 – Randy (Sam Raimi) hanging up with a hook through his face.
52:40 – After Dave (Billy Marti) falls down the ladder there is a missing shot of the store owner with bleeding eyes.
53:30 – Dave’s death on the band-saw, where his face is cut in two, has been removed. The VHS only shows him being put on the saw and then the scene ends. This is the longest cut in the VHS.
56:10 – Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox) discovers Randy’s hanging body. The shot of him with a hook through his face (same as 48:30) has been removed.
57:25 – Another shot of Randy’s body has been removed as Jennifer pulls the door closed and fights the killer with a hook. The part where she pulls his body against the door, to stop him from getting in, has been toned down.
58:30 – The head falling off the body as it comes down the conveyor belt while Jennifer screams.
58:55 – Jennifer finds Dave’s band-saw cut head in the fridge. This is totally missing from the VHS and it goes from her running down the corridor and cuts directly to the cops arriving at the door.
68:50 – The bread man (Scott Spiegel) being stabbed in the back has been toned down.
70:10 – The killer holding up the severed head, kissing it and grabbing the knife in his hand.
71:25 – The killer hitting Craig (David Byrnes) with the severed head.
74:10 – Craig chopping the killer with a machete has almost all been removed.