The most shocking horror films banned from cinemas

Images via Cinemagic Pictures/Warner Bros.

Disclaimer: This article contains discussions of opposing themes, including sexual and graphic violence.

As cultural sensibilities adapt and evolve, so does cinema. Since the beginnings of simple silent films, studios and audiences have been calling for more intense cinema. With the release of Nosferatus and the Universal Monster movies came a new kind of horror on the big screen.

With vulgar, supernatural, and unsettling themes, and piled high with blood and gore, it’s no surprise that not every horror movie makes it to a theatrical release. Some classic and unknown movies have been banned from theaters, with amazing reasoning that goes along with them.

I spit on your grave

Giving rise to a whole genre of movies called rape revenge movies, I spit on your grave is one of the most graphic films you will ever see. After a writer is assaulted, he takes revenge on men, and it results in a kind of violence that most people can get on board with.

Directed by Meir Zarchi, the film was later banned in Ireland, Norway, Iceland and West Germany while it was refused a film certificate in the UK. It was released on VHS thanks to a loophole before it was deemed a “nasty video” and became illegal until 2001. Britain followed in Australia and New Zealand’s footsteps, offering a heavily censored and cut version.

Actress Camille Keaton was later praised for her performance and returned for a sequel in 2019 subtitled Déjà vu. Similarly, a remake was released in 2010 but failed to gain much critical traction.

If it wasn’t for I spit on your gravewe probably wouldn’t get the Oscar-nominated movie Promising young woman. Well worth a watch, but skipping certain scenes is strongly encouraged.

A Serbian film

Image via Discovered Movies

One of the most notorious banned films of the 21st century, A Serbian film earned almost instant infamy after its first screening in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse. The theater owner gave audiences two opportunities to leave the theater ahead of the film, citing its gratuitous violence, incredibly dark themes, and confronting sexual imagery.

Portraying an aging adult video star desperate for work, he ends up working in the morally bankrupt and deeply illegal snuff film industry in order to make ends meet. It is rare for a modern film to cause such an explosion, with the film quickly being banned in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Norway and the Philippines.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but at its best, it’s a movie that will stick with you for a very long time. The art is meant to trigger an emotion, but that may be too much for some audiences.


Image via Nordisk Film

Lars von Triers is one of the most controversial directors around, with remarks and actions as famous as calling himself a Nazi, being an alleged sexual predator when working with Bjork and having films that are incredibly confronting. They don’t raise much more eyebrows than Antichrist.

Following a couple’s mourning after the death of their son, they quickly retreat into the woods and find themselves immersed in violent sex through visions and delusions – a fun movie for the whole family! Despite being released in 2009, it wasn’t until 2016 that it saw its first ban. The French Ministry of Culture has banned showing it again in cinemas, considering its initial decision to allow it a “mistake”.

Despite its graphic content, it’s an interesting film and features two good performances from Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

A clockwork orange

A clockwork orange is so far from Stanley Kubrick’s previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, you would think that they were created by completely different people. Starring Malcom McDowell in perhaps his greatest role ever, it sees his character, Alex DeLarge, commit horrific acts of violence dubbed “ultraviolence” before being double-crossed by his gang.

He is then institutionalized and becomes the guinea pig of an experiment aimed at removing his ability to commit a crime. Based on a book by Anthony Burgess, it didn’t last long in cinemas before controversy hit. After a series of impersonator attacks by those who radically misunderstood and committed horrific acts in the film’s name, Kubrick demanded that the film be withdrawn from circulation in the UK.

“Trying to assign all responsibility to art as the cause of life seems to me to take the file upside down. Art is about reshaping life, but it does not create life, nor cause life. Moreover, attributing powerful suggestive qualities to a film contradicts the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things that contradict their nature.

Stanley Kubrick, quoted in Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Movies

A clockwork orange, although sometimes difficult to watch, is one of Kubrick’s best films. It’s an incredible analysis of violence and humanity’s strange need for it, and whether ‘kindness’ can be instilled in people.


Who hasn’t wanted to see Elijah Wood as a grotesque serial killer? Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the famous 1980 film, Maniacal proved to live up to the hype in terms of controversy. With Wood as a serial killer who murders women and then ties their hair to mannequins, it’s very clear how this can cause some problems.

The graphic ways in which the murders are committed, as well as scenes showing him scalping his victims, prompted New Zealand to ban the film altogether when it was released in 2012. Khalfoun spoke with amusement about some of the reactions of the audience at the film, citing vomiting. after certain sequences as something he “pats himself on the back” for. Alright, Frank.

Maniacal the remake isn’t as bombastic or shocking as its original, but it’s very funny to think that a movie starring The Lord of the Rings Frodo could be cancelled, especially in New Zealand.

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